Letters from the dorm: How to (politely) set boundaries with your boarding school roommates

By Hana van de Wiel, UWC ISAK Japan

Your new housemates can't read your mind, so be sure to let them know what rules you want everyone to respect

By Hana van de Wiel, UWC ISAK Japan |

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For most of my life, I was lucky enough to have my own room and a right to privacy when I wanted it. However, things have changed since I started studying at UWC ISAK Japan, an international boarding school where privacy is a foreign concept.

For weeks, I struggled. Things were especially difficult at night, as I am sensitive to sound and light. Trying to sleep was a frustrating affair, what with roommates typing up assignments under the light of desk lamps, while the thin walls of my room did almost nothing to muffle the sound of late-night gatherings in the common room.

After a month or so, I was at my breaking point, ready to lash out at any unsuspecting friend or housemate. “Why can’t everyone be more considerate?” I moaned – to myself, that is; I would never dream of voicing my complaints out loud.

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I soon realised this was the root of the problem. I had not had any discussions with my roommates about the boundaries I wanted them to respect. Here I was, getting mad and resentful, expecting everyone to understand what I wanted from them without ever expressing it.

Back at home, I had felt so comfortable with my family that I did not hesitate to tell them what I was thinking or how I was feeling. And if all else failed, there was always my room to retreat to. Living in a house full of virtual strangers is a very different set of circumstances.

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But that should not stop you – or me – from setting your boundaries with others. If there is a rule you would like everyone to respect, speak up. If you do not, no-one will realise, and you’ll be left stewing in your own juices.

While at first it felt like I was imposing on others, I have gradually become more at ease with making my boundaries clear. If I’d like the room to be dark after 11:30, I tell my roommates and they do their best to respect my wishes. Because in the long run, making sure you are comfortable is vital to maintaining healthy relationships with others.