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Foto: Kendra Adelberg

Backpacking in the city: the struggle of an international trying to find housing

Irene Schoenmacker,
25 november 2021 - 08:28

What is it like for internationals to try and find a room in our capital city? Since American Kendra Adelberg arrived in Amsterdam in August, she has been looking for a place to live. ‘I kept thinking: I have to leave my house again in two days, where do I go?’

On August 3, Kendra Adelberg (22) flew from the United States to Amsterdam for her master’s in Forensic Science. The UvA had told her that it was not easy to find a room in Amsterdam and of course she had read about it online, but how bad could it be?


Pretty bad, she soon found out. The day before leaving, the room at an elderly lady's house in Weesp where she was going to stay was suddenly cancelled. ‘So I quickly sent a message to students who had previously turned me down for another room if they knew anything,’ Kendra says. ‘Luckily, one of the roommates turned out to be willing to rent out her room for two months, until November 1, so I slept on the couch first until I could move into that room on September 1.’

‘The wave of househunting students was even bigger this year than usual, because many first-year students were able to study at home for the first period of their study’

This academic year, a record number of international students came to the university. They cannot live at home with their mom and dad, so the pressure on the already tight housing market in Amsterdam is increasing. The outlook is not good: the national shortage will double in the coming years, said student housing organization Kences in August.


The wave of househunting students was even bigger this year than usual, because many first-year students were able to study at home for the first period of their study. As a result, from August onwards, both first and second year students were looking for a place to live and the pressure in Amsterdam became even higher.


Kendra felt this. In three weeks time, she sent dozens of emails and messages via Facebook. She kept track in an Excel file of the ads she had already responded to in order to keep an overview – writing down information about the location, the number of roommates, the size of the room, the rent and the deposit. She was invited twice. The last time, the residents forgot that she didn’t speak Dutch, so the tour to her and another applicant was given in Dutch. ‘I understand that people want to speak their own language,’ says Kendra, ‘but I didn't hold out much hope that I would get the room.’ And that turned out to be the case: the other, Dutch student was the lucky one.


The UvA acts as an intermediary to arrange housing for international students, but says it cannot guarantee anything. However, this academic year the number of rooms was scaled up from 2,700 to 3,200. But the mediation costs are relatively high: 400 euros. Moreover, you can be placed anywhere in the city.

Kendra Adelberg

The search caused Kendra a lot of stress. ‘Because starting in November, I again had no place to live.’ Successively she slept four nights in a hostel, on the couch of her old apartment, at a friend's house in Amsterdam-Noord and at a friend's house in Diemen. In the latter house, one of the residents turned out to have corona. ‘That worked out well for me,’ says Kendra, laughing, ‘because now I had to stay in quarantine for five days instead of that one night. Last night she slept at the house of an Italian fellow student in Diemen.


It is very tiring, Kendra acknowledges. ‘In the beginning I got good grades, all eights, but in the last two exams I had to do a resit. I didn't have time to study because I also had to look for a place to live. I kept thinking, oy, I have to leave my house in two days, where am I going to go?’ Moreover, she had concerns about money. ‘In the hostel I couldn't cook, so those were expensive days because I had to eat out.’ Sometimes she would eat at old roommates' houses, after which she would stick around to study somewhere quiet. ‘But not for too long, because I didn't want to exploit their hospitality either.’ In her bag, she dragged a box of muesli with her everywhere. ‘And I sometimes bought microwave meals at the Plus, which I could then heat up at university. Sometimes I would sit on a bench somewhere before class and eat a bowl of yoghurt. It was so sad.’ 


But there is hope. From December 1 on, Kendra will stay a student house in the Bijlmer where she can live for a year and a half. With nice roommates. She only has to arrange her things because the room will be delivered empty. Despite the past few months, she would advise other students to come to Amsterdam. ‘The university is great, so are the lecturers, but you shouldn't underestimate the search for accommodation. Try to get in touch with Dutch students in advance, so you have this network before you arrive,’ she advises. And don't start from scratch, as she did.


Now all that remains is to bridge the next six days and then her time in Amsterdam can really start.