Sky-high rent, looking for a new place every few weeks, or six people in a single room with no place to study. That’s the last thing you want when starting a new study in an unfamiliar city. But this is the reality for many international students in Rotterdam.

In early September Michiel Kuhlmann of Erasmus Student Network (ESN) spoke in a lecture hall filled with international students. “How many of you still haven’t found a room?” he asked. At least half of the students in the room raised their hand. “They were all surprised by this, but this is typical for this situation”, says Kuhlmann.

The number of international students commencing their studies at EUR has risen again compared to last year. Unfortunately, this wasn‘t reflected in the number of accommodations available. Every Tuesday hundreds of students apply for one of the few rooms at Rotterdam2Stay, a popular website with affordable studio’s, that become available, and every week, the website invariably crashes.

“The situation is dire”, says Kuhlmann. “And if the municipality and the university won’t act, it’s going to get worse.” Kuhlmann feels students are also partly responsible for this problematic situation. “Most international students want a furnished room and that’s going to limit your options. Our advice: rent an unfurnished room and visit IKEA.”


Desperately searching

But there are more factors at play. Not only is there a limited supply of accommodations, the rooms that are available often cost a lot. Students at University College are required to rent at the Student Hotel where you can fork over up to € 1,100 for a 20 square meter room. Elsewhere, ESN’s social events manager Franziska Birke paid € 490 for a poorly maintained 15 square meter room. “And I’m not the only one”, she remarks. “Prices of eight or nine hundred euros are quite common. For international students, landlords raise the rental price a bit without a second thought. That’s detrimental for students and it’s also unfavourable for the university’s image.”

In comparison, the international intern working for HousingAnywhere – an online marketplace for rooms – had better luck. At least it seemed that way at first. “For only 400 euros per month he moved in with a nice married couple in Rotterdam whose own children had long since moved out,” recounts customer care manager Nilson Humberto Silva, speaking about the intern.

“They bought his groceries, washed his clothes, bought him a bicycle and made sure he had a nice lunch every day for when he attended lectures. Things went fine at first and he felt like he was being spoiled, until they started interfering with who was allowed to spend the night. Now he’s desperately searching for a new place.”

Sleeping late

Silva also believes students could do more to avoid such situations. They wait too long before they start looking and applying for rooms. “We advise them to start at least three months in advance and to respond to at least ten room advertisements.” Silva feels that many students also make the mistake of only trying to find accommodations in the city centre.

“It’s logical that they want to be close to the university so they can sleep late. But if you expand your search a little further, you’ll find that Delfshaven or the neighbourhoods to the north and south of the city centre also offer good, affordable rooms. Look for a room outside of the city centre and suddenly there are more choices.”

'Apparently they want someone who speaks the language’

Nicole Morgan (master in Marketing management, South Africa) lives at the Student Hotel

“I was sick and tired of repeatedly applying for a room and never being invited as a potential tenant. Apparently people prefer to choose someone familiar, someone who speaks the language. So forget it. This year I’m going to concentrate on my studies. Student Hotel is pricey, but the rent includes utilities and it offers all kinds of great extras such as a really nice gym, a fun pub, and even a free bike.”

'As long as I make mousaka every week'

Chrysanthi Kokotsaki (Marketing, Greece) lives with an older married couple in Pijnacker

“I was admitted to EUR in May and ever since I’ve looked everywhere for a room. I’m glued to the screen weekly on Rotterdam2Stay’s website, but no luck. Until I found a place in Pijnacker with Dutch friends of my parents. It’s not ideal because it’s very far away, but I don’t have to pay any rent to live there – just as long as I make them moussaka every now and then, ha ha!”

‘It’s impossible to get any studying done here’

Gilang Nusantra, Christian Hutabarat, Ghaney Kadri (Law, Indonesia) living at the StayOkay hostel

“We really looked everywhere but all the landlords required a Dutch person to act as guarantor. Obviously we don’t know anyone who could do that. Now there are seven of us living in a small StayOkay hostel room. We’re all guys from Java, Indonesia. Luckily we already knew each other because now we’re living in very close quarters. Because of our circumstances our study results are suffering. Hopefully we’ll each find a place of our own soon.”