Two things have come my way during my first month studying in the Netherlands: hindsight and a bit of luck.
When I first decided to study overseas, with two equally enthusiastic students from my university, I made one big mistake by letting them choose the place where we should live. I’m not the pickiest person in the world and my theory was that “as long as we’re all together, it will be fine.” After all, I’m used to the blissful grit and grime of student living. What could possibly go wrong?
In hindsight, the decision almost brought on a Pretty Woman-type reaction: Julia Roberts walking up to the unknowing sales associate saying “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”
I have since learned that there are many different types of student housing options that come with many different price tags. At one end, there are relatively expensive shared apartments on campus and even costlier ‘space boxes’ that provide condensed individual living space. In the middle you can find moderately priced single rooms or fairly priced shared rooms outside the city centre. At the bottom of the list are the cheap rooms in the dodgy part of town.
Of course, our first pick was any cheap room in the dodgy part of town. I emphasize the word ‘cheap.’ The building we chose had the reputation of being a ‘party’ house but that didn’t bother me too much. What’s a bit of noise and a messy shared kitchen when the rent is so low?
I soon discovered the real quirks of the place: a bathroom sink full of a mouldy and unidentifiable green substance, a resident mouse and the unpleasant surprise that my entire bedroom floor flooded whenever someone in the house took a shower. Suffice it to say, I moved in eagerly on the first day of February and moved out just as eagerly on the second.
In a city like Utrecht, which has more than 64,000 students, student housing is a hot commodity. To get the right room at the right price, you need a little bit of luck, a little bit of compromise and a whole lot of research.
What I lacked in research, I made up for in luck. Since I knew that the resident mouse and I wouldn’t get along, I went straight back to the housing office to see what could be done about finding somewhere more suitable to live. I was offered a compromise – a shared room in a clean building that’s right in the city centre. Sure, I give up my own personal space a little, but I’d prefer to share it with a person rather than a rodent any day.
As it turns out, in the world of international student housing, it’s not a bad idea to be open-minded to the idea of shared living. It is as social a living experience as you can get. All you need is good humour, an even better cleaning schedule and the right roomies.
I’ll consider it a lesson learned. Ending up in the right living situation is such a good feeling. I think next time I’ll try to find the right place the first time around.