Still from an instruction video of Utrecht University for international students. Video by Studionoord.nl

Internationals moving to Utrecht: The four obvious experiences

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For most international students finding a room in Utrecht is stressful, irritating and humiliating. Filippo Ricci describes the four stages one has to go through for learning all the tricks.

There comes a time in the life of any international student: a time for them to find a home away from home. Utrecht has become notorious―and not in a good way like Biggie Smalls―for having a housing problem.

Unlike internationals, Dutch students are able to come prepared: they’ve signed up on SSH years prior (often while still in high school) or they manage to find a place ‘via via.’ Internationals, on the other hand, usually have to resort to short-stay solutions or housing agencies. There’s a huge shortage and student run organizations like WeWantWoonruimte are popping up with a clear demand: affordable housing for students.

But this is no news to you, avid reader. This article’s about experiences all us internationals experience when moving to Utrecht. Experiences from the eyes of young, ambitious, students to experience living away from home; experiences that often our parents did not or could not have. Without further ado, here are the four experiences that every international student experiences when moving to Utrecht. 

Shameless self promotion
Let’s face it. We’ve all been there and there’s no point in hiding it. You know what I’m talking about, I know you do. Those greener days in which―often from the comfort of your home―you posted on Facebook about what an excellent housemate you would be. You wrote a little bit about yourself and how you’re going to go study in Utrecht for a while. You talked about your social, open, easy-going personality and even claimed to be the cleanest person you knew. In some cases, you even suggested that choosing you as a housemate would mean that the whole house would rejoice to the smell of homemade, fresh muffins every Sunday morning. Some people liked your post and maybe even shared it, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. But it didn’t seem to bother you at the time. After all, you still had a couple months before you’d move to Utrecht.

Suddenly, Houten, Bunnik, Zeist, and Zuilen start looking like very attractive alternatives.

A couple months passed and you still haven’t found anything. Your flight to Schipol is next week. You still check out your account on Kamernet and SSH Shortstay as well as the countless other websites you’d sign up to. This time though, you do so frantically and sent the same copy-pasted message to five different listings. Nada. Suddenly, Houten, Bunnik, Zeist, and Zuilen start looking like very attractive alternatives. Heck, even that unfurnished, unfloored, 14 sqm studio in Bussum looked like a viable option. But alas, the next thing you know is that your on your way to Schipol and booked a hostel and reassured your parents that it’d be for “just a couple nights.”

Viewings, viewings, viewings and viewings
The deadline is past. You’re sitting in your hostel’s lounge and looking at a couple listed properties on some rental agency websites. Your parents think the situation is pretty funny, but you definitely do not. There seem to be some options and you book two to three viewings per day for the next few days. Most of your experiences are polar opposites. You either find some really nice rooms that you can’t afford, or some really shabby, ill-kept rooms, for a price that you barely can cover. The rental agent reassures you that they are going to fix the place up a little and that you don’t have to worry about the smoke-stained walls or that open wall socket. It’s been days, weeks and for some of you months of home-pursuit. You tell yourself that “this isn’t too bad. I can move out in six months and find something better”. You turn to the agent, and say that you want the room.

Your parents think the situation is pretty funny, but you definitely do not.

A feeling overcomes you as you walk away from the house. There’s a subtle grin on your face and you feel relaxed for the first time in months. You immediately call your parents and write your friends on whatsapp: “I found a room, I found a room!”, you cried. It wasn’t the best location, nor was it in the best condition. But hey, it had a roof, heating, gas, water, electricity and the rental agent said they would fancy some fresh paint on the walls and change that fire-hazard of a wall socket. It’s okay though, you started to appreciate the simple things in life. 

You pack light
If you came to Utrecht for an exchange, chances are you had more luck and short-stay rooms actually worked out pretty well. For the rest of you, the ones who decided to live in Utrecht for the next three to five years, the story went a little differently. Remember that six month contract you signed six months ago? The rental agent does. Once again, you’re on the lookout for rooms. The only difference this time around is that you do it from the comfort of your new room, so new the walls still smell like fresh paint.

And so you move out, settle in, and move out again. The years go by, but the rooms go by faster. As a consequence, you really started embracing simple living: you learned to pack light. You get rid of clothes you barely wore, those silly gadgets you picked up at seminars, and sell off your used school books. What was left was your bedding set, some of your clothes, and your period three books. It was difficult at first, but realizing how complicated it can be to move without a driver's license or a car was enough to persuade you. 

Your home kamer away from home.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve now managed to rank with the veterans. You’ve moved so much in Utrecht and learned all the tricks. Some of you managed to settle down somewhere, the rest of you are still on the move from time to time. Whatever the case is, you’ve grown and learned a lot about how living away from home works. You may have even started feeling a little bit like an adult from time to time. Congratulations. You’ve learned to adapt and you’ve called many a kamer a home, away from home. 

This article is part of a diptych on the housing situation of international students. In part 2 Jane Singer spoke with three students who felt like nomads in Utrecht. For more information about finding a room in Utrecht go to www.uu.nl/housing. To help international students to find a room Utrecht University released this video last week:

 

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