A queue of students is forming near a door that has a sign saying ‘beheerder/caretaker’, on the first floor of the Hatta Building. An Azerbaijani student and her mother are expressing complaints about the condition of the kitchen (‘absolutely filthy’); two students from Taiwan are experiencing difficulty with the lighting in their rooms; and yet another student has a key that is not working.

So who is solving these problems for the students? The caretaker, Hugo van der Schelling, who has worked in student housing for the last seventeen years. Not that Hugo was supposed to be working today. Actually, he is only supposed to work on weekdays, ‘from 8am to 4.30’. Hugo doesn’t mind being flexible, though. He was working out at the university’s gym, as he does every week, when the student caretakers sought his advice due to the enormous number of new tenants who had just shown up. So he decided to come and help out on his day off.

Which is why he is currently walking around in tracksuit bottoms and a Puma shirt, with his neck still covered by a mini-towel. Which is also why he absolutely refuses to pose for a photo. For Hugo, this is the busiest period of the year. “The contracts of the previous cohort of students expired on 14 August, and the new cohort started moving in on 15 August, meaning we had very little time to arrange everything properly.”

Today Van der Schelling and the two student caretakers are receiving 125 students who will move in over the course of the day. Crates full of envelopes sit in his office, containing keys, a map of Rotterdam and everything necessary to register at city hall. Students are entering and exiting the building, often accompanied by their parents, carrying suitcases and removal boxes. Who are they, and what are they expecting to find?

Dutch boyfriend

Sofie Wahlberg hattagebouw – Marko de Haan
Image credit: Marko de Haan

Sofie Wahlberg, 18, from Finland, is one of the students queuing in front of Van der Schelling’s office. She moved into her room on Thursday. “I’m here to take a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. In Finland it’s very hard to get into that degree programme, so I decided to look elsewhere. And even though this isn’t supposed to be the main reason why a student chooses a degree, I have a Dutch boyfriend who is attending Erasmus University.”

Wahlberg knows what it’s like to live abroad. She met her boyfriend in China. “My father is a diplomat, and his father used to work for IKEA there. I lived in Shanghai for four years, and also lived in Japan and Belgium. It was fun, but at the same time it was hard to have to leave people all the time. Even though Finland is my country of origin, I only have two or three good friends there. That’s weird.”

She is looking forward to her Dutch adventure. “People are nice here, and so tall! I’m expecting to see a lot of windmills, but so far, I haven’t. Eureka Week is on next week, and I’m looking forward to it. Making new friends, exploring the city. I’m going to have a good time. My flatmates haven’t arrived yet, but I’m looking forward to meeting them, too.”


Felix Bracht hattagebouw – Marko de Haan
Image credit: Marko de Haan

Felix Bracht, 19, has just arrived from Germany and is standing in the corridor of the Hatta Building, accompanied by his parents and younger sister. “We came by car. I live near Cologne.” In addition to clothes and his computer, he brought a bike. “If there’s any place in the world where I’ll get a lot of use out of it, it should be here.”

Felix always knew he wanted to live abroad. “A friend of mine recommended Rotterdam, so in 2017 I attended an open day. And now I’m here. I always wanted to do this in order to become more independent. People who stay at home get attached to that sort of life and will keep the same friends. I will meet loads of new people and have new adventures.”

In addition to getting his degree in IBA, he is looking forward to checking out Rotterdam’s clubs and bars. “And I wish to learn Dutch and become a waiter.” Once he starts talking about food, it turns out he has already learned one Dutch word: poffertjes. “I want to get to know the Dutch way of life and really get a feel for how this country and its culture work.”

From Serbia by car

Rastko Glisic hattagebouw – Marko de Haan
Image credit: Marko de Haan

For his part, Rastko Glisic, 19, came to Rotterdam by car, as well. It was a considerable drive from Serbia. “We had to cover about two thousand kilometres in two days. Hungary, Austria, Germany, then the Netherlands and Rotterdam. It wasn’t great, but it’s better to come here by car. Makes it easier to bring things.”

His first impression? “It’s extremely clean here, and highly organised. I think it’s a proper environment for learning. Belgrade, which is where I’m from, is a lot more chaotic. Also, I think the Dutch locals are much more approachable and nicer. In Serbia, everyone is unhappy with the economy, meaning everyone is a lot moodier, generally speaking.”

Rastko is embarking on the international Bachelor’s degree in psychology in this new academic year. “It’s a big step, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Erasmus University. I want to complete my Bachelor’s here, then do a Master’s specialising in hypnotherapy in Barcelona.”

So far, Rastko hasn’t been enamoured of the Dutch weather. On this particular Saturday, the sky is overcast and rainy. “But I guess I’ll get used to it. It’s not a huge issue. In Serbia, it’s typically either very hot or very cold. Here it’s a little in between.” Now that he has moved into his room, exploring Rotterdam is next on his list of things to do. Rastko is mainly curious to see ‘that large roofed market’. “That’s supposed to be special. And I’ve been told there are a lot of museums here.”