The fumes of melting caramel travel through the packed hall of the Theil building. Enchanted by the scent, first-year students walk past the student association stands and line up in front of the stroopwafel cart. The queue zig-zags through aspiring Mandarin learners, salsa dancers and currently slender rowers.

Elif (18) and Andjelija (19), soon-to-be Psychology students from Turkey and Serbia, have been anticipating the taste of this ‘something waffle’ – ‘we don’t know the name’, says Elif – for over ten minutes. As they wait, they concur that adapting to the Netherlands hasn’t been as hard as they imagined – at least easier than remembering the word stroopwafel. “It’s easy to talk to people, everyone is so open-minded, there are so many opportunities to go out and meet new friends”, Andjelija explains. However, Elif promptly stops her idyllic description by reminding her how difficult it was for them to find housing. “Catching a house was very hard and stressful. It took us more than two months. Start on time”, Elif recommends.

Praying for a house

Ariel (18, International Bachelor Economics and Business Economics) agrees. She arrived from Indonesia earlier this month with only one month of rent guaranteed. “I didn’t have a permanent house until a week ago, I signed my contract last week. I could have been homeless by the end of this month.” With this stress factor gone, Ariel can now fill up her time by discovering the different student associations, quickly jumping from the Chinese Student Association to the next available stand to write down her name.

Ariel Leopardi, 18, IBEB (EM)
Ariel has a place to live, so she’s enjoying the different student associations. Image credit: Elliot Zepeda

Attracted by the symphony of different Latin American accents emerging from the Erasmus Hispanic Cultural Organization, Psychology student Carla from Mexico inquires about the different Spanish-speaking events planned for the year. After this joyful reconnection with her roots, she is grounded back to reality. She has yet to find a place to live. “That’s the hardest thing at the moment, I’m looking for accommodation and I can’t find anything. I’m staying at a hostel for now. I’m praying.”

Leonor Lopes, 18; Charlotte Foster, 18; and Carla Sanchez, 21 (EM)
Leonor (18, International Business Adiminstration), Charlotte and Carla just met. They sat next to each other at the presentation session in the Aula. Image credit: Elliot Zepeda

“It’s easier to get into the university than to find housing”, Eunus (18), Psychology student from Hong Kong, summarises the housing crisis in the country. Eunus found accommodation before his arrival, however, he is currently struggling with arranging his banking in the Netherlands. “You need to go to the City Hall before opening a bank account so I have had my dad follow me everywhere to just pay because I need his credit card”, he complains as he leaves campus to reunite with his financing father.

Eunus 18 psychology – Elliot Zepeda
Eunus on his way to his father. Image credit: Elliot Zepeda

No bikes!

Back in Theil, International Business Administration student Abile is waiting for his fellow Indonesian friends in front of the Chinese Student Association stand. With accommodation assured at his relative’s house, Abile’s main struggle was to decide which bicycle to get to commute to university. “I live an hour away from here so there was no way that I could come all the way on a bike. So I bought a foldable bike I can take on the bus.” After his acquisition, Abile feared that his bike might get stolen, prompting him to buy a bike lock twice the price of his second-hand foldable bike.

Abile Wiratmaka, 19, IBA (EM)
Abile bought a foldable bike. Image credit: Elliot Zepeda

For IBEB student Charlotte, having bikes folded and stored away would be her ideal version of Rotterdam. “When you walk down the street there’s like everything, everywhere, all at once. There’s bikes going super fast and then the motorcycles, the tram, the cars… you have to look around everywhere.” When confronted about the similar bustling nature of Paris and Hong Kong, her previous cities of residence, she says: “Yeah… but no bikes!”