A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Choosing where to live can be extremely tricky, especially if you have never visited your potential new hometown, or worse, know little about the place. Like many prospectus students at Leiden University I oscillated between wanting to live in a city like The Hague or a smaller town like Leiden. When I arrived in Leiden a few weeks before my studies began, I visited rooms in both Leiden and The Hague. The aim of this article is to raise points to ponder and hopefully help you clarify where you would like to live.
Even though The Hague and Leiden are only 10-15 minutes via train, getting to Leiden or The Hague on a wet wintery Monday morning for class will make you reconsider choosing the further location over the more convenient. Where you have most your classes is also going to be the likely location where most your classmates live, work and socialise. Do you want to be in the thick of the action, or a bit removed?
It’s probably the first consideration when you have visited or at least read about both The Hague and Leiden. Although deciding if you prefer small cities or small towns is not essential, I do think this is still worth some reflection. Although both places are (almost) equally close to Rotterdam and Amsterdam and to smaller towns like Utrecht and Haarlem, you have to decide if you would like to stay in a predominantly student town or a working city. It’s also important to realise what both places have to offer academically and non-academically. If, like me, you will be studying International Relations, then you should consider all the events and NGOs, government organizations that are based in The Hague.
Time helps a lot when you are competing in a vicious Darwinian survival of the fittest competition for housing, as sometimes it felt when I was looking for a roof over my head. The shortage of student housing stock (particularly in Zuid-Holland) makes it increasingly difficult for students to immediately secure their first choice accommodation. Before I came to the Netherlands, I tried to secure a room, months in advance through Facebook groups such as Leiden Housing. Although I subsequently learnt that some of my peers had in fact managed to successfully get a room via this method, the success stories were few-and-far-between. This is because the mentioned student housing shortage (the landlords and real estate companies can almost always find someone in need) and the fact that landlords are unwilling to risk you not turning up at the last minute and having to find a new tenant. My advice would be to come to the Netherlands as soon as you can in order to make appointments in person. If you don’t secure a room on your first attempt, do not despair, for at least you have increased your first-hand knowledge of the housing situation is and you can change your approach or location if necessary.
Not much needs to be said here as I have covered this in point 2. However, I would add that even if you are forced to live in The Hague when you want to live in Leiden or vice-versa it is not the end of the world. You will find advantages with living in both places over time and although you might not live in one, the other is easily accessible by train. So don’t worry too much!
Most importantly, your budget will define what type of place you will have and ultimately end up living in. You, like me, will probably come to the Netherlands with an idealistic budget; this will be well under what you will eventually pay. Make sure you give yourself enough elasticity to alter your budget (upwards) if, and probably inevitably, will be the case.
Although it is good to keep the above points in mind, remember that once you are in the Netherlands your opinions and needs are likely to change, that is not to mention the more-then-likely moment of panic you will experience as the start of the semester draws closer. Don’t let panic dictate your choice of housing! Be patient, even if the first few days, weeks or even months are stressful. You will find something; it is a waiting game of luck! Everyone I know has eventually found somewhere to live (even if their first home was not what they wanted long term).