Should You be a Resident Assistant?

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Some people might think that being a Resident Assistant either can be really fun or really tiring. Well, being an RA has both pros and cons, as Made Ayu Sayaka explains in this article.

If you currently live or have lived in a dormitory, you might have probably heard of the term “Resident Assistant”. A Resident Assistant (RA) is someone who takes care of the student residents at the dormitory; in other words, the student leaders. Of course, an RA’s tasks in each dormitory is different, but generally, they cover: helping new students settle in, organizing events around the dorm, taking care of problems that arise amongst students inside the dorm, etc. Usually, a dorm has 10-30 RAs, depending on the size of the dorm. I am a Resident Assistant at one of the dormitories in my university in Tokyo, Japan. My dorm has 34 RAs, and houses around 870 students, comprising of Japanese students and international students coming from 30+ countries. Being an RA is a busy job, but in return, you get a lot of experience and benefits such as free housing. Here are the pros and cons of being an RA; in case you’re wondering whether you should apply to be one. 

Perks of being an RA:

  1. You get to meet people

This one is pretty obvious, but being an RA means you get to meet and be friends with the residents. Especially in university, it is hard to become really close to someone because you only meet them in class. But living together in the same building does make you form closer relationships with other residents. I also became more open-minded since I became an RA because I have met people from different backgrounds.  Each resident I’ve talked to has different points of view, based on the environment they grew up in. Talking with Japanese students help my Japanese get better. Talking with the international students makes me learn about their home countries and how the culture is different back home. Not only with the residents, but you will also get close and form a deep relationship with other RAs. This is because RAs spend so much time together that deep bonds are inevitable. It is not uncommon to have couples among the RAs! :)

2. You get to make an impact

When first year students move into the dorm, most likely it is their first time living away from their parents. For international students, it is their first time living alone in a totally new country. Their first week here is terrifying for them, and you play a big role in helping them settle in and adapt to a new environment, since freshmen will seek RAs for guidance. Also, as an RA from an international background who speaks English, I get to help international students adjust to Japanese culture. You get to organize events; for example, a Welcome Party that will help them meet other residents and make friends. I remember walking down the dorm hall at midnight, tired after organizing a party, and overheard one of the new residents talking happily to her parents on the phone about how much she had fun meeting new people at the event. Knowing that you get to make such a big impact in their first months of university is really rewarding. This is probably the best thing about being an RA for me personally. 

Sayaka RA 1

3. Leadership skills

RAs have to step in to mitigate problems that arise within the dorm. Having university students in a dorm, problems are bound to happen. From common ones such as underage drinking in the dorm, to really bizarre ones, like this one girl complaining about her room smelling like kimchi because her Korean roommate eats it too many times. Whatever those problems are, we RAs have to step in and try to solve the problem as best as we can. We aren’t allowed to pick sides, but to step in and have authority. RAs have to be the role model. As an RA, you face a lot of problems and you learn how to deal with it with a calm head – forming a good leadership skill. Your public speaking skills will get better, for you will get to lead meetings and be an MC at events. I am now used to speaking in front of 200+ people. Plus, it can also boost your resume!

4. Free housing

Most RAs usually get free housing, meaning that they don’t have to pay for the dorm fees. Studying abroad in Tokyo is already expensive as it is, and I didn’t want to burden my parents even more. Plus, apartments in Tokyo are crazy expensive. Not having to pay for housing definitely lifts a huge financial burden off of me. Instead, I get to use that money to travel abroad during breaks or to fly back home.

But of course, there are also the struggles of being an RA, which are:

  1. It is time-consuming

Being an RA is a 24/7 job. You have to be in the dorm as much as you can and have to be ready to be disturbed 24/7. Sometimes, you get waken up in the middle of the night to help a drunk resident. Other times, you have to accompany a resident to the hospital. You might get less sleep than you usually do. The job scope is unlimited and you have to be willing to help. There are also weekly staff meetings, RA meetings that you have to attend. This, you will have to do on top of your studies, internship, clubs/organizations, part-time jobs, etc. You might not be able to go out with your friends as much. Time management becomes the most important thing.Sayaka RA 3

2. You have to smile and be nice all the time

Too much socializing is tiring, and there are timeswhen I just don’t feel like seeing anyone; only wanting to stay in my room and be alone. But as an RA you have to smile and be cheerful to the residents all the time. No matter how tired you are, you always have to put up a front and can’t let them know how stressed you actually are. Like this one time, it was past midnight and I was going up to my friend’s room when I saw a resident walking past. I greeted her and then she asked me for advice on classes and we ended up talking for about half an hour. At that time, I was very tired and I didn’t want to greet her, and I definitely wasn’t in the mood for a chat. I could only think about how badly I wanted to visit my friend’s room. But you always have to be there for the resident, even if this might mean sacrificing your comfort.

Being an RA will be tough, but in return, you will learn a lot. If you have the time and the passion to help people, I say go for it!

Photos are provided by the author.

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Sayaka Made Ayu
Ayu Sayaka is a second-year student at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. Born half-Japanese and half- Indonesian, she was raised in Bali, Indonesia, and moved to Tokyo upon graduating high school. Her activities include being a Resident Assistant at Waseda University's dorm, TEDxWasedaU, Indonesian Student's Association in Japan among others. You can find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/madeayusayaka/ or Instagram at @sayaka.takemura