Zorg voor kamers voor buitenlandse studenten

Before I start, I need to emphasise that attending Utrecht University has been one of the best choices of my life. It is not a puny exercise of captatio benevolentiae: I recognise that from a didactic, social, and even human point of view, this institution, and indeed this city, taught me and gave me in proportion more in one year than my alma mater in Italy did in several. Duly mentioned so, I would like to present a small contribution, in order to further improve the experience of future UU alumni.

First of all, I need to address the elephant in the room, the major problem that can jeopardise the study experience of an international student in Utrecht: the housing - or rather the lack thereof.  It is a shame how this can affect students whose potential contributions to this city may be lost because of a ‘mere’ deficiency of accommodation and I believe it clashes with the image of such a prestigious university town.

It is my opinion that the UU is already fulfilling its hardest task- providing a good didactic and transferring knowledge to incoming students, maintaining a high quality in education. I believe that any other service provided, be it catering, transports, and indeed the housing itself, represents an easier task to be accomplished. It is true that the university is already doing a lot through SSH to find an accommodation for all of its exchange students. Yet more can be done.

Now, as we know the pars destruens of a speech is always easier than the pars construens, so let’s see in what way I can constructively address this problem. A first and abrupt solution that comes to mind is simple: fewer exchange students should be accepted. The number of rooms reserved for international students in this city seems to be simply insufficient.

Even worse, the competition between international and Dutch students is uneven: the latter ones will prevail 9 times out of 10 in a hospiteeravond – a tragic Dutch tradition which I believe has already been addressed by DUB, and which turns a room visit into a sort of job interview. So how to solve this conundrum?

Overall there should be a better governance system: in order to solve the housing riddle in Utrecht there must be a coordinated governance between the university and the public administration, and all the stakeholders including representatives of the students and of all the accommodations agencies (huurmakelaars) and if possible landlords willing to rent to internationals. Only talks held by these actors can find the best solution for anyone.

More concretely though, I believe that the problem lies between demand and supply: the matching between those landlords or agencies that offer accommodation to internationals and the lat can be improved. The university could supervise this either directly or indirectly, e.g. through a dedicated volunteers association or an online platform. In this sense, a log/Facebook group may register all the private landlords, who can contact the UU/association directly to inform it of any new available rooms. In this way the exchange students can simply check, under the aegis of the University, what new options are available on a daily basis.  

A second issue that I find could be improved towards international students is the participation in students associations.  I reckon that there are more than 150 of them in Utrecht, between fraternities, sororities, and sport and study associations. Yet I sense that there is quite some hindrance to a full participation of internationals in them. I understand that the oldest fraternities are open exclusively, or almost exclusively, to Dutch speakers – after all they are absolutely entitled to do so! Nevertheless I believe that many, which could be even more than welcoming towards exchange students, do not advertise themselves enough.

I will explain myself: when I arrived here the only international association I got in touch with was ESN – which I was already familiar with, having been part of other sections. Only months later did I discover that there were many other forms of student groupings, which had started their applications in September and it was by then too late to become a member. I trust that many other internationals would benefit to know beforehand of their existence, perhaps with a major participation of the above mentioned verenigingen in the introduction days.

A final remark I would briefly like to mention is the study of Dutch. Although the university, and my association, do provide classes of this language. I think that much more can be done. Once again I will use a comparison with my home university, which had a dedicated Athenaeum Linguistic Centre, a sort of faculty of language for the students of the other faculties, which provided courses in six different idioms, including Italian, for free or for symbolic fees, and which were considered by all means regular university classes and thus awarded ECTS.

 It surprises me that an exchange student may well spend a semester here and not be directed even remotely towards a study of the Dutch language. It is true that everyone in this country is more than fluent in English – unbelievable! – but nevertheless I believe that at least reaching A1 level  in the mother tongue of your host nation is a fundamental part of a correct integration, other than a sign of respect. 

Te wit, te Nederlands, te westers, te mannelijk, te elitair, kortom: te ‘ons soort mensen’. Hoe kan de universiteit dat veranderen? Klik hier voor meer verhalen over internationalisering, emancipatie, inclusie en politieke correctheid.