One of the many hats I wear at Drexel is that of an RA – a resident assistant. An RA is an upperclassman who lives in one of the residence halls, with the job of making sure every resident has the best experience possible by serving as a mentor, friend, role model, and community builder. Each RA works closely with other RAs, and so RAs typically help interview new RA applicants who will be joining their staffs in terms to come. This past week, I was interviewing a new RA applicant, and he asked me a question that I didn't have an answer to.
Most of the time, the questions applicants ask are simple – "Why did you become an RA?" "How do you manage the time commitment," etc. But this applicant asked me something which took me a lot of thought: "What has been the most challenging aspect of being an RA?"
An RA is an upperclassman who lives in one of the residence halls, with the job of making sure every resident has the best experience possible.
This was probably the first time I've ever been so stumped in an interview – and I was on the interviewer side of the table. After a week of reflection, I think I've found my answer: The hardest part of being an RA has been learning to connect with people whom I have nothing in common with. In all honesty, this applies to just being a Drexel student in general too.
Imagine if the whole Drexel student body (16,000 undergraduates) were eating lunch in one huge cafeteria, just like in a typical high school. Naturally, people would end up sitting with others who have similar interests. If you were to walk into this cafeteria, and you're a punk-rock loving graphic designer, is your first instinct to go and sit with the Drexel basketball team, or with a group of Westphal students who are involved in Drexel's underground music scene?
I want to make something clear – the point I’m trying to make is not that Drexel is cliquey. The point is that when you place someone into a big group of new people, natural tendency is to find people who have similar interests or backgrounds. For the most part, this system works for most people. You join Weekend Warriors because you enjoy hiking; you join Dragon Jedi Club because you love Star Wars. But as an RA, you don't really get to choose who to connect to; one of your job requirements is to connect with everyone. On a given floor, you have 40 residents, each from their own different part of the country (or an entirely different country all together), with different majors, interests, personalities, social values.
Learning how to connect with someone who’s from a different country, enjoys different activities, listens to different music, studies a different subject, and has had an entirely different life experience than you is not easy. There's no go-to common ground to start building upon. But it's not impossible. I don't have any particular tricks or tips for doing it – just advice that if you try hard enough, you can make it work…and if you do, it'll make your years at Drexel a lot more interesting.