Freshman Life 101

Surviving Freshman Year: Food for Thought


College was the first time I had to learn how to live on a budget.  Arriving at college with 500 bucks in my debit account reminded me really quickly that I was truly on my own.

After leaving the college book store minus 400 dollars spent on textbooks, I knew I was in trouble.  Okay, okay, I had a meal plan, at least my meals were guaranteed.  I just had to make it to Thanksgiving and I could just hit my parents up for an advance and pack up lots of doggie bags.

By the end of the first week, I knew I was in trouble.  I was starving
Now don’t get  me wrong, after all I did sign up for 2 nutritious meals a day ( I would rather sleep than schlep to the dining hall for cold eggs and heavy pancakes), but I really had to question whether what was served at lunch and dinner really  counted as a food group.  Seafood Newburg?…the worst…I won’t even tell you what it reminded me of. 

Well it was starve or do something about it so I set out to gain the wisdom of older, more experienced students: Sophomores, and find out how they coped.

Here is a partial list of some of my finds:

  • The dollar Menu at McDonalds
  • Lots and lots of Ramen Noodles
  • Industrial Size boxes of Cereal…you can find them at Costco or BJ’s, Wal-Mart is also good. They are great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and in the middle of the night.
  • Good ol’ peanut butter and jelly.
  • Pancakes anytime of day, cheap to make and very filling: Aunt Jemima Complete just needs water!

One guy named 3 items, bologna, cheese and bread.  His list of recipes included: bologna and cheese sandwich, bologna sandwich, cheese sandwich, grilled cheese (which you can grill wrapped in tin foil with an iron), grilled cheese with bologna, fried bologna, bologna and cheese roll ups, bologna by itself, cheese by itself and toast.

Another friend recounted taking advantage of meal specials at the local diners …all you can eat buffets, dinner specials.

Many places offer serious discounts as the day goes on…try Dunkin Donuts 2:00 AM in the morning…the donuts are real cheap then.

Pizza can go a long way if you chip in with friends. 
“Two fers” and coupons allow you to double your purchasing power.
And of course care packages from home and leftover doggie bags are a staple of every college student I met.

Some coeds admitted to a little flirting to get free food and many guys admitted picking their girl friends based on her meal plan or ability to cook.  Empty fridges were a big detractor.

Borrowing the meal card or  extra meal points from friends who went home on the weekend was an easy way of getting some free meals in and if things were really tight: Finding a job working  in the cafeteria or student center guaranteed you free meals or at least a discount.


The Roommate from Hell


The day I Ieft for college was a momentous occasion.  I was finally leaving home, abandoning friends and family to strike out on my own.  I smugly packed up my clothes, favorite posters, stereo and CDs and said good bye to the pink colored walls of the bedroom that I had shared with a younger sister for 16 years.  Having had my own room for a whole 11 months before my baby sister showed up was a memory I could only imagine.  I had always wanted my own room.  The squabbles with my sister over shared toys, clothes, room and space were forgotten as I left, and I promised to call at least once a day and send her a college sweat shirt as soon as possible. 

Moving in was easy.  My parents helped me drag the suitcases, duffle bags and boxes of cherished items up three flights of stairs to my dorm room that early morning in the fall.  Upon my arrival I found myself standing inside of a 9 x 9 foot space, barely able to accommodate 2 beds, 2 desks, 2 chairs and 2 dressers and 1 small closet.   Realizing that I had no idea where to store my meager furnishings which my mother had begun to unpack, I shoved everything into one corner and quickly escorted my parents back to the car, hiding my disappointment.  Things weren’t quite what I thought it would be. 

In months to come, I’d find that my disappointment at the size of my room extended to the fact that the amenities in my dorm left much to be desired: A bathroom on the floor above me shared by 16 women, hot showers that turned cold at the flush of a toilet, limited storage space and the absence of cooking facilities.  Trying to make my room feel more like home, I dug into my meager budget to buy posters, a throw rug and lamp shades to make it feel more like home and less like a hospital room.  In spite of such appalling conditions, I discovered that I was lucky to have a roommate who was friendly, popular and easy to get along with, a far cry from the many stories I began to hear from other freshman who were no where near as lucky.

Most of us, in planning for college, don’t think about dorm accommodations and roommates.  After all, freshmen have few choices, often stuck in freshman dorms or given the leftovers after upperclassmen have chosen their rooms.  Roommates are often randomly assigned and other than options around coed living arrangements or smoke free and alcohol free dorms, they end up with whomever they are lucky or unlucky enough to get.  Horror stories abound about obvious mismatches that cause the freshman year to be an exercise in endurance.    Setting out to document some of these mismatches, I interviewed many classmates who willingly shared their stories.  The following is a partial list of the various archetypes many students described.

The Moocher believes that all of your stuff is his/her stuff. Communal property to be exact, except when it comes to repairs, bills or replacement.  Then it’s your stuff.  The moocher loves care packages sent from your mother and will often open them before you get a chance to.  Watching your TV often means that you have to watch what they want to watch.

The Bully believes that they call the shots and considers you a “door mat”.  Resisting them can often lead to coercive techniques that can be rather unpleasant.  They don’t understand “No” and love trampling your rights.  The Bully rules by intimidation.  But don’t be fooled.  Some bullies can be smaller than you.

The Slob doesn’t have a clue about hygiene.  That pile of dirty clothes stinking up the place will be resorted a number of times before it ever sees the inside of a washing machine.  Every surface on both sides of the room will be decorated with clothes, books and sporting equipment as well as leftover pizza boxes, half empty cans of soda and an overflowing wastebasket. (Usually yours)  Their personal hygiene is often not the best either.

The Neat Freak is the polar opposite of the slob.  This roommate insists on throwing out your stuff in a flurry of housekeeping.  Constantly carping on your habits, dropping subtle and not too subtle hints to clean up behind yourself, they can drive you up the wall.  Often this roommate will start looking like your mom as he/she berates you on keeping up your side of the room.  You in turn will start acting like a kid.

The Party Hound thinks that college is meant to be one constant party.  Don’t expect to get much sleep especially before midnight.   One friend I knew started sleeping on our bedroom floor because she had to get up for an 8:00 AM Calculus class and her roommate’s partying usually ran into the wee hours of the morning.  Party hounds tend to flunk out pretty quickly so if you can outlast them, you’re in good shape.

The Lover Boy/Girl pretends that they don’t have a roommate.  You are an afterthought when they are planning a night of steamy “make-out” sessions.  If you’re lucky, a locked door or a sign saying “Go away” will clue you in.  But don’t be surprised if you wake up in the middle of the night to find your roommate “getting busy”. 

The Campus Drug Dealer is really popular with the “user” crowd on campus.  Expect your room to be visited at all times of the night by shady characters looking to score drugs.  Expecting to be raided any minute, you sleep with your clothes on and are tempted to “drop a dime” on your own roomy.  This is a sticky situation that you want to get out of as soon as possible.

The Stranger than Fiction Roomy defies categorization.  A hermit by nature, possessing few social skills and a wealth of eccentricities, this roommate is hard to understand.  They are as uncomfortable with you as you are with them and are a source of many conversations with your “normal friends”.

The list can go on and on, with roommates who are weird, have strange habits or fetishes.  Every lifestyle is represented with bird watchers, spelunkers, jocks, musicians, Boy Scouts, strict religious types, atheists, tree huggers and hunters.  Liberals, conservatives, socialists and capitalists, vegetarians and carnivores abound.   The more heterogeneous the student body, the more possible combinations of young people having to figure out how to live together.   A simple problem of snoring or teeth grinding can be nerve wracking for the insomniac who is kept up every night.  A depressed roommate can throw a damper on a wide eyed optimist and a hyperactive person can drive a quiet thinker to drink.    In spite of these differences, most college students make it through their freshman year without committing assault.  After all, you get to choose your roommate next year.  But for many students, getting through freshman year is tough.

While some students will actively try to sit their roommate down and work out a plan, many will sit in silence and suffer, griping to parents and classmates, but never doing anything about it.  Sometimes parents will get involved, calling deans and residential advisors and insisting their child be moved…but that’s not the answer either.  Having to live with someone you don’t know and may not like is part of living as an adult.  For many students, especially those fortunate to grow up with their own room, sleeping in double, queen size and king size beds all their life, learning how the other half lives is a valuable experience.  Sharing a space means figuring out how to compromise, setting boundaries and respecting others.    Decorating your room together, splitting the costs of phone, utilities or rent is great for later life.  Imagine how much less populated Judge Judy’s courtroom would be if people learned how to do this.  Speaking your mind, asserting yourself in a relationship that is unbalanced and knowing who to go to to intervene is also important.  Colleges set up a system of advisors, dorm reps and administrators who serve as resources when problems arise.  As an adult, mom and dad won’t be around to fight your battles or exercise their influence.  Finding your voice and expressing yourself is extremely important and will help when you run into some of these same archetypes in the work place.  After all, the Slob may share the work station adjacent to you, the Bully may be your boss or supervisor and the Neat Freak may be your spouse. When you look at it that way, figuring out how to live with a roommate that first year may be the easiest and cheapest lesson to learn.