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The basics
Study abroad : Student Accommodation

How to resolve disagreements with roommates

When you move to study abroad you will meet many new people, including roommates and housemates who you share accommodation with. While this is usually a positive experience you need to be prepared to resolve any disagreements.

Discussion and resolving conflict

Studying abroad means moving to a new and unfamiliar environment. If you stay in a university residence, a private student hall or even a rented house, you will likely share this space with other students. It could be the first time you and your fellow students are living with someone who is not family. You’ll need time to adjust, get to know each other and critically establish rules, schedules, and preferences. While this can help to make the transition easier, there can be differences of opinion and disagreements. We can help with some tips and advice on how to keep your relationships on track, settle disagreements, and create a comfortable living environment. 


Establish the rules 

The types of rules you discuss and implement will depend on the type of accommodation you’re living in. If you live in an on-campus student hall of residence, you have clear guidelines, instructions, and support from your university. These may include:


  • Residence security 
  • Noise policy 
  • Guest policy 
  • Use of communal facilities 
  • Room maintenance and cleaning 
  • Room sharing policy 


If you are staying in an on-campus residence where you share a room, you must chat with your roommate about these policies and responsibilities in a shared space. Ensure you both understand and communicate your preferences, especially regarding cleanliness, privacy, personal possessions, and sleeping. It’s important to establish a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding. 


The same would apply if you live in an off-campus private hall of residence and have a roommate. However, there may be different regulations and rules. These are outlined by your accommodation provider. Make sure to have regular open communication and discussion with your roommate. That way you understand one another's perspectives, culture, personality and needs. Who knows you might even become close friends


If you rent privately with several other students, things can be more complicated. You will all be responsible for the property you’re living in, and having more housemates can mean more discussion and compromise. Everyone needs to understand the expectations of others and the rules. Some of the essential topics you should cover when developing your house rules are:


  • Payment of the rent and utilities 
  • Payment for other amenities and services, such as TV and WiFi
  • Use of house equipment 
  • Cleaning and laundry 
  • Cooking and food (including dietary requirements and allergies)
  • Bathroom etiquette 
  • Security 
  • Guest policy 


Ideally, every housemate should agree to the rules and understand how disagreements are resolved. This is especially true if the rules are not followed or are changed by one person. 


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Create a schedule 

An effective way of managing expectations and your relationship with a roommate or housemate is to create a clear schedule outlining agreed tasks, responsibilities, and activities. The schedule doesn’t have to be strict but should highlight the most important priorities. Some of the questions you can ask when creating the schedule include:


  • Who is responsible for the cleaning, maintenance and upkeep of particular spaces? For example, shared facilities or a shared room.
  • How many times a week is cleaning done?
  • How do you define personal spaces that are off-limits to a roommate or housemate?
  • Who cooks and when? Who cleans up after cooking?
  • Who does the grocery shopping and purchasing of household cleaning items?
  • Who is responsible for collecting or paying the rent money or other costs?
  • Who is allowed to visit and when?
  • When do you each do your laundry?
  • Who and when are disputes resolved? Do you have a weekly meeting?


Introducing a structure into your living arrangements helps you adjust to living abroad. It allows you to concentrate on other aspects of the experience rather than the uncertainty that comes with no rules or schedule. 


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Raising and addressing issues 

We know that this can seem very challenging. But having difficult conversations is part of life, and they’re important for healthy relationships. Before you bring up an issue with a roommate or housemate, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:


  1. How serious is the issue, and is it affecting the quality of your life?
  2. Does the issue relate to the agreed rules and schedule you have established?
  3. Have you considered the other person's personality, customs and culture when evaluating the issue?
  4. Have you discussed the issue with someone else to get their input?
  5. Have you checked with your university about its code of conduct, rules, and regulations?
  6. Do you think you will need a third-party or mediator to help with the conversation?


Remember not to raise an issue when you are frustrated or angry. This can lead to bad communication and may escalate the situation. You may find it initially to communicate in writing via text or email to organise a time to chat, or you could favour an informal conversation. Much will depend on how well you know your housemate or roommate. Always be respectful and understanding, allowing them to express their point of view. 


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Discussion and negotiation techniques 

Before having a conversation with your roommate or housemate, it is useful to do a bit of thinking about how you would like the conversation to go. First, make a few notes of what you would like to cover. Remember to try and focus on the issue rather than the individual. It mustn’t feel like an attack or critique. There are some useful tips for having an effective discussion, including:


  • Be an active listener and try to understand your housemate's or roommate's position and point of view. 
  • Be patient and empathetic. While you may want a quick resolution, it can take some time. 
  • Do not talk about the issue or person behind their backs before or after having the discussion. This breaks trust.
  • Try to remain positive in the discussion, use some humour, and employ an open communication style. Knowing that you can talk about issues is a bit step forward. 
  • If you feel you can’t be impartial in a discussion, bring in another person to help. This should ideally be someone neutral. 


To help the discussion and negotiation it is useful to stay on topic. So don’t bring up old grievances or issues. Try and stay calm, engaged and willing to compromise. Lastly, although you may feel you are right, the priority should be resolving the issue. Be ready to give and sincerely accept an apology.


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Resolution and moving forward

Once you have had the chance to discuss the issue, you need to create a path forward. This will require a commitment and acknowledgement from yourself and your roommate/housemate of the next steps. This may be a change to rules or the schedule. It could be an apology and commitment to change certain habits or behaviour. You may also want to take time to absorb what is said and meet up later to discuss this.


Once you have come to a conclusion or resolution, you must all agree to this. It may be necessary to discuss roles and responsibilities moving forward and how you fit into this. This will help in managing change. You might have to revisit the discussion after a certain time to see how things are going. Be open to conversation and dialogue.


The good thing about having open conversations and resolving conflict is that it improves relationships, making you feel less stressed and empowered. It can go a long way to ensuring you have a happy and successful experience studying abroad