Small is beautiful for students in residence

by Dorianne Sager
Student intern
Sing Tao School of Journalism

"Room for rent -- 204 square feet. Comes complete with desk, bed, roommate and 1,148 neighbours. Shared bathroom with 30 other people. No pets, hanging pictures or painting walls. Potted plants welcome. Meals included. Total cost, $612 per month."

Even IKEA would have a hard time making this living space feel like home.

So why is it that each year UBC's residence complexes enjoy full capacity? There must be something drawing the students other than the opportunity to eat cafeteria food three times a day.

Janice Robinson, assistant director, Residence Life, believes that living in residence is one of the most effective ways to deal with the loneliness and adjustment period many first-year students undergo.

"Big research-focused universities, including UBC, just don't feel like warm and welcoming places for many new students. It's pretty easy to feel like a number rather than a known, accepted and valued member of the community," she says.

"The secret to feeling like you belong at a big place (like UBC) is to find a smaller place, a smaller group of people, a smaller community within this larger community -- and begin to meet others, one at a time," she says.

Scott Zuyderduyn, a resident of Place Vanier, spent his first year of university at Malaspina University College before making the move to UBC. He sees residence life as a chance to become directly involved with the campus through volunteer organizations, intramural sports and other activities.

Being surrounded 24 hours a day by people who have similar hopes and dreams is an amazing support system, he says.

"I've endured the bare university experience of just taking the courses, and believe me, living on the campus in residence enhances the university experience so much more."

Of course, conflicts can arise from such close living quarters. Homesickness, roommate clashes, lack of privacy and finding the discipline to study in between social events are all problems first-year students will encounter.

Resident advisers are an important support system. Their objective is to help create a safe and secure living and learning environment.

In addition to organizing fun programs such as quiz nights, ski weekends and mocktail nights, all advisers are trained to deal with issues such as grief and depression, racism or sexism, conflict mediation and eating disorders.

Training workshops can range from how to help students deal with being gay on campus to love and relationships in general.

Barb Tucker, an English Literature graduate now studying for her degree in Education, has lived on campus for the duration of her studies and has been a resident adviser for the last three years.

She is familiar with the problems students might face during their first year away from home and as an adviser she is there to help students adjust to their new life.

Her advice, "Get involved. That's where you'll find your friends. I remember watching movies where people talked about their old college buddies. Some of my best friends now are the ones I made in my first year of university. It's kind of cheezy, but true."

In a recent speech to the Association of College and University Housing Officers, UBC President Martha Piper related her story of a 35-year-old friendship begun in her first year of residence in 1963.

"While we have never lived in the same city or state or province, we have remained in close contact over the years -- Christmas letters and family photos, postcards from exotic holiday spots, telephone calls in the middle of the night, and e-mail messages with tips on everything from recipes to book reviews... A shared dormitory room has led to a shared life. Not bad for a two-star bed and breakfast, with the bathroom down the hall."