Eleven female students live in Villa Opstelten, a house named after former Mayor of Rotterdam Ivo Opstelten. They are a bit fed up with all the negative press students are getting. Kralingen residents have been complaining about the student houses in their neighbourhood, which are said to cause more and more inconvenience, for a while now. The girls have experienced that students and their non-student neighbours are increasingly at odds with each other, to the point where the locals would like to be rid of the students. “We shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush,” says Floor, one of the residents. “Most students are honestly reasonable people and like to be considerate of others. In addition, we try to give back to society to the best of our ability, by volunteering in all sorts of projects.”
Annual theme party
In an old mansion in Oostzeedijk Beneden, two students, Floor (21) and Britt (22) are seated at the dinner table in the living room. Due to privacy reasons, they don’t want their surname to be in the article. Behind them is a light yellow wall with the house’s logo and name painted on it in purple and gold.
The living room is colourful. Behind the TV is a purple wall featuring quotations by the residents and their friends (‘if anyone says anything funny, we write it on the wall’). A dark blue sofa sits opposite the TV. Behind it is a light blue wall with pink clouds and hand-painted Disney characters on it. “We painted those ourselves,” Floor tells us, proudly. “We use a projector to project the image onto the wall. Then we trace the outlines of the projected image.” Every year, they organise a dinner and theme party, for which the wall is always painted in accordance with the theme. Last year they were all dressed like Disney characters. Obviously.
All the students living in the house are busy with their studies or side jobs, and some of them also serve on the board of a student or study society. Nevertheless, they all have dinner together every Wednesday, and once a month they will go out together. “A little while ago we went to the Dizzy jazz café,” says Floor. “We had a really good time. Those nights out are a great way to catch up properly.”
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It is very obvious that the two young women get on very well together. They finish each other’s sentences and chuckle about inside jokes every once in a while. “This may sound weird, but we’ve never had an argument in this house. If anyone is annoyed about anything, we discuss the issue with each other to stop it from escalating,” says Britt. “Generally when people get annoyed, it’s about something trivial, such as doing the dishes.”
Floor adds: “We’re really just like sisters. When I accidentally cut the palm of my hand – let me tell you, it bled like hell – Britt took me to the hospital on a Felyx scooter so that I could have stitches quickly.” To which Britt adds: “Yes, we really support each other, through thick and thin.”
Villa Opstelten is not the only student house in the neighbourhood. “I don’t know how many there are around here, but we obviously live right in the middle of a very studenty neighbourhood. There are a lot of student houses in Avenue Concordia, Annastraat, Voorschoterlaan and Oostzeedijk Beneden,” says Floor.
Both students are aware that there is some bad blood between students and their non-student neighbours. “We think it’s a pity all students are being branded disturbers of the peace.”
They themselves are always considerate of their neighbours, to the point where they hardly ever spend any time in their backyard. They think they were in their backyard a grand total of three times over the past summer. “Our yard is a courtyard that borders the neighbours’ yards. And it’s in the middle of the block, so everyone can watch us and eavesdrop when we’re chatting,” says Britt. “It’s not a big deal, because we’re not doing anything crazy in the yard, but we do feel watched when we’re out there.”
Floor nods. “One time, we wanted to have a barbecue, but before we could even start setting up, the neighbours told us that they were afraid we’d be noisy. And we didn’t want to cause any problems, so we ended up cancelling the barbecue.”
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Good relationship with the neighbours
They say they have a good relationship with their neighbours. “All our neighbours have our number, so if they feel we’re being too noisy, they can message us,” says Floor. “Once, we were hosting a farewell party for a house mate. We put on some music, only to receive a message from our direct neighbours asking us to turn the music down a bit. Of course we turned it down! We actually turned it off altogether and apologised.”
They try to keep a conversation going with their neighbours. “Because if they let us know that we’re causing inconvenience in any way, we can do something about it. We’d rather do that than have the police show up on our doorstep.”
According to Britt and Floor, students pay an important role in the neighbourhood. “Many locals complain because students are out on the streets at night,” says Floor. “But the fact that students are out and about also makes this place safer. Burglaries tend to be common in big cities, and there are a lot of nice houses around here. But because many students are still up at 2am, there is always someone up in this neighbourhood, meaning we don’t get any burglaries. One might almost say that students make a neighbourhood a safer place to be.”
Of course some students do cause inconvenience, as Floor readily admits. “There are students who leave their rubbish in the streets, but there are also students who dispose of the rubbish and volunteer, like we do. It’s such a pity that, because of a few rotten apples, we’re all considered bad guys.”
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Giving back to society
The students living in the house try to give back to society and the neighbours to the best of their ability, Britt says. One house mate buys groceries for elderly people who are unable to go to the shops themselves, another dresses up as St Nicholas’ helper for the St Nicholas event organised at a local primary school, and yet another founded the Frisse Gedachtes platform, the business administration student tells us.
“We’re also involved in Oma’s Soep,” says Floor, referring to an organisation that has young people visit elderly people and cook meals with them to prevent them from feeling lonely. “Before the pandemic we would organise afternoon cooking sessions at the Hoppesteyn sheltered houses for the elderly. Of course, it wasn’t about the cooking, but rather about talking to the elderly people.”
Britt adds: “Then we would deliver fresh soup to their places while wearing gloves and face masks, because they need contact with other people, now more than ever.” When they make soup, all their house mates help out. “Oma’s Soep doesn’t have enough volunteers, so we all lend a helping hand.”
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In addition, Floor guides adolescents with mental impairment on behalf of Stichting Bont. “The kids and I will do chores in the neighbourhood. For instance, we’ll remove litter from the street on the campus or at Excelsior, walk the neighbours’ dogs or bake cupcakes for Oma’s Soep. The latter allows me to kill two birds with one stone,” the economics student says, smiling. “Helping other people energises me. Once I had to organise an online coffee session for elderly people after a late night. I helped set up the Zoom meeting, thus allowing them to chat to each other online. I was still half asleep when I arrived at the sheltered houses, but seeing how grateful they were was immensely gratifying.”