- 25 Sep 23
Niamh Browne talks surviving dodgy college houses, crappy housemates, hangovers and heartbreaks.
When it comes to sharing living spaces, there’s more than practical issues to deal with. You can know your stuff, have your room sorted, budget your meals tightly – and so on. But sometimes, the emotional aspect of living with a bunch of ‘new-born’ adults is more challenging than the logistics. Let me explain why!
I did not realise I was a clean person till I moved away from home. When you grow up in a family environment, you all have a shared idea of what cleanliness might look like. Basically, it’s dictated by your parents and you follow suit. If they’re tidy, you probably will be too. And if not? Shudder!
When you move out for the first time, it’s a free for all. You might discover that someone leaving dirty dishes in a sink doesn’t bother you, but it can really bother Chloe, 19, from Charleville.
I once lived with a girl who never, I repeat never did a dish. When I asked her to pull up the slack, she started eating off plastic plates and throwing them out afterwards. This was most injurious to my little environmentalist heart. I then offered that, if she was going to condemn a plastic plate to a landfill for 500 years every time she ate, I would start doing all the dishes for her. Oddly, this tactic worked: she finally started washing her own dishes.
I am not sure there’s much of a moral here, other than that tip-toeing around the issue ultimately benefits no one.
I am unfortunately, unlikely to be any help on this issue. I am loud and extroverted, and although I might try my best to be discreet and not make too much noise, I don’t think a single person I have lived with could say that I crept quietly into our abode after a night out.
What I will say, however, is make friends with your flatmates. Under no circumstances host a bash where a flatmate is not invited. Do not host parties without asking them first, and don’t just assume that because they’re usually quiet, they don’t want to be included. College is a time for people to make new friends. There’s no harm in starting at home!
If you’re a light sleeper, invest in earbuds. Your flatmates might be monastically quiet by some miracle, but if you’re living in a student area, be it Corrib Village in Galway or College Road in Cork, there’s bound to be noise late at night, especially on Thursdays. There’s only so much within your control, and getting noisy students in the street to shut up is not one of them.
A rather delicate issue is flatmates having boyfriends and girlfriends. Sometimes, people you like will date people you do not like. There’s unfortunately little you can do about this. Even if they hang around like a bad smell, your flatmate is entitled to have his or her partner over. The best to do is try to see their better side. Organise board game nights, movie nights, or other activities that enable you to see them in the round.
If your flatmate has a partner that you do like, woohoo! If however, you don’t like the sound of banging headboards, you might have to revert to the original suggestion of investing in earbuds. It’s all part of the rich tapestry of student life.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
It is always a good idea not to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is part of the art of growing up that you recognise the wonderful diversity of people who are accidentally clustered together in college. If you want people to recognise how wonderful and strange you are, well, you can look at them in that favourable, forgiving light as well.
By all means, change the things you can – but be prepared to endure the things you can’t change. It isn’t easy going outside the familiar comfort of the family. Then again, lots of people are miserable at home and getting out comes as a huge boon. Either way, resist the temptation to get into arguments or conflicts, unless it is something that really, really matters...
DEALING WITH HOMESICKNESS
‘College is the best time of your life.’ ‘Ah sure, you must love it up in the big smoke.’ ‘Working hard? Hardly working, more like.’ These are all whimsical descriptions of the college experience. The fact of the matter is: sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you’re sitting in a class you feel vastly under-qualified for and, to quote the song, “You may ask yourself/ Well, how did I get here?” Equally, you may suddenly question how having an in-depth knowledge of the Defenestrations of Prague will ever get you a job.
Come on, you’re young. Be happy! Every minute you spend being young and not happy feels like some dreadful waste of time. Doesn’t it?
Not so. Any endeavour that is intended to develop you as a person, whether academically, emotionally, or physically, involves some kind of resistance. Does Rhasidat Adeleke really enjoy training? Nah, even while she was in college it was rough work, which involved pushing herself harder than hard.
There are many people who, looking back, will say – hand on heart – that they loved college. They had the best time ever – and will always look back on their college years as the halcyon days. There are others who hated college. It was simply a three-year fast-track to a better paying job, and the stress of lectures, social outings and shared living were simply a means to an end.
Then there’s the majority for whom it was – or is – a bit of both. I would hate to be one of those who feel that they are past their prime after graduating. Or that my working life paled in comparison to me sobbing over a vodka tonic and a Tinder date that ghosted me. Equally, though, I reject the idea that college was merely a means to an end – a job or a better life – and that I sank four years into something I hated. For me, away from the academic side, it was a mixture of enriching friendships, funny stories and hard-won life lessons.
So remember this, as you traipse along the concourse to another less than intoxicating lecture or class, our time in college might not necessarily be heaven, but the appreciation you gain of the rich tapestry of human life during those years can stay with you for a lifetime. Enjoy!
Read the full Student Special in the current issue of Hot Press – out now: