As an incoming freshman, the beginning of this year was full of unknowns. There were all the usual ones: will the dining halls be tolerable? Can I manage the school work? How can I possibly choose between all these extracurriculars? Most worrisome, what will the social life be like?
But I had an additional giant question mark surrounding one of the most important parts of college life: my roommate.
When I first got my housing assignment, I couldn’t quite believe it. Vannessa’s home address was listed as somewhere in Shenzhen (SHEN-jen), China, a city with a population larger than New York. I vaguely remembered checking the box that said I’d be okay with an international roommate, but I figured chances were slim I’d actually wind up with one. I was completely unsure about what to expect.
She actually found me on Facebook first. Her name was Jinglin Wang, and as soon as I tried the normal creeping techniques I realized I was up against a wall. She had barely 50 friends and maybe a dozen photos. Of course – China blocks Facebook. She’d probably used a proxy, but regardless, I wasn’t getting the deets that way.
Thankfully, she did have an email account. There were the general, awkward questions about ourselves and concerns about room design. She asked about color scheme, and I hadn’t even thought about it. I couldn’t help analyzing her grammar to decide how fluent her English was. Pretty good, I concluded, but not flawless. She said “stuffs.” Hmph.
Move-in day was nerve wracking. I didn’t have a good handle on what she looked like, and I thought I might see her around without recognizing her. My fears were realized. Once again, she found me first, walking into the lounge in Harwood, our building. I wasn’t even sure it was her. Almost right after she set down her stuff – two giant suitcases, limited baggage from her flight – she ran out of the room again, flustered about some something-or-other she needed to get from Target. I wasn’t feeling much better about our prospects for friendship. She was nice enough, and seemed like she’d be reasonably neat. I supposed that was all I could ask for.
Gradually, I’ve gotten to know her better. She’s far from the mousy, straight-laced girl I took her to be: she likes hanging on doors and shouting about how crappy her Constitution homework is. She sits in trees, like my little sister, and she dances just like my best friend. She makes the most hilarious facial expressions. And she always brightens my day.
There are still wrinkles in our relationship: she hates the nearest dining hall, and where we’re going to eat is a constant battle. I usually can’t play my music out loud when she’s at home. Our room is routinely embarrassingly messy (neither of us are quite neat enough). But these are all small issues, in the grand scheme of things. She turned out to be a far cooler, more interesting, and fun roommate than I could have imagined. Recalling my worries that she would be, as my friend said, “a Chinese princess,” I can’t help thinking about how hard she works on each of her essays and how much fun we have together in Beginning Standard Ballroom dance. Once again, the housing fairies worked their magic. In a mysterious and completely unpredictable way, we’re a great team, and I’m so glad I got her as a roommate.
14 October 2013
I’d like to clarify some things in response to the comments below. Firstly, I’m deeply sorry and upset that I offended anyone with this post, and I regret that my writing was unclear as to my thoughts.
I intended this post to be an exploration of the issues I had the summer before moving here. Everyone is worried about living, usually for the first time, with someone who is NOT their family. What may have been normal for the past 18 years is perhaps no longer acceptable; habits and comfort zones have to be shifted. The vast majority of my worries about living with Vannessa were centered around that; the amplitude of difference would be greater with a person, not only from a different family and area, but a different country altogether.
There was also, to my great shame, a small part of me that WAS worried about the fact that she’s Chinese. I don’t consider myself to be racist or xenophobic; in fact, I lived in China for a period during high school and absolutely loved it. However, I now better realize my own intentions are disparate from the effects of my writings. I think many people have a small, dark corner of their brains where accidental stereotypes, generalizations, assumptions, and prejudices reside despite their best efforts to expunge them. This is certainly true for me. Part of the point of this post was to address the idiocy of those kinds of fears and preconceptions. I can see how I didn’t make this clear, and I am sincerely sorry for that. Of course those thoughts were completely out of line, and I recognized that even as I was having them.
I also didn’t make clear that the thoughts I had on Move-In day were completely unrelated to her origins or ethnicity. I saw her as an individual and judged her based on that – a separate issue, but one entirely unrelated to her race. The same goes for my comments on her personality. My excitement over certain elements of her character were not related to the fact that she’s Chinese, but simply that I got a roommate, period, who did that. Again, that wasn’t clear.
Finally, I did not in any way intend to demean her English skills. I did have a concern, however half-baked, that language could become a barrier to comfortable cohabitation. As I realize now, the proficieny required of international students is equal, and in some ways higher, than American students, though I didn’t know it before I met her. The worry about language, like the other worries, was misplaced.
The point of this post is that you can’t form prejudicial expectations about what you’ll get in a roommate, regardless of origins or any other factor. In terms of personality “fit,” you can only expect the average, but I got far better than that – a fact unrelated to the fact that Vannessa is an international student.
I hope this helped explain my thoughts a little better. Once again, I’m truly sorry that I offended people by my careless wording.
PS. Vannessa did read this post, and was not offended or upset by it. She’s also read this addendum, and gives it her stamp of approval. Her comment was that she read it already knowing me, which probably influenced the way she perceived my writing.