From Half a World Away to the Same Dorm Room

By Catherine Orr

Office of International Education

Guest Blogger

Seniors Radaslava (Rada) Dogandjieva and Dani Pierre finish each others’ sentences. Rada glances at Dani from the corner of her eye and half smirks when she says something she knows will make Dani laugh. Then, like clockwork, Dani dissolves into giggles and Rada joins her.

Watching the two interact, it’s hard to believe that four years ago they were strangers, living half a world away from each other. Rada is from Sofia, Bulgaria and Dani from Colorado Springs. Before coming to Richmond, the two completed the housing survey given to all incoming students. The survey covers a wide spectrum of topics from sleeping habits to personal values and is meant to pair roommates based on compatibility.

After receiving the housing assignment for her daughter, Dani’s mother contacted the housing office, curious as to how the two were placed together. The person she spoke to said the two girls were, “a phenomenal match,” Dani said. Four years later, Dani and Rada couldn’t agree more. “Housing did their work right,” Rada said.

Rada, a self-proclaimed “neat freak,” gives Dani that sideways glance again. “I always joke with her about lying on the form when it asks how neat you are,” she said. Dani bursts into laughter, “I’ve gotten better!” she said.

Dani, who knew she wanted to major in international studies, was excited when she found out she had an international roommate, she said. “I thought, ‘what better way to be acquainted with the international group?’”

Rada was happy to have an American roommate because she was afraid if she lived with another international student, she would be tempted to cling to the international group and not meet a lot of Americans, she said.

Although they exchanged friendly emails the summer before they arrived on campus, neither expected that they would hit it off as well or as quickly as they did. “I remember I was really surprised when Dani arrived and probably 20 minutes after she met me she invited me to her house for Thanksgiving,” Rada said. Dani laughed, “It was definitely an American culture thing,” she said.

It was the first of many cultural nuances Rada and Dani would have to learn about each other. That very cultural exchange is what the two are so thankful they’ve been able to experience through each other during the past four years.

Rada thinks she would be less open to Americans if she hadn’t lived with Dani. “There’s a lot of anti-American stereotypes, and actually living with an American, making it work, has definitely made me kind of forget about the stereotype and realize that there are all kinds of people here,” Rada said.

Living with Rada has given Dani a different perspective as well. “Having an international roommate opened my eyes to things that I don’t know that I would have thought about otherwise,” Dani said.

Through her relationship with Rada, Dani has become embedded in the international student community on campus. She hosted six of the Danish students at her home in Colorado last Thanksgiving and delivered one of the keynote speeches at the exchange student farewell reception in the fall.

While Rada and Dani have had many occasions to experience cultural exchange that most typical roommates do not experience, they’ve also had the chance to do the things any college roommates and friends would do. They go to the dining hall together, work out together, and go on long road trips together, Rada said. “It’s still just the Richmond experience,” she said. “We might talk about things outside the bubble, but we’re still in the bubble.”

Rada attributes the strength of their relationship to going into it with an open mind. Her advice to international students is, “Be open to what you can learn from living with an American.”

Dani’s advice to American students is similar. “One of the worst assumptions people make is that the other person is not going to be open or receptive to them. Usually, that’s not the case,” she said.

Neither Dani nor Rada can imagine what their time at Richmond would have been like had they not lived together all four years. “We both were changed in ways we wouldn’t have been,” Dani said.

The prospect of not living together after graduation temporarily pauses the laughter between them. They have already promised each other that within the next five years they will go on an international trip together. “It’s our way of ensuring that somehow our paths cross down the line,” Dani said.

On cue, Rada quickly lightens the mood by telling a story about what a friend of hers said about the two “roomies” the other day. “You guys are like a long-running sitcom,” the friend said. “I can imagine you married and with children and still going to sleep in the same room.”

Just like that, the giggling starts again. “The funny thing is,” Dani said. “I can see it happening.”

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: