Living Away From Home: Safety and Security Tips for Boarders and Dormers

Our house sits in a residential area surrounded by schools so it isn’t a surprise that my enterprising mother once turned our humble four-room home into a boarding house. Two of the rooms were rented out – one for boys and the other for girls.

I grew up accustomed to having strangers for housemates. Fortunately, my late grandma was an austere hostess. Nobody gets admitted to our little boarding house without passing her scrutiny. She screens all applicants, interviews the parents, acquaints them with the rules, and lectures them on the stern regulations.

My dad was in the military and my mom was a teacher so in a way, our boarders we’re kind of aware that they can’t mess with authority inside the house.

House rules were strictly implemented. Among them, the dreaded curfew – nobody is allowed entry past 10 p.m. – unless you have prior consent to come home late. Before daddy retires to bed, he checks whether everyone’s already accounted for. In the morning, he does the same, making sure nobody has gone missing the night before.

Our boarders’ parents were thankful for such thoughtful measures in place. It gave them peace of mind that even though their kids are living away from home, they are being looked after like they’re family.

None of us siblings ever lived in a dorm, or a boarding house for that matter. My nephews and nieces, when it was their turn to go to college, followed suit and chose schools that are near where we live as well.

But something is bound to change. Next year, my favorite niece, Chingan, is off to college. If she passes the UPCAT, we might just send away our first dormer. I’m a little scared for her.  I know it’s a crazy, fun world out there. She’ll get to meet people from different walks of life. She’ll broaden her horizon, so to speak. But everything will be different from what she’s used to, and that’s what makes this aunt-posing-as-her-mother too antsy for comfort.

How will she deal with the change of environment? For someone who’s so used to getting things her way, how will our little señorita deal with her dormmates’ idiosyncrasies? Can she fend for herself? Can she survive not having someone at her beck and call? I fervently hope the answers are in the affirmative.

Another aspect of dorm life that I’m little nervous about is the security. Is the place she’s going to be holed in when school is in session secure enough? Incidence of theft, burglary, and even sexual assault is a reality that I am particularly scared of.

Ideally, I picture a dorm to have every conceivable security measure in place. You know, the works – CCTV, biometrics, 24-hour roving guards, alarms, room safes. But we live not in an ideal world. Our boarding house had none of those back in the day, and I’m pretty sure neither does most dorms and boarding houses around the Metro.

So, what can parents (and overbearing aunts like me) do to at least arm our wards with their own security plan if not all of the abovementioned security measures are in place?  Simple, really, let your first-time dorm dweller master these helpful security tips:

  1. Lock, lock, and lock. Your door, your windows. Always. Even if you’re just stepping out for a while, make sure to lock up. Never give anyone, strangers most especially, a window of opportunity to get inside your room. We’re not just protecting your valuables here. Most crimes transpire as soon as a perpetrator has gained entry to their target’s room.
  2. Bring the essentials but leave the expensive stuff at home. Of course you want your room to have a semblance of home but really, even if it’s allowed, you might want to decide against bringing your army of gadgets to your dorm. Now, if you must take them all with you, at least keep them in a place where prying eyes can’t see. Diversion safes are all the norm now – they are inconspicuous and can blend with your other stuff – get one of those.
  3. Pepper spray, you say? Yes, they’re a big deterrent to some extent. Keep one by your bedside drawer.
  4. Alarms work wonders. Of course, ideally your dorm has to have a professional security alarm in place but you can add extra deterrent to intruders and grab-and-go thieves if you install your own door alarm.
  5. Keep close friends and family privy of your schedule so they will know where you are supposed to be at a particular time. That way, they would know when something is off and do something about it immediately.
  6. Follow the imposed curfew; it’s implemented for good reason. You wouldn’t want to fall prey to criminals lurking in the dark, would you? If you need to stay out a little late, give prior notice.

Now that we’ve covered security, let’s hop on over to its twin, safety. Dorms and boarding houses can be crowded, so it’s inevitable that accidents often happen. Here are a few handy tips to ensure your dorm safety:

  1. Prior to moving in, check if there are fire exits in the building. Know where the emergency exits are located and check whether they can be accessed easily.
  2. Save all emergency numbers in your phone – these include contact numbers of the nearest fire and police stations, hospital, and other pertinent government agencies that can aid you in dire situations.
  3. Practice proper hygiene. Dorms often have communal bathrooms and given the number of tenants that share loo access, it’s not a rarity to contact diseases if you’re not careful. Bathroom floors can be downright dirty so make sure you use your own slippers.
  4. For dorms and boarding houses that have laundry facility, never mix your clothes with others’.

So there, I hope I got all the bases covered. College life could be as daunting as it is exciting, and living on your own is a rite of passage that poses both thrill and challenge. Dorms and boarding houses are great avenues to meet new friends, socialize, and celebrate your new-found independence but this whole new life-away-from-home experience can also be dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken.