Living in dormitories in your first year of university is one of those must-have experiences that everyone told me about and when it goes well, it goes very well (Thank you Gumyoji). But Sheffield was an entirely different matter compared to Yokohama, the same way Ghana and Gulana are not quite the same (one is an African country with a rich vibrant culture while the other is a poisonous abomination of a cola substitute). I was ill prepared for the onslaught of bizarre and frustrating events that took place there, so now it is my duty to use my unfortunate experience to guide you past the pitfalls.
Student Survival Guide to Dorms:
Step 1: Fortify your room
A. Emergency packs
Get settled in when you first arrive. That means, find the exits, check the locks and stock up on food for potential party sieges (more than just winter is coming). They might tell you there’s 24 hour security but don’t be fooled; you are not safe. You share an apartment with at least 5 others which means the front door is compromised. Worse still, the enemy might be living right next door to you. All night, every night drinkers who play music louder than you thought possible and suddenly become far more vocal about what they think of you when under the influence. Or those with no regard at all to apartment rules or neighbours, leaving your kitchen and everything else they touch in a state. So remember to lock your bedroom door and prepare for fallout at any moment. If the party which promises a mess, a fist fight and a couple of vomiting strangers is raging on the other side of that door, you don’t want to push through it just to get something to eat. So at all times keep your room well stocked with dried foods, water and an internet connection, in case you ever find yourself under siege. If you relax security on your own door, get ready for the party to spill inside. I always had at least two bottles of cola, three packets of chocolate digestives and muesli stored away in my emergency party bag; don’t forget to pack yours!
Be wary when answering the door. Always rely on the peep hole, intercom and suspiciously peering from the window to survey the situation. It might help avoid unnecessary awkwardness. Within the first week of living there, I opened the door to propositions of drunken raves, vandalism, sex, drugs, (no rock n’ roll though shockingly) being accused of taking drugs (because I made the fatal mistake of wearing a yukata. Obviously I was abusing my body), volunteering to help someone I didn’t know move his furniture and finally giving money for the great causes such as drinking games. By the time the would-be politician students arrived a few months later to win my vote I was already done. You might not let them inside but that doesn’t mean others won’t. More than once I would find complete strangers in the kitchen alone, sometimes eating my food, sometimes sleeping on the table. One time I came in to find a 65 year old Albanian lady washing the dishes, who then asked me if I ate healthily. Of course she was probably related to the Albanian student who lived two doors down but how could I know for sure? How did I know this Albanian lady hadn’t wandered in from the cold and somebody had just opened the door to her the moment she offered to clean? In such situations, remember to confirm that you maintain a balanced diet before rushing off to ask neighbours if they know who it is. Lock your bedroom door at all times lest you find a new occupant in your bed.
C. Ear plugs
Sound proofing is your next big issue. You might be able to hide inside your glorified and poorly decorated matchbox room but you can’t stop the noise. The walls are painfully thin. So when the guy living above me decided to practice on his electric guitar I was exposed to a live gig from the comfort of my own bed. Oh the amp; what a joyous wonderful invention that was. Any conversation held out in the hallway might as well been yelled in your ear. And any distress outside made you feel like you starred in your very own soap tv show, featuring Poncho, the student who wants nothing to do with your issue and would rather just get a good nights sleep for once. Occasionally somebody would bring a girl or boy back from some nightclub and then even if they were three or four doors away, I’d have the task of pretending I couldn’t hear any beds creaking (or far worse). Why on earth the guitarist upstairs never played when that happened I’ll never know (don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t think about it). So, invest in a good pair of ear plugs. I was not so fortunate so I had to find an adequate substitute to block all the noise. Using left over twine from when I first moved in, I tied my pillow to my own head, bending it o that it would cover both ears as well as the back of my skull, allowing me to lay down to sleep. I could turn and I’d still be lying on the pillow, and I still couldn’t hear anything. Not even my alarm in the morning, leaving me late for lectures once again. Genius, I know.
Step 2: Maintain blindness
Eyes up, ears open. When you leave your apartment to go out, and you will go out eventually into the horrors of this world, you can avoid most of the hell with some simple observation. But don’t misunderstand; keep aware in order to become blind. It’s the best way. Students it seemed had less of a concept of privacy than I did and had only been introduced to the invention of curtains after leaving their parent’s house. People who lived on the first floor learnt quickly after roaming gangs of men jeered and whistled as they passed windows featuring naked or dressing students, but everyone else either took longer or simply didn’t care. Opposite my bedroom window I had a perfect view into a gentleman’s room who enjoyed lifting weights each night stark naked. I have nothing against the male form; I would just rather not see another man’s penis on a nightly basis before I start to make dinner (that being said I was concerned for his safety. When men exercise some body parts move about more than others, and I knew that with each careless swing of those weights he was more and more likely to hurt himself). Worst yet was the view from the kitchen, a window above the stove making it difficult not to look outside. I could tolerate the array of naked bodies (maybe everyone was an exhibitionist?) but one lady who lived across the building was a fellow student in class and that made it difficult to talk with her (believe it or not, it’s difficult to say to a colleague ‘so by the way, could you close your curtains please? I can’t help but see you posing in the mirror when I’m making dinner. Ok, thanks’. Imagine how more difficult it is when the next week it changes to ‘so by the way, could you close your curtains please? I’m happy that your boyfriend came to visit you after being apart for so long but please dear God, close your damn blinds! I can’t un-see that!’). So remember, eyes off windows unless you thrive on awkwardness amongst your colleagues.
B. Early morning
Terrible things happen in the morning. Monsters come out at night but they make their way home at 5 in the morning, usually exhausted or helping carrying their fellow drunken monsters into bed (they’re even kind enough to leave aspirin and a bottle of water by their bedside table for when they wake up). Be ready to avoid them if you’re an early bird. I left my apartment at 5am on a Saturday in order to catch the first train into London and took no care to dodge students on the trail back from the nightclubs. I first came across a small group outside a neighbouring building, standing by the wall just below the second floor balcony. From the balcony someone was on their knees, arm pushed through the bars holding a fried chicken drumstick, lowering it down. On the ground was another guy balancing himself against the wall, while a topless girl sat on his shoulders, as she tried reaching up to grab the chicken (I have no idea where her top or bra were but at the very least she had jeans and winter boots on. There was snow on the ground after all and you had to have the right footwear for that). Now, when you see things like this, it’s tempting to stop and ask questions but she was crying out in such earnest for him to lower the chicken further, I decided that there was enough crazy in my life for the time being and carried on. This was later followed up by multiple homeless people asking first for money and then for my address so they could follow me home later (yay, new friends), a group of three guys singing bohemian rhapsody while swaying left to right in unison and someone dressed as an STI (you might wonder how I know he was an STI, but before you start assuming something about my private life, please know it’s because I visited the University shop where they sold STI plush toys from the biology department. They’re actually pretty cute in a sickening kind of way). Be aware of your surroundings so that you can be at less risk of running into anything ‘unconventional’.