It was late July, and I sat at my computer, feverishly checking the Grinnell PioneerWeb networking site for my first-year housing information. It was probably the third or fourth time that night I had checked, and yet I still had hope that another click on the refresh button would yield the answer to my question. Certainly knowing which dorm I got into was one thing — I could have seen myself in any of the rooms at Grinnell, from the cozy residence halls of South Campus to the high-ceilinged modernity of East Campus — but it was not the room I was concerned with, but rather the roommate.
Who would he be? I had always envisioned my roommate in the vein of The Catcher in the Rye: an outgoing, big-shot roommate to contrast with my own reserved self. I pored over the roommate questionnaire I had hastily answered earlier that summer. What had I checked again?
Then I saw it. An e-mail in my new Grinnell mailbox from my prospective roommate. My existing conceptions of him were shattered. I knew nothing. His name was Chinese, this much I knew. Later I would enlist the help of my Chinese-speaking friends to ensure that I would not make the fatal error of mispronouncing my future roommate’s name.
I eagerly read through the e-mail, starting with his humorous assumption that I was “from Deutschland,” to his introduction of himself, his city, and his hobbies. He told me we would share “tears and happiness” together at Grinnell. As excited as I was to meet him, I was worried my ignorance of his culture would make it difficult for us to connect as friends.
One month later, after occasional but regular e-mail communication, I was ready to meet my roommate, Wenyang Qian ’12. I arrived at Grinnell and unpacked my stuff in the already half-filled room. I found a note explaining Wenyang’s momentary absence and his excitement to finally meet me.
The door burst open, and in bounded the raw energy that I came to know as Wenyang. While I was exhausted by my day of traveling, he had spent the last few days getting to know Grinnell during International Student Orientation. He was all ready to show me around and introduce me to people. We went to dinner together, talked about how we had chosen Grinnell, and the strange hands of fate and coincidence that had brought him, from Nanjing, China, and me, from Redmond, Wash. (not Germany), to the same dorm room at a small college in the middle of Iowa.
We both marveled at the stars in the night sky and the openness of the Midwest, and shared our photos and stories from our lives at home. As it turned out, we were not so strange to each other as we had each imagined. We both possessed the intellectual curiosity and courage that had brought us to Grinnell. We both had experience with long-distance relationships and similar views of romance. We even found out that we enjoyed some of the same movies, including the French film Amélie.
As the academic year commenced, we still found time to enjoy our talks together, even when we busied ourselves with activities outside the room. We shared our tears and happiness.