For the past year, I’ve had the lucky opportunity to serve as the Resident Assistant, or RA, of the German Interest House. It’s been an amazing experience in so many ways, and I have a hard time thinking that it’s almost over! Being an RA was always a dream of mine, ever since I arrived at Whitman and moved into Anderson Hall. The first RA I ever had was one of the nicest human beings imaginable, and his advice and support was invaluable to me during those first few confusing months at college. That experience made me realize the important role that RAs have at Whitman; they are friends, counselors, and support systems— much more than just anonymous rule-enforcers. And so, the following year, I decided to apply to be an RA myself.
Now, the RA application is no easy process. It involves both an extensive written application as well as four one-on-one interviews, and it usually lasts for an entire month. No matter the outcome, though, I think that it’s a super valuable experience. I got so much better at interviewing after having four of those in a row. Then, of course, when you’re finished with the application, you have to wait for the results, which was definitely the hardest part for me. In the end, I was lucky enough to be offered the position in the German Interest House, which I happily accepted. The German House is part of the larger Interest House Community, a group of 11 on-campus houses that each center around a common theme. I had already been living in the Environmental House, so moving into the German House wasn’t a huge change for me. However, before I could begin my position, I had to go through RA training: perhaps the craziest two weeks of my life.
RA training took place prior to the start of the spring semester, during the first two weeks of January. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to miss about half of my winter break, which was tough, since I’m still very close with my younger brother and my high school friends back home. I arrived back on the Whitman campus on January 4th, and for the next two weeks my life was a whirlwind of training exercises, information sessions, and bonding activities. Like I said, these were a crazy couple of weeks. We usually had scheduled activities from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., with only breaks for lunch and dinner. However, I can’t even begin to describe how valuable my training was. The things I learned weren’t just useful for being an RA; they were also just as useful for life in general. I learned some basic counseling techniques, CPR, conflict mediation, and so much more. There was a major emphasis on self-care, giving us the chance to learn about ourselves and our different personality/working styles. And, of course, there was a huge amount of bonding that took place in those weeks. Spending all those long hours together, and undergoing training on some pretty serious topics, really brought us all together, and I’m still close friends with many of the people I met during that time.
Once training was over, the real work began, and we all went off to our separate halls and houses to begin our year as RAs. I think if you ask any RA about their experience, you’ll get vastly different response, partly because of the varying nature of the halls and houses and partly because everyone has a different RA style. I can’t presume to speak for any of my fellow RAs, but so far my time in the German House has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Overall, I haven’t had to do a whole lot of rule enforcing, or deal with emergency situations, as you might expect. Instead, my duties are more administrative: filling out forms, planning programs, organizing house dinners, and attending meetings. Those can all be fun (except for maybe the forms) but my favorite part of the job is undoubtedly my interactions with residents. Since I have a relatively small group in the German House, with only seven people, I’ve had the chance to get to know everyone really well, and to have personal and meaningful conversations with them on an almost daily basis.
On the flip side, though, there are some parts of the RA job that can be hard to get used to. For one thing, the job never really ends. Even when I’m not explicitly in a meeting or house event, I’m still on the job for 24 hours a day. As an RA, I work and live in the exact same place, which can be a hard balance to strike, and can sometimes make it hard to truly relax. It’s involved a lot more organization of my time than I’m used to, making sure that I set aside time to spend with my residents, as well as time to spend for myself or with other friends. I’m not sure you can ever find the perfect balance, but for me, it’s gotten a lot better over time. Once again, I think everyone has their own strategies for dealing with this, and again, it’s always good to remember the importance of self-care, in whatever form that takes.
In about a month and a half, I will be moving out of the German House, bringing my time as an RA to an end. Even though it can be a really demanding job, I am certainly going to miss it, particularly all of my residents and my fellow Interest House RAs. Out of everything I’ve done at Whitman, the RA job has definitely given me the most personal growth, and I feel lucky to have been able to work with such awesome people! For anyone even remotely interested in applying, I highly recommend you do; it really is a job like no other.