Students
Photo by Reyer Boxem

Elvira and Johan took in nine internationals

Ode to my substitute family

Photo by Reyer Boxem
Over the span of two years, Elvira and Johan Pruis took in nine international students who couldn’t find a room in Groningen. UKrant’s Alessandro Tessari was one of them. ‘They didn’t just give us a place to stay; they gave us a home.’
15 December om 10:38 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 December 2020
om 16:56 uur.
December 15 at 10:38 AM.
Last modified on December 16, 2020
at 16:56 PM.
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Door Alessandro Tessari

15 December om 10:38 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 December 2020
om 16:56 uur.
Avatar photo

By Alessandro Tessari

December 15 at 10:38 AM.
Last modified on December 16, 2020
at 16:56 PM.
Avatar photo

Alessandro Tessari

Student-redacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

At the height of the student housing crisis in Groningen, in September 2018, Elvira and Johan Pruis decided to open their home to internationals who didn’t have a roof over their head. 

Hundreds of students were struggling to find a place to stay for the new academic year. Some were stuck in hostels, others – like me – had to rent rooms in neighbouring towns, and then there were those living in tents set up by the university, waiting for the new container homes to be ready.

‘We read in the newspapers about the situation that many students, especially internationals, were facing and we decided to help’, says Elvira, smiling. ‘We have a big house and plenty of free space. So we said to each other, why shouldn’t we help?’ 

Temporary solution

Soon, students were coming in and out of their house on the Korreweg all the time. I was one of them. Friends introduced me to Johan and Elvira and after a short conversation, they invited me to move in. That was in October 2018. I had planned to stay only as long as I had to. In the end, I lived with them for two years.

‘Our idea was to offer temporary solutions for those students with housing problems and to give them the time to find something more stable’, says Elvira. ‘But then, there are always exceptions.’

We learned something new every time we talked to them

Others just stayed a few months, or moved out only to come back again later, so I was an exception indeed. The more time I spent in their house, the more I felt at home. The atmosphere was welcoming and quiet – except when there was an ‘invasion’ of the grandkids, but that only added to the charm of the house. Everything I needed was there: a cat to keep me company when I was studying and two interesting, funny and amiable people to share my daily life in the house. 

‘We saw many students coming and going in those two years and we never had problems. It was a pleasure for us to host young people from different countries’, Elvira says. ‘We learned something new every time we talked to them. Every student would bring something unique.’

Dorus and Mon Dieu

In total, nine students from several countries passed through the Korreweg house. ‘It was nice that some people stayed longer, so they could take care of the cat and the house while we were on holiday’, Elvira says laughing.

The cats were important members of the family. First, there was sixteen-year-old Dorus, and then Mon Dieu arrived, an utterly crazy kitten. Often it was just me and one of them in the house. This meant I was often responsible for taking care of them, but it made me love the place even more, although it wasn’t great when Mon Dieu mistook my bed for his litter box. Still, I was heartbroken when I discovered that Dorus had passed away while I was on holiday. The old cat accompanied me throughout my studies and left me a few months before I finished my thesis.

‘The students became part of our lives, too’, says Elvira. ‘Even today, when my little grandson comes to visit, he asks about the boys that were always studying in the kitchen. He wonders where they are now.’

Coronavirus

The corona pandemic brought our little community at the Korreweg to a sudden end. 

‘It has been a tough year. Right before the outbreak of the coronavirus, I had to have surgery, and then when I was still recovering in the hospital in Maastricht, corona hit the Netherlands. I was scared and worried’, explains Elvira.

We’ll see in the new academic year if someone needs help

The surgery weakened her immune system and put her at high risk in case of a coronavirus infection. ‘I felt really sorry for the students, but once I got back to Groningen I couldn’t have them in the house anymore. I even stopped seeing my whole family’, she says.

Livia, another student, had just left and it was just me in the house. It was sad, but there was no other option: I had to leave. Elvira and Johan never stopped supporting me, though. When they were away during the summer, they opened their house again to me and other students who had previously stayed there.  

Today, Elvira is happy and healthy, thankfully. She’s still concerned about the situation with the coronavirus, though, especially since the outbreak of cases among students in Groningen over the past few months. ‘I don’t know what will happen in the coming months. For now, sadly, we’ve decided not to host more students. But we’ll see in the new academic year, maybe if someone needs help…’

Refugee families

Elvira and Johan had been helping others for many years before the student housing crisis. The first time they opened their house to those in need was about thirty years ago. ‘Back then, there were refugee families from former Yugoslavia living in military barracks outside the city. We read about the possibility to host children for the weekends, so for a few years, every other weekend, we had four extra family members’, says Elvira.

Every other weekend, we had four extra family members

It was quite a big addition, considering that they had four young children running around the house already. ‘It was nice; they were all kids so they played together. They were good times and we are still in touch with them and their families.’ 

Elvira and Johan also took in kids from troubled backgrounds from around Europe for a summer holiday in Groningen. They hosted young footballers from the FC Groningen academy who had just moved to the city and welcomed friends of their children when they needed a place to stay.

Not many people would do as Elvira and Johan did. Their unique generosity can be hardly expressed in words. In my case and that of the other students who lived in their Korreweg house, they didn’t just give us a place to stay, but they gave us a home, with all the warmth and gezelligheid that comes with it.   

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