Dorm life in your forties
Diehard in Selwerd I
The cavernous hallways at the Kornoeljestraat student building echo with footsteps. A musty smell seems to emanate from the walls. Sudden laughter explodes from a room down the hall, and just as suddenly dies away. The residents, mostly Erasmus students who only come to Groningen for six months, have all gone back home, and the next batch of internationals hasn’t arrived yet.
But they will soon. Every September, new residents in the building enliven the halls with the sound of their parties, the smell of amateur student cooking, and the cacophony of different languages. As usual, Hall D2 will get fourteen new residents – even though there are fifteen rooms. Resident number fifteen, Jeroen, hasn’t ever left. He’s been living here for twenty-two years. He’s seen all manner of residents come and go.
‘I greet everyone jovially’, he says. ‘In English of course. But that’s about it. I eat and sleep here, but my social life takes place elsewhere.’
It’s a far cry from when he first moved in here twenty-two years ago, he says. ‘The age difference is just too big. And I have my job to go to every day.’
One of the last
Jeroen is one of the last ancients at the Kornoeljestraat building. Now in his forties, he’s a tall man with a softening belly. He walks around barefoot, dressed in a black shirt and capri pants.
I eat and sleep here, but my social life is elsewhere
But when he first moved into his room – twelve square metres, a shared kitchen at the end of the hall, and a pub in the basement – he was just one of many other students who needed a room.
Rooms in one of the Selwerd buildings were easy to come by. ‘The atmosphere was really great. We used to get together for dinner, there were loads of parties, and everyone from the hall would get together and go out on the town’, he says.
Back then, he was eighteen and had just moved from the province of Gelderland to study pharmaceutics in Groningen. ‘I wanted to do lab research’, he reminisces.
Unfortunately, life had other plans. Personal circumstances forced him to quit his pharmaceutical studies. He muddled along for five years before giving up.
He now works as a mailman, although he’s currently on sick leave. He got into an accident on his bike and sprained both his ankles. But if it were up to him he’d be outside. ‘I love biking around town, making people happy with the mail.’ He’s refuses to talk about why he gave up pharmaceutical research to become a mailman. ‘Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you expect it to. It is what it is.’
From the moment they told me they wanted me gone, I wanted to leave
For him, this means he’s still living in the same small room he moved into back in 1996. It’s a room he doesn’t want to show; his door remains closed and the interview takes place on two black leather IKEA couches in the common room.
He was there when fast internet speeds were first introduced in the building. It became a popular home for computer nerds and film buffs overnight. ‘We were on the same servers as the RUG. We had the same speed they had at the university. It’s a fibre optic connection, which is great.’
But once high-speed internet became common, even the nerds eventually left. The relatively small rooms in the building became less popular, and landlord Lefier handed over management of the Selwerd buildings to SSH, which now uses them to house international students.
This has made his living situation complicated. Jeroen and two other male residents of the giant student building actually have their contracts with Lefier rather than SSH – so they enjoy different renter rights than the international students in the building.
When SSH wanted to install cameras because international students complained about intruders, Jeroen and his fellow ‘old’ residents were able to put a stop to that plan. The cameras were only installed once their personal privacy concerns were satisfied.
It’s their responsibility to find me a new place to live. But that’s easier said than done
This is one of the reasons why both SSH and Lefier would like the three former students to find somewhere else to live.The others refuse to leave, but Jeroenwouldn’t mind moving on. ‘When they told me they wanted me gone, I was ready to leave. The ball’s in their court now.’
He’s happy with the relocation settlement they’ve offered him. ‘I can’t give you an exact number, but I’ve got no complaints’, he says, laughing. ‘It’s their responsibility to find me a new place to live. And that’s easier said than done.’
Lefier will have a harder time convincing the other two Selwerd I diehards to leave, Jeroen thinks.
How long will he have to wait for a new place? He’s not sure. ‘But I’m ready to have a place to call my own.’ He’s looking forward to not having to share facilities with fourteen students.
He won’t miss the place. Will he miss the students? So many have come and gone that he doesn’t really bother getting to know them. ‘I have friends all over the country, but mainly here in town. And my job keeps me busy.’