House of Gifts

Five housemates, four nationalities, not a single Dutch person. In the House of Gifts everyone is far from home and everyone supports each other.

Yaning (20), China - Alissandra (20), -Germany/the Netherlands - Jia (21), China - Nuria (23), Spain - Cyydia (19), ‘a Finn from Luxembourg’ Beeld: House of Gifts

It’s no typical student house here on Honingerdijk. One student drinks wine, the others tea. There are no parties. The rowdiest it has been since August must be when they all went to see ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ on Valentine’s Day. Back in the student house there was a discussion about the credibility of all the sex scenes. So there is that.

Cultural differences

Four nationalities – Chinese, German, Norwegian and Spanish – living under one roof. They came together in a roundabout way, partly through Facebook. And this sometimes brings an element of confusion, especially the Chinese customs. Once, Jia (21) saw her housemate Alissandra (20) eating cornflakes with strawberries. So she thought she would give it a try. However, she mistook the strawberries for tomatoes. Laughter all around. Alisandra: “You can tell her anything you like about food.”

At breakfast, the girls like to watch the news on the television. Sipping at their tea, they discuss current events. Cultural differences come to the surface. Cyydia (19), for example, gets an explanation about the monopoly of the Communist Party in China. “I learn a lot from my housemates, but I won’t change the way I do things.” Jia, on the other hand, thinks differently: “I try to combine the best of both worlds. The Chinese, for example, have a lot of respect for the elderly. It’s something I will never forget. Europeans are more open than the Chinese. That’s something I want to take over.”

'It's just something nice and fun to do'

So far from home, the five students depend on each other. And therefore it has become a tradition to give each other gifts, in the form of a birthday cake, chocolates on December 5 or a rose on Valentine’s Day. Asked why, they all shrug their shoulders: it’s just something nice and fun to do.

'Fortunately, we love each other. And that will never change'

Back in the kitchen, the word ‘stamppot’ comes up. Everyone frowns. “Stemppot?” Only Jia has eaten it. She’s also an admirer of the country and is learning the language. The others remain unconvinced of the need to do so. It’s not really necessary, Cyydia believes: “Rotterdam is an international city and Erasmus University is an international university.” That is why it is possible to find a large IKEA poster of Amsterdam hanging on the wall in the living room, with nobody bothered about it.

They laugh, but also realise that it will all come to an end. A number of them will be leaving at the end of this year. One will start work, while another is going on an exchange programme. It’s painful. “We’re trying not to think about it,” says Cyydia, who is immediately comforted by Jia. “But we knew it was going to happen. Fortunately, we love each other. And that will never change.”

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