You’ve spent hours choosing a country with the ideal climate, the broadest range of cuisines and the most stunning landscapes. You’ve scoured site after site to find your best suited university, seeking a programme that offers ‘transferrable’, relevant skills. Now it’s time to decide where you want to live when you get there. But where do you start?
The good news!
Universities worldwide will want to remove as much of the stress involved with studying abroad as possible, reserving a certain amount of accommodation options for international applicants.
This is an attractive prospect for those arriving in their chosen country for the first time, enabling them 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 right away.
The more…‘challenging’ news…
Unfortunately, international students can’t always rely on the certainty that their chosen institution will have designated accommodation waiting for them. While universities in the UK and US are heavily campus-based, those in Australia are less so. The date of student applications can also be important, as reserved accommodation options may run out if submissions are made too late.
But we’re 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 overseas.
1. What sort of people do you want to live with?
You might find your housemates’ tendency to run into your room dressed as a Crayon at 3am on a Sunday morning endearing; you, quite naturally, may 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 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 you be from campus and how will you 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 to keep fit? Stop. Think about rain, wind, snow and dark mornings. Think about that huge backpack full of books. Think about all your hot dates and late night strolls back home. 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, check out bus routes and taxi spots. Fitness is great, but perhaps not always practical.
3. Would you 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. 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’s 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 homestay, mature students or those less eager to live among fellow students may consider it a viable option.
4. Have you spoken to your university’s International Office?
Meet the International Office: an oh-so-convenient, ready-made collective with a huge amount of experience in dealing with your exact issue. Second only to the Study International team, your chosen institution’s International Office is comprehensively versed in dealing with situations relating to accommodation, maintaining relationships with letting agents and accommodation providers in surrounding areas.
Former students are likely to have contacted the International Office, meaning they will be aware of properties that 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 you need to find somewhere to stay in the meantime?
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’, so you simply need a place to lay your head. Book a cheap, central hostel or bed and breakfast – choosing temporary accommodation will serve as a powerful incentive for finding a long-term solution!
7. Have you looked online – in the right places?
You need to ensure the sites you’re using and people you’re consulting are 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’s 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, you’ve found a great place – but have you 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’ve seen the property.
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 you seen many different properties?
Much like shopping for a sofa or a ‘pair of sensible shoes’, viewing countless properties can seem like an immensely trying process that can only be improved by being shortened, and therefore settling for the first one you see.
Don’t give into 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 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 the painful process is completed as quickly as possible!
10. Are you sure of how much you need to pay?
Beware the contract jargon! Some of the most common disagreements that 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 simply explain the language used throughout.