The prospect of sacrificing your personal space and sharing a room with a total stranger is probably the most off-putting part of study abroad. Americans have this weird obsession with rooming students together, and whilst everywhere else in the developed world seems to have accepted that 18-23 year olds like privacy, Clark University in Massachusetts was one of those beloved institutions that hadn’t quite got the memo.
I am perhaps classically English in that I love silence and the thought of sharing my space with a loud American filled me with dread. I’ve seen Pitch Perfect: I know I’m more Kimmy Jin than Becca, and it sometimes takes people a while to grow to love that, so I knew that the biggest hurdle I would face studying abroad was living with a roommate. Enter Maddie: she marched into my life, and our room, a chatty southern whirlwind who spoke a mile a minute and brought infinite sass to every interaction. You did not want to be on the wrong side of her ‘Mom-face’.
It was going to take something big to bond us. Having just suffered through the ordeal of orientation — don’t even get me started on how peppy Americans are — I was beginning to feel more settled, although I did wonder how on earth I would ever feel at home in this strange land where everything was deep fried and no one understood what a ‘lie in’ was.
And that’s when we accidentally adopted a cat.
In hindsight, keeping a stray kitten in our dorm room for two weeks was probably a fairly ridiculous thing to do. It began with a fairly hysterical call from Heather, a mutual friend and known cat-fiend. She had found a stray cat and, as one does, started hysterically crying and refused to leave it alone. So, naturally, I agreed to adopt it — funnily enough Heather’s roommates wouldn’t allow it in their flat — and turned up at my dorm, furry bundle stashed under my arms.
The next week and a half was spent in a panic of air freshener as we organised ‘sitters’ to make sure the cat was guarded at all times. Not that she seemed to do much: this tiny stray spent most of her time lounging on my bed, steadfastly ignoring all the cat toys we had bought from Walmart. Every time the RA walked past our locked door I broke out in a sweat. By some miracle they postponed room inspection (yes, that’s right. They had a room inspection in which they confiscated everyone’s coffee makers) by a week. Heather, Maddie and I doted on the cat in varying degrees — Maddie pretended she hated her, but I would catch her talking to the cat when she thought I had my headphones in.
Lady was eventually adopted and went to live in Boston, and probably not a moment too soon: I love cats but this one had given me more grey hairs than I thought suited me, so I was quite pleased to see the back of her.
As for Maddie, Heather and I; well, we became firm friends. I guess those who accidentally adopt stray cats together are friends for life. We moved into a triple person room the following semester. Turns out I liked having a roommate so much, I decided to adopt another one — and this one wasn’t a cat.