An exchange semester in Europe sounds super duper cool. Far prior to my application process for the Erasmus+ scholarship in Spain, I have thought of days and nights wandering around European towns, hanging around endless roads in Rome, Paris, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Lisbon, etc.,.. with gorgeous Western friends and people from all around the world.
And I do believe many people also expect the same once they think about studying in the EU for 5 or 6 months. However, reality can be a reversed picture for some of us. Besides stunning Instagram stories and inspiring articles that some have told you, going on an exchange semester can be a challenge for those who have not well prepared a brave and proactive state of mind. Novel and exciting awaiting experiences are there, but there are a dozen of possible difficulties that one need to be aware of, particularly related to housing and accommodation.
As an independent rookie experiencing an exchange semester in Spain and got lost in the middle of the renting process, I write this article to provide a better overview about housing when going abroad, to Spain particularly, when you roll the abroad study experience dice.
There are a few host universities that offer to secure a slot in their dormitory for your stay, however, for most of the cases that I am aware of, we will need to find an accommodation ourselves. And as this is rather a problem of financial ability and preferred living environment, it can get hard if you are not prepared with enough information. Apart from your preferences, accommodation is also about the probabilities of whether you can find your desired one and that one is not a trap of scammers, in particular regions.
In my case, yes I do need to scout for a bed myself. Valencia, as one of the favorite cities for tourism in Spain, is a dynamic market for rents and real estate. The Vietnamese community in Valencia is more or less 100 (53 as the statistics said in 2021), which makes it even more challenging for me to ask for a place and additional helpful information.
I failed to secure a room online beforehand when I was still in Vietnam, as the response rate on housing channels is low and also because I am concerned of the pre-deposit risks. The plan B is to stay somewhere else in the first few days and hopefully get a good deal.
I landed at Valencia after 36 hours flying with China Eastern and 2 transits, carrying the first and foremost task: to successfully reserve some visit appointments and see if I can stay there in the next few months. There are different kinds of people with different purposes on online housing websites, groups and communities where people post and find their deals.
Among around 100 or more messages that I sent on Idealista - the most favorite housing platform in Spain, and other contacts on social channels, about 7 to 10 of them replied to me, and I finally went to see 5 of them. Buses after buses, one down, another up, I met these landlords and got a few options. Under time pressure and constraints on financial ability, distance to school and the roommates, I finally deposited a room which is quite near my host university, with the cost ranked in the average-low of the current price range.
I moved in.
But I moved out.
The room is small, with virtually no flow of fresh air coming in and out. I can hardly move around the room as there are only spaces for a small-sized bed, a thin closet and a table. Appliances in the kitchen and common areas are also very old and outdated, and there was mold in the washing machine.
I called the flat owner and asked to move out the next morning. He was, of course, arguing with me for 10 minutes, asking why I was so arbitrary and that we had a binding contract. I lost a part of my deposit, an amount that is large for me, but small compared to the stress I would have to bear living in that little room. I was inconsiderate when checking the flat. And as an inexperienced tenant coming to this new city a few days ago, I made a wrong move, and I did regret.
Being alone when in mobility and canceling the rent contract is not-a-very-good idea, if not a very bad idea. But later I realized that there are also many students coming from other countries who struggled to find a place, and got stuck in a bad deal once or twice. I eventually decided to raise the budget and later found a place where I can reside comfortably. This is thanks to the help from an acquaintance that one of my friends introduced to me a few days before departure.
I later realized that, for a period lasting for half of a year, it is persuasive that you should prioritize a good living environment over other criterias. Renting a well furnished place which you are eager to come back to after each day at school or recreational hubs will help you to refresh, recharge and get ready for another great day coming. And once you are in a good mood, you are more productive, efficient and dynamic in everything you are devoted to.
My advice is to start searching for housing as soon as possible, and avoid chances that you come with no firm address to reside. Look for any connections that you can have to give you some advice and might help you in checking the flat beforehand. They can be the Vietnamese community (can also be the student community in your host school or city), people in your academic and professional circles, your friends aboard, or any of your parents’ connections. In popular destinations where the Vietnamese community is long established and large, it will be much easier for you to seek help.
So far in Valencia, the decision in which I leave the old flat and find a better one is the wisest move that I have made. You should not necessarily go through such a tough process to find your deal. Housing when studying abroad should not be a nightmare.
Un cordial saludo,
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