Despite the university and municipality’s efforts, it is uncertain whether all the new international students moving to Groningen this year will have a roof over their heads. DAG, one of the student parties on the university council, has encouraged over 50 current students to offer their spare couches, mattresses, and floors as temporary accommodation.
‘We were worried’
The student couchsurfing initiative is co-run by DAG member Minja Sillanpää, who is also an international.
‘We started the initiative because we were worried things were about to escalate the way they did a year ago, when there was also lack of housing in the city for arriving students’, she says. DAG was inspired by stories of past students who shared their couches with homeless students. ‘What we want to do is to ensure that nobody ends up sleeping in tents like last year, or in excessively expensive hotels and hostels while they look for a more permanent place.’
Many of the students who have registered to host the new internationals are internationals themselves. Charly Jameson, a student from Germany, knows how hard it is to find a room. ‘I remember very much how I relied on others to find a place in Groningen. I just want to help them out’, Jameson says.
Belgian student George Pypstra agrees. ‘The decision to sign up was easy for me. Starting your experience in a new city when you don’t have a roof over your head is something that no-one should have to go through’, he says. ‘The DAG initiative is great for providing relief to people, and it’s great to see that there is so much solidarity among students.’
Not good enough
But future RUG student Andy Kang, from South Korea, doesn’t think that the DAG initiative is a good solution.
‘The couchsurfing initiative is not launched by the management that should be solving these issues. It is definitely a temporary solution, but still not a good one, as it is unstable and inconvenient’, he says.
Pypstra agrees that couchsurfing ‘doesn’t solve the real problem.’ The municipality and the universities must ‘provide adequate support to make sure that appropriate housing is available to all students that they invite to their city.’
This is something that DAG will also address. ‘Part of our agenda is also to raise some questions out in the open: how is it possible that so many students fear that they will end up homeless?’ asks Sillanpää. The university says it isn’t responsible for providing housing. But, she wonders, ‘how can it then be allowed to have such a great impact on the increasing international student population of Groningen?’
The couch surfing initiative launched on 20 August. New international students can sign up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.