On not being 'interesting' enough to get a room
Have I become a new person after moving to Utrecht? To what extent would I be a different me if I had stayed in my dusty hometown? All these questions remain annoyingly existential, amid the chaos that moving to Utrecht implies for too many people. I remind myself of this because close friends of mine are currently still living in hostels as they have — to this day — no place to stay. This rubs me the wrong way because not only do incoming students have to bear the weight of living in a new place, but they are also living with the constant stressor of having no steady housing, including a sense of personal space.
I often wonder how they can keep up with the demands of their academic programmes. After seeing more than one stream of tears come up when talking to my friends about this, I believe we should stop acting like it's possible to remain okay in this situation. These students are not okay, they have jumped into survival mode. I have witnessed people that are close to me in severe emotional and economic distress due to the lack of housing opportunities, and the deep stress that this has caused in many areas of their lives.
A fellow classmate of mine recently had a housing viewing with other people. She went through the trouble of getting to the place and making conversation with people in an atmosphere that felt suffocating and competitive, only to receive the most humiliating rejection in the end. Once she arrived home, she got an email saying that “among many interesting people we met at the viewing, you, unfortunately, were not one of them”. When my friend told me this, I gasped in shock. I was aware that the search process is straining, exhausting and frustrating, but I had no clue that landlords were reaching the level of humiliating prospective tenants in a personal manner, by deeming them “not interesting enough” and telling them this.
I have sympathy for incoming students that encounter this disagreeable environment and ultimately endure personal attacks from landlords that are in a position of excess demand. This makes the experience of looking for a place one where you often have to be humiliated in order to get a roof over your head. These unpleasant exchanges doesn't only happen when dealing directly with landlords, it also happens when you're looking for roommates. When you join the abundant Facebook housing groups, you encounter the phrase “Dutchies Only” and “No Internationals” constantly. The search thus remains exasperating.
Navigating the dichotomy between being accepted into a reputable university like UU, and then having to manage the stress of finding a place to live in these conditions, is something undeniably challenging. We are formally welcomed into a country and academic institution that values our actual and potential contributions, but we also feel the rejection of landlords and Dutch students that only want to live with “Dutchies”.
I am aware that this is fundamentally a cry into the void, that this housing crisis is a widespread complex issue that is tied to broader systemic issues. However, the reason that I decided to write about this is that I had never been witness to cruelty and despicable comments made by landlords. This unpleasantness adds more stress to incoming students in Utrecht. As a student, friend, and immigrant, I feel the need to speak about this dissonance; the one between some aspects of us being welcomed and others being rejected when we look for a place to reside in.