Our journey starts at the Faculty of Social Sciences, where Stefan Wizke (20) is reading Psychology. He’s glad that cycling is actually his hobby, he says, because forty kilometres every day is quite lot.
He’s living in a bungalow at Noordwijkse Duinen holiday park, the university’s temporary solution for the problem of housing for international students. “The university calls it a solution, but it isn’t, of course. They’re only doing it so they can say they are doing something for international students”, Wizke believes.
“I only accepted this offer because I had no choice.” At first, he slept in a tent at Stochemhoeve Camp Site, but the thunderstorms started to get to him, so now he cycles to Noordwijk via Warmond.
“We’re about half way now”, Wizke guesses, just before Noordwijk. The sun is shining on the left-hand side of the cycle path while a dark cloud threatens the right-hand side. “My backpack was stolen in the train not long ago”, he says, “so I bought this linen bag. Last week, I was cycling back to the camp site with my laptop in the bag when a large cloud like that one appeared; the wind suddenly picked up and it started to rain very heavily.”
Wizke demonstrates how he protected his laptop from the rain, holding the shoulder bag tightly against his body. “It was a miserable ride, yeah.” He takes the bus if the weather is very bad – there’s a bus stop four kilometres away. “But it costs eight Euros to get there and back and it takes just as long as cycling.”
He “really feels let down” by the university. In his view, the university regards international students without accommodation as a single group and pays no attention to individual difficulties. “But there’s one good thing about this experience: it’s given me plenty of self-confidence – I’ll come out of this a better person.” In other words: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“We’ve come to the fun part”, says Wizke, as he starts climbing the dunes. “Don’t worry, we’ll be heading down again soon. You get used to it. It reminds me of the brick factory where I once worked for two months: I spent ten hours a day crushing stones. At first, I hated it, but a certain point, you slip into a routine and it’s easier to keep going.”
The holiday park, and the bungalows, are just behind the Hollands Duin wildlife area. “Here we are, welcome. Most people come here for fun, I live here. My family tease me about it: what are you moaning about – you’re always on holiday.”
The bungalow is more like a mobile home without wheels than a “holiday cottage”. Wizke shares it with two others while four women share another cottage. They share the bedrooms: Wizke is the lucky one with a room to himself. They pay more than 600 Euros a month per person. “And we pay extra for the internet connection and the washing machine.”
The park closes for the season at the end of October, Wizke is not sure what he’ll do then. Just to be sure, he’s enrolled in a few universities in Germany, where he could still be accepted this term.
“But I hope I can find a room here. Apart from this situation, Leiden is a really lovely town and the standards of education are high. This problem must be tackled. Even if I find somewhere, I’m going to keep fighting for a solution. I don’t want international students to end up in the same situation as me next year.”
No room? Homeward bound!
The lack of housing has been an urgent issue for some years now and yet, every year, it seems to get worse. ROOD, political party SP’s youth division, and nine international students have drawn up a list of demands which they have discussed with the university.
Sebastiaan van den Hout (24, International Relations and Organisations): “For instance, we’re demanding that the university finds a solution – both short-term and long-term – and that we put an end to this system where universities attract as many international students as possible because the government gives them money for it.”
Van den Hout drives the point home by describing how some international students have already returned home because they could not find a place. Robin Müdüroğlu (24, International Relations) is one of them. He has enrolled in a Master programme at Leiden two years running but is doing his course in his home country of England because he couldn’t find anywhere to live.
“Last year, I looked for digs on the internet from home”, Müdüroğlu explains. “This year, I knew that it was difficult, so I deliberately started looking online three months earlier.”
He visited Leiden in August to look for a place, taking in the area around The Hague as well. “Every estate agent I spoke to immediately said they had nothing. After I’d spent five days looking to no avail, I went home so I would be on time to start the term in England. Many people take a risk by staying on.”
Müdüroğlu is fed up with not being able to do his master’s degree in the Netherlands due to the lack of housing. “Obviously, somewhere close to The Hague is the best place for Political Sciences. But I was lucky even to get back to England in time.”