I’ve been through pretty much every possible living situation for an international student:
Dorm room with someone I’ve never met? Been there.
Four friends in one dorm room? Done that.
Moved into a tiny studio with one roommate halfway through the year? Yup.
A nice apartment with a friend where we both had our own room and our own bathroom? Did that too and it was beautiful.
There’s only one left, and it’s the one I’m currently experiencing: living alone. I’m living off-campus, with my own room and bathroom, in a place that is 100 percent mine.
It’s not that uncommon to live alone as an international student. A lot of my friends were able to get great deals by leasing apartments for four years, so they could have their own place for their whole time abroad. I realized that deep down we were both a little jealous of each other’s experience. Doesn’t living alone get lonely? Doesn’t having roommates get exhausting?
From these conversations I’ve had throughout the past four years I’ve compiled a short list of pros and cons of living alone. If you’re trying to make some big decisions about your living situation abroad, it should be helpful to keep these in mind:
Pro: It’s the ultimate sense of independence.
For some of us, it may feel like being home is too comfortable, we’re protected or in a bubble, so going abroad is a way to for us to learn to become stronger and more independent. For others, it may be the opposite, where for various reasons home doesn’t feel comfortable or safe so we want to feel like college is a way of starting over elsewhere.
Regardless of where you live, being abroad will make you more independent, but the details are different if you have your own place. Every single little thing is up to you: dishes, bathroom, cleaning, groceries, rent... you won’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards other than your own. Does this sound like what you want or do you usually need someone to make you feel like you should stay clean?
Con: Making friends is easier when you have roommates or live in dorms.
This is more for the first year or two, but unless your place is near the school, socializing can become a bit more complicated when you live alone. Most people choose to live in dorms or near the campus not just because it’s convenient for classes, but because it’s the easiest way to meet people. Whether you want to or not, living in dorms forces you to at least recognize people on your floor and say hi. Hearing people complain about their roommates is part of the dorm life experience, and you’ll end up meeting your roommates’ friends at some point if they’re nice. So, if it’s hard for you to approach people, living alone is only going to make it harder.
Pro: Speaking of friends, if you live alone, you can invite them over whenever.
Having roommates, it gets a little annoying to have to ask permission every time you want to have someone over. Unless you two don’t care about that, it’s at least common courtesy to make sure your roommate won’t mind that you want to have friends over. Or, even from the other side of that coin, there are times when you just want to get home and for it to be quiet and peaceful... but what if just that day your roommate is having someone over for dinner and forgot to tell you?
Even those little things can get bothersome after a while, so the great part about living alone is you can invite your friends over whenever you like. You can cook whatever you want without worrying about whether the smell will bother your roommate or not, and you can throw a party or tell people leave whenever you’re tired. Both the introvert and extrovert dream.
Con: Living alone is very expensive, so you should know how to keep track of your finances.
In other words, even though you can throw parties every weekend because it’s your place, you probably shouldn’t.
This one is pretty obvious. Living alone is more often than not a lot more expensive than living with someone else, especially because most likely you could find a roommate with the same budget as yours. I live in a studio by myself now, but last year I knew someone who lived in a studio in this same building with three other people. She was literally paying a quarter of what I’m paying for the same space... just different levels of comfort.
Pro: If your family wants to visit, they also have a place to stay. Same with friends.
This was a very strong point for me because I like to be the kind of host that if my friends have more than a few drinks, I can offer them the option of just sleeping on the futon and driving home after breakfast the next day. Moreover, I’m someone who is very close to my family, and I like to have a place that they can come and stay in if they decide to visit.
Con: Even renting a place is different for international students.
I didn’t know this until I moved off-campus, but signing your lease is not as simple when you are an international student. You need proof that you can afford to pay rent, you might not have a social security number, and even if you have an American social security number, most likely you’re a full-time student and whatever you get paid is not enough to cover rent. Your parents might be the ones paying for it, and if they’re not American they probably don’t have a social security number either.
In such cases, you usually have to get someone else to cosign or you have to pay a larger fee for the deposit. It sounds a little confusing at first, but if the leasing agent is a nice person, it won’t be a lot of trouble either way.
My personal conclusion,
Biggest Pro: It’s just... so... comfortable.
Sometimes all you want is peace and quiet. When you live alone, your habits are all that matter because you don’t have to worry about whether or not what you do bothers the other person. Now that I live alone, I love that I can extend my lease for as long as I need without having to ask.
I used to think I didn’t want to live alone; that my ideal living situation was just an apartment with friends but where we both had our own room and our own bathroom. Now, I’m not so sure anymore. The main reason was that I thought I would be lonely, and I thought I’d be scared. And, while I do get scared about stupid things sometimes, like the sound of the ice-maker or bugs, it’s not as lonely as I thought it would be. In fact, living alone makes me want to leave my apartment more often, which can also be a good thing.
Biggest Con: I miss my roommate.
True, I’m not very lonely, but I do miss how my roommate and I used to have ranting sessions after classes basically all of senior year. It was nice to have a friend that could wake me up if I was late for an appointment. I also miss the nice little things friends do for each other, like getting the other medicine if they’re sick, or bringing back home an extra cup of coffee. Not to mention my roommate was a great cook, and I got to eat some of what she made whenever she made too much.
Both options have their pros and cons. Now that I have experienced both, I have to say I wouldn’t change my experience. So, when you make your pros and cons list, instead of thinking whether there are more pros than cons to one option, think about which points you would rather prioritize.