Student will find housing for internationals

Five questions about rooms for internationals

‘I can help because I speak Dutch’

Pedagogy student Femke van Splunter, has created an agency to help internationals find rooms: International Student Housing Groningen. Her agency, which launched last week, will combat the unjust treatment of international students looking for a place to live.
By Eva van Renssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

What does International Student Housing Groningen (ISHG) do?

‘Most realtors never even answer queries from international students – not even to reject them for a room. That is something we have to change. But we also need to help students find a room right now.’

Femke spends a lot of time checking websites and responding to any posts that fall within a normal student budget. ‘You have to move fast. If we get an invite, I join the student for the viewing. That way I can make sure they are comfortable, and also see for myself whether the price for the room is appropriate. If we’re both happy with the room, I take care of the rest. I ask the students for a fee.

I’m just a student, not a business woman. I communicate with the students through WhatsApp. I do use a company e-mail address to talk to the realtors, but I always sign it with just my name. I don’t want it to be too formal; I want them to know that I’m here to help the students.

I do think it’s shitty that internationals are basically forced to pay extra money just to find a room, but I have to charge a fee. I spend a lot of time looking for rooms, so I can’t do it for free. They can cancel my services if I am unable to find them a room quickly.’

How did you come up with the idea?

‘I had to leave my apartment and I thought I would have trouble finding something new. But because I’m Dutch, I had lots of options: everything was available to me. I signed the contract on a new studio apartment just a few days later.

But there was an international student at the viewing for my studio who had trying to secure a room for months. I felt guilty when I got the apartment. I figured I could help out, if only because I could communicate in Dutch.

After some background research I set up a Facebook page. I was only planning to help three students, but within a day I had dozens of responses!’

What kind of responses to you get?

‘The most extreme case was a student who had sent fifty e-mails to realtors without a single response. But I’ve heard it all: messages range from a simple “hi, I need a place to live” to people’s entire life stories.

Some people are angry that I charge a fee; they think that isn’t allowed. I always send those people a link to a government page that explains it normal to do so.

The fact that people have so little information is just evidence to me that ISHG is filling a big need. There are others providing similar services, but most are in it to fleece the students. So I consider it a good thing that people are being more discerning nowadays.

It does feel weird to make money off the discrimination of international students in the housing market. My work basically confirms that they’re at a disadvantage. So I do hope this is just a temporary gig.’

How do you manage to get the rooms?

‘I have enough experience now that I can quickly determine whether an offer is a good one or not. And you have to stay on top of it; respond within a day or you end up at the bottom of the list. Communication with homeowners should be clear and simple: they don’t care if you say shit like “I love reading”. You just have to be ballsy and show them that you know your rights.

I used to be scared that I’d get a negative response e-mailing realtors on behalf of internationals, but I always get a reply. It’s probably because I write them in Dutch. It’s so stupid, but apparently it works.

It’s hardest to help students with pets, or friends looking for a place together. But I’ll find them a place, too.’

What does the future look like?

‘If ISHG continues to do well, I might get some people to help me out. It’s my dream for ISHG to become a bigger platform; a place where internationals can go for help with things that may be obvious to Dutch students, but not to them. It’s barely any work on our part; in fact we could do so much more to help! I’d love that.’




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