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Hi, I'm 27 and I Live in a Dorm

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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Hi, I'm 27 and I Live in a Dorm | Faith Permeating Life

We've now been living in a college residence hall for seven months, since Mike took on his position as hall director. I made an offhand sarcastic comment in my post on being sick about how much I love living on a college campus, but in truth, there are a lot of things I like about our living situation. And not just that we get free housing and food :)

Mike and I both spent time living in residence halls as college students (you may recall this is how we met), but it's a different kind of experience to live in a dorm as adults. I'm in a unique position, as I'm neither a student nor a staff member like Mike, so I get the full-fledged experience of living on a campus without having any other ties to the university itself.

Here are some of the pros and cons of living on a college campus when you're not a student:


There's always someone around.
After the loneliness of knowing no one in our building in Chicago, and only making friends with one couple shortly before moving, it's been very different to know so many people who live in the same building as us, and even more throughout campus! It's nice to come home and be greeted by friends who are hanging out in the lobby or working the front desk. Guys stop by often to invite Mike to play video games or watch a movie, and it's easy to throw together an impromptu board game night. It's also nice to have lots of people around to ask if you need a hand or need to borrow something (although I think they borrow from us a lot more often than vice versa!). When I was sick with the stomach flu and Mike was gone one day, I was too weak to get my bottle of Gatorade open, so I shuffled out to the lobby in my pajamas and was thankful to find that the person working the front desk was one of our good friends, who happily opened my bottle for me.

We're behind double-layer security.
Like in Chicago, we can lock and deadbolt our apartment door, but there's also a front desk where every person has to show their ID or fill out a visitor form when entering the building, or else swipe their ID card to unlock the front door during the hours the desk isn't staffed. This, of course, made it extra-freaky when Mike's brand new Wii U got stolen out of the basement over winter break, when student card access was blocked and only campus staff could access the building. So we try not to get too lax. But it is nice to know that during the semester there's someone seeing every person who comes into the building.

Evening and weekend activities? Take your pick!
I love the entertainment/cultural enrichment aspect of being on a college campus. The residence hall staff puts on events every Saturday night, so we usually at least stop by whatever's going on, which might be a barbecue, a craft night, an improv show, or something else. We've attended several orchestra and choir concerts, which is where I learned about the women's chorale that is open to community members and which I joined this semester (though sadly I'll have to miss our first concert as my voice still hasn't returned). I've gone to at least three speakers, although two were pretty terrible. Mike went to a lot of soccer games during the fall. There are talent shows, open mic nights, and more. And everything's less than a 10-minute walk from home, so I can go to a 7pm event on a weeknight and still get to bed in plenty of time.

It's like a mini-town.
Since many students don't have cars and it's a good long ride to take the bus anywhere of interest, most of the basic things you could want are right on campus. We eat dinner in the dining hall most nights and go to Mass at the campus chapel on Sunday. There's a post office window that's open during the week, and a library open every day and fairly late. There's even a little grocery store where we can use our meal points, though everything's unsurprisingly overpriced and heavily packaged and their hours are weird. And, of course, there's a concert hall, a theater, and a stadium for your various entertainment needs!


There's always someone around.
Yes, this can be a good thing, but then there are the times that Mike and I are trying to have a conversation and we're interrupted every two minutes by a resident knocking on the door. Or the times when we want to have a serious discussion over dinner and someone invites themselves to sit with us. Or we're walking somewhere and Mike is stopped every few feet by people wanting to talk to him. Thankfully the students in our building tend to be fairly quiet, and our apartment doesn't back up to anyone else's room, but there are still times when the front lobby can get a little noisy even with our front door shut. And don't get me started on finals week, where there's 23-hour quiet periods and then a 1-hour "blowout" period where the students get to scream and shout and blare music -- during the hour I'm usually trying to fall asleep!

We can't have pets (or kids over 2).
Although I'm happy we found a great new home for our rats, it was still a bummer not being able to take them to Whoville with us. It's not too big of a deal for us, but I feel bad for the hall directors who don't have partners and can't adopt a furry friend to keep them company. (I'm not saying there's something wrong with being single/alone! But other hall directors have made this point.) We should be able to adopt an infant while still living in the dorm, but as the rules stand now we can't have a child over 2 years of age, even if we moved to one of the other halls that have 2- or 3-bedroom apartments. So if we did want to stay here longer, and we might, that would put a cap on our time here.

3AM fire alarms.
Thankfully the university is not cruel enough to have fire drills in the middle of the night, but there have still been a handful of late-night/early-morning alarms, at least one of which was due to a problem with the alarm system itself! Our residents have now seen me in my pajamas and retainer a number of times, and I've seen more of them in their boxers than I ever wanted to. But that's living in community for you, I guess...

Sickness travels fast.
I'd never had the misfortunate of having back-to-back illnesses before these past few weeks, but it's not that surprising since I chose to eat in the campus dining hall before my immune system was 100% back to normal. Having that many people in close quarters for long stretches of time -- living, eating, studying together -- it's difficult to prevent the spread of illness. It's right up there with preschools, hospitals, and cruise ships. On the night in question the university had staffed the normally self-service salad bar and put up a sign explaining that they were trying to arrest the spread of the norovirus, but I was still packed in a room with hundreds of college students, breathing the air. So during the rest of my illness(es) I quarantined myself in our apartment, which was very, very lonely when Mike was off at meetings and I was used to people stopping by all the time. Even now I'm still not daring to venture back to the dining hall until I'm sure the rest of this sinus infection is out of my system. Too many germs!

All in all, I'm glad we're here. It's definitely a different experience than the whole roommate/shared bathrooms/general stresses of college experience of being a student in a dorm, and for myself an even different experience than Mike has as director of the building. While a lot of people look at me with trepidation when I tell them where we live and say that they could never do that, it's a pretty good gig if you can get it and don't mind the idea of living in community with lots of college students.

If you've lived on campus, what do you remember liking and disliking about it? Would you ever do it again?


  1. Is it sad that I kind of miss dorm life?

    I know that now if I were to re-live it, I would probably get tired of it after a few weeks. But all of the pros... man I miss those. Thankfully my neighbors in my new apartment building are really nice (except one creepy guy.... OMG there's a story there that might go on the blog!) but I miss having people around all of the time and being able to have random game nights and such. Being an adult out of college is hard on the social life!

    But at the same time, while I miss having a meal plan, I don't miss the food I was required to eat. It was GROSS! I also don't miss having to share a bathroom with a ton of other people.

    1. Thankfully the company that runs our dining hall is known for serving top-quality food, and they have a lot of vegetarian/vegan options, locally sourced and in-season food, humanely raised meat, etc., which is awesome. Even so, it's not without its problems -- I had to write a letter to the management after one of my meals got made wrong THREE times in a row, and they didn't talk to me about it (because I would have just taken the wrong food), just kept putting it off to the side until one of them had a chance to remake it again, so I had to wait over half an hour while watching them argue with each other. But normally... it's good.

  2. You just made me miss college! Not that I didn't already. In fact, I'm looking into making a career change to work in higher education, partly because I love the college campus environment. I don't want to work in res life, so no dorm rooms for me, but I would love to have a lot of the benefits of being on a college campus that you mentioned.

    The thing I miss most about dorm life was that my friends were all there in one place, never far away. It was so easy to spend time with them. I wish it could have stayed that way.

    1. It's funny, when I tell people where we live, they always think we live in a dorm room, which I could never do again. But no, we have a really nice one-bedroom apartment, though like a dorm room it did come pre-furnished, which was nice for moving cross-country!

      The one weird thing about making friends with our residents is that I can forget how young they are; they're almost all closer in age to my little sister than to us! And there's obviously a power dynamic that you don't normally have living near friends, since Mike has to have discipline meetings with them if they break the rules. But for general having-people-to-hang-out-and-play-games-with, it's great.

    2. Yeah, that was what I figured- like what upperclassmen live in but only one bedroom. We thought it was amazing in college when freshman year was over and we got to live in rooms with actual couches!

  3. I lived on campus my first 3 years of college. The first year was in a typical high-rise dorm with shared bathrooms. I liked having people around, but I didn't like the long gloomy halls, waiting for the elevator, frequent fire alarms, or using large "public" bathrooms all the time (especially when sick--it's a long walk!).

    Then I lived in a 3-story dorm with only 54 residents. It was much more homey. With only 3 people sharing a bathroom, if there was a sanitation issue we could talk it out instead of not knowing who was doing it. The rooms, halls, and lounge all were very cozy in style.

    I didn't like being on a meal plan, though, and midway through my first year (as soon as I learned this was an option) I converted it to a cash-balance plan so my parents were spending only the money I chose to spend in the dining halls (instead of 19 meals a week) and I could eat some meals elsewhere. I did a lot of cooking in my dorm in a hot-pot.

    I moved off-campus to get a real kitchen, lower rent, and lower laundry prices. I lived less than a mile away, so the advantages of campus still were very accessible. That was the college living situation I really liked best.

    In the 17 years since I graduated, I've always lived within 3 miles of my university and done stuff on campus pretty regularly. Not everything is open to alumni, but there are still lots of fun and useful things to do there.

    1. When Mike stops working at the university, we've talked about wanting to live close enough to campus to still participate in events occasionally. Someday we want to live in a house out in the country, but Mike has accepted that that's more of a long-term future dream, and in the meantime we'd like to stay connected to this campus, as it's a really great school.

  4. I never really cared for dorm living per se. Though I did technically live on campus for all of college, three of my four years were in interest houses a few blocks away from the main campus. To me, this was the best of both worlds: still close to events and friends, but not forced to share bathrooms/laundry rooms with a ton of people or eat at the dining hall all the time (I saved a ridiculous amount of money, and improved my cooking skills, by alternating cooking dinner with a group of friends five nights a week).

    Now that I'm hoping to go back to graduate school, though, the idea of having someone cook for me seems a lot more appealing... I hear things can get pretty intense...

    1. I only lived in a dorm my freshman year, and then I was in university apartments or houses the rest of my time, where my roommates and I had our own kitchen, bathroom, etc. I'm glad we still have a kitchen in our apartment, but having a meal plan is really nice -- we've cut back on "eating out" because anytime we don't feel like cooking we can just walk to the dining hall. If Mike's job didn't come with a meal plan, though, I don't think that we'd eat there very often.

  5. I definitely liked how there were always people around in college and it was easy to make friends. I hope I can still have friends now that I'm in the real world. :)

    1. Making friends after college can be tough; at least, it requires a bit more effort than in college. I recommend this post and also this one.


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