There’s No Personal Space in College

January 30, 2022

One thing I didn’t realize before going to college was how quickly you lose your access to personal space, and along with it your alone time.

If you have a roommate, no space that you occupy is your own. Every space that you occupy either has other people in it, or carries with it the threat of containing other people at any moment. There’s a very strange feeling that comes from being in your own empty dorm room but being aware that at any time someone could come in.

There’s also a nice aspect to this: it’s somewhat social. Even if you don’t know the people, you get this feeling that you’re surrounded by other humans. Like doing work in a coffee shop.

However, operating this way all the time takes some sort of subtle toll on me. I feel like it makes me more anxious; more high-strung; more things are buzzing around my head and competing for my attention.

Even as I write this, a group of students have come into the previously-mostly-empty common room and are talking about cankles. I want to be fully focused on writing this, but I can’t be (especially because it’s cankles). I think it’s time to move.

I’ve moved! That’s better.

I’ve long noticed that being around people who are stressed makes me stressed. It's not exactly a ground-breaking discovery. But in college, you’re forced into two forms of low-grade stress for almost all of your waking hours:

  1. Be around people who are buzzing with stress about the work they are either doing currently or feel that they should be doing currently.
  2. Be slightly on-edge because you’re trying to get some time alone but someone (your roommate, someone trying to use this study room after you, etc) could burst in at any moment.

It actually blew my mind the first time I realized that there is no spot that I can facetime someone in my dorm in the evening. My roommate is probably already trying to use the room to sleep or study, there are a handful of study rooms that are almost guaranteed to be taken, and common rooms are no place for calls (although they are great for people-watching). The nearby language building, however, is usually unlocked (don’t tell anyone), and empty classrooms are pretty good — but they aren’t fully yours, you’re just a squatter there until someone notices.

I think that’s also why I was drawn to the idea of renting a small office for myself. It was an opportunity to have some space for myself, that only I could access. But that proved too inconvenient, especially for a college student with only leg-powered mobility.

Maybe the solution is to be awake at odd hours (in college, this would mean early rather than late). If you can’t get space to yourself, wait until people vacate the space voluntarily. But that would require actually waking up early. And at my current rate, that isn’t too likely to happen.

Alas, perhaps that’s just the way it is. There’s not much personal space here, but at least that’s something to look forward to in “the real world.”