With their one-year fixed-term contract running out this month, international students at shipping container residence Sugar Homes are feverishly trying to find a new place to live. ‘You know you don’t have a chance.’
After six viewings in two months, Katharine, an international relations student from the United States, got lucky. She’s been offered a contract for another shipping container compound and is about to move out of Sugar Homes.
‘At first, I was looking together with someone I knew from high school, who is a freshman. About two weeks ago, she got a contract with Sugar Homes, so she signed it’, Katharine says. ‘From then on, I knew I was on my own.’
In the dog-eat-dog Groningen housing market, Katharine says, ‘you kind of have to focus on yourself first before you focus on anyone else. I don’t blame her, because we’re all under a lot of pressure.’
The UG and the municipality tell prospective students not to come to Groningen if they haven’t secured a room by August. But even for internationals who have been living here for a while, it’s not easy to find new digs.
Daffa, from Singapore, is about to start the final year of his psychology bachelor, and he has yet to find a new place. He’s tried several rental platforms, such as Kamernet, but nothing’s come up. ‘I pay 35 euros a month and I get nothing? I’ve realised that these sites might have been a horrible mistake.’
Before Daffa came here, his father showed him pictures of Groningen, he says: ‘A group of people living in a tent. I was like, don’t exaggerate, it can’t be that bad. But then I actually saw a bunch of tents on the Vismarkt and I thought, oh Jesus, that’s probably where I’m going.’
‘Honestly’, says Katharine, ‘Facebook is even more stressful than any other housing site. They have all these rooms, and you don’t know if it’s a scam, and then you see the number of comments – like, 44 or 66 – and you know that you don’t have a chance.’
Nahom, who studies international and European law, emphases the importance of having a local network: ‘I was never afraid I would end up on the street, because I know a lot of people here. I heard from a friend that he was moving out and I was able to take over his room. And one of my friends who had been looking for a place for two months ended up moving into my old studio.’
‘Students help students, you know’, adds Nahom’s friend, Gino.
Daffa encountered the Dutch phenomenon hospiteren, a group viewing. ‘One of the students was moving out, so the rest were trying to judge who would be the best new housemate’, he says. ‘It was a great vibe and I understood why they were doing it, but it meant I had to find a way to perform and prove I was a funny guy.’
He didn’t get the room. ‘They decided on someone else, because a friend had introduced him there.’
Katherine encountered a similar situation. ‘We had to fill out an interest form. I talked to other viewers and they told me they had been looking for a room for a long time and had been through this multiple times. It was only my first or second viewing and it made me feel very… young.’
She didn’t get that room, either. ‘When I heard back from the agent, I thought, hopefully those other people got the place, finally. I felt for them, we’re all facing the same problem.’