I share an apartment with almost 30 internationals: here’s what it’s like

Sharing is caring, I guess…

Ah, the difficulties of finding housing in the Netherlands. I was relieved to finally land a room as an international student, but was I ready to meet all 28 of my flatmates?

It’s not as crowded as it sounds. The numerous neighbours are because my accommodation is shared student housing for first-year internationals.

A true student experience is best embraced when sharing it with strangers from all over the world. No regrets, right?

How did I get here?

This time last year, I was ready to leave London behind and pursue a Literature Master’s in the lovely city of Utrecht. Immediately, obstacles appeared…

Firstly, I was in a toxic relationship: sleepless nights, unanswered phone calls and serious commitment issues.

My sparring partner? The non-EU student visa application process.

@viza.education wish yo all for your visa approval & you sleep soundly-paecefully❤️ #consultancy #visa #apply #approval #accepted #workvisa #studentvisa #interview #success #carrieroppurtunity #fypシ #fyp ♬ оригинальный звук – 🤴🏻

Amid the piles of paperwork, I was desperately searching for accommodation. Sometimes, it was like talking to a brick wall — just not the walls of a house I could move into. 

Through the rejections and silences, a welcome interruption came in the form of an online ballot for short-stay international student housing.

On a bleak London morning in May, I was hunched over my laptop, frantically logging in to every accommodation provider I had registered for.

In the next few moments, they would make all the student rooms they could offer available for booking. And I knew that in the same few moments, they would ALL be gone. Ruthless.

READ MORE | The student housing nightmare: discrimination, fraud and protest

Poised to click the nanosecond that the rooms became available (16 tabs open, as close to the WiFi box as I could possibly get), the blessed CONFIRMATION flashed up green on a fourth-floor room — I was in.

I couldn’t be happier with where I ended up. Image: Lottie Gale

In hindsight, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the reviews on Google warning of rats and overflowing bins. 👀

But, finally, I had something. And 28 other lucky students did too. That’s more than enough people to take on a few rats.

One (very) big, (sometimes) happy (sort of) family

Central to the wonderful city of Utrecht, there stands an ageing ex-office building that now houses over 120 international students per year across four identical floors.

Explaining the setup can surprise some people…

Everyone, ever: “So, you share everything?” 

Me: “Yes.”

Everyone, again: “Everything?! Between 28 people?!”

That’s right. Think campsite-style. 

On each floor, there are two bathroom blocks with six showers and toilet cubicles, then two kitchens with the usual fridges, hobs and microwaves. 

Like most student housing, it’s a daily gamble on how many of those appliances will work. 

Luckily, it’s not all communal — I do get my own room! However, the walls are so thin at times it sounds like my neighbours have let themselves in for a sleepover. 

I’m always surprised when the deafening slam of a door was not, in fact, inside my own head but three, even four rooms down. Gezellig, right?

Making a meme from every line in Shrek (2001) Day 407
byu/somnum_osseus inShrek

Of course, there are better environments for busy students who, in some cases, have paid a lot of money to be there. But, it brings you closer in unexpected ways.

A projector was the best investment for this kind of living. Image: Lottie Gale

When you share a home with 28 people, life becomes like a sitcom. I imagine us in a bonus version of Friends if the episodes went something like: 

  • The One Where There’s No Hot Water, 
  • The One Where Everyone Avoids the First Toilet Cubicle, or 
  • The One Where They Try To Do Laundry on a Sunday (spoiler: no chance).

It’s not all doom and gloom, of course; that would be doing a disservice to the extra special episodes: The One With Raclette Night (guest starring Homemade Tiramisu) and The One Where They All Go to Den Haag Beach. 🥺

I can’t believe when I met everyone, the sun was actually shining in the Netherlands. Image: Lottie Gale

From across the pond to down the hall and back again

Among 28 flatmates, almost 20 nationalities are represented (and more than 20 languages). Our little flat is home to people from Spain, China, Italy, England, Bulgaria, Iran, Russia, Ireland, Greece, Germany, Poland, Japan, Brazil, Portugal, Romania, and Suriname.

It’s crazy to think that in such an unlikely living situation, these cross-cultural connections could be some of the most important in our lives.

@amalytiktokyan I’ll stay 😜 #studentlife #expatlife #stuendenthacks ♬ original sound – Abbie

And, even if it’s only short-term, I’ve now got some great holiday destinations to visit this summer.

As one of the only monolingual speakers, I attempted to learn at least some useful daily phrases from my housemates. 

Saying good night, buona notte, gute nacht, boa noite, Καληνύχτα, buenas noches and — of course — goedenacht, can take a while! 🇬🇧🇮🇹🇩🇪🇧🇷🇬🇷🇪🇸🇳🇱

Cultural crossovers (and occasional clashes)

Even though I can’t quite call the Netherlands home after only six months here, the people have become a sort of home. And I have to thank our cosy chaos of cultures for that! 

READ MORE | 19 ways to actually make friends as an expat in the Netherlands in 2024

Wherever you travel, spending time in one place means you seek a temporary family in the people around you. And just like family living together for a while, you can clash.

Introducing a series capturing the “I broke something in the kitchen and I have to shamefully message the group chat to own up” panic:

Living in such close quarters with people from all over the world, all of different ages, and all studying various courses, means you learn quickly.

The most important lesson? Shift your schedule. Forget eating at 6 or 7 PM — unless you want to dine alone. 

Start cooking dinner at 9 or 10 PM, however, and you’ll have some Spanish, Italian, and maybe Brazilian company. The Greeks will be cooking lunch.

READ MORE | Always an expat, never a local: an international’s attempt to integrate into Dutch life

But, seriously, it’s special to experience such condensed diversity. It’s often as simple as discussing how ridiculous English culture (“What is netball, Lottie?!”) or the Dutch weather can be.

There’s a hilarious contrast on a clear, 10-degree day: Southern Europeans/Hemisphere-rs wrapped up in layers next to the British and Irish in their T-shirts and shorts.

READ MORE | 7 ways life in the UK is drastically different to the Netherlands

Mostly, we have bonded over being in this new place by talking about the old: political controversies back home, the lack of employment opportunities, and whatever prompted us to leave in the first place. 

It might be a squeeze in the flat, but there’s certainly a lot of space for stories. ♥

What do you think of this living arrangement? Could you survive with 30 neighbours? Have your say in the comments below.

Feature Image:Lottie Gale
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie joins DutchReview as an editorial intern after gaining a Bachelor’s in English from her native England. She continues to pursue all things literature in her MA Literature Today at Utrecht University. She is loving life here, and the ever-looming rainclouds often make it feel like a home from home. Lottie arrived to complete her studies and hone her writing skills — she’ll stay for the Dutch tranquility, tulips and tompouce.

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