To share or not to share apartments

One thing most if not all people have in common is the fact that they live somewhere either permanently or temporarily. The way a person lives is saying a lot about them already and helps others to form a first opinion of them. A living arrangement that may seem reasonable for one person in their particular circumstances may be odd for somebody with different circumstances. Living arrangements can take many different forms across and give further insights into foreign cultures and countries as we have experienced ourselves during our time abroad in Germany and Taiwan respectively.

In Germany especially where it is not unusual for someone to study in a part of the country that is far away from their home, and or where there is a housing shortage, WGs (Wohngemeinschaft) are very common. During Carla’s stay in Germany she didn’t live in a WG but all her friends, both German and exchange students, did. As such she was often invited to visit them in their homes for get-togethers. The roommates never seemed to mind, they accepted her presence in their common rooms and went on about their lives around her. Or, they acknowledged that their roommate had a visitor and then simply closed the door to their own room to be undisturbed. Carla experienced WGs to be more than just a living arrangement; the roommates had begun to form bonds with each other, living with each other, similarly as one would within one’s family: cooking and eating together, watching sports or TV in the living room or simply hanging out. On the other hand, WGs are not permanent; over the course of Carla’s time in Germany her friends told her of leaving flatmates, and the arrival of new ones, leaving them to adapt to a new person and forming new bonds. This seemed not always easy but certainly was necessary to make their home a place they enjoyed living in. Finally, it struck Carla as interesting that the people she met were so ready and open to sharing their living spaces with others even though they could have met up and hung out in the city in a cosy café instead.

Moris experienced a different situation in Taiwan: There most students either lived in the dormitory on the campus of the given university or at home, with their family. Shared apartments weren’t a common thing among students – Moris hasn’t met any local student who was staying in one. Even outside university shared apartments seemed not to be a popular choice – Moris only met a few local people who were staying in shared apartments. Sharing apartments doesn’t seem to be as interesting of an option as in Europe. As far as Moris perceived shared apartments in Taiwan, people stayed there mainly for the reduction of the amount of money spent on rent. The social aspect seemed (for many people) not to be that important. Some people hardly knew their flat mates! Social aspects and living arrangements are, as far as we have discussed, differently connected in Taiwan.

In Taiwan it is not common to invite other people to your home. We think that this has to do with group thinking, the perception of personal space and hospitality. In Taiwan the individual is less important than the group. The group on the other hand cannot be freely chosen but is the one in which one is born (ethnic group, social class, family…) in. Hence, when living at home with one’s parents, it is not considerate to invite people over, since that puts a lot of responsibility (and as a result also stress) on one’s ingroup. As a result, not even close friends are commonly invited home. It should also be mentioned that young people seem less (or differently?!) rebellious in Taiwan than in Switzerland. Parties are not common, drinking and smoking do not have a good reputation and illegal drugs are as good as non-existent.

Comparing Carla’s German experience with Moris’ Taiwanese experience, we realised how different the (preferences for) living arrangements were. According to our understanding, this is connected to different cultural aspects and differences such as cost of living space, perception of privacy, importance of individual space and perception of hospitality. What we also found interesting was the fact that we think German people to be more outgoing than Taiwanese people – which influences not only the way they would interact, but also the form of housing they would choose.

As Swiss university students we were already very familiar with the concept of sharing a flat with others. There are students who chose to attend university in a different town and need a place to live near their university for example. Seeing how sharing a flat also means sharing the costs, a WG is a very convenient and affordable form of living not only for students but also other people looking to save money. Having discussed the living arrangements of Swiss students a little bit further we conclude that, while privacy is an important factor when it comes to choosing one’s housing form, we know many students who dream of living together with their best friends. While both the financial and the social factor play a major role, the initial “moving out from home” also seems to be a big step on the journey to become a fully-grown person which also has to be considered. More students we know live in shared apartments than live with their parents. Since university dormitories aren’t readily available in Switzerland, we do not know any local students who live in such a housing form.
While shared apartments have been common among students already more than thirty years ago, in the time of individualism, living arrangements have yet become another way to define oneself – for example vegan flat-sharing communities as a way to connect with other, like-minded people.

Reasons to share or not to share one’s living space with others are as manifold as the people who make these decisions, and there is no living arrangement that is categorically better than another. To experience them, however, may prove to be an enriching experience.

Carla Fischer, Moris Steiner

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