You’ve spent hours being advised on which country has the ideal climate, the broadest range of cuisines and the most stunning landscape (amazingly, they all do). You’ve scoured page after page and site after site to find the university which runs the highest quality course with the most famous tutors and the largest number of opportunities to gain ‘transferrable skills’. Now, it’s time to decide where to live when you get there. But where to start?
The good news!
A large number of universities across the world try to remove as much of the stress involved with travelling to study in another country as possible by reserving a certain amount of their accommodation especially for international students. This is an extremely attractive prospect for those arriving in their chosen country for the first time, as it enables individuals to plan ahead, use social media to find and contact others living in the same building or area, and have any furniture or belongings forwarded to the correct address immediately.
The more…‘challenging’ news…
Unfortunately, international students cannot always rely on the certainty that their chosen institution will have designated accommodation waiting for them. While institutions in the UK and US are often heavily campus-based, those in Australia are less so; the date of students’ applications can also be important, as reserved accommodation options may run out if submissions are made too late.
But never fear, Study International is here to point you in the right direction with 10 key things to consider when choosing the perfect environment for eating, sleeping, raving (/studying) then repeating while at university abroad.
1. What sort of people do I want to live with?
You might find your housemates’ tendency and freedom to run into your room with a water pistol, dressed as a ‘sexy caveman’, at 3am endearing; you, quite naturally, might not. Equally, while you might be keen to live with like-minded international students who share your background and culture, you also might feel that this would defeat the object of travelling to a new country to enjoy new experiences and make new friends.
Top tip? Do some stalking. Social media, in this instance, is your friend. A huge number of universities have set up groups specifically for incoming students on Facebook or Twitter; sometimes, there are even groups specific to certain blocks of student accommodation. While you can’t judge a potential housemate solely by their social media activity, it could provide a little insight into their general behaviours and interests which, to be frank, can’t hurt.
2. How far will I be from campus and how will I get there?
So, you think that a 10-mile cycle from home to campus every day (or, perhaps, multiple times per day) would be a great way for you to keep fit? Stop. Think about rain, wind, snow and dark mornings. Think about that huge backpack full of files. Think about all the dates you plan on scheduling (NB: Never, NEVER use the word ‘scheduling’ in this context. Sex-power: -17). Now think about a 20 mile round-trip on a bike. THINK IT THROUGH. If your route is accessible on foot, check whether you can get to and from campus safely (i.e. avoiding back-streets) in the dark. If you’re too far away from campus to walk to it, check out bus routes and taxi spots. Fitness is your friend, but perhaps isn’t always practical.
3. Would I enjoy a homestay experience?
Homestays, which are popular among students in the US, Canada and Australia but less so in the UK, involve living with a host family as their guest- think foreign-exchange trip, except nobody takes your place at home (unless your parents really can’t cope without you and they find a stand-in). This sort of arrangement tends to include negotiation regarding meals, household chores and any guests you wish to bring to the house; as you are in situ as their guest, it is extremely important to maintain a high level of respect for all members of your homestay family, which may include young children. Although those eager to embrace the freedom and individuality of their university experience may be wise to avoid the concept of the homestay, mature students or those less eager to live among other students may consider it to be a viable option.
4. Have I spoken to my University’s International Office?
Meet the International Office: an oh-so-convenient, ready-made group of people with a huge amount of experience in dealing with exactly your problem. Second only to the Study International team, your chosen institution’s International Office is comprehensively versed in means of dealing with situations relating to international student accommodation and maintain relationships with letting agents and accommodation providers in the surrounding areas. Former students are likely to have contacted the International Office, meaning that they will be aware of properties which are, or are about to become, empty throughout the academic year. In short- use them! They have searchable databases full of certified providers and landlords; they are your friends.
5. Are current students likely to be moving out of their accommodation right now?
Remember those social media groups dedicated to incoming students and particular areas of student accommodation? They’re about to come in handy again. What should you do? Spend hours stalking pages and people to see whether anyone included #movingday or #lastnightintheflat? Quelle surprise- not quite. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so post in the group! Someone will see your post, and even if they aren’t leaving their flat, they’ll probably know someone who is. When it comes to finding accommodation, every random opportunity and new contact helps.
6. Do I need to find somewhere to stay while I’m finding somewhere to stay?
Perhaps life got in the way and you weren’t able to find long-term accommodation before getting on the plane; perhaps you simply like to live life on the edge. Not to worry; in this situation, your first days on arrival at your destination are likely to be spent tramping from house to flat to bedsit while you search for ‘the one’ (‘the one’ flat, of course; sadly, student accommodation does not come with a complimentary romantic partner), so you simply need a place to lay your head. Book a cheap, central hostel or bed and breakfast online- choosing temporary accommodation will serve as powerful incentive to find a long-term solution!
7. Have I looked online- in the right places?
The internet as a tool for finding student accommodation is much like a no-hoper boyfriend: quick, easy and obvious. Less easy and obvious are the tasks of ensuring that the sites you’re using and people you’re consulting are, in a word, genuine. Ask yourself, does the site through which you’re browsing look well-constructed, and like it could be the online face of an established company? Does the company have clients, or partnerships with existing universities? Try Googling the organisation to see how ‘big’ their name is within their field- or whether it is there in the first place. Equally, be sure of the identity of the person giving you advice. Are they contacting you from a company email address, or from a personal Gmail account? What happens when you look them up on Google or LinkedIn? If the situation or conversation feels wrong, it probably is.
8. Okay, I’ve found a great place- but have I seen it properly?
No matter how persuasive the agent, how reportedly friendly the landlord or how amazingly spotless the bathroom (in photographs), NEVER- and it’s worth repeating, NEVER- sign any form of agreement or exchange any amount of money until you have seen the property in person. No decent, professional landlord would complain about such a condition; this is standard practice across the world. Compare the property description with any photographs provided and be critical- if no photographs have been provided, request them. There shouldn’t be anything to hide!
9. Have I seen enough different properties?
Much like shopping for a sofa or a ‘pair of sensible shoes’ (who knows- perhaps you love both of those pursuits), viewing countless properties can seem like an immensely onerous process which can only be improved by being shortened, and therefore settling for the first one you see. Don’t give in to temptation; it wants your money and your happiness. Try to stay calm. Schedule a number of consecutive viewings to take place on the same day, ensuring that they are for properties of varying styles, in diverse locations. That way, you can make an informed decision regarding which type of accommodation you warm to most, while also making sure that the painful process is completed as quickly as is physically possible!
10. Am I sure of how much I will need to pay?
Beware the contract jargon; it is vying with temptation for your money and happiness. Some of the most common disagreements which arise in the realm of student accommodation relate to students’ misunderstanding of exactly how much they are required to pay. Such misapprehension is not the fault of the students in question- why should you, or indeed anyone, understand the legal-beagle speak which ties you to the room with the haunted wardrobe?- but can certainly be avoided. If possible, scan, email or fax a copy of the proposed contract to your family, or indeed any other acquaintance whose judgement you trust, to read before you sign; several sets of eyes are better than one, and they are likely to be able to explain the language used more simply.