Communal Living: The Ups and the Downs

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By Rachel Barnett, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Rehovot

When I first interviewed for this program, I was told that we would be living in apartments of about nine people. There were 3 double rooms and 1 triple per apartment. Due to the fact that our stipend was rather small, they encouraged everyone who participated in the program to live communally, buying and sharing food. After a month in Rehovot, here is what I learned about communal living. I’ll start with the negatives so that I can end this post on a positive note.

The Downs

  1. When so many people live together, the apartment gets messy very quickly. Israel is a sandy country and that sand is constantly being trekked into the apartment. The combination between tile floors and sand means that the floor needs to be continually swept.
  2. Everyone has a different sleep schedule. We all have to wake up at different times for school, which means we are falling asleep at scattered times. It’s difficult to keep TV and music at a volume that keeps those watching/listening happy and those trying to sleep happy.
  3. With eight people in the apartment, there are eight different personalities. There is no possible way for every personality to mesh well together. People also try to avoid fights and let things build up. The inevitable fights are only worsened by this.
  4. Communal food does not work. We all have different dietary habits and we all eat different amounts of food. Trying to buy food for everyone was nearly impossible because it became too expensive. People were getting upset because they were paying for food they either couldn’t eat or weren’t being able to eat because it was gone by the time they realized they were hungry.
  5. The kitchen will never be big enough for everyone to be able to cook at the same time.
  6. There is zero privacy.

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The Ups

  1. Things are never boring. You always have someone to chat with or play games with. There will always be someone there to hang out with.
  2. If you ever have a problem, you know that there are seven other people who will be there to try and make you laugh and smile. You will never have to face anything alone.
  3. Everyone brings something different from their hometown. You get to learn a lot about different areas of your own country, and if you’re lucky, a completely different country. You learn about different cultures and traditions.
  4. Everyone also brings different recipes from home. The new foods you get to try are endless. If you misplace your key, you know that you still won’t be locked out of your apartment.
  5. Common everyday household items such as toilet paper, paper towel and aluminum foil become a lot less expensive because you are splitting the cost.
  6. It is not always your week to clean. Sit back and relax while someone else cleans the kitchen.

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Communal living is never easy. Whether you’re living with your large family, in a huge fraternity or sorority house, or an apartment of strangers in a strange country, it is important to always remember the Ups in the situation. Things are going to be hard and moments are going to be tense. One minute you’ll be laughing and the next you’re yelling. Don’t let those poor moments define the way to feel about where you live. The only way to make it out of communal living is to do it together. If one person is miserable, the whole apartment is miserable. Make the best out of what you have and enjoy the experience. Before you know it, you’ll be paying rent that is way too high for a one bedroom apartment that is the size of a shoe box.

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Originally published on Rachel’s blog.