There are a lot of potential shocks when you arrive in a foreign country; there is different food, a different language or at least a different vernacular, different transportation systems, different stores, and more. I had planned for all these factors through some quick Google searches, talking with others who had been abroad before, and through AIFS information packets. I was so ready to study abroad; I was sure nothing would shock me until I had spent my first week living in a flat with 5 other people. After a little over a month, I have learned that there are five ways to make living in a flat easy and fun.
1. Start a conversation
It is a good idea to have a meeting right at the beginning of the semester, possibly on move in day if that day is not too hectic. In the flat I am in, we had a flat meeting the first night to talk about pet peeves, bad habits, and the like. I know it sounds harsh to bring up these things so soon, but it has really helped our flat keep a friendly environment. Especially when concerning pet peeves, even something simple like clicking a pen when everyone is in the common area studying can drive someone nuts after a week or two. Open and early communication is the best way to keep a happy flat!
2. Set expectations
Again, the sooner you can do this with your flatmates the better. My flatmates and I ran into this problem rather quickly as we were only about a week and a half into the semester when we realized it was the same people who were sweeping the kitchen, wiping the counters, taking out the garbage, and all of that cleaning stuff that goes beyond just washing dishes. It can create tension rather quickly if this becomes a problem, so it is best to set very explicit expectations. At the same time, it is important to remember that everyone has bad days and might forget to do their dishes; stay positive and try not to let the little things bother you as much as possible.
3. Find a few places you can go to study or just be by yourself
Being with the same people all the time will drive anyone crazy. (Even being on holiday with family makes people want to take another vacation.) I found it really helpful to compile a list of places to go just to study and be alone for a bit. My favorite place is Pancras Square Library; I’m even trying to get a library card there as an excuse to go more often. I also frequent the British Library when I’m in need for a change of scenery and, if I’m feeling a little hungry, there is a Starbucks that is not too far from the flat that I like. I know a few of my other flatmates have found their own places like this to destress and really focus on homework. We can all agree that this point is a must!
4. Join a club, sport team or other extrracurricular
On the same idea as the last point, joining a club, sport, or other pass time will force you to leave the flat. It is also a great way to explore what London has to offer study abroad students; not to mention an easy way to meet locals! I joined a lacrosse team here and have had a blast hanging out with the team. One of my flatmates has tried out the swim team, and another has been going to auditions for choirs. There are plenty of opportunities out there, and you do not want to miss them by always being at the flat!
5. Schedule flat dinners or flat bonding nights
Flat bonding is the perfect way to get to know your flatmates. In our flat, we have weekly flat dinners. We rotate who does the cooking, and we all sit together and talk about our week. It is not only a nice way to end or start the week, but a way to get a little family feel while you are away from home. Besides dinners, we have planned a baking night and are looking into a game night. (Though we are having some trouble trying to find cheap board games to add a little variety to the night.) These bonding moments have really brought us all closer together and have made living together much more fun.
The most important piece of advice that I can give when living in an apartment is to not let little things ruin the experience. If you wake up to dirty dishes, remember that you are in another country! There is no time to worry all day about those dishes or that you really need to vacuum. Worry about cleaning at night before bed or block out a Sunday night when everyone is home to do the cleaning. Otherwise, just enjoy your time exploring and experiencing new people or places!
Cassandra Jones is an English and Secondary Education student at Illinois Wesleyan University studying abroad in London for Fall 2019. Cassandra is a keen Lacrosse player and a lover of literature. She is very excited about finding ways to keep her passions alive in London and sharing them through her blog posts. Keep checking back for more of Cassandra’s blogs here.