There are currently more than sixty students staying at the Simplon Jongerenhotel. Among them is 21-year-old Nora Gurung, a Finnish-Vietnamese, pre-master student of clinical psychology. ‘I’ve seen so many students cry because they don’t know what to do’, she says. ‘I’m just kind of stuck in survival mode. I’ve been through stuff like this before and I’ve been pretty calm so far. But I’m beginning to lose hope.’
‘Fuck the housing shortage’
This Friday, students will take to the street to protest the room shortage in Groningen. Between 4 and 6 p.m., they will sit on the steps of the Academy building with as many people as possible, bringing sleeping bags, sleeping mats, blankets, and pillows. ‘We’re not occupying the steps’, the organisers say on their Facebook page, entitled ‘Fuck the housing shortage in Groningen’. ‘It’s a peaceful protest to draw attention to the housing problems.’
Gurung has been looking for a room since mid-August. Her search led her to many housing brokers: ‘One day I walked fourteen kilometres, from one broker to the other.’ She also tried Kamernet and Facebook. So far, without luck. She is either rejected, or the quality to price ratio of the rooms is so ridiculous that she is better off at the hostel. ‘I’m fortunate, because I can afford it. But there was this Lithuanian kid who dropped out and went back home because he couldn’t afford the hostel.’
The RUG, Hanze University and the Groningen municipality have finally acknowledged that a problem exists. As a temporary solution, they will be providing rooms in the former refugee centre at Van Swietenlaan 23, starting Friday. One hundred internationals will be able to stay there for sixteen euros a night, until 31 October. ‘By that time last year, everyone had pretty much found a room’, says Jorien Bakker, the RUG’s press officer. ‘We’ll explore other options for anyone who hasn’t, of course.’
Foreign students often lack a local network and have to make do with the private housing market. Not being able to arrange something through people you know or being able to stay with friends makes finding a room much more difficult. ‘I also get the feeling that some Dutch student houses don’t want any foreign students in their midst’, says Gurung.
For Nora Gurung, the former refugee centre is not an option.
‘Currently, there is in fact not a shortage of available rooms in Groningen’, Bakker says. ‘But international students tend to think they will automatically get a room when they come here, because that’s what happens in other countries. But that’s just not how it goes here.’
‘I’m disappointed’, says Gurung. ‘It’d be nice if the university told us more about how to get a room. Although they did warn that it might be difficult. But before this I studied in Scotland, and the university there made sure you had a room.’
It’s not a great way to start your studies, she says. ‘You can’t really concentrate, because you’re always worried and you have no privacy because you’re sharing a room. It’s difficult to eat healthy, because you can’t keep asking your friends to use their kitchen.’
The student thinks it’s a good thing that the universities and the municipality are trying to help. But for her, the Van Swietenlaan is not an option. ‘That’s just another temporary solution. And there’s no kitchen, and it’s very far out of the way. At least this is more of a central location.’