One thing you might not always remember about yourself—is that you have a culture. The way you dress, what you like to eat, how you talk, even how you sleep is part of your culture! It’s part of the way you grew up. It formed when you hung out with your friends, or when you did science projects in class, even the songs you sing (or what language you sing them in) make up your culture.
I’ve lived all over the world my whole life, so I’ve learned a lot about living with different types of people—and recently I spent five months on a Discipleship Training School with plenty of international roomies!
Through all these experiences, I’ve learned culture is a pair of glasses you see the world through. That means that everything you think about what you see depends on what you’ve seen, heard, and lived. This affects lots of areas of life: little stuff and big stuff. If a friend and I decide to make coffee one morning, she might ask for a plunger when I’d ask for a french press. We’re both making coffee—but we do it in different ways.
So here are some things to remember so you can have the best, healthiest time with your cross-cultural roommates:
1. “Spicy” is a relative term.
Whether your roommates think pepper or even mint toothpaste is too spicy or jalapenos are weak stuff—you have to learn to get along and respect other people’s palettes. But be prepared, debates over little things can get pretty heated!
2. Making your bed might matter more (or less) than you think.
“I’m going to get right back in it in a few hours! What’s the point of tucking all the blankets in, that just makes more work for me later?!”
“I can’t believe you’ve never made your bed before! It starts your day off with success, and it makes everything look tidy.”
Which one are you? Do you religiously make your bed every morning—or do you not even know how? That’s one thing to be prepared for with new roommates—different cultures put a different emphasis on tidiness!
3. Turning off the light can bless your roommate in a huge way.
Do you flick that switch off the moment the first head hits the pillow? Or, do you slide on that sleep mask and leave the bulb blaring so that your roomie who is still up can move around easily? It all comes down to how you think you should respect each other. It’s crazy how where you’re from or how you grew up affects even the light in your room!
4. Missing food from home can be the best thing to happen to you.
One of the coolest things I’ve learned from having cross-cultural roommates is that being homesick can be one of the best things to happen! It sounds weird, right? But it's true! You might miss that certain brand of peanut butter (or Marmite). Or maybe your mom makes the best homemade lasagna with bananas in it (that true by the way, one of my friends from the Netherlands swears banana lasagna is incredible).
But if you miss something, tell your roommate about it.
It’s the best way to feel better and create an even deeper friendship. Maybe on your birthday, they’ll surprise you with the closest version of that special cake that they can find. Or maybe you can go shopping together and celebrate a “Netherlands Day” and make lots of food from their home—even decorating with national colors can be lots of fun!
5. Chat about the vibe you all want in your room.
Do you decorate your space with lots of chairs and cushions, even a music speaker just in case other friends stop by? Are you always inviting people into your space to hang out? Or do you retreat from people to relax in your room?
The best way to bless your roommate is to figure out what you both are expecting from your room. Maybe one roommate likes to have people hang out with them all the time, or likes to make group video calls in the room—but the other roommate just wants to read quietly and decompress. If you talk about what you want your room to be, you can avoid so much annoyance! Chances are, your “party” roommate won’t mind taking calls out on the balcony. And your quiet roommate will have fun making new friends in their room.
Finally, make the most of your time with your roommates. This awesome blend of cultures can be so fun, and it can’t ever be replicated. This is a unique combination of personalities, nations, and timing that can’t ever happen again—so enjoy it!
The fun new words you use with your friends, the inside jokes, the clothes you got from that quirky shop...it all comes together to make a whole, beautiful chapter of your life. And that’s the best part.