For the majority of my life, I had never had roommates. That is until I accepted an internship in New Zealand in the fall of 2019, and I discovered I was going to be moving in with four strangers. Notably, I was not thrilled about it. I am an introvert and I have social anxiety, so the thought of living abroad with strangers knotted my stomach with dread.
Initially, I had two sets of roommates. I moved to New Zealand in October while finishing my Master’s degree online while the other girls I first moved in with were also in university. They, however, were set at a different schedule than mine with their stay having started mid-summer and ending in November. Living with them was at times awkward and uncomfortable. I got on with them well enough, but I was in that awkward position of living abroad with strangers who all knew each other and had already formed a bond. I was the newcomer and I hated that.
So, we didn’t spend much time together. My first weekend there, one of the girls invited me to a nightclub and although I initially agreed, I didn’t leave with them to go out. Instead, I hoped they would forget about having invited me, which they did, so I got to spend the night alone to decompress.
Going forward, we did a few things together such as going for vegan burgers, grocery shopping, and going to the beach. However, those instances only happened on one occasion each. Whenever they had friends over, I would corner myself off in my room, turning my fan on its highest setting so I couldn’t overhear them.
I frequently feared that they all secretly hated me. So many of my feelings as an ostracized child came bubbling to the surface, making me distance myself from them even more. So when they all finally moved out, I was incredibly relieved. I had a five-bedroom apartment to myself and no one to avoid or fear for judgment. I thought I was finally comfortable in this new space. But after a few weeks of me not exploring Auckland, and instead just holing myself up at home, I realized I wasn’t doing okay living on my own. Rather, I was lonely.
January brought in a new semester for the Europeans and with that came a new set of roommates. The first roommate was a Dutch girl. She had also never lived on her own, so we bonded when I went with her to her internship orientation. Unlike my previous roommates, she was part of the same internship program as me, which lent itself to us spending more time together. I went grocery shopping with her to show her how the buses worked and where the store was. In my helping to acclimate her to New Zealand, we found we had many similar interests in Marvel, anime, leftist politics, and cats.
The second roommate to move in was another girl from Germany. She was a bit younger than my Dutch friend and me and didn’t have a lot of the same interests as we did. Nevertheless, she was also part of our internship program and she had a love for adventure, which prompted her to plan trips for all of us to go on. We went hiking and zip-lining together and these day trips not only brought us closer but also helped me make the most out of my trip. I’m certain without her initiative, I would not have been able to accomplish doing it alone.
For a while, it was just the three of us, something we had grown accustomed to. We all kind of dreaded the arrival of two new roommates: a woman and a man from Austria. They were not in our internship program; instead, they were just attending university, so we didn’t share schedules nor many activities. I realized the situation had become a reversal of where I started, my two friends and me being the established friendship and the two newcomers kind of relegated to being outsiders.
Then the pandemic hit. In March of 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced New Zealand would move to Alert Level Four, the strictest level of lockdown. As a result, everyone had to stay in New Zealand except for my female roommate from Austria.
This was when our friendship deepened more than it had throughout our entire stay there. The apartment manager had set up a contest for everybody in the building to decorate their windows, as a way to occupy us during the lockdown. So we sat around the living room table drawing, coloring, cutting out shapes, and taping our pictures to the window as if we were doing an elementary school project. Despite my anxiety being at its worst, this small project allowed me to engage in a creative activity that took my mind off of the world seemingly falling apart while also allowing me to effectively bond with my roommates.
Because of lockdown, we spent more time together than ever before. We set up a routine to do yoga stretches together in the afternoon. We had a Marvel movie marathon and watched numerous other movies and shows together. And we even held a couple of pity parties for ourselves with pizza, wine, and card games.
These were four people I knew less than six months in an entirely different country, and they were who I endured the pandemic with. A year later, we all still talk, though less often as we have all moved on with our lives in our own countries. However, I think the bond that formed between us differed from typical college roommate connections. Not just because of our varying nationalities and our abroad status, but because we found ourselves in a situation of surviving a disaster together.
My time living abroad with strangers, from an array of countries in an incredibly stressful time, taught me sometimes adversity really does have a way of forming unlikely friendships. Regardless of whether our relationships last, the uniqueness of our time together will always be cemented in our memories to connect us.
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