Discover Studying Abroad

Book Review: The Naked Roommate

This gem of a book gives students a look at college life, beginning with ‘Arriving on Campus’ and ending with ‘It’s Almost Time to Say Goodbye’
BY Uttara Choudhury |   13-12-2016
Harlan Cohen

If you’ve studied in boarding school in India, you might be able to take the rough-and-tumble of leaving home to study abroad with a degree of equanimity. However, if you’ve never stepped out of the comfortable confines of your home, studying abroad could be a big culture shock. Brace yourself for the sudden impact with The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen, published by Sourcebooks Inc. In this wonderful book brimming with good humor, Cohen prepares you for everything, from sharing a bathroom with 40 strangers, to sharing lecture notes.

Cohen’s New York Times bestsellertook ten years of research and visits to more than 300 college campuses. The author collected stories and tips from students, and drilled deep into his own college experiences. Ultimately, this is a hilarious and candid book that gives students a look at college life, beginning with “Arriving on Campus” and ending with “It’s Almost Time to Say Goodbye.” In between, Cohen dispenses practical tips and student advice on roommates, dorm life, laundry, finances, friends, relationships, sex (“Having It, Not Having It, Hearing Other People Having It”), and making it to class on time (and what happens if you don’t).

The book even prepares freshmen for bouts of crushing homesickness by telling them it’s perfectly normal. “At least 66.6 percent of surveyed freshmen “frequently” or “occasionally” felt lonely or homesick. It usually hits mid-Fall — after the newness fades into normal. You miss your bed, friends, pet, home cooking, and walking to the bathroom without flip-flops (and for God’s sake, always wear flip-flops in the bathroom — I can’t stress this enough),” writes Cohen.

The author warns students against using “bad relationships, drinking, drugs” as coping mechanisms. Instead, he urges students to put themselves out there: explore the university, meet new people and make friends.

“The cure to homesickness is not at home. It’s to make your new home more comfortable,” he writes. “Going home to cure homesickness is like giving someone with a chocolate addiction a candy bar. It will just make you sicker.”

The author urges freshmen to resist staying in their rooms or living online to ride out homesickness. “You risk missing out on people face-to-face. You risk not getting involved with clubs, activities and organizations.”

For these reasons and more, he talks up the perks of living in a residence hall during your freshman year: you will meet people without even trying in the halls, dining room, bathrooms. Most US campuses with residence halls have fun floor activities on the weekends. These can get truly esoteric: for instance, we are told that at the University of Miami, you could even stumble on to something like homemade lip-balm making.

It’s helpful for international students that the book goes into great detail on campus housing. It points out that residence halls have their own “look, feel and personality”. Some residence halls are all-men or all-women. Some are co-ed by floor or by room. There are ones that come with dining halls, and ones without. Some even have little minimarts. Some are filled with athletes or international students.

Clearly, not all residence halls are the same, so the author advises students to get the “inside info” and talk to students who already live in the places where you want to live. Freshmen can reach out to other students going to the same university via social networks such as Facebook. For instance, incoming students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) quell the back-to-school jitters by using the UCSD network message board to discuss class schedules, dining halls, living arrangements and campus life.

The book includes an entertaining chapter eponymously titled “Roommates: Good Ones, Bad Ones and Everything in Between” where we meet a gallery of eccentric roommates. You would do well to pay attention to the “Harlan Tip” – set boundaries with your roommate.

According to Cohen, roommates who want to get along will, and the vast majority actually do. As a rule, make rules before you need to make rules. You don’t want to have problems with your roommate, so if you set ground rules early, you won’t run into problems.

Some schools allow you to pick your roommate, while others do the selecting for you. For instance, a student recounts how Harvard pairs up roommates based on a personality application prior to freshman year. So, for example, an incoming student’s five-person Harvard suite may be matched based on a shared love for sports. As a result, sports — real or virtual —would always be part of the background noise in the suite, and no one would feel like hurling the TV out of the window!


Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London. 

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