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Creating communities: How campus dorm life forges meaningful friendships

Tam Tran

Wed Mar 22 2017


Campus accommodation helps international students in many ways. They offer great incentives for those who wish to live a more convenient life by reducing the amount of commuting time, provide students with immediate access to research and study facilities on campus, and in some cases may even be more affordable than the accommodation options offered outside of campus.

But more importantly, life on campus can help students adjust and enhance their sense of belonging in a community.

Yufei, a student from China, has lived on her college’s ground for two years. Her time living on campus has been fond and she has cherished her experience in the dorms, particularly in her first year.

“We watched movies and stayed up late together several times in a semester, and [these moments] were all very memorable to me,” Yufei said.

These opportunities to bond with others always start with the dormitory version of O-Week, where instead of campus familiarisation and student club registrations, organisers would plan for game nights, movie nights, corridor chats and meal outings for new students living away from home for the first time. For international students, it’s an opportunity for them to receive a crash course on Australian culture and make new friends altogether.

I think if I hadn’t been [living on campus], I would’ve been more timid to approach people, especially people I don’t know,” said Iranian student Ardeshir.

It may seem overwhelming at times, particularly when there are more than 100 students in each dormitory, but when everyone’s on the same crazy boat, the chance to meet people from all around the world and become part of a bigger community becomes all too enticing to give up.

Sure, you’ll have to learn how to share the bathroom with 10 to 20 people at a time but after a few weeks of dorm life, the people you wait with and bump into at the bathroom every night may very well end up becoming your best buddies.

“I think if I hadn’t been [living on campus], I would’ve been more timid to approach people, especially people I don’t know,” said Iranian student Ardeshir, who has participated in the many volunteering activities as a result of living in the dorms.

Essentially serving as a built-in social network, the communities that are created from on-campus living see students form meaningful relationships with their peers.

Though the convenience and easy access to academic and health support are qualities that make dorm life that much more appealing, it’s the supportive network that students’ build from sharing the same facilities and living within close proximity of each other that eventuate into a meaningful experience.

Yuma, a student from Japan, can certainly attest to this. “Everyone is nice and really helpful,” she said. “When I’m having hard times… I would feel grateful to have friends [in the dorms].”

Only so much can be achieved from talking to friends and family through Skype or Facetime — sometimes its the personal interaction that people need to give them comfort and peace of mind.

Starting a new life in a foreign city is daunting but at the very least, being able to connect with someone else down the corridor who may be feeling the same way, is something that international students shouldn’t forget about. And in that sense, dorm life can be quite meaningful in ways that students might not have imagined when they first move into their room.

“You’re living with your family, you’re living with your friends,” Yuma said.

Supported by the City of Melbourne through a community grant, this story is part of a year-long PEER Project which aims to help international students build healthy community, explore and find peer-support on issues around identity and gender, discuss common struggles and stereotypes, and gain the confidence to navigate current and future relationships.