Students
Left (with cap) Thomas Dijkstra, next to him standing Gijs Hennen, Clara Tietje (blue shirt), behind her Florent Hallal. In front of him (with the white jumper) Carla Anderer, in the middle Sarah Bannet and James Gray. Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková

Kleine Roze is an example
of integration and inclusion

Internationals only (sorry Dutchies)

Left (with cap) Thomas Dijkstra, next to him standing Gijs Hennen, Clara Tietje (blue shirt), behind her Florent Hallal. In front of him (with the white jumper) Carla Anderer, in the middle Sarah Bannet and James Gray. Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková
International students are often unwelcome in student houses. Many times, the ‘No internationals/Dutch only’ policy stands out in the ads. But House Kleine Roze goes against this trend: they want internationals only!
1 June om 11:15 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 1 June 2022
om 11:29 uur.
June 1 at 11:15 AM.
Last modified on June 1, 2022
at 11:29 AM.

Door Alessandro Tessari

1 June om 11:15 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 1 June 2022
om 11:29 uur.

By Alessandro Tessari

June 1 at 11:15 AM.
Last modified on June 1, 2022
at 11:29 AM.

Alessandro Tessari

Student-redacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

They come to Groningen excited and full of expectations, eager to dive into their studies and student life, yet their first months in the city can become a desperate hunt to find a shelter.

Every year, international students struggle to find accommodation in the city, and the situation does not seem like it will change any time soon.

The university has recommended international students once again not to come to the city if they haven’t found a room by August. The municipality of Groningen, despite creating 260 emergency beds for internationals next academic year, fears the worst. Alderman Roeland van der Schaaf says that, for various reasons, it’s even more difficult to arrange emergency shelter.

One big reason is that until September, the university and therefore the municipality will not be able to know the actual number of international students coming to the city to study.

11.000 internationals

Currently, around nine thousand internationals study at the UG. Add to that the Hanze University of Applied Science’s international students, roughly 2,300, and Groningen today hosts over eleven thousand foreign students. This is more than five percent of the total population of the city. Not an insignificant number.

The Stichting Studentenhuisvesting (SSH) is one of the main providers of accommodation for international students in the city and has approximately 1,600 rooms and studios especially for internationals. They have grim news: ‘The reservations for the next academic year have been open for a while and unfortunately all our rooms and studios are already booked,’ says Madelon van Gameren with SSH.

‘No internationals’ policy adds up to the feeling of being unwelcome

On top of that, internationals often face closed doors in private student houses. The ‘No internationals/Dutch only’ policy included in many rooms ads adds up to the frustration and the feeling of being unwelcome.

Balance in the house

Yet, despite the crisis, many students are doing their best to help. Kleine Roze is an example of integration and inclusion. 

The ad that Dutch student Sarah Bannet posted on Facebook was pretty clear: ‘INTERNATIONALS ONLY (sorry Dutchies)’.

‘We want to keep the balance in the house, and we all agree on that. Our French housemate Florent is leaving soon, so we want another international, preferably another guy, to join our house,’ says Sarah.

La Petite Rose, as they call their house in Kleine Rozenstraat (‘little roses street’), is a very big house, technically divided into two smaller households. Twelve students live here: five Dutchies and seven internationals – of which some speak Dutch.

The international students in the house hail from Germany, Slovakia, and France. From the beginning of July, a new member is joining, as Florent Hallal, exchange student from France, is leaving.

Who will join?

Although they’re sad to see Florent go, La Petite Rose is now curious to see who will join them next in the house, and from where.

‘We have many candidates: from Greece, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Italy,’ says Dutch student Thomas Dijkstra.

300 responses in a 24 hours clearly shows the state of the current housing situation

La Petite Rose is running the hospi, – Dutch name for house viewing – both online, for those who connect from abroad, and in person. This year, they decided to ask applicants to provide a video to introduce themselves.

‘It is to bring down the large number of applicants, since not everyone wants to put in the effort to film themselves. Last year, we asked only for a Facebook message. We posted a room on a Friday and on a Saturday evening we already had three hundred responses from all over the world,’ says Thomas.

Three hundred responses in a bit more than twenty-four hours clearly shows the state of the current housing situation in Groningen, especially for internationals.

Crisis

‘We are well aware of the crisis. Trying to keep the balance in the house is a way to be fair and to help those who are struggling more,’ says Carla Anderer, from Germany. ‘We also decided to run online viewings to give an opportunity to the many who are already looking for accommodation from back home.’

They are aware that their internationals-only policy sounds very much like the more common policy that excludes them, but the reality is different. Kleine Roze is open to everyone, and to protect this happy island they do their best.

At Kleine Roze, English is naturally the official language

‘At least try to meet them. If you already say no internationals, you don’t give them a chance. At the end of the day, you get to choose who you want. Maybe you would miss an amazing person to live with and to get to know, just because you want to apply such a policy,’ says Sarah about the no-international approach.

Often, when the ‘no internationals’ sign is posted on an ad, students say to be hesitant to share a house with foreigners due to the language barrier and the cultural gap, especially in the way Dutch student life is organised. 

Uncomfortable

At Kleine Roze, English is naturally the official language. ‘I understand that many Dutch students feel uncomfortable speaking English at home, but keep in mind that it is no different for most internationals. They are not all English native speakers, so we all struggle together. And it makes it funny,’ says Sarah.

‘Sometimes, when words aren’t enough, you have to communicate with signs, or rely on the most classic passepartout word “thing”: where is the thing used to close the other thing? Yet, we always understand each other,’ she says.

‘In the end, everyone is in the same boat. It is a struggle for them just as it is for us. The English language is the common ground,’ says Florent.

The same goes for cultural differences. What might seem like insurmountable incompatibilities easily become added value to the house. 

‘There might be cultural differences, but I’ve stopped noticing them. There might be different eating schedules and habits, but those easily become positive aspects,’ says Dutch student Gijs Hennen.

Big community

Kleine Roze feels like a big community, they all say. ‘It is kind of a unique configuration. The differences enrich the place and people are openminded. And we learn a lot from each other,’ says Florent.

‘You get to try something new every time, especially with food. Friends bring or cook food from their home countries all the time. You get to know different traditions, and we explain to them the Dutch ones,’ says Sarah. 

Like that time Florent made a quiche Lorraine. It was delicious according to everybody. Too bad they discovered that that quiche is in no way French, as the recipe is actually German.

‘When I discovered that, I realised that my whole life had been a lie,’ laughs Florent.

The sharing of food and recipes works both ways.

Friends bring or cook food from their home countries all the time

‘Well, Dutch cuisine is always a bit disappointing,’ says Carla with a smile. She is more into Middle Eastern and Asian flavours and cuisines. The latter in all its variations is also the most loved in the house.

‘They may make fun of Dutch food, but they all love it in the end, especially when they are drunk,’ Thomas answers back.

Celebrating Sinterklaas

But there is much more to share in terms of traditions and culture.

‘We celebrated Sinterklaas all together this year. It was not easy to explain it, but it was fun to do,’ says Thomas. ‘It is tradition for Dutch to celebrate with families and friends, so we wanted to include our international housemates.’

Sarah, Thomas, and the other Dutchies explained the tradition of making gifts and writing short poems on things that annoys you about someone in a nice and funny way.

Florent is known to be very slow to do things in the house. ‘Once it took me one hour to get groceries. From that day I did not escape the nickname: snail,’ he smiles.

‘Therefore, I gifted him a (fake) small escargot – French for snail – for Sinterklaas,’ says Sarah.

But Florent understood pretty well how Sinterklaas works. ‘A former housemate was very much into student association boys. And most of the time it was either Vindicat or Albertus. So I made her a little spinning wheel with the two options, asking: who is going to be this time?

Carla instead got to learn the core of student Dutch culture: the gezelligheid. And she loves it.

Gezelligheid is officially an untranslatable Dutch word. But the concept refers to a positive and relaxed atmosphere, friendship and fun. 

‘Germans are always on the run, that makes you easily stressed. Dutch people are quite chill, and I love it. I learned to embrace the gezelligheid from my Dutch housemates,’ she says. 

‘It is great. Honestly the best part of my Erasmus experience has been living in this house,’ says Florent.

This year was Florent’s first experience on his own, far from home and in a shared house, and he could not be happier.

‘Even if Groningen is an international city, it is not always that easy to connect with people, especially during the pandemic,’ he says thinking about his first semester here. ‘But I connected right away with all my housemates.’

‘It truly feels like home to me, I have never felt like this in a house before,’ agrees Sarah. ‘I also liked my former houses, but there was not the same connection with the other housemates.’

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