I knew I’d run into culture shock when I went to college. I’m mixed, so I have a lot of ethnicities at work. I expected to come across some culture-clashes in class, at the dining hall or when making new friends.
I didn’t expect it to occur when my roommate and I both got the plague.
Everyone at the University of Maryland has heard of the UMD plague. I’m pretty sure everyone has experienced it, too. Moving into a building with a bunch of people from all over the world and being exposed to whatever they brought with them would make anyone sick.
The first day, you have a slightly sore throat–the calm before the storm. The next day, you have a thunderous headache that makes all light sources look too harsh. By the third day you can’t leave your bed, and the mountain of tissues on the floor next to you has started its own community.
Basically, bring hand sanitizer with you on move-in day.
Guess what? I got the UMD plague. I got it bad. I swear at one point I went to the bathroom (which is literally next door to my room) and felt like fainting from exertion.
Because my roommate is an actual saint, she would bring me food from the diner or cool washcloths to quell my fever. Maggie, if you’re reading this, you’re the best.
What do I do to repay her? I get her sick, too. In my defense, it’s nearly impossible to live with someone and not spread any germs. For about two days we both lay in our beds, sneezing and groaning, with the occasional I’m going to die thrown in. UMD plague does not play around.
Soon after that, we decided to fight back.
We’re both in-state kids, and our parents work obscenely close to UMD. We called the real adults to send in the heavy artillery. My Jamaican father drove by with chicken soup (which is extremely different from chicken noodle soup), mint tea, honey and Jamaican water crackers–a tried and true formula that most Jamaicans swear by.
So I came waltzing into our quarantined room, dizzy and barely conscious, balancing two bags of crackers, three boxes of tea, a jar of honey and two large containers of soup. Of course my Irish roommate was thrown for a loop. Since she’s super nice and considerate, she just asked observant questions.
“How’s that going to help?”
“How does that taste?”
Of course I answered them very matter-of-factly because I foolishly figured everyone handled colds the same way as I did.
The next day, my roommate texts me, “Alright, I’m bringing in the big guns. White people remedies don’t play.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Boy, did she prove me wrong. That day, she brought in things I’d never even considered sickness remedies. She had garlic, vinegar and lemon juice. I assumed she must have been preparing for a vampire attack, but she explained that one time she was so sick, she sucked on a clove of garlic for her sinuses.
While we never swapped antidotes, we were both pretty curious about each other’s cultural cold cure. After a week of headaches, congestion, sniffles and blissful NyQuil sleeps, we were finally all better. Now we have honey, crackers, tea and lemon juice taking up probably too much space in our room.
I wanted this to be one of those cheesy “We appreciated our differences and lived happily ever after” stories, but my roommate still thinks her remedy worked faster and that’s not okay. She’s dead wrong.
To this day, we shudder at the thought of that week. Hazy images of a dimly lit dorm room and tissue mountains flash in our memory. If I can impart any advice whatsoever, it’d be this: don’t get the plague.