‘Warning international students is not enough’
‘Don’t come if you don’t have accommodation by the first of August’, warned VU Amsterdam. Student Leo Yilmazer – who quit their studies and moved back to Türkiye because they couldn’t find a room – thinks the university should be more transparent about the housing crisis.
You still came to VU Amsterdam despite the warning that you shouldn’t without getting accommodation by the first of August. Why?
"I believed and hoped that I would be able to find a room in Amsterdam. Almost all my international friends in my programme found a house after coming here and paying their tuition. Finding a room before coming over is not realistic if you don’t have a lot of funds, so we take our chances. It was not possible for me to come earlier and pay several months of rent prior to my studies."
It sounds like you were very determined to study here. Why is that?
"It’s really hard to live in Türkiye as a queer person. Living in the Netherlands and studying at VU Amsterdam – an amazing university that is so highly ranked – was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I studied a lot to be able to get in."
Do you think the university warned you to protect you, or to protect itself from criticism?
"I want to believe that the warning came from the right place. That it was intended to protect students. But I think more transparency would have been helpful."
What should be done differently by the university?
"I get that it’s hard, but the best thing they can do is to provide housing. Maybe through contracts with housing agencies. And at the very least provide more opportunities than just telling us to look at room.nl or kamernet, which are known to be full of scammers. But even if they can’t do that, they can be more open about the details of what students might face. About how many students drop out because they don’t have a home. Or how many of them keep hopping from house to house.
"When you’re 18 and moving to another country, you’re not really aware what goes on inside Amsterdam. I did research, but that’s not the same as VU Amsterdam being open and upfront about the issue. It’s better to be more elaborate about why we shouldn’t come. About how tough it is to survive here without a home."
You ended up living in Rotterdam. Was that not a feasible solution, at least temporarily?
"Going back and forth by train would cost 34 euros a day, I could not afford that. So I often relied on the least expensive option: the FlixBus. But there are delays and cancellations and I could spend up to seven hours in transit within a single day. That was not sustainable."
If you could reach yourself from one year ago – as you were planning to move to Amsterdam – what would you say?
"I would tell myself to be more realistic and not get my hopes too high, because things are not as nice as the university presents them. I would tell my former self to contact students and talk to them about their experiences, so I would know what it’s like to survive as an international student in Amsterdam."