Thursday, May 10, 2012

Revelations on Dorm Life

Being probably preemptively depressed about being jobless again this summer, I've decided it's high time I sit down and actually write something for once in a long while. (This post is very very late due to school. University consumed more of my free time than I thought it would. Also an advance apology for uncalled-for levels of snark that may follow.)

The following is directed at high school students planning to move into a dorm/residence for their first year, university students who have never lived in a dorm and are going to in the coming year, and university students who are returning to a dorm and may have forgotten what it was like because they partied themselves stupid over the summer.

Sable's Guide to Dorm Life:

1) I hope you don't mind LOTS OF NOISE
Even in supposedly "quiet study" areas (like the one I thought I was in) people are going to make obscene amounts of noise. Now, they may not be your neighbours or even the people immediately above/below you (depending on how the rooms are laid out), in fact, these boisterous people are most likely to be strangers that are friends-of-friends of your neighbours or random passers-by.

I had the good fortune to have quite agreeable neighbours overall, except for one group of girls who shared a room on the level below mine. I never really saw much of these girls except when I was trying to find them through the crowd that gathered in and outside their room in an effort to get them to quiet their guests down. I got the distinct impression that they didn't actually know any of these people and that they were friends of the friends that they had invited. Occasionally I also had to deal with people using our hallway as a shortcut of sorts; these people were usually variously intoxicated and/or very loud for no reason.

Bottom line: be a party-er (if you think your grades can handle it) or get a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones (if you're an introvert like me).

2) Leave your musical instruments at home
If you're not in a music program or established local band, LEAVE YOUR INSTRUMENTS AT HOME. I say this for a number of reasons:
-Dorm rooms are small, you're lucky if you find a place to store it that isn't a vital few cubic feet.
-Dorms are very unsecured despite what your school may say, there's a good risk it may be stolen or damaged.
-You're not as talented as you think you are, your neighbours will not appreciate you strumming or caterwauling while they're trying to actually get things done
-Your guitar will not get you laid, so don't even try to fool yourself

3) Pack light, seriously light
You might be staying there for eight months but you don't need eight months worth of clothing. I made this mistake when I moved in and brought way too much clothing with me. Bring maybe two weeks worth of clothing, plus sleep/bumming-around gear (ie. sweatpants and the like), appropriate outer wear (ie. coats, mitts, scarves), and maybe a few nicer things for going out on weekends or whatever you people do. You're going to be re-wearing things several times before you wash them anyways so you don't need as much as you think you will, and storage space is limited. Besides, when winter break, reading weeks and long weekends roll around you can always bring home whatever you won't need for the change of season and switch up your wardrobe that way (provided you can travel back home).

4) Look after your laundry
My residence building had two large public laundry areas. While the rest of the building was kept relatively orderly, the two laundry rooms were a no-man's land where anything goes. People had their laundry stolen, vandalized and even thrown into garbage cans. I'm not exaggerating. I highly recommend you guard your laundry when you put a load or two in. Personally I like to sit on or near the machine with my stuff in it. This is a good opportunity to get any non-laptop related work done, such as textbook readings or note-taking. I got most (if not all) of my leisure reading done while guarding my laundry, it was a nice break.

Another pro-tip: do your laundry in the evening or on Sunday mornings ("morning" is kind of relative, I've been there close to 1 pm and it's been dead quiet), that's when I found my local laundry rooms to be the quietest.

Also you should actually know how to work a washer and dryer, the appropriate amount of soap to use and suchlike. If you don't know these things, learn them ASAP because you really ought to know by now.

5) Endear yourself to your neighbours
It's not that hard, actually, and move-in day is a great opportunity to do this, especially if you move in early compared to other people and plan to stay afterwards. Helping your new neighbours/roommates move things is a great way to bond with them and get an idea as to what they're like. I had a great year with the girls on my floor and I learned a lot about them because we all bonded pretty quickly. Plus it's always nice to have that emotional safety-net close by if you start getting anxious about being separated from your family and other friends (if you've moved far from home).

Another plus to loving thy neighbour is when you need to start borrowing things. I didn't have to but I lent out a few things now and again, just little things, but if you're on good terms with the people around you they won't mind at all if you have to call in a favour.

6) Keep active, you lazy thing!
Don't make the same mistake I made and sit in front of a computer all day when you're not sitting around in class! You may have heard of the dreaded "Freshman 15" from family members, the supposed 15 or so pounds a freshman gains due to a combination of greasy cafeteria food and a sedentary lifestyle. Well, don't let that happen. I don't care so much about gaining weight, I'm concerned more about you casual athletes and people of relatively fragile disposition.

Let me explain: I take karate classes twice weekly, but my university was out of town and I couldn't find any local dojos. To remedy this, I did absolutely nothing, and that was my mistake. I wasn't terribly buff or toned to begin with but I lost basically all of my already meager muscle mass and tenuous endurance. In short, I am now even more out of shape than I was when I left home. My advice, join a sports team or get a membership at the school gym and just do some things to keep yourself active, if just as a break from work.

Another thing you may not know; physical activity keeps you sane, so find something that you enjoy. I get really bad cabin fever if I sit inside too long for too many days in a row, so I took to hiking around the school's arboretum or just going for walks around downtown for something to do. If I had been exercising regularly I don't think I would have gone as nuts as I did (though my dorm room being an underground cinderblock cube with just one tiny window may have had something to do with that too).

7) Make your room your own
Ladies, I'm sure this advice doesn't need to be spoken to some of you, but others and guys, you may want to listen. I lived in a cinderblock cube for eight months and MAN it was depressing at times. Bring a few things to brighten up your room and really make it your own space. Posters, knick-knacks, whatever, just bring something. Potted plants are good too, a little green always brightens up a space. I had the good fortune to have a school that sold potted plants during Orientation Week so students could have one for their rooms. If you're not so lucky, get one or bring one from home. If you know you're hopeless with plants, get some bamboo. I kid you not, that stuff is basically indestructible as long as you keep it watered. I've got some bamboo in my room in a clear glass vase with glass beads to keep the stalks upright and it's been there for years. (Clear glass is good so you know when it's low on water!)

8) People do stupid things. Very stupid things.
And sadly there isn't much you can do about it. We had all of the shower curtains from our floor bathroom stolen; we never found out who took them or where they went. We also had many, many, MANY fire alarms throughout the year, never one before 10 pm. Once we had two in one night around midnight and 1 am-ish. The point is that despite colleges/universities being a home of education, they are the sites of horrible but anonymous crimes of utter stupidity. I don't care how smart you like to think or hope university kids are, they're probably worse (yes, WORSE, I said it) than high school kids.

So I give you fair warning, settled, educated and mature readers. I do not condone these acts of stupidity but rather warn you that they will happen and it's best just to grin and bear them. It's a part of life, specifically first-year life if I have heard correctly. Some people just don't know how to handle themselves when they don't have parents to say "no" to them. For your own good, ignore them.

And with that, I bring this rambly blog to a close. I hope the length and attitude make up for my previous several-month hiatus. Oh yeah, and I hope this also helped some of you get a better idea of what a year in a dorm/residence is like. It's not all that bad but there are bad parts, as in everything in life.

As always,
until next time.