Our writer explores university residence life for the first time

I went to Move-In Day at University of Calgary’s residence seeking discomfort and found the opposite.

I lived in my parents’ house through university so my perception of residence was coloured by episodes of Undeclared and Buffy the Vampire Slayer . I was expecting I guess floors full of mid-life crisis fathers sucking down beer bongs and Mok’tagar Demons stealing the souls of first-years. Instead I found T-shirts Red Bull and community spirit.

Move-In Day is a massive undertaking. The 10 residence buildings house approximately 2500 students most arriving today in vans or taxis loaded down with luggage.

As a Move-In volunteer I’m given a red shirt that’s cheekily labelled “Commodity Relocation Technician.” There’s a veritable army of redshirts — somewhat unnerving for Star Trek fans — under the supervision of pink-shirted members of the Residence Students’ Association (RSA). (The RSA adopted the event hashtag #CodePink in honour of their bright shirts. That’s also the hashtag for a women-initiated peace and social justice movement in the U.S. currently protesting American military action in Syria. The combination makes for a surreal Twitter search.)

Shirts are a big deal. On top of red and pink each building has its own shirt — for instance yellow for the Yamnuska Yellowjackets. Volunteers hawk the shirts relentlessly next to a sign that says “Buy a shirt get a free Red Bull!”

Red Bull is everywhere. At about 10:30 a.m. an exuberant volunteer announces that he’s already had two; in the afternoon a young woman cracks her third for the day while musing that she only had a bun and a brownie for lunch. (“I don’t like chili. It’s too spicy.”)

In front of each building a giant banner says WELCOME HOME! and a blaring speaker sets a party vibe. With the arrival of each new car a cheer rises from the crowd and a horde of volunteers descend on the startled family. Within seconds a year’s worth of luggage is out on the sidewalk a room number is shouted and the redshirts loaded up with boxes and bags head upstairs.

Amidst the standard mix of clothes and appliances I spot a blue fish swimming around in a Mason jar an impeccable collection of baseball caps an enormous flatscreen television and a futuristic mini-oven whose box promises culinary miracles. Nothing is private. If an incoming student wants to keep anything hidden — say an incriminating diary or a set of dildos — it’s best to pack them in a microwave box. (Though if you’ve got high-quality dildos I say flaunt ’em!)

The first-year buildings Kananaskis and Rundle Hall eliminate any further ideas of privacy. Students share a tiny room with someone they may have never met before. Before arriving they each fill out a survey similar to an online dating form asking questions like “What’s your favourite music?” and “What time do you go to bed?” in order to find an ideal (hopefully) match.

Privacy though doesn’t seem to be a priority. Throughout the day I ask students for their favourite thing about living in residence. Every one has the same answer: community.

“I lived on an all-girls floor last year” says one of the VPs. “I could just open my door and shout ‘I need something to wear!’ and a half-dozen girls would emerge with outfits.” Her friend chimes in: “All of my favourite outfits aren’t my outfits.”

By the end I’m a bit wistful to have missed out on residence when I was a student. And sure I’m seeing it on the best possible day — the “holy shit anything can happen” day. I might feel differently after six months of eating at the Dining Centre (though I did enjoy the chili) or after an unwise sexual encounter with someone on the same floor or during a Red Bull-fuelled exam period… but for all the things that might go wrong in a residence experience they do a damn fine job of starting it right.

Every month Mark Hopkins will step outside of his comfort zone and write about the experience. Do you have an adventure to suggest? Email him at mark@swallowabicycle.com!