From campus to share house: 9 alumni tips for creating community where you live

La Trobe alumni Georgia and Kaity met while living on-campus seven years ago – and they're still housemates today! Discover their tips for building both a solid alumni friendship and a successful share house.

Moving out of home for the first time can be daunting. But moving hundreds of kilometres away to a new town for uni can be even tougher.

For teaching alumni Georgia Irvine and Kaity Challis, a meeting in the corridors of Bendigo campus’s Hillside Apartments made the move a lot easier.

“Studying for the first time outside of school, it was definitely daunting not having all your close friends around. But living ‘on res’ really helped with that transition,” Kaity says.

“Yeah, we kind of just clicked – like, ‘I get you and I like you!’” Georgia says. “When you’re living with 36 people you don’t know at all, you’re drawn to some sorts of people, naturally.”

Fast-forward seven years and Georgia and Kaity have lived in four different share houses together. So, what’s their recipe for stress-free living with friends? Everything from cleaning rosters and carbonara, to a joint bank account and birthday brownies…

1. Create a ‘family feel’

When you’re living apart from your biological family, friends can quickly become your surrogate kin. That ‘family feel’ is something Georgia and Kaity have fostered – through rituals like weekly food shops and sharehouse dinners.

“None of us are from Bendigo. We never had our family here, so we were always looking for stability,” Kaity says.

“You build a real sense of community. Your housemates are what get you through every single day. We all work full-time in different professions, but we come home and eat together around the table, turn our phones off and chat about our day. We’ve become like a family.”

Their favourite meal? Carbonara and garlic bread.

“We shop for food together, we cook together and we sit down every night to share dinner. $50 each covers lunches and dinners for a week. On a Sunday, someone will choose the groceries and do the meal prep for the week ahead,” Georgia says.

“That’s been going on for years now. If it was to stop, it would be really weird. It’s hard to be a millennial – that ‘family feel’ is a real thing for us!”

2. Connect as friends, not just flatmates

There’s a difference between being a flatemate and being a friend. And while it can be tricky to switch from talking about ‘house stuff’ to interacting as friends, it’s an important part of keeping any friendship strong.

“Just because you live together, you still have to do things to be friends. Kaity and I love coffee, we love going for walks, to the gym – we’ll go out and do things that we’re both interested in. The key is to stay interested in each other’s lives and families,” says Georgia.

3. Be supportive of each other’s careers

Since graduating from La Trobe, Kaity has worked as a high school teacher, while Georgia has returned to La Trobe as Residential Education Coordinator. But adjusting from studying to becoming part of the workforce isn’t easy – which is why supporting each other through the transition to a full-time career is so important.

“We were fresh 19-year-olds when we first met, so we’ve watched each other grow over time. I’ve seen Georgia step up and be involved at La Trobe, just as I’ve stepped into the field of education,” says Kaity.

“It’s been lovely to be there for each other in that professional context, because it’s an unknown world when you leave uni. It’s important to have a likeminded friend who’s there to support you, professionally and personally.”

“And to push you!” Georgia adds. “A friendship that holds you accountable, taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, you can do this!’.”

4. Make a cleaning roster – and stick to it

Keen to avoid awkward conversations in the communal kitchen? Have a cleaning roster. By making the effort to consider what kind of environment you like to live in, and how to keep it that way, you’re more likely to have a happy home.

“At La Trobe, I manage and train 30 student leaders. And when they move off res, I tell them the first thing they need to do is make a cleaning roster. Write down who’s on bathrooms, toilet and kitchen this week. Get a system set up from the very start,” Georgia says.

Kaity agrees: “A cleaning roster is something we’ve always had. It’s so much easier and it quickly becomes routine: once a week, someone’s responsible for one part of the house.”

5. Open a joint bank account

Along with cleanliness, ground rules around money are essential. Set them straight away and you’re starting off on a positive note.

“Bills and money are the number one reason people divorce, right? You’ve got to do something about it!” laughs Georgia.

Both alumni are fans of setting up a joint share house bank account.

“Go into Bendigo Bank and sign up for one. You can all pay the same amount each fortnight, to cover bills and food. It’s like a slush fund and it avoids ridiculous conversations like, ‘I just paid the Telstra bill, you owe me $1.40’.”

6. Forgive each other’s annoying habits

Even the best alumni friends have irritating traits – and living together can really amplify them. Being forgiving and understanding is vital to a strong alumni friendship.

“I’m very lucky, there’s really not a lot that Georgia does that annoys me. I’d have to be picky and say she never washes the dishes in hot-enough water,” says Kaity. “We always have that bust-up!”

“Kaity is super easy to live with. But there’s one thing that worries me, which is that she’s a little forgetful. Occasionally I’ve had to turn the iron or hair straightener off. I mean, what’s she going to do when I’m not living here?” Georgia laughs. “It’s okay – she’s got home and contents insurance.”

7. Respect people’s boundaries

In a similar vein, recognising your housemates’ boundaries can help keep your home harmonious. Everyone needs their quiet time, so learn to pick up on the indicators. But be sure to make an effort to talk about it later. Communication helps make a house a home, so don’t let things go unsaid.

“If someone’s in their room with the door shut, that might mean they’re needing some quiet time. It’s important to know what that sign is and let them be. By all means, ignite the conversation later and check in,” Kaity says.

8. Start fun traditions

Share house traditions bring a sense of celebration, ritual and belonging to communal living. You’re going to engage in them again and again, so why not make them fun?

“Each year, I make a calendar full of silly photos from the past 12 months. This year I’ve incorporated Darby [Kaity’s partner] in it, because he’s now part of the family. As soon as we got to the new house, the first thing I said was, ‘Ok, where’s the calendar going?’” says Georgia.

For Kaity, birthday brownies are a tradition: “Think packet mix, cake-sized brownie. Or, if we run out of time, a Safeway mud cake, with a packet of M&Ms to put on top.”

9. Give back to the community you live in

For both Georgia and Kaity, moving to Bendigo was never a long-term plan. But on graduating, staying in their university town seemed like a smart choice.

“It was a financial decision at first. Compared to Melbourne or Geelong, rent is super cheap in Bendigo. Now I’ve grown an emotional connection to this place. I’m big on shopping local, exploring the cafes and restaurants. I’m invested in the community here, and I’ll probably buy a house here, too. I feel settled; it feels like home,” Georgia says.

“My advice to students who are studying regionally is: give wherever you’re living a go. Don’t just be onto the ‘next best thing’. Give the place a chance.”

La Trobe friends are friends for life. If you met your bestie at uni, why not share this story with them?