Queen Mary University of London is unique; it’s the only campus-based university in London. All other universities may require you to take public transportation in between classes because different departments are located at different spots in the city. Being at Queen Mary means that I get to live on campus in a dorm, though the living accommodations are more like apartments, or “flats,” as the British call them.
There are six of us living in my flat. On the bottom floor we have a shared kitchen, along with two rooms. Then there’s a staircase leading to four more rooms. Mine is on the second floor above the kitchen. We don’t share our rooms with anyone else, unlike American colleges where you’ll typically have a roommate for your first year. Also, each room has it’s own miniature bathroom with a shower! I’ve been used to having one shower for five people the past few years, so my own bathroom is a luxury!
However, the flat itself doesn’t make this a home; it’s the people who live in it. I’m a more mature student. What I mean is that since I took a gap year in the middle of college, and I am studying abroad in my senior year instead of junior year, I’m much older than the other students at Queen Mary. Plus, only freshmen are allowed to live on campus.
So that means most people in the dorms are 17 or 18, while I’m 22. When I first moved into my flat, I was worried about who my flatmates would be. There is a big difference in maturity between an 18 and 22 year old, and I was hoping for flatmates that wouldn’t be into crazy partying because they are finally away from home and the watchful eye of their parents.
I really lucked out. I’m in the mature flat. James, another study abroad student, is the youngest at 21. So we range in age from 21 to 25 years old. Most of the other students have been working for three or four years, and then they chose to come back for university. We are all here with the goal of learning, as opposed to taking advantage of our new found freedom, since all of us have been living on our own for four or more years.
My flat is my family. During our orientation week we explored different parts of London together, and we cook on a rotation schedule. We have a whiteboard on the refrigerator that lists who is cooking dinner from Sunday through Thursday. We have quite fancy dinners. For example, James makes the most amazing vegetable lasagna, with garlic bread as a side. We typically also have some sort of dessert, whether it’s fancy Cappucino Cupcakes made by Nicola, or fresh banana bread muffins by Keisha, or roasted nectarines that I made. Dinner is a two hour ordeal where we catch up with each other, talk about our days, socialize, and unwind from all our lectures. So though we may not have our blood family, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, at university with us, we have a different sort of family.
Now this is not necessarily normal.
I have friends in different flats who almost never see their other flatmates, and hang out with friends from classes instead of having dinner with their flatmates. I’m grateful for the way my flat is, because when integrating into a new culture I like to create a new family with the friends I make. Then you have people to go through as you’re adjusting to the new culture. I can go to Nicola and Jamie, who are from England, about any “stupid” questions about British culture. If I’m ever unsure if I’m behaving in a way that is insulting to the British culture, I can ask them without being judged. I can also go to my flatmates if I’ve been having a bad day, and they’ll cheer me up. They force me to stay social, as I have a tendency to get too absorbed in my schoolwork. Now it’s important to make school a priority, but you don’t want to be doing homework and readings 24/7. You need a balance to make sure you stay healthy, like getting exercise, exploring the neighborhood and culture, while at the same time staying on top of your workload.
My room is my “me” space. Somewhere I can go to unwind at the end of the day or focus on my schoolwork when a deadline is coming up. But the kitchen is our social area, and a meet-up point as we decide what adventures to have that weekend. It’s where we bring outside friends into our flat community, or our significant others. I’m thankful for my English family, my flatmates Keisha, Jamie, James, and Nicola. And I hope that wherever you all go, that you’re able to find friends that become family, and who make your house into a home.