Away from home, on a shoestring budget, it's almost certain that you will have to share room space with a stranger. That doesn't mean you have to like them, writes Mariam Beirouti. And of all the roomies she has had, there's only one she wishes had continued to stay with her over the years at university.

I t may be because the world is getting overcrowded, it could be that a person just wants to exhale loudly ? whatever it is, everyone feels the need for privacy and the desire to get away from the inquisitive eyes and ears around them.

One's home is the usual sanctuary and, if you live with your parents, it is your room that gives you peace. However, if you are heading for college, particularly one that is not in your hometown, chances are you will be splitting your haven with a roommate.

There is no doubt about it. Sharing your room is a pain in the neck when you have to do so with your sibling. But, living in a bedroom that is smaller than Vince Vaughn's closet, with someone you hardly know (if at all), is so much worse.

The reason is because, of the two categories, siblings and roommates, you can only beat up your brothers and sisters. Attacking your roommate when he or she annoys you will only get you charged with aggravated assault and, trust me, a conviction will not look good on your resume, no matter how macho it sounds.

Loud, obnoxious and crazy

I had the roommate from hell during my first semester in college. Keyshana was an African-American girl nearing six feet in height (I am only five foot two), loud, obnoxious and crazy. I let her dominate me from day one because I was suffering from 'Asianitis', which is, being way too polite and a pushover for people who can out-yell you and who have the ability to look over your head without any trouble.

That fall semester, I had to deal with something suspicious in my microwave, impromptu late night parties in my toilet-sized room and having my books stolen right before my finals week.

I was young, fresh off the boat and had lived a very sheltered life in Dubai. I had absolutely no idea how to handle a person like that. I wanted friends, I wanted to party with my roommate but I also wanted to study!

I could have complained but I did not want to be known around the dorm as a snitch. So I suffered a little, calmed my homicidal tendencies and thanked God when she left the state.

A rare breed

The girl who came to live with me during my first spring semester was a soft-spoken Korean-American who was very sweet and loved to make quilts. We talked a lot over literature since it was our major.

Unfortunately, she has a terminal illness and she had to transfer to another university at the end of the year. It is rare to have no complaints about a stranger and rarer still to actually get along with one in co-habitation. Claire is the only person I wish had continued to room with me.

By this time, with sophomore year approaching, I desperately needed to get out of the dormitories. State-funded universities have horrible dorms at horrible prices. Any more gunk from the cafeteria kitchen and I would have died from every stomach virus known to man. I had to escape but my parents would not let me get my own apartment.

My friends had decided long ago on their next roommates and I, the eternal procrastinator, had not asked anyone as yet (and when I did, the rejection felt like prom-night all over again).

Polar opposites

So at the very last minute, I got into a privately-owned university loft which I had to share with a random girl - Jessica.

The loft was great. I had a kitchen, a bathroom (with a bath tub) that I did not have to share with 50 girls and enough wall space to put up all my funky art. What I lacked was privacy. In a loft there are no doors (except for the bathroom's but it gets too claustrophobic in there).

If you are angry you cannot slam anything except your head against the walls but then your roommate will start to worry and you will have to explain yourself without appearing moronic which is usually harder than it sounds.

My roommate and I tolerated each other. Not that she was a horrible person, we just did not click. We were polar opposites and the good thing is that we respected each other's personal space, which is what strangers usually do anyway.

It is uncomfortable living this way because you are never relaxed and always on tip-toe for fear of disturbing your roommate. The loft was a place for us to work and sleep but not one where we could each play to our most childish desires.

Because we were not friends, but just roommates, handling money matters, for the loft's electricity, internet and other bills was a nightmare because one does not want to accuse the other of using up five more minutes of hot water but being a student, one always wants to save the odd buck here and there.

So I lost a bit of money, used up more electricity the next month for revenge and let out a huge sigh of relief when sophomore year ended at last.


This year being junior year, I have escaped to Paris and am living in an all-girls dorm because apartments are too expensive and, in a cosmopolitan city, friends are hard to make.

My roommate is a Moroccan girl who talks from the moment I wake up to the moment I either pretend to sleep or leave the building.

Her alarm goes off for an hour at seven in the morning, on the dot because she never wakes up. She uses my lap-top incessantly, never washes the dishes and especially when I am reading, will suddenly burst into song.

But she also tucks me into bed when I am sick, makes me tea when I am down and drags me to go shopping with her when the weather is good.

Her naivete, innocence and frivolity stop me from bludgeoning her every time she clogs the sink. Because, even though, a roommate can grate your nerves and make your mind explode, it is still nice to have someone with whom you can gossip about how incredibly bizarre Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are.

So, until the school year ends, I will continue to tolerate Sadaf, tear out a couple of hair strands over her clumsiness and try not to laugh when her voice screeches a-la- Celine Dion.

But, I swear, next year, when I am a senior, I will have my own room if that is the last thing I do!

Five types

Although every roommate is essentially unique, most of them can be categorised in these five types.

1. The Artful Dodger: The roommate who takes your things without your permission. A bit like stealing but different because the things remain in the same room. Usually, in the beginning, you wonder why your belongings seem to make themselves at home on your roommate's desk.

Solution: Start taking roommate's things and when he/she asks why you are using them turn around, narrow your eyes and say: "Because they like me better?"

2. The Oprah Winfrey: This roommate is notorious for incessant rants. A lot of talking and not enough of listening. He or she seems to have something against silence.

Solution: When your roommate goes on a rant, stop, stare and slowly stuff your ears with cotton while roommate looks puzzled and shuts up.

3. The Snorer: While this roommate cannot help it, snoring can still be counted as a crime against humanity.

Solution: Turn your roommate on the side while roommate sleeps. Alternatively, go to bed before he or she does!

4. he Paris Hilton wannabe: The party animals of universities and the bane of society, this type of roommate brings crazy friends, bad music and cheap snacks to your room.

Solution: Buy a bull-horn and the next time there is a party disturbing your peace in your room, start yelling out embarrassing and disgusting things that he/she has ever done.

5. The Music Master: This roommate is the most common one. Roommate blasts, usually very bad, music at all hours of the day so that even your neighbours wake up with eye-bags and implore you to smash your roommate's music equipment.

Solution: Smash your roommate's music equipment.

Love it? Hate it?

"I love sharing a room because I would be sharing a friend, things and it will be nice having company."
- Mona Gani, fashion, MAHE- Manipal

"I am sharing a room, but I hate it; I don't have my privacy. I like to switch off the light whenever I want without taking someone else into consideration."
- Nazim Abaji, business, Skyline College

"No, because I like to feel free at home and I love to have my privacy."
- Bassam Chaban, tourism, Skyline College

"No I don't like sharing a room, because I need my privacy."
- Abdul Rahman Seddiqi, marketing, UOWD

"I don't mind sharing a room as long as I know the person. And especially if we were from the same country and nationality, we will have the same background and that would make it easier."
- Sarah Ebad Zadeh, finance, UOWD

"I would have to adjust my whole life depending on this person, and that I would not like to do."
- Pari Shamsi, marketing, Middlesex University

"I am against having a roommate because I would not have my privacy."
- Shamoon Nissar, mechanical engineering, American University of Sharjah

"It depends if we are from the same culture, speaking the same language and of the same nationality, then I would not mind sharing a room."
- Asad Anjomrouz, IT, UOWD

"I don't like sharing a room with anyone because I would not have my privacy."
- Yasmin Ramadan, media and mass communications, Middlesex University

"It depends on the person you are sharing the room with. I personally have to know the person really well before sharing a room."
- S.Ruksana, IITM

- The writer is majoring in Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. She is currently doing a one-year study abroad programme in Paris