On Having A Foreign Roommate
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Politics and Activism

On Having A Foreign Roommate

This is what it was like having a Chinese roommate for my first semester in college.

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On Having A Foreign Roommate
Megan Sederwall

I lived in the dorms for my first three semesters of college, and all three semesters, I had a different roommate. All three experiences were incredibly different, but without a doubt, I will never forget my first roommate: Di.

Di was an exchange student from a large city in China and she was only there for one semester. My school had a sister-campus in China, so there was actually a significant number of Chinese students on campus. I got really lucky with Di; she was an English major. While I could tell English wasn’t her first language and she sometimes had to look up words I used, we had very little trouble communicating.

Having a Chinese roommate was not an experience I was prepared for, but it ended up being one of my favorites. Di had a thirst for knowledge and she found American culture to be absolutely fascinating. We would spend hours sitting on our beds across from each other, talking about our native country’s customs and the things we enjoyed.

There were many things Di got to experience here that were vastly different to what she could have experienced in China. One night, close to the end of the semester, we went to the movies. She loved it, but I remember she said it was a movie she never could have watched in China. Then, before she left, she insisted I put as much music as possible on her computer so she could take it back with her. She loved my music, but she said she would not have access to any of it once she returned home. In return, she wrote my name in Chinese and gave me a paper cutting of a panda, which she had brought with her from China.

Growing up in a community that did not yield much cultural diversity, the experience I had with Di was a huge learning experience. Di opened my eyes and showed me that the things I took for granted were not available for everyone. Even some of the things I owned which said “Made in China” were things she had never seen before.

I remember when we first moved into our dorm, Di was shocked at the size of our room. By American standards, it was relatively small, especially for two people. Di, however, was ecstatic to have so much space. According to her, six girls would have to share a similar space had we been in China.

Then, just before she was to return home, she found out the roommates who were supposed to be saving her space in China gave her space away without telling her. Di was understandably upset. Most of us would have thrown a fit, but Di’s mother reminded her, “Just because you’re in America, that doesn’t mean you can act like an American.”

That, too, was an eye-opening experience. I didn’t realize we had such a reputation when it comes to American anger. I didn’t realize the Chinese would work so hard to make sure they stayed calm and respectable when they were wronged. Di said public displays of anger were frowned upon.

Di did what her mother asked. She was calm and polite, just as she always was. Di was one of the nicest and most genuine people I have ever met in my entire life. It makes me sad to know I will probably never see her again. In fact, with all the firewalls in China, we ended up losing contact after a few semesters. Even if I never talk to her again, I will never forget her or the things she taught me.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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