Have a look around; stick to the list he made at home; and, above all, avoid going home with bags full of merchandise. But only three minutes in, the 19-year-old Mexican student has already chucked a Svallet in the store’s iconic blue shopping bag; “A desk lamp for five euro – I can hardly pass on that, right? It’s a great bargain, and it will definitely come in handy.”
The IKEA Service is an initiative of the International Office, the dedicated desk for international students studying at EUR. One Friday a year, a number of coaches drive between campus and Barendrecht for the single purpose of helping international students to stock up on furnishings for their rooms. “We launched this initiative last year,” says Rose Korver of Erasmus University’s International Office. “It was a huge success – everyone came back pleased as punch.”
And so Korver and her colleagues decided that this year, they wouldn’t just do it again – they’d actually expand the service. Three coaches (a morning, afternoon and evening service) will be taking international students to the Swedish furniture giant’s location in nearby Barendrecht.
In the coach, Korver urges the 26 students over the announcement system not to buy any beds or closets (“You’ll have to carry everything yourself”). But Kristina Piro (23) and Gloria Rivas (26) had different plans for the afternoon anyway. “So far, I’ve had a really nice time in the Netherlands and my room – but it is a bit empty,” says Rivas, who’s from Peru. Today’s main objective: make sure she doesn’t have to share dinner with friends or eat out this evening. “I don’t have anything in terms of kitchenware. So I’ll be looking for pans and plates – so I can finally cook my own dinner this evening.” This is her first visit to the phenomenon that is IKEA. “But I’ve been told everything is cheap and of good quality.”
Her fellow student from Greece is familiar with the concept. In fact, she has even visited the store after arriving in the Netherlands. “On my second day in Rotterdam. Today, I’ll be adding stuff that I forgot to buy the first time round. Food containers, and a coffeemaker for making Greek coffee.” A few seats down, we run into Media Studies student Yuexia Tian (23) from China. “Right now, it’s very dark in my room, so I’m mainly in need of a lamp. And I hope to find some things for my room. Hopefully, this will make me feel less homesick too.”
Although he broke his resolution within a few minutes of entering the store, Oropeza does have a very clear list to work from: a chair, pans and above all, a mattress topper. “The mattress in my room is way too hard,” says the Mexican, as he walks through the sample living rooms. “I sleep OK, but I’m hoping that it will be a lot more comfortable with a topper. And I need pans too – because at the moment I have to eat out all the time.” Arriving in the chairs section, the Arts and Culture student turns out to have fallen into another IKEA ‘trap’. He has been lugging around some pans that he found in one of the demo kitchens. “Hey, so I’ll run into them again later on? Oh that’s handy – thanks for telling me!”
It becomes clear these Scandinavian customs take some getting used to after Oropeza decides to buy a Snille chair. As far as scoring a stubby pencil, filling in the form and going over to the self-service warehouse, he’s a complete novice. “Haha, I never would have made it without you,” he says with a smile. “It’s a lot more complicated than I expected.” After popping the Kalas mug set and a Malinda pillow into his bag, he walks over to the beds. With a big grin, he collapses onto the first mattress topper he runs into. “I’m staying here – this feels like a hotel bed.” After a while, it’s time for an extensive comparison of the Tussöy and Tuddal. He ultimately decides on the former. “I’m going to sleep like a rose tonight.”
And of course, a debut at the yellow-blue store isn’t complete without sampling IKEA’s famed Swedish meatballs. Oropeza also takes time in between shopping to try this ‘delicatessen’. “It’s good food – and not too expensive.” And the furniture store and associated lunch aren’t the only things to his liking. The student has really enjoyed his first few days in Rotterdam. “It’s a great place. Nice people, lots of bars, and the city’s very green. I was living in Abu Dhabi the past few years, which obviously is very different. It’s out in the desert. And the city is a lot smaller too: there are only a few places where you can grab a drink or go out.”
After lunch, we walk down to the lower floor. By now, Oropeza is on to his second bag, which is gradually filling up – particularly after we hit the kitchen section. From a Vispad colander to the Proppmätt cutting board: all sorts of new items will be finding their way to the Hatta Building. “I’m actually stocking up for our shared kitchen too – splitting the costs with my housemates.” But the high point of the day is yet to come. After grabbing his new mattress topper from one of the warehouse racks, Oropeza’s face lights up with a smile that stays with him for the rest of the afternoon. He even sends a picture of his cart full of loot to family and friends via Snapchat.
Huge drying rack
As our group walks back to the coach, it’s clear that the excursion has been a success all round. Chinese student Tian is carrying a drying rack (which seems huge compared to her modest frame), and two other friends also have their hands full. “Good value for money – we’re happy.” On the drive home, the passengers share tips about other inexpensive shops (‘You really need to check out Action’). But Oropeza has bigger fish to fry. “I’m apping my housemates to ask if they can help carry. There’s no way I can get all this stuff up on my own.”