Hardships in a new home
After a 15-hour flight, you hope to breathe in fresh air, meet fascinating people, gain new friends, and have different experiences. Your English might be slightly off, but that does not scare you. You feel happy, and there is nothing that can stop you from being the adventurous international student.
Soon you find yourself standing in front of an apartment door, your heart racing. You push the door slightly and can see darkness sucking you in. You unwillingly take a step forward.
You look down and realize that you just destroyed a months-old cookie that oddly still sticks to your shoe. Was it mold? As soon as you are inside, the stuffy air catches you by surprise and forces you to throw your hands up to your face.
In the attempt to remain calm, panic takes over as soon as your head turns to the well of dishes dripping with gooey substances. You can hear the vicious sounds of the fly army protecting its castle.
Suddenly, a dark shadow shifts along the wall. You jump and run, and before you even know it, you have reached your safe haven — your room.
While this is not every international student’s experience, at least a few international students have had to deal with difficult or messy roommates, and wonder how to get out of the unfamiliar and unwelcoming place called home.
Finding your way around a new country can be difficult for international students, but the trick is knowing where to look.
A 21-year-old Santa Monica College student from Lithuania, Robertas Kuliunas has had a similar experience with roommates.
Kuliunas recalls having one roommate who had too many of his own dishes to handle, and use all the dishes he owned without washing them.
“He just used all the plates like they were one-time use only,” said Kuliunas. “We end up having piles of dishes. Then our dishes started disappearing because he had nothing else to use.”
After a while of the recurring lack of cleanliness, Kuliunas and his roommates created a chore list, which helped to improve the overall well-being of the group.
SMC student Noelle B. Miller, a film major from Sweden, has had minor problems with her roommates due to differing schedules.
“Some people wake up early; some people want to go to sleep earlier or later,” said Miller. “I have some morning classes. I have to get up pretty early, so I get to bed earlier, and they want to be in the living room talking.”
She has become unhappy with her roommates only once, she said, after they brought some guests back home in the late evening.
“One night, they came home with a couple of guys, and they were making a lot of noises, so I got pretty pissed,” Miller said. “At night they were a little bit annoyed because I was embarrassing them, but then in the morning they apologized, and it was all fine.”
Both Kuliunas and Miller have had only minor roommate issues.
At the International Education Center at SMC, the staff had little to say on the matter of international student living in Santa Monica.
“We are a nonresidential campus and do not have housing on campus,” said Kelley Brayton, dean of international education at the college. “While we support our international students with providing resources about housing on the international education website, we don’t mediate roommate issues or disputes.”
If you have come to the U.S. recently and are still looking for a place, or if you have experienced difficulties with your current roommates, here are a few tips.
1. If you do not know anyone in the U.S., try looking for your local community as Sunho Hwang, a 24-year-old South Korean psychology major at SMC, has done. Hwang found a local Korean community website and sought new roommates there.
You can also try following Eduardo Melchior’s example, who is an 18-year-old French-Brazilian business major, and seeks roommates through the college's Facebook page and website. As he has been admitted to University of Southern California for the spring, he looked for roommates on the USC spring admit Facebook page.
2. Understand what being a roommate means, and, in some cases, that being a roommate gives you little or no legal protection.
According to nolo.com, a website that IEC recommends visiting in case of any housing issues, "Unless the landlord has accepted the presence of the roommate a roommate has the legal status of a long-term guest, with few if any legal protections.”
This means that if you do not sign the lease or the rental agreement, you would be living in the apartment illegally, and if anything happened to you because of your roommates who are on the lease, you would not be able to seek help. Only by signing the lease or any other legally binding documents are you protected.
3. After you find the place, make sure that you talk to your possible future roommates openly, and talk about any pet peeves you might have.
Nolo.com advises people to sign a roommate agreement, which includes information regarding rent payments, cleaning responsibilities, food, guests, parties, and much more.