Roommates And Tolerance: Getting Comfortable With Difference

By Francine Fluetsch on September 11, 2016

When you randomly get placed with a roommate your freshman year of college, you might be living with someone who is very different from you. Maybe they have a different culture, a different religion, different sexual preference, or just were brought up differently than you, and that’s awesome.

You and your roommate obviously aren’t going to see eye to eye on everything, but it will be very beneficial to learn from one another and see their viewpoint and way of life. This tolerance of one another will help your living situation tremendously, and it will give you more of an open mind and heart. Who knows how much you could learn from this other person!


Your roommate might be cultured much differently than you are, and this is a wonderful thing! Learning about different cultures and customs is so much fun and it could be a great way for you and your roommate to get to know each other more.

People are proud of their heritage and culture, so don’t be nervous to ask questions about your roommate’s culture, as long as you stay polite about it. Don’t ever ask someone, “Well, what race are you?” or “but where are you really from?” or make some sort of stereotypic assumption about their cultural background.

Be respectful with your questions and let your curiosity help you understand your roommate better. A great way to dive into talking about culture is sharing your favorite dishes from your home country and talking about how amazing they are. For example, my parents are from Switzerland so I grew up to be very Swiss cultured, and I was able to share some Swiss bread recipes with my roommates, which they really loved.


Religion can be a touchy subject, but it doesn’t have to be! If you can both be tolerant of one another, there won’t be an issue here. Make sure not to try and push your religion onto your roommate. If they are an atheist, let them be an atheist, and if they are a Christian, let them do their thing.

You are both going to come from different backgrounds regarding religion, and instead of using it as a way to measure your differences, why not use it to gain some mutual ground and understanding? Maybe one of you is Jewish and the other wasn’t really brought up with religion but their grandparents really gunned for it, and you can talk about the good and the bad aspects and bond over it.

Or, if you don’t really want to talk about it, just make sure to be respectful of whatever they choose to do regarding religion. If they want to pray in the room without involving you, let them. If they ask you to go to church with them, be polite about it, and if you don’t feel comfortable going with them, just say so!

The more open you both are about talking things over, and asking questions because you are interested, the more your bond will grow as individuals, regardless of your views on religion.

Sexual preference:

If your roommate is gay/bi/questioning, don’t freak out! I’ve heard so many people worry about their roommate seeing them naked or what have you once they found out that their roommate wasn’t straight, and that’s definitely not a fair assumption to make or something that you have to worry about. Just because they might happen to prefer the same sex, doesn’t mean that they will automatically be into you.

In college you are bound to see more people who are actually out about who they love since college is a time of finding yourself and a lot less judgmental than high school was, so having a roommate with a different sexual preference than you might be a great way for you to open your mind and learn new things about people. Your roommate will really be able to teach you a thing or two about tolerance, and it’s really not weird at all as long as you don’t make it weird.

You both can talk about sexual experiences just as you would with anyone else, and it might be a great way to bond further as friends! Don’t let preconceived notions make you closed minded and lose out on a wonderful roommate bonding/friendship.

Raised differently:

Things might come up during your time living together where you come upon something you disagree about based on how you were raised. This can get really heated if you let it go there, but if you both take a step back and take a deep breath, it could be an interesting way to learn how your roommate was brought up and why they think about things the way they do.

This can be really hard to achieve, and might be easier once you’ve known each other for a while, but taking this approach will be a lot less awkward than fighting with one another and then having to be stuck in the same room afterwards.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when learning how to live with a new person and how to be respectful and tolerable towards one another. You definitely don’t have to agree with them on everything, but if you can try and see things from their point of view and vice versa, it will help your living situation tremendously and might even give you a friend for life.

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