Housemates: A curse or a blessing?

As a current or future international student, there is a high probability that you will end up sharing accommodation. This may mean having one other person living with you – like a good friend, an acquaintance, or a complete stranger.

This has a powerful transformational effect for you: the stranger might turn into an acquaintance, the acquaintance into a good friend, or the good friend might turn into a complete stranger.

Some may wonder then if its a good idea to rent with other people.

For the majority of us, it remains a necessity rather than a choice. Rent is expensive and most of us can’t afford to live on our own. To find out how harrowing it can actually be, over hot dogs, beers, and wine I asked my experienced friends what their opinions were since they had accumulated a good few years of sharing homes.

“It’s already hard enough to live with your own family, let alone with people who were educated differently; their values are different, the way they were raised, everything is a big influence,” said Karina Vieira who had had at least 7 flatmates.

While moving in with people from different backgrounds can be rewarding, everyone agreeed it could also cause conflict.

“I think the fact that people have different routines influences a lot in the experience of living together. When your flatmate wakes up at 5 am but you can sleep until 9 am, for example, he has the right to use the blender if he needs but if he wakes you up in the process of making his breakfast, you feel somewhat harmed,” said Carolina Maleski who is residing in Gold Coast and has experiences sharing flats with many people.

 As we got deeper into the conversation of share houses and flatmates, we coined our own term “unavoidable frictions” for what we perceived to be a common source of conflict that all relates to a difference in routines.

“It’s one little thing here, one minor detail there, and another here… until it gets to the point that you can’t stand it anymore,” Karina said emotionally.

“And there’s more,” she continued in full force. “It seems that some people when they leave their countries, when they are distant from their parents who used to impose limits and establish rules, they become almost limitless!”

I guess that is when you start seeing unfamiliar naked people sleeping on your couch, or when you wake up to find all your food has been eaten by a drunken Spanish-tenant.

Marcellus Sperb, Karina’s partner said a regular thing to hear in his share house in New Zealand was, “Man, don’t touch my food!” Many of us may try different methods to avoid this such as writing your name on your items in the fridge, but still find them eaten by unruly housemates anyways.

However, if you are able to look past the food situation, you may also find yourself struggling with the different social levels of your housemates.

“You have your own dark days, in which you don’t really want to interact with others, you don’t want to chat with anybody. However, you are kind of forced to do it, socialisation is forced upon you… but you didn’t really want to do that.” he said.

After about half an hour of conversation, I was convinced that having flatmates was the most challenging experience of living abroad.

”Sometimes you really want to blow up, but you can’t. You just have to accept things you would not normally accept. Especially if the person you are living with owns the house, or has the lease – which is my case,” Carolina Maleski, another friend of mine elaborated further.

As is human nature, the good has to come with the bad. During the last leg of the conversation when our food and drink had vanished, Diogo Moçambique who had lived in Perth and now in Gold Coast with his partner Michele suddenly noted, “Oh, but there is a good side too.”

Although it may be hard, he recommends everyone to try it at least once in their lives regardless of their financial capabilities.

There are things that I will never forget, and I think people should do this, should live this, because I believe it is important for you to mature as a person, and value things more,” he said.

I guess it is safe to say that living with others is a transformational experience. You learn from being uncomfortable, from stress and making mistakes. In addition to learning how to cohabitate and making friends, having housemates can also be helpful for first-time international students as well.

“And when you first get to Australia, if you live with other people, that is like a head start. You know where to go, what supermarket has the best food, or best prices; which bus to take and things like that. It really saves you time and energy, and best of all: you feel welcomed and supported,” Carolina said.

Cohabitation can teach you a lot about other people but also yourself. Those who have lived in a sharehouse may find their communication skills improve and also have a newfound appreciation for individual and shared spaces.

“Then, when you have your own little place, you will value it a lot more – after having lived with others. You got to learn to respect other people’s limits, and know how to deal with their personalities,” Karina explains.


This story was produced by international students in the Gold Coast as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration with Study Gold Coast. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via meld@meldmagazine.com.au. Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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