It’s been a chaotic experience for 19-year-old Alina Pirou. When she arrived in Rotterdam to hand over her diploma in early July, she discovered she wasn’t on the list for the LUCIA student residence where all first-year EUC students are housed. The following Monday, her programme confirmed that for the first time, there was a waiting list, and her name was on it.
The students on the waiting list were given three options: they could still cancel because they didn’t receive guaranteed housing, postpone their studies for a year and be guaranteed a room next year, or look for ‘regular’ housing in Rotterdam with the faculty’s assistance.
Alina chose the last option: “I registered before the deadline, so I wasn’t expecting to be placed on a waiting list. I would have preferred to know that earlier on because the cancellation deadline for Leiden was just a week earlier and I had also cancelled my place on the waiting list for Utrecht. I couldn’t just switch to a different study programme and now I had only a month to find a place to live.”
Similarly, 18-year-old Estelle Pelayo also ended up on a waiting list: “It felt unfair, especially because everywhere you look it says you’re guaranteed housing in your first year. And unfortunately, the programme didn’t clearly explain how the situation arose or what criteria were used to place me on a waiting list. In fact, people who lived in the vicinity of Rotterdam did end up getting a flat in LUCIA. I fully understand that the faculty can’t arrange housing for me elsewhere, but it’s not easy finding a place to live in just one month. The whole thing was extremely stressful and frustrating, I felt powerless.”
EUC Managing Director Kitty Yang understands that frustration: this was also an unforeseen and stressful situation for the University College. “Usually, a number of students who have been admitted cancel in June, but that didn’t happen this year and we weren’t expecting that. So you end up with more students than rooms available. We contacted the students individually in early July to let them know this could potentially be a problem. We then had weekly contact with the students and started to actively help the ones who still wanted to come this year in their search for housing.”
Yang thinks the higher numbers of students is mostly due to the pandemic. Many students took a gap year during this period, and that resulted in more applications this year. “We had an unprecedentedly high number of applications this year where we exceeded a thousand for the first time. You want to give a chance to the ones who have already taken a gap year and we were lenient when it came to the selection procedure.” Those factors, combined with very few cancellations, led to the current situation where 16 first-years aren’t living in the LUCIA residence.
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Yang hopes she won’t see a repeat of this situation, but lessons have been learned. “If you’re too cautious in informing students that there might be a problem at the end of June, those students won’t take any action. So you have to be abundantly clear about what’s at stake. It’s also a good idea to let students know that we don’t have any oversight in the whole rental process. That’s all arranged by LUCIA’s booking office. When it comes to booking a room, we’re going to emphasise that it’s the student’s own responsibility: they have to get moving and quickly sign the tenancy contract with LUCIA and pay the deposit. We’re going to make that clearer on the website, for example, because we had prospective students who failed to do that and the booking office simply said ‘toodle-oo’.”
EUC staff explored all kinds of avenues to find housing for these students this summer. They contacted people ranging from real-estate agents to former students, and for Yang, it’s a relief that everyone managed to find a place to live. “A vacancy opened up in LUCIA recently, and only one of the 16 responded. Hopefully that means the others are satisfied with their accommodations. Now that everyone is housed, our next job is making sure they’re involved in the EUC community. EUC’s strong sense of community is really unique and something I’m very proud of.”
By now, despite not living at the LUCIA residence, Alina and Estelle also feel they’re part of the community. After countless phone calls and emails, Estelle managed to find a room in an on-campus students’ complex, while Alina ended up in a student home in Delfshaven thanks to a tip from EUC.
Both made a huge effort to make friends at the start of the year. Estelle: “It wasn’t easy because unlike the other EUC students, we don’t meet each other in the common rooms or in the corridors. It took some work, but I have good friends now and it’s not something I worry about now.” Cycling for 15 minutes to join the others for a meal – while the LUCIA residents can simply walk up a floor – is something she has come to accept.
Alina even sees a silver lining in her situation. Not paying for the washing machine and quieter surroundings while studying suit her just fine. “This experience made me feel much more self-reliant.” She laughs: “And to be completely honest, it’s nice not to have to walk past security or the residence manager every time I come home. I don’t miss that a bit.”