Growing up I had only ever shared a room with one person, my middle sister, and so the prospect of going to college and sharing a dorm room with a stranger was a foreign and somewhat intimidating concept. Barnard, for its part, reassured us with a housing questionnaire that we would be matched with a person that best suited our lifestyle habits. I, in turn, answered each question as honestly as possible (making myself sound like a early-sleeper anti-partying lame-o in the process) and submitted the questionnaire, hoping for the best.
Weeks later I received the contact information of my would-be roommate, an AOL email that I promptly loaded into my AOL instant messenger buddy list. Our first chat involved Comic Sans font, an uninspired discussion on room décor (curtains and a possible mini-fridge), and a photo she sent of me that involved her wearing some kind of Abercrombie shirt with SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA emblazoned across the front. She was from the Bronx. I was the one from California. Not Southern California, but still.
I was less than thrilled. And, after arriving at Barnard late for my first day, off a Super Shuttle van straight from the airport, I discovered that this roommate of mine had arrived before me and claimed the bed by the window. I wanted the bed by the window. It wasn’t fair.
I was relieved to discover, however, that I was uniquely situated in a Brooks suite. That meant that I had two other suitemates who shared another bedroom, and that the four of us shared a common study room. One was a Pakistani girl most recently from New Jersey, the other an Indian girl from Staten Island. My roommate was the Yugoslavian girl from the Bronx, and I was the Chinese girl from California.
Despite my initial misgivings, we all got along well, although our differences made us wonder just what exactly led the housing questionnaire to assign us together. “It must be because we’re all minorities!” we joked, knowing that there was more to it than that.
Being that all of my suitemates were from the New York City area, they would often go home on the weekends, leaving me alone and well, lonely. I had chosen to go across the country for college, yes, but still it didn’t seem fair that they could blunt the impact of college adjustment by returning to their families as often as they liked.
What I didn’t know was that as we got to know one another, they would open up and welcome me into their families, that I would become privy to homecooked meals and parental inquiries and the warmth that comes with settling amongst people who have known each other forever. That I would one day participate in Indian dances, travel to Pakistan, and attend a Yugoslavian wedding. That my narrow notions of fairness didn’t account for the fact that people take each other in, that they become more than themselves in sharing, and learning, which is what happens when amazing people are given the opportunity to come together and live amongst each other.
Maybe that housing questionnaire made some miraculous calculations in putting us together, but really, I prefer to think that it would have happened anyway at a place like Barnard.