One room, three hundred responses
When Janneke de Boer, a fourth-year medicine student, advertised a room in her house on Kamernet for October 2017 – February 2018, she had no idea how desperate international students actually were. In a single day she received 50 messages.
By the time she closed the posting a few weeks later, she had received nearly three hundred. ‘It was crazy!’ De Boer recalls. ‘How I can read three hundred messages?’
Almost all of the responses to her advertisement were from international students. But she and her roommates were looking for another Dutch girl. ‘We talked about it first’, she says, ‘but you know, it’s hard for foreign people to live in a really Dutch household like ours. They miss a lot.’
Dutch students don’t really want to have to speak English in their homes, she says. ‘You walk in and ask your roommates, “how was your day?” – but when you have to have all these small social interactions in English, it feels forced for everyone.’
It’s also hard to know what to expect from an international roommate, says De Boer. ‘You don’t always know what kind of culture people come from.’
All the same, De Boer finds the situation ‘heartbreaking’. She didn’t have the time to respond to every message. ‘So you know they are really hoping for a room but instead they never get a response at all.’
Three hundred responses in a month may have seemed like a lot back in October, but that’s nothing now. With the first semester of the new academic year approaching, posts can get as many as 50 – 100 responses a day, some students report.
RUG student Kylian Ligtelijn is going abroad for a year starting in August. He posted his Helpman room on two facebook housing groups and Kamernet. Within two hours he had received 86 responses – 98 percent of them from international students. ‘They are pretty desperate’, he says. ‘Some are saying they can pay a deposit even before a contract! I tell them that is the stupidest thing to do.’
Sara is a Spanish-American Masters student; she and her housemates advertised three rooms on June 8th. They received 339 responses in less than two weeks. ‘We will close the ad soon’, she says. ‘Messages keep rolling in and it’s really overwhelming.’
They agreed they should rent the rooms to international students. Sara says her landlord has had ‘horrible experiences with Dutch students trashing his places out, and he’s had really good experiences with international students.’
But more importantly, she and her friends want to help internationals out. ‘We decided to try to level the playing field a bit. Although it doesn’t feel nice to discriminate, so that’s a bit of a moral dilemma.’