Double Up!

I’m from the U.S. Unlike in the Netherlands, where universities leave the daunting task of finding a room to the student, American universities provide student housing. Many schools, like mine, even guarantee four years of housing. But this guarantee comes with a caveat. Due to the cost of housing and the large number of students, many American students have something that is unheard of in Europe: a roommate. Sometimes, like in my case, several.

I lived in a 10 square meter room with two others during my first year of university. Yes, unfortunately, you read those numbers right. Three girls, three beds, three desks, and perhaps the greatest challenge of all: only one closet to share in our tiny 10 square meter room. My second year saw a less than luxurious upgrade– I moved to an 11 square meter room and only had to share it with one other girl. Living in such close quarters was no easy feat, but with some creative spatial planning and some established ground rules, we made it work.

When I told my extended Dutch family that I was moving to Utrecht for my third study year, I was repeatedly warned about the struggle of finding an affordable room. I originally laughed off the warnings from my constantly-concerned Oma, as I’m from California– the mecca of scarce and unaffordable housing.

But after spending months responding to countless housing advertisements, I realized firsthand that the housing shortage here in Utrecht is no joke. And I had it easy– my quintessential Dutch name and my fluency in the language allowed me to bypass that pesky hurdle my fellow Americans faced: the “NO INTERNATIONALS” label found on most room advertisements.

It’s easy to point fingers and complain about the struggle of finding a room. While there are numerous housing initiatives to help cope with the influx of students to Utrecht University, I believe that students should be part of the solution as well. It is expected that these various measures will halve the housing shortage in Utrecht by 2026, but I have a budget friendly solution that could halve the housing shortage by tomorrow: find a roommate and double up!

In a city with such a dire housing shortage, the Californian in me is shocked that next to nobody shares a room. Whenever I see another 20 meter room advertised on Facebook, I can’t help but bewilder at the fact that only one of the 100 hopeful “mailtje!” commenters will enjoy all 20 meters to themselves. I have met countless people who spend hours everyday commuting to Utrecht, but I have yet to meet a Dutch student who shares a room.

Doubling up would allow for more students to live closer to campus. At my home university, even though most students share rooms, 90% of students live within a mile (1.6km) of the university. Unlike most, I have a roommate here in Utrecht. But I also live a five minute walk away from most of my classes in the city center. While I sacrifice some privacy, I don’t have to sacrifice extra hours of sleep to commute to school. My roommates have also taught me how to be more patient, more mindful to the needs of others, and how to compromise. I’ve probably learned more about effective communication through my years of having roommates than I have through my entire Communication degree.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s preferable to have a room to yourself. Especially in loud and often messy student houses, it’s nice to find solace in your own little oasis. But your university years are short and numbered. One day, when my university years are behind me and when I have a steady income, I’ll appreciate the perks of having my own room even more. Until then, I’ll enjoy waking up 10 minutes before heading to my 8 A.M. class with my roomie. It’s pretty “gezellig,” anyways.