- Hospiteren is a typically Dutch phenomenon that involves several students – possibly five, ten or fifteen at a time – all applying for a vacant room in a student house, having a ‘job interview’ of sorts with the current residents.
- EM interviewed 279 EUR students about hospiteren.
- More than a quarter of the students have to go to an hospiteer night five times or more before they will find a room.
- Women on average hospiteren more often than men, but in a shorter time. This way they find a room a little faster.
- Expensive rooms are often readily available for internationals, but the internationals have a hard time in the hospiteren circuit.
- According to the Stadswonen housing association, the waiting time for a room in Rotterdam has almost tripled in the last five years.
- Read tips from students to be successful in hospiteren at the bottom of this article.
EM surveyed 279 EUR students on the act of hospiteren, a typically Dutch phenomenon that involves several students – possibly five, ten or fifteen at a time – all applying for a vacant room in a student house, having a ‘job interview’ of sorts with the current residents. We asked the students about their hospiteren experiences, how long it took them to find a room, and how many times they had to be interviewed (among other things).
If you are looking for a room, having a proper network is crucial. Students often find rooms through their friends (27 per cent of respondents). Knowing a current resident in a house with an available room can be a distinct advantage, but more often, students need the housing association’s assistance (36 per cent).
For some students, finding a room can be quite the challenge. According to our survey results, more than a quarter of respondents had to attend five or more hospiteren sessions before being rewarded with a room or giving up entirely (as some of them did). Fifteen per cent of respondents looked for a room for over six months.
One respondent attended a whopping twenty hospiteren sessions in vain. Housing associations consider this the maximum number of attempts. If you still haven’t found a room after twenty awkward evenings, the housing association will assign you one.
One anonymous respondent indicated just how stigmatising such things can be. “People who still haven’t found a home after ten hospiteren sessions are simply socially awkward. If they weren’t, they would have found a home by now.” Some will end up giving up on attending hospiteren sessions altogether. “After a few hospiteren sessions, I was fed up with it. It takes a lot of time, you have to travel to the place, and in the end you’ll be demotivated if you don’t get chosen. I didn’t absolutely have to leave my current home, so I quit doing it.” Another student wrote: “I’ve had several periods in my life during which I attended a lot of hospiteren sessions. It was always a struggle. After living abroad for a while, I attended about a dozen sessions. In the end, I completed the final six months of my Bachelor’s degree from my parents’ home.”
One notable survey finding was that women attend more sessions than men before finding a room. Over 32 per cent of female students had to attend five or more sessions, versus barely 15 per cent of male students. On the other hand, the ladies typically take a little less time to find a room. In other words: they work harder to find a room over a briefer period of time.
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There are many different types of hospiteren sessions, ranging from ‘having a nice chat with some tea and biscuits’ to tremendous house parties that continue into the wee hours. “Once I applied for a room in a house with fifteen residents. They had invited twenty people, and everyone was asked to bring beer. It was more like a house party than a hospiteren session,” a female economics student wrote.
Most respondents agreed that the more people show up for a session, the more awkward the evening is likely to be. Many respondents particularly objected to having to sit in a circle while everyone tells something about themselves, one person at a time.
Many students also expressed a dislike for candidates who ‘seek to be the greatest clown’ or wish to make a favourable impression in a phoney manner. “For instance, I once came across a girl who spent ten minutes paying the hosts compliments on their toilet. Don’t overdo it!” wrote one respondent. A female student complained that the residents’ selection procedure is not always objective. “Sometimes attending a hospiteren session really feels like a meat market. Sometimes you know right from the start that you don’t stand a chance because some of the other candidates are friends with the residents. That’s pretty frustrating.”
Alcohol plays a major part in the proceedings. Some respondents indicated that they had brought booze to a session. In most cases, you aren’t obliged to do so, but ‘it is always appreciated’. Beer is imbibed at many sessions to loosen everyone up a bit, because many respondents find the start of an evening quite awkward.
Law student Eline Schenk was one of the students who completed the survey. She had signed up with a housing association twelve months before arriving in Rotterdam, meaning she was able to start attending hospiteren sessions at the right time. Her first session revolved around a room in Alexanderpolder. “The first challenge was actually physically locating the room, which turned out to be quite hard. But the atmosphere was great right from the start. The weather was lovely, and we spent a lot of time on the balcony. Things aren’t always like that, unfortunately.”
“Sometimes things get really tense at hospiteren sessions,” Eline reminisces. “Only one room is available, and everyone wants it. If they invite everyone over at the same time, there will always be some loudmouths who hog the conversation, meaning the residents won’t learn anything about the other people. Also, once upon a time I applied for a room in the city centre, where we sat in a circle and had to tell everyone about our degrees and hobbies, one after the other. But we’d already provided that information in our replies to the ad, so that was pretty useless information to them. ”
Eline herself also hosted a few hospiteren sessions. She invited all the candidates for individual interviews. “It will take you and your flatmates all day to talk to all of them, but you end up having a much better conversation and learning much more about the candidates.” She didn’t want the candidates to bring any presents. “It’s really unnecessary. It may actually be counterproductive. We once had a guy bring in a very expensive bottle of champagne. He was already one goal down at that point, as far as I was concerned. Because why on earth would you need such an expensive bottle? What’s wrong with your personality?”
Psychology student Phebe Elst, too, would always opt for one-on-one conversations. “Otherwise the whole thing will really turn into a popularity contest. I was once stuffed into a kitchen with seven others. The residents would ask all of us simultaneously: what is your hobby? Only for everyone to yell their answers at once. In such situations, the loudest persons come out the winners.”
Another thing Phebe objects to is the selection system currently used by the housing associations, under which even candidates at the top of the waiting list may go un invited for a long time. “The residents are allowed to select candidates on the basis of their profiles. It may take them a very long time to select you.”
Tough as nails
The Rotterdam room market looks very different for international students than it does for Dutch students. Exchange students typically end up in so-called short-stay rooms, which may or may not come furnished and are generally more expensive. The main housing associations offering such rooms are SSH and XIOR, both of which have rooms on the Woudestein Campus. However, since the number of international students who stay longer is rapidly increasing, so is the demand for long-term accommodation.
Teodora Manguta, an International Business Administration student from Romania, is one such international student requiring long-term accommodation. She found a room through Stadswonen’s standard hospiteren procedure. “Many international students aren’t aware of that route,” she says. “I was told that was an option by a Dutch friend.”
Teodora replied to twenty ads, was invited to one single hospiteren session, and was accepted at once. “It was organised by a girl who studies International Economics & Business Economics (IBEB), so she was used to international students. We had a one-on-one interview, so I don’t know what the competition was like.”
Teodora would like to see more affordable options for international students. “Right now, many students end up in The Student Hotel or XIOR, but those rooms are really expensive. In Romania, but also in places like Spain, there are flats specifically designated for international students, which are actually quite affordable. You may have to share your room with someone, but your rent will be affordable. In Rotterdam you must be tough as nails if you wish to find something good.”
After all, not all Dutch students welcome foreign flatmates. Ads advertising available rooms regularly feature phrases such as ‘Dutch only’ or ‘No internationals’. Having international students in your house ‘can be quite complicated’, says Eline Schenk. “First, there’s the language barrier, and secondly, many of them leave after just a few months. Of course it can be very interesting, sharing your home with foreign students, but I’m not sure your own home is necessarily the right place to try and broaden your horizon.”
International students have noticed that they are having a harder time finding a room through hospiteren sessions, if they even try to go that route in the first place. “When I was invited for the interview, the guy said: ‘We know you’re not Dutch, but we still decided to give you a fair chance’, which was kind of off-putting because he just said in a nicer way that a bias was present,” one international student wrote. Another had the following to say: “It’s really hard for late-coming foreigners, since all the rooms for internationals are already taken and a lot of landlords and students of shared apartments prefer Dutch-speaking tenants.” Many international students end up giving hospiteren a miss and prefer to wait to be assigned a place by a housing association (e.g. an SSH short-stay room) instead.
The housing associations do not supervise the hospiteren procedure. Whenever a room becomes available, SSH selects the fifteen students who rank highest on the waiting list; the residents then decide which of those they will invite for a hospiteren session. SSH does not get involved in the selection of the new flatmate, nor in the manner in which the successful candidate is selected. However, an SSH spokesperson does emphasise that the residents should really invite all fifteen candidates, ‘or else you may miss out on the perfect candidate’. Moreover, inviting all fifteen candidates ensures that everyone is given a fair chance.
SSH does not have any stats on the average number of hospiteren sessions attended by Rotterdam students. The association says that the number of students who did not find a room after twenty attempts was ‘about four in the last few years’.
Stadswonen, the greatest provider of student bed-sits in Rotterdam, was able to provide more stats. In 2015, students generally spent five months on the waiting list. By 2018, they were spending fourteen months on the list. According to Stadswonen spokesperson Marvin Siemensma, 80 per cent of the available rooms are assigned through a hospiteren procedure. In the remaining 20 per cent of cases, the residents leave the selection of the new resident up to Stadswonen.
Siemensma says this is often done in houses whose remaining residents are about to leave themselves. In such cases, the housing association will assign the room to the person highest on the waiting list. Siemensma is not sure how many times students typically have to attend hospiteren sessions before finding a room. However, he does know to how many adverts they generally respond. In 2018, they replied to an average 24 ads – twice as often as they were required to do in 2016.
Special arrangements are in place for some groups, such as first-year students and international students, meaning they don’t always have to attend a hospiteren session. First-year students may invoke the ‘room action’, under which they take precedence with regard to rooms in buildings designated for first-year students exclusively. Some two hundred freshers per year find rooms by doing so, although they sometimes have to attend hospiteren sessions for them, too. Certain rooms on campus are reserved for international students, e.g. in the Hatta and F buildings.
How to be successful at hospiteren
Collected from the responses by students in the survey:
- At the risk of stating the obviou: sign up with a housing association as soon as you possibly can. The moment you find yourself seriously considering coming to Rotterdam, sign up with Rotterdam-based housing associations at once. You can even do so if you have not yet moved to the Netherlands.
- Don’t pretend to be something you are not when attending a hospiteren Your potential future flatmates will see right through you.
- Be aware that the greatest loudmouths aren’t always the ones selected after a hospiteren There are many people who aren’t particularly interested in having a loud flatmate.
- Bringing your parents to a hospiteren session is a big no-no. Just don’t.
- Remind yourself that more people are rejected than accepted at hospiteren All you need is a bit of luck. You weren’t rejected because of your personality.
- Generally speaking, you don’t need to bring presents. Very expensive gifts may actually be held against you. If you absolutely wish to bring something, buy a regular bottle of wine from the supermarket. Honestly, this will suffice.
- Be brave enough to say no, even if you are selected. You will have to get along with these people for the next few months or even years. If you’re having a bad feeling about them, moving in with them may not be the best idea.
- Make sure you have a proper understanding of the Dutch room-letting system, and of the types of rooms available. For instance, in regular student flats, rooms generally aren’t furnished. Moreover, short stays generally aren’t an option. Many people object to the idea of a quick succession of flatmates who leave after just a few months.
- Be sure to tell your prospective flatmates about yourself in your message. Many students send messages to the effect that ‘I’m looking for a room!’ but your prospective flatmates already know that. Instead, tell them something about your hobbies, your cooking skills or your cleaning habits. Obviously, you are free to emphasise your strengths or good qualities, but do keep things honest! And remember, we all love going out, doing fun stuff with our friends and having dinner with our flatmates, so do try to come up with something a little more original.