Because of the huge housing problem in Rotterdam, many students are forced to stay in hostels. They don’t have their own space and sleep in dormitories, sometimes sharing with fifty other people. “Last night a man entered our room through an unprotected window and walked around the dorm trying to steal our stuff.”

Absolutely no chance

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Pier Traldi in Stayokay Rotterdam Image credit: Anna Mazur

“You have absolutely no chance,” says Pier Traldi, looking gloomily at a Facebook page for accommodation on his laptop. “Within a few minutes, the response list for housing advertisements is completely full with responses from other students.” It’s 5.00 p.m., Beyoncé booms out of the speakers and two early drinkers are already enjoying cocktails at the bar.

Since 1 September, Pier (half Kenyan, half Italian, big hair) has been staying in the Stayokay hostel, which is based in the cube houses next to Blaak railway station. Every three hours, he checks the Facebook pages for rooms, so far without success. He stays positive, books his hostel bed for a week at a time because he’s hoping to find a room at any moment. “I’ve heard that more rooms come on the market after 1 October because that’s when graduates leave their accommodation.”

More and more internationals

Manager of Stayokay Rotterdam, Sander Bodegraven, wanders around the café chatting to guests. “There’s clearly a housing problem in Rotterdam,” he says. “We’re getting more and more international students staying here.” He walks to the computer behind the reception desk and checks his administration. “This year we’ve already had 147 requests for a bed from international students, which in relative terms is a lot for this place, and the year’s not over yet.”

Hostel hopping

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Bethiah Negussie on her new made bed Image credit: Anna Mazur

Bethiah Negussie is waiting at the reception desk because her pass doesn’t work. She comes from Ethiopia and started her IBCoM studies this year. She’d already spent four months looking for a room from her homeland, without success. She’s booked a month in this hostel and then hopes to have found a room. Apart from sleeping, she doesn’t spend much time in her seven-bed dormitory; she’s often in the café downstairs. “There’s some privacy there, but there’s also constant music, so I can’t concentrate if I’m studying.” When Bethiah arrives in her dormitory, her bed has been stripped and is ready for a new guest. “They seem to have forgotten that I’m here for the whole month. Oh well, at least I have a nice clean bed,” she says resignedly.

Bethiah shares her girls-only dormitory with law student Emma Bartley from Australia. She’s lying on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed studying and has hung a towel on the bed above her to create some sort of privacy. “The student accommodation offered to internationals by the university was full in no time,” she explains. “It was like ticket sales for a U2 concert.” After that, she unsuccessfully checked on Facebook groups, but the prices were either too high or the contract was too long. After all, she’s an exchange student and is only spending four months in Rotterdam. “Before I came to Stayokay, I slept in ROOM for a while, but from 1 October to January, I’m going to be staying in three different Airbnbs. That’s cheaper than hostel hopping.”

Because of the big windows in the high ceiling of the cube house, Bethiah and Emma’s room is light and airy. There are two other permanent roommates, who Emma says are also EUR students. The other three beds are made and are rented to other guests. Last week they had two Italian girls in their room, who distributed the content of their suitcases all over the floor, making it almost impossible to reach their beds. “Ah well,” sighs Emma. “That’s the reality of hostels.” Bethiah and Emma pay a reduced student price of 495 euros a month for their bed.

Thief in the dormitory

At hostel de Mafkees, situated next to the old Hofpleinviaduct in Rotterdam North, students can rent a room for a month for half that price. Two Chinese women are sitting at a small table that serves as a reception desk, while in the adjoining central area a group of tourists are playing pool. At the side of the somewhat dark room, people are sitting at tables with their laptops.

Mathilde Nadeau from France is doing the master in International Management at EUR and has been sleeping at hostel de Mafkees for six weeks. She’s been trying to find a room for four months and spends at least an hour a day looking, but hasn’t gotten any further than Airbnbs and hostels. “The situation in this hostel is dreadful. I share a dormitory with fifty other people and it’s not safe at all. Some time ago a macbook left on a bed disappears and last night a man came in through an unprotected window and walked around the dorm trying to steal our stuff.”

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Mathilde Nadeau Image credit: Anna Mazur

On their own

Mathilde says that in Paris, she had a room next to the Eiffel Tower for 400 euros a month. She looks agitated: “The university arranged it for us. Here international students are just left on their own.”