The Communal Experience: Why You Should Always Keep Your Expectations in Check

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What do you think of when you picture a university flat? Probably a warm, jovial gathering of like-minded people who, regardless of their age, background, or nationality, you can relate to on some level, be it a thoughtful debate on the economics of student loans or a drunken sing-song around the kitchen table during the early hours of the morning. Memories will be had; friends will be made. It will be one of the most joyous, carefree experiences you will have during your time at university.

Well, let me tell you what my flat was like.

Perhaps my mistake was in choosing a ‘quiet lifestyle’ flat; as someone who prefers peace and quiet over constant raving, it seemed like an obvious choice. However, I did not realise how seriously the university would take my preference. I’ve heard graveyards louder than my flat, and I actually lived next to a crematorium. Despite this, I have heard stories of ‘quiet flat’ residents who have become close enough to resemble a family unit, the solitude cementing their bonds rather than preventing them. So why wasn’t my flat the same? Why, when so many flats choose to stay together in their second-year housing, did all seven residents of our flat go their separate ways?

The answer is chemistry, the crucial component in all relationships. Our flat was composed of seven people who did not share common interests, culture, or personalities: and it showed. Many an encounter in the kitchen was cut short by an awkward silence wider and deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. After a month of residence, I never saw anyone eat in the kitchen again, most likely out of fear of being forced into a conversation with one another. That said, I certainly felt their presence, as my home-bought plates and cutlery disappeared from the cupboards and turned up in the sink, filled with the moulding remains of unidentifiable foreign foods and rat droppings.

It all started out promisingly. Sure, there was some awkwardness on move-in day, but that’s to be expected. There was at least the appearance of camaraderie between a few of us then, as we bustled off to the Welcome Party and drowned our freshers’ anxiety in cheap alcohol. But even that faded away in time, unlike the stench of rotting fish in our fridge. By the time the third term rolled around, it was uncommon to see anyone for more than a few minutes.

When the only things that can bring your flat out of their rooms is the threat of a burning stove or a particularly-pungent poo, you know that something just isn’t right.

Ultimately, my frustration comes from a place of love, and disappointment that our flat was not able to become good friends the way that I’m sure each of us had wanted to at the outset. But this is the reality of university life, and indeed, life in general – you won’t get on with everyone. If you’re planning to attend university this September, or are contracted to settle in with all new flatmates come the start of the next annum, you may want to reserve your expectations. Optimism is a must if you want to get the best out of the communal living experience (and let’s face it, we all do), but it’s always best to remember that a friendly flat is a privilege, not a guarantee.

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Edge writer with an axe to grind on the student experience. Admirer of cute doggies.

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