Living in Residence 101

If youre heading off to a university residence next year and fear its more nay than yay, then read on.  Emmeline shares some highs and lows of her res experience at UCT.

Moving out of your family home is a big step. Moving away from home to study is a giant leap.  Besides not knowing what to expect from the studying experience, finding a comfortable living space without your parents is a major concern.  Actually, finding any living space is a major concern.  Let’s be real.

A popular and convenient option for many first year students is university residence.  Meals, security, laundry facilities and transport is all sorted.  Need I say more?

V for Varietas

After high school, I was Cape Town bound for the first time in my life. The purpose of this trip: to study actuarial science at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  At that point, I was scare-cited (new emotion: a combination of scared and excited). Although, if I’m being honest, I was mostly scared – the future had never been more uncertain and I was way out of my comfort zone.

Despite the many question marks, there were two things I was sure of:

#1: I was going to be staying in residence at UCT.

#2: The name of this residence was Varietas.

The reassurance of knowing I would have a roof over my head was definitely the reason I didn’t investigate further.

I arrived on day one thinking my new home would be a female residence, only to find out it was co-ed (this means that both males and females stayed in the same residence).  Yes, those residences exist. After spending the previous five years at an all-girl school and growing up with sisters, this was a major shock to the system.

Note: It is always a good idea to do some research on the place you will be staying at so that you’re not caught off guard.

The first lesson I learnt in res was to adapt.  It’s an essential secret to finding happiness in your home away from home.

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Real-life Res

If you are unsure of what to expect from res, let me assure you that the American movies don’t portray the complete truth.  Although I enjoyed my res experience, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  Here are some pros and cons of res life that may help you get a better idea of what to expect: 

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  • Security

This might be the last thing on your mind when choosing a living space.  But when you live away from home, it quickly works its way up on your priorities list.  University residence is a secure place to be, the only people who can enter your res are those who live there.  Even friends who stay in other residences won’t have access without you to let them in.

There are also sub-wardens and a warden on site to deal with any emergency.  Sub-wardens are senior res students who are trained to cope with any problem you may face.  This ranges from getting locked out of your res room to maintenance issues.  A warden is often an academic at the university who has decided to live on campus.  They assist with serious, personal issues encountered by students. I found peace of mind to be a big res pro.

  • Being Involved.

Whether it is joining a sub-committee in-house or attending events with other residences, there’s plenty opportunity to socialise and get involved. Weekends are never dull.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll party-party.  It’s about the experience of having organised events to attend and friends to be around.  There are countless ways to interact with your fellow res mates – from chilling out in the common room to supporting the res team at sports matches.  Heck, you can even play for a sports team.

I found myself working in the residence reception.  Getting to know everyone as they passed through reception was the best part of the job.  Any student leadership position in res is fun-filled too and allows you to interact more with the people you live with.  It also helps boost your CV.  Bonus.

  • Friends for Life.

Academically, first year is not plain sailing.  I struggled to find my feet and was grateful for the support res offered.  Residence tutors and mentors may sound unnecessary but they really make a difference.  Since they are only a year or two older, they often become your friends.  Most dining halls are shared with other reses which means meeting and having a meal with new people happens quite often.  There’s an unspoken bond that’s shared between first year res students – everyone misses home and is going through the process of adapting to university.  Be prepared to find lifelong friends.  Yay!

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  • Sharing is Caring.

The number one reality of res is that space is limited.  Most first years will be placed in a double room – as in you’ll be sharing a room with a complete stranger.  This can be a blessing or a curse.  After the awkward getting-to-know-you part, my roomie and I developed a solid friendship.  I always had someone to go to the dining hall with and chat to at the end of a day.  This setup could, of course, become a nightmare if you don’t get along with your roomie.  Your personal space is limited and there’s little privacy.  So there’re many ways this can get awkward really quickly. Food for Thought.

If you have high hopes of gourmet-cooked meals, day in and day out, there is no easy way of saying this but… you will be disappointed.  Since student dining halls have so many students to cater for, there’s little TLC put into the meals.  Some residences, like Varietas, are built separate from the dining hall.  So trekking through the rain to get food can be an unfortunate reality. However, I have lived to tell the tale and you will survive too.

  • DIY.

Some residences, such as Varietas, are setup like a commune with a shared bathroom between two to four other students.  You are responsible for keeping that bathroom and your bedroom clean. The best way of managing this is to have a cleaning roster where each person takes turns to clean.

Warning: you could face an uphill battle with this if your flatmates are messy and conveniently forget when it’s their turn to clean.   

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There is a culture attached to res that you can only understand if you’ve gone through the system.  It allows you to grow as an individual by learning to accept and appreciate the differences in the people you live with.  I found that living in res put me at the heart of student life.  Yet some feel the adjustment from home to res is really difficult to make.  It all depends on your mindset – the experience of res is definitely what you make of it.