Rules of the Game when Living with International Students

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Living overseas can be challenging for newly-experienced students, particularly when they have to stay with people from different cultural backgrounds. However, such experience will give us broader advantages, including enhancing our cultural understanding and expanding our networks. Our columnist, Lavinia Disa, shared some advice for those who are planning to look for international students as their flatmates. 

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When studying overseas, finding a place to live is a crucial matter as this will determine where we will spend at least a quarter of our time a day for taking a good rest and also with whom we will live during our period of study. Out of the many options, staying in campus accommodation and sharing a flat with other international students from the same university sound like heaps of fun. This was what I had in mind when I first applied for a room at Carlaw Park Student Village, a cluster of living blocks dedicated to postgraduate students at The University of Auckland, New Zealand. When I finally got an offer for accommodation after months of application and waiting, I couldn’t be more excited as that was going to be my first time ever living with foreigners who were also students like me.

As a general illustration, living with other international students means interacting with them on a daily basis, sharing responsibilities for keeping things in place in our flat, and at times establishing new friendships. However, the reality was a lot more complicated. For one whole semester, I shared a 4-bedroom flat with students from Taiwan, Wales, and China (who then got replaced by a student from Pakistan). But things did not really go well, and I felt uncomfortable staying with them. So I asked for a new unit and got a 3-bedroom flat with students from Malaysia and India, with whom I stayed for another semester. From what I have experienced, it felt like going through clashes of civilizations, and trivial daily issues could turn out uglier than expected.

If you’re considering staying in a campus accommodation with fellow students from all around the world, you might want to read the following rules of the game, which I learned for a year quite in a hard way.

  1. Be respectful

As you will get a taste of being a global citizen, it’s essential to always act based on universal principles of goodness. In this regard, respecting each other is the key to living together. I had a bad experience about this when a flatmate borrowed my cooking pan before dinner. When it was time for me to cook, I found the pan still soaked in the dirt in the dishwasher and I had to clean it myself. Another flatmate had a hobby of manually washing her clothes and put the damp laundry in a basket under the shower, leaving only tiny space for others to bathe. These cases can irritate other students and, when done repeatedly, may even lead to personal loathing. Thus, make sure that what you do in the accommodation does not bother your flatmates.

  1. Be assertive

The first student who lived next to my room was a guy who loved partying so much. On Friday nights, he would invite many of his friends to our flat, turned up very loud music, and getting drunk. What’s worse is in the next morning, bottles of beer and wrappers of snacks would be scattered around the living room, just to be cleaned up later in the afternoon at the earliest. Although he had asked for our permission verbally beforehand, it’s still disturbing that I barely got home on Fridays and stayed at another friend’s place, instead. Fortunately, there was a flatmate who also felt uncomfortable with this partying habit, and both of us decided to report it to the accommodation manager. The ‘king of the party’ was finally sent an official warning and had then stopped conducting parties in our flat. A lesson learned is that, in addition to respecting others, when you feel that your rights are not fulfilled by your flatmates, resolve it by either confronting the person directly or asking for someone else’s help.

  1. Be collaborative

It might have been easier if my flatmates and I maintained individual lives and kept minimum interaction. However, every three months, the accommodation manager would go round all flats and conduct an inspection, which would assess the level of cleanliness and check if all utilities were complete. Thus, collaboration was needed. To keep our flat uncluttered, my flatmates and I arranged a cleaning roster which was turned each week to decide who would cleanse the bathroom, put out the rubbish, organize the living room, and vacuum the floor. While this was done individually, prior to an inspection, we would spend one day doing a major clean-up. It’s such a way to learn the art of making a home with other people.

Flat cleaning roster
Flat Cleaning Roster at Carlaw Park Student Village
  1. Look out for each other

Although the interaction between flatmates does not always translate into casual friendships, it’s still necessary to care for each other. For example, two weeks after I arrived in Auckland, I went to Wellington for 3 days for a gathering without telling any of my flatmates. When I was on my way back to Auckland, the accommodation manager reached out to me via Facebook messenger asking my whereabouts. It turned out that one of my flatmates hadn’t seen me for days and got no answer when she knocked on my door. She then told the accommodation manager, worrying that I might encounter a problem as I was new to New Zealand. Once I arrived back, I thanked her and apologized for not notifying her. Since then, I tried to let my flatmates know if I was staying outside and check on them whenever I could.

Recreational activity in the communal lounge
Students’ activities in Carlaw Park Student Village

My experience of living with international students has taught myself to be mindful of my rights and responsibilities as a member of a communal house. At the core of those issues are mutual understanding and cultural awareness so that everyone can enjoy the best of his/her time at the university.

Photo by Lavinia Disa