Maybe it's four to a kitchen, maybe it's eight, or maybe like me it's sixteen. Having left the student halls experience behind last year, it's fair to say that student halls are an experience like no other. Sixteen personalities from around the UK and a few international students for good measure, the politics of student halls is something every fresher should understand in advance. From food thieves to personality clashes, student halls await the thousands of freshers currently cramming their trolleys in IKEA, waiting for the next chapter of their lives to begin. Whether it's Exeter or Essex, Southampton or Salford, living in student halls and taking the leap from home is what most students will experience this year, and knowing what to expect is essential.
Before starting university, group chats are usually the first form of interaction you have with your future flatmates, and saying as little as possible is best. We're all guilty of judging others based on their online presence, and people are often a lot different offline. Keeping interaction minimal, revealing less about yourself gives you plenty to talk about when you arrive at university, without the worry of making a bad impression online. Freshers week is the real time when flatmates get to know each other, possibly in more ways than one.
Co-existing peacefully with your flatmates is where the politics of student halls is most at play. Sometimes you just won't get on. A lot of the time, flatmates can become a second family, but for other students it just doesn't work, and most of your flatmates are just that, flatmates. There's no guarantee your flatmates will become friends, and sometimes you won't find those 'friends for life' in your kitchen. Many students adopt the playground mentality in halls, finding those they get on best with and keeping to their 'clique' for the rest of the year. Friendships typically form during fresher's week, but it's as facades fade in the weeks that follow, which is when you really get to know one another.
Within student halls, group dynamics are sometimes exacerbated soon after your first bout of fresher's flu, when housing arrangements are sorted for second year. As house hunting begins, leases and tenancy agreements often cement the friendships made. Beware of the tension and animosity hunting for a house can bring, whether you're the flatmate no one wants to live with, or you're torn between living with one group over another. There is no real way to avoid the second-year scramble, and it's best to not rush into anything. In most cities, houses become available throughout the year, so don't be fooled by the February shortage myth. Take time getting to know your flatmates well, and once you're confident you'll enjoy living with them, then it's time to sign that contract.
Alas, wouldn't it be great if we could all get on, and there were no personality clashes? Unfortunately, with a group of students from different backgrounds, environments and cultures, it's probable you'll find at least one flatmate you're not too keen on. Whether they're a party animal, a recluse or a bigot, it's impossible to get on with everyone. Of course, you'll find people who you may not gel with, but learning how to deal with them is the most important thing you'll take from the experience. When moving into halls, expect the unexpected. You don't know who you'll be housed with, and often it is just luck of the draw. Remaining open to alternate ways of life, and being conscious and considerate of other people's lifestyles is key. Student halls are a great opportunity to learn about different cultures, grow as a person and interact with people from all different walks of life. If you don't agree with flatmate X going out every night, do not tell flatmate Y who lives in the room opposite them. Halls are an environment where emotions are heightened and relationships intimate. Remember that these are the first people you meet at university, and they'll probably become your base group of friends.
Remember that student halls are a great opportunity to expand your network and interact with people you would never normally meet elsewhere. To make the most of your time in halls, remember that not everyone will agree with you, will share your values or will have a similar lifestyle. Be open, be accepting and most of all be considerate. Student halls are a once in a lifetime experience, so take time to enjoy it!