One room. It only took one room to change the academic plans of two international students, Ciara O’Shea from Ireland and Sonia Moldovan from Romania. After long hours of research on internet, they never found a place to live. They faced the consequences: cancellation of their program and the frustration of not being able to live their experience as they were expecting. Why is it so hard for international students to find a room?
Utrecht, one of the four largest cities in the Netherlands, is mainly known for its two biggest universities, Utrecht University and HU. Both schools welcome 35000 students and more than 1500 students from 120 different countries. It’s undoubtedly the highest educated city in the Netherlands with a large diversity of educational programs and modern facilities. Many foreign students decide to go abroad in Utrecht because it’s probably one of the most festive and lively cities in the Netherlands. Ciara O’Shea said: “It seems to be a culturally vibrant place. I thought it would be a wonderful experience to live there and to be openly creative and personal growth”. Besides its numerous qualities, Utrecht is also known for its housing issues. Each year, international students find themselves without any room at the beginning of school. Sonia Moldovan is one of them: “Currently I’m staying with my cousin in Eindhoven, but unfortunately it can’t be a long-term solution considering he stays in a one-person studio. I didn’t cancel my program yet, but that’s what I’m going to do next”.
Moldovan: “I knew that finding accommodation in the Netherlands is hard, but I didn’t think it could be SO hard.”
There are several ways to find accommodation in Utrecht. SSH and XIOR are two agencies that work with both university and provide rooms for international students close to the campus: People receive accommodation a First come, first served basis. If you’re not on time for the registration or you don’t click fast enough on the room you wanted, it’ll be too late. A stressful moment that O’Shea experienced: “I anxiously sat in front of my computer waiting for 8 am, and once the time came, I clicked on a room. I saw expensive additional payments that would be charged so I paused for a moment. When I pressed the ‘reserve’ button, my room was gone. Five minutes after 8am there were no options left.” Facebook groups such as “Housing Utrecht” or “Utrecht rooms” can also help foreign students to find what they’re looking for. The Dutch review stated that this social network is unfortunately full of scammers who offer rooms that don’t even exist. Finally, the last solution to get a room would be to navigate on the housing markets. According to Taylor & Francis Online, some websites take the opportunity to charge students with registration fees without providing them with a room. Regarding the private rental sectors, some landlords deny access to housing to some foreign students because they are from another ethnic group and don’t speak the native language.
What about the students’ feelings?
Not finding a room is one thing. But cancelling your enrolment in the Erasmus programme is another. O’Shea who cancelled her program said: “I was deeply disappointed and felt like such a loss when I decided to stay in Dublin. But in all honesty, my main feeling was relief because I had spent so long being stressed about accommodations.” The International Office from HU provides a list of agencies and housing providers for international students. However, the Office is responsible for students’ accommodation especially as the housing shortage is very bad at the moment. The university advised students to reconsider coming if they hadn’t found anywhere by the end of July. O’Shea and Moldovan both agree that the university should have limited the number of students accepted in the first place to prevent the disappointment for the ones who had to cancel. It’s also important to emphasize that cancelling a program abroad at the last minute can affect students’ academic plans. Moldovan affirmed that “at the start of this year, I had high hopes and it never crossed my mind that I’m not going to be able to finish university because of housing.”
According to the Dutch review, finding a solution to the student housing crisis seems to be far away. However, the country is planning on building more houses for the future since it’s expected to get worse by 2024. But with what money? Many students sign petitions and organize protests. Is it enough? An Erasmus is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the housing crisis is breaking students hearts.