Times are tough for international students in Tilburg, alumnus Paul Börsting writes in this guest opinion piece. In the few years since he has returned home to Germany, the university’s growing pains have given rise to a worrying phenomenon that is hurting internationals: ‘Dutch only’ housing.
Having grown up near the Dutch border, my childhood memories are filled with making ‘fietstrips’ through flat landscapes, being rewarded with ‘worstenbroodjes’ afterwards, and digging endless holes on Dutch beaches (that’s what German vacationers are supposed to be doing, I’ve been told). Later on, studying in Tilburg for three years allowed me to experience Dutch student life and make Dutch friends in a truly ‘international environment’, as it is branded by Tilburg University.
I was all the more shocked, then, when I recently tried to help a German friend to find a flatshare in ‘Tilly’. No matter which Facebook group I skimmed through, nearly all of the housing ads I came across unequivocally ruled out internationals with a short statement, often written in all caps to avoid confusion: DUTCH ONLY.
It did confuse me.
Surely, there were ‘Dutch only’ housing ads in my days as a Tilburg University student. It’s not a completely new or uncommon phenomenon. For instance, a recent survey by three Dutch student organizations (LSVb, ISO and ESN) revealed that over one third of international students have at least once been rejected for housing because of their foreign background. Yet, the current abundance of ‘Dutch only’ flatshares posted in Facebook groups is outrageously worrying in the multicultural society that the Netherlands claims to be.
The widespread ‘Dutch only’ phenomenon might hardly surprise anyone today, but it was not like that when I studied in Tilburg just a few years ago. As the university grows bigger and bigger, the only place where internationals seem to be welcome nowadays is the TiU homepage.
At the start of the semester in September, the lack of available housing forced fifty international students to live in tents. Despite being a camping enthusiast myself, 450€ per month for a tiny tent in the rainy autumn season seems a bit steep. And, more importantly, it seems like an unpleasant start to university life in a new country (despite the AH bonus card partially making up for it).
Shocked as I was, I decided to create a poll in one of the Facebook housing groups in an attempt to facilitate discussion about the overt discrimination of international students. I was immediately banned from the group. On the basis of Facebook group rules, a discussion on the discrimination of non-Dutchies (whatever that might be anyways) was silenced.
But where else could people like my friend, who was facing discrimination based on where she came from, challenge such unfair treatment? Especially when considering that most flatshare-seekers are not primarily in a Facebook housing group to fight discrimination, but simply because they desperately need a room to shelter from the many ‘regendruppels’ and ‘herfstbuien’ (the Dutch autumn rains) when lectures start in September.
When I imagine the discomfort I would feel when passing the tents of international students on my daily way to university, I can only assume that students who prefer to live with ‘Dutch only’ housemates must have airtight reasons to exclude their fellow foreign students from having a roof over their heads and a warm bed to sleep in like any other Tilburg University student.
So, what exactly are their reasons? Well, some Dutchies argue that internationals would stay for a too short period of time, that it would be too difficult to speak English (all the time), or that internationals would have a hard time integrating into Dutch flatshare culture.
“Why fly halfway across the world, if novelty and exchange could sit next to you at your kitchen table?”
My own experience as the only foreign student living in a Dutch flatshare in Tilburg shows how nonsensical all three of those reasons are. Firstly, I did not stay short-term. Like most international Bachelor students, I was in Tilburg for three whole years.
Secondly, speaking English might be more difficult for some than for others, but basically every Dutch person’s English was better than mine in the beginning of my studies. Plus, living with domestic students allows internationals to pick up the Dutch language — who’s to say Dutch cannot replace English as the lingua franca in a mixed student house after some time has passed?
And, thirdly, as for the integration into the Dutch flatshare culture: I admit that I did not get all cues resulting from decades of Dutch socialization. But intercultural exchange creates a new atmosphere, which provides unique experiences. At least every student who has traveled or studied abroad can confirm that. So why fly halfway across the world, if novelty and exchange could sit in comfortable reach next to you at your kitchen table?
I must say that I did leave my student house before my three-year period in Tilburg had ended. But the reasons why I left my flatshare were my broken heater, the long distance to campus and the fact that most of my roomies were at their work during the day. None of those reasons were related to my nationality. That leaves me with the odd feeling that narrow minds might be the actual reasons behind the ‘Dutch only’ phenomenon.
The increasing demand for student housing, which seems closely related to Tilburg University’s unprecedented growth, has given rise to a new situation in which we, students, should stand together.
Let’s help my friend with her flatshare hunt by at least giving her the chance to fail at ‘kijkavonden’. Let’s bring back the spirit of a proudly multicultural Holland, where integration is more than a ‘schitterend’ word.
“Kom uit het land met de meeste culturen per vierkante meter
Maar men is bang om bij de buren te gaan eten
En integratie is een schitterend woord
Maar shit is fucking bitter wanneer niemand het hoort”
Lange Frans & Baas B, Het land van
Perhaps I got everything wrong in this commentary – not being Dutch, not living in Tilburg anymore. But at least I hope to trigger a discussion between Dutchies and internationals on the daily housing discrimination. Since nothing is worse than remaining silent towards it.
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