Can you imagine moving to a new country and navigating the rental landscape? The American rental market can be difficult to navigate even for someone born and raised in the same neighborhood, so we can only imagine how intimidating it can be for an international roommate. To really understand their experience, we went straight to the sources themselves. We talked to them about making the great move and living in a foreign country and asked: What did your roommates do to help you adjust? Here are five tips for helping your international roommate feel at home.
Living With an International Roommate
Tip #1: Use a Good App
This first tip is more geared towards those of you moving abroad, but it will help to keep in mind if you’re already living with an international roommate. Coming to a new city is hard enough, but if it’s a big enough place, you figure you’ll know someone in town. At the very least, you might be familiar with the names of a cool area. Most people who relocate to New York City have heard of Brooklyn, right? Well, not always.
Stefán Sigurðsson, an integrated communications accounting coordinator, says when he moved from Iceland to NYC, he didn’t know how to find affordable housing or a roommate. His wish? Someone had recommended a good place to start.
“The first challenge was definitely finding a trustworthy website or app that could steer somebody like me — someone who knew absolutely nothing about the rental market in New York — in the right direction,” says Sigurðsson. “The rental process is definitely similar in Iceland, less expensive for sure. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a hard time figuring out what was a good deal, what was a ‘good’ neighborhood and what was a tolerable distance to commute. Not knowing the city, it was sort of like going in blind. Thankfully it just worked out for me.”
If your current roommate is on the hunt for a new place or you know a friend moving abroad, helping them start somewhere will be more helpful than you’ll realize. So, where would one find some great affordable apartments in cool neighborhoods? Here’s a good place to start.
Tip #2: Explore Together
A new city or country often means new stores and chains you don’t recognize. If your roommate is coming from abroad, it could be quite the culture shock. Take time to get to know the city together. Find a favorite grocery store, try a couple of happy hours, and just explore the neighborhood with your roommate even if you aren’t best friends (yet). And after you’re done raiding the local farmer’s market, schedule a night to try cooking a new dish —maybe you’ll discover a new favorite you’ve never heard of before!
Public relations professional Maria Baranova, who relocated from Russia to Boston and then later to San Francisco, says while it seems like a small gesture, it will help your new roommate feel at home.
“My San Francisco roommates were very kind and showed me the city — all the needed stores, pharmacies, parks, restaurants, bars and so on,” shares Baranova.
This goes both ways, though! They might have some killer recs for you too. Never tried Ethiopian food? Who better to show you exactly how to eat that spongy bread than a local? And if you and your roommate have any sort of language barrier, just remember: Food is the universal language.
Tip #3: Share Cultural Norms
When it comes to sharing stuff, it’s always best to ask — whether it’s food or toiletries, don’t just assume it’s yours to use. Hopefully, you’re doing that anyways, but sharing habits aren’t always so common sense. Americans, for example, might be more casual about “borrowing” something than someone from abroad.
Sigurðsson tells us how he figured this one out: “Back home we don’t [share beers] because all alcohol is so expensive. You don’t touch beer that’s not your own without asking or replacing it. So, at first I was about to flip a table when my beer went missing, but then I understood and just drank other people’s beer too. It works.”
Wherever you stand on the sharing thing, it’s best to talk about it early on to avoid any misunderstandings on either of your parts. The last thing you want is to sour your relationship over some grapes.
Tip #4: Be Crystal Clear About What’s ‘Included’
In the US, we tend to assume most apartments are BYO-furniture. Unless stated otherwise, we plan to shlep Grandma’s old coffee table, that Goodwill nightstand, and a garage sale recliner up two flights of stairs every time we move. It’s a harsh reality we’re used to. But as it turns out, we’re the exception. Unfurnished apartments aren’t the norm in other rental markets, which cause for a rude awakening, as Baranova puts it.
“One challenge I faced was also a surprise: The majority of the apartments are unfurnished. In Russia we have mostly furnished apartments, so people have no headache with it, should they rent or buy all the stuff. This all completely stressed me out for the first time.”
Before moving in together, disclose as many details as you can to be sure you’re painting a full picture for your new roommate. Some of the specifics we take for granted might need extra attention. You also might make an extra Ikea trip — or, if you’re crafty, do some easy DIY-ing.
Tip #5: Make Intros
Hopefully, you and your new roommate can find some common ground to let a friendship bloom. But even if you’re not the best of buds, you might be able to introduce them to their next BFF — making you Roommate of the Year. So get on your Facebook and make some intros. It will be the easiest thing you can do with the largest payoff.
“All my past roommates have been good with introducing me to people and taking me to new places. That’s what makes living here so great — the fascinating people from all over the world and from all walks of life and the amazing places to go. So I was so fortunate to have my roommates and other friends to set up my life here.”