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9 tips to get the most out of your residence experience

Illustration of MacEwan towers

You just stacked the last box on top of the unsteady pile in your new room. Your class schedule is set, your roommate is busily unpacking and your parents are waving goodbye in the rearview mirror.

Congratulations, you’re independent! It’s going to be great...right? Wait, is it?

Whether you’re coming from a small town or just across the river, moving into MacEwan Residence is a big change and can be a tough transition. The good news? Every one of the other 881 people living in your new home are either going through the same thing, or have been there before. This includes Darius Howanyk, a third-year Bachelor of Science student who spent the last year working as a residence assistant (RA), and started a supervisory role as a senior residence assistant this fall.

“My first move-in day was a big spectacle. I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know anyone. It’s going to be weird,’” he recalls. “But in residence, it’s so easy to find something to do, and people to do it with. You’re right downtown, so just ask someone, ‘Hey, do you want to go for a walk?’”

Check out some of the other things Darius wishes he’d known before walking through the doors of residence.

1. Beat the move-in crowd

“For move-in day, show up a bit earlier than you think you need to and get a jump on things,” says Darius. “That means getting here before 10 a.m.”

2. Don’t miss orientation week

After move-in day, you’ve got about a week before classes start. Though it might be tempting to head back to your parents’ house and enjoy more home cooking, that’s not the best strategy.

“We throw activities and events throughout that week so people can explore residence, walk around campus and get to know the city,” explains Darius. “I think orientation is really when people start to make friendships and feel comfortable here.”

3. Make friends with (or at least meet) your RA

A residence assistant’s job is to make your experience better. So find your RA, introduce yourself and make friends.

Darius says RAs are sometimes seen as “babysitters,” but he and his coworkers are set on changing that perception. “We don’t want residents to feel like we’re their guardians. We’re students too, and we’ve been through some of the tough experiences already. We’ve lived here before, we know the city and we know how stressful first year can be. We’re here to help.”


The RA experience

I’ve always been a helper. So when I saw the residence assistant job posting, it intrigued me. I thought, “That seems like fun!” So I applied, and I’ve spent the last year working to make students’ lives easier.

4. Give res programming a try

Don’t be too cool to check out the programs and events happening right in residence. We’re talking pet therapy (that’s right, puppies!) and video game trucks – trailers parked outside of the residence building with TVs inside and out, and enough Mario Kart to create a wave of nostalgia.

Last year, Darius and his coworker even dreamed up an event called Channing Tater-tot-um. It’s exactly what it sounds like: eating tater tots and watching Channing Tatum movies. “That was one of our most successful programs,” laughs Darius. “It's so great to see residents come out and have a good time.”

5. Put yourself out there

“Transitioning from high school is difficult. You’ve had established friendships for many years, and may be moving away from those people for the first time,” says Darius. “But it’s such a diverse community here at MacEwan – you’re going to find friends. It might be someone you have more in common with than anyone from high school.”

He adds that you can start by just opening your door and chatting with your floormates or checking out a club meeting. “Try and get over that awkward hump of introductions sooner than later. University is going to fly by, so make friends in first year.”

6. Set yourself up for roommate success

Start with doing your roommate homework before you get to campus. StarRez, a new online software that helps students find their best roommate match, asks students to complete a questionnaire about things like their music preferences and sleep habits, then uses the answers to build each person’s profile. Once a student identifies a potential roommate, the system generates a compatibility score. When a match is made, students can chat and send each other messages before they commit to sharing a room.

Once you get to residence, Darius encourages roommates to set expectations early. “Establish some ground rules right off the bat. No one is a mind reader – everyone has different experiences growing up, so just talk to your roommate. It will make your life so much easier.”

Students are also provided with a roommate success plan in their first week. The booklet has space to fill out preferences, interests and expectations, and the students sign it. “It’s a really good resource to refer back to when conflict arises, and remember what you agreed to,” says Darius.

7. Explore your urban backyard

“My absolute favourite thing about residence is the accessibility to downtown. You don’t have to drive anywhere – you’re steps away from grocery stores, restaurants, bars and other venues,” says Darius.

Beyond the downtown food and drink scene, there are museums, theatres, art galleries and escape rooms close by – not to mention the opportunity to take in concerts and Oilers games at Rogers Place.

8. Bring a piece of home

When you get back from exploring the city, make sure your room is a place that’s comfortable for you, suggests Darius. “Bring something to make it your space – posters or pictures. If you’re having a tough time, it’s nice to be reminded of your roots.”

He also suggests bringing a fan for the warm September days, and a toaster oven to supplement the stove top and microwave included in your suite.

9. Make mental health a priority

Between your classes, social life, health and hobbies, university life can feel like a balancing act. Darius recommends looking for signs of burnout, and knowing your limits.

“Of course you want to maintain good grades and still enjoy the university experience – but know the signs that you’ve pushed yourself too far. If you’re feeling stressed, talk to your floormates and your RA – they’re the people closest to you. Your RA can also point you towards more resources when you need it.”

While residence may seem like a mystery to the uninitiated, that’s part of the magic – it’s a small community of students all figuring out this university thing, together.

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