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Homeless in Uppsala: a foreign student’s tale

The Local · 28 Sep 2010, 08:54

Published: 28 Sep 2010 08:54 GMT+02:00

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KAOS,” screamed the cover of “Ergo”, the Uppsala University newspaper, with a photograph of a jumbled queue in front of one of the student unions.

“Housing crisis worse than ever!”

I had been warned. “The system is impossible, even for us,” complained a native Swede who has been in the queue for the housing group Dombron for three years.

I’m used to finding apartments in Boston, which involves trawling through listings until you find one that seems decent and calling the landlord. I could probably find an apartment in Boston in less than a day, any time of year, and move in immediately.

Obviously, I knew things wouldn’t be that simple here. I’ve lived in Uppsala before as an exchange student, and housing was easy. My home university made all the arrangements; I simply had to show up and move in. (I miss those days.)

The problem with the international application process is that I didn’t receive my official acceptance to my masters programme at Uppsala until early May, which meant that my visa wouldn’t be approved until several months later. I had considered moving to Sweden immediately after my graduation and spending the summer traveling and looking for a place to live. But my visa wasn’t coming until the end of August, so I was forced to stay in Boston and attempt to do everything online.

I had registered for accounts with the major housing companies in the winter, in anticipation of outrageous queues and point requirements. But of course, when I’m in queues with native Swedes who have been registered for years, how much of a chance do I stand?

Every time I clicked “interested” on a room (absolutely any room) I would wait a few days and see the message (roughly translated) “this has gone to another seeker. Your place in the queue was 509.” I knew things were bad when I felt a jolt of elation at having a queue number that was under 100. Another problem; many websites don’t allow you to register unless you have a Swedish personnummer (personal identity number), which you can’t get until you have a Swedish address, which you can’t get until you have a residence permit, och så vidare.

In June, I thought I had found the perfect place from a local website, which turned out to be a scam. I was crushed, but relieved at having discovered it in time instead of showing up, all my worldly possessions in hand, to a nonexistent apartment. Back to square one.

In July, my Swedish friends asked everyone they knew for housing tips, and came up with a room for rent in an apartment near the university. But after I arrived on August 21st, I didn’t hear back from the girl I was supposed to contact for two weeks.

She replied with the following message: “My flatmates don’t want to live with someone under 25. Good luck finding an apartment!” (I couldn’t help but read that last line sarcastically.)

So crashing with my ex it was.

It will only be a few days. Something will open up, I told myself.

The next morning I went straight to the Student Union to inquire about my options. The woman I spoke to offered this gem of advice: to look at a website which contains postings for sub-letters and roommates, and “sit on it all day constantly refreshing the page.”

Do I get to have a bathroom break, I wondered.

She also informed me that the University was generously providing emergency housing for foreign students, but that there were “about 300 people in the queue” ahead of me. And as a last resort, I could “sleep in a church- but for one night only.”

On a positive note, my housing-related vocabulary has greatly improved. For the first two weeks I sent at least five e-mails a day to various people who were renting out rooms, desperately hoping to bypass the queue system and find the perfect place. I was lucky if I got so much as one “sorry it is already taken” message for every 20 meticulously checked-and-double-checked Swedish messages.

The hundreds of displaced students have been taking it remarkably well, maintaining faith that things will magically “open up.” I’ve been offered everything from couches to living room floors.

I know someone who has been regularly sleeping in the cathedral yet still manages to make it to class neatly dressed.

I met another guy who arrived in Uppsala, went to an orientation, and asked the first person he saw if he could sleep on his floor. Many students are living in trailers and tents on city camping grounds. We’re finding creative ways to cope.

There is some understandable bitterness: I’ve heard horror stories about foreign students who were accepted at Uppsala, only to withdraw after not finding housing. An exchange student friend bluntly remarked: “Uppsala is completely ridiculous. Why accept students you don’t have room for?”

It’s a great question. And students all over the country are asking it loudly, from Stockholm to Lund. But along with the bitterness, there’s a sort of resigned camaraderie. We’re all in it together, Swedish and foreign.

Story continues below…

I have been encouraged to give up and fly back to Boston.

“Why would you want to stay somewhere without a home, and with no prospects for one?” asked one friend.

I have to admit I’ve considered it. I could defer admission from the programme for a year, work in the States and try to secure a real apartment here before coming back.

Even as I write this, I have no home. I snagged a room in a small hostel near the center of town, but must move out tomorrow.

The thing is, I have a bit of a crush on Sweden. I love müsli with filmjölk, recycling, riding my bicycle everywhere, and walking a few kilometers out of the city and ending up in a forest. So I’m not giving up so easily. And if I can be this happy without a room of my own, imagine how I’ll feel when I manage to find one.

Postscript: Shortly after submitting her essay, Amy managed to find accomodation on a farm 8 kilometres outside of Uppsala and hopes to be able to call it home at least through the winter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:06 September 28, 2010 by jwlundgren
I saw homeless students camping in the park at Stockholm Universitet. I thought it was a political protest at first against homelessness in general, then I found out they were REAL students who had no place to stay. I don't understand why the university didn't let them at least sleep inside.
15:57 September 28, 2010 by jazzIIIlove
Not everybody is lucky as in this article/blog.

I have a friend that gave up sleeping on the floor and turned back to homeland.

Love the queue system here, queue this, queue that!

Keep going this way, "Swedish" fellows, I believe in your "Democracy".
16:55 September 28, 2010 by asee
I also got some problem to get room in Malmö but atlast found one.. Use Blocket.se too...:)
01:00 September 29, 2010 by Coalbanks
Most university towns have 0 % vacancy at the beginning of semester. What stops developers from building/renovating flts for students?
03:31 September 29, 2010 by sherkovic
dont give up. until you find one!!!
06:11 September 29, 2010 by Bork
Coalbanks: have to wonder the same. I asked a friend. Not sure if she fully knew, but she said the government is quite strict about new development in the cities for whatever reason. She believed it was to preserve a certain look so a bunch of developers didn't make the city look trashy just to make quick money. Still doesn't make sense. Seems the government would just demand they meet certain building and design criteria before they get a contract to develop.
09:26 September 29, 2010 by gmaddalo
I will tell you the answer:"Ja, Ja Jag föstår men systemet funkar som det..." Sweden, a country where something is going wrong (SDs are just the tip of the iceberg) but everybody pretend that everything is fine...They are less organized than Italians (I am Italian) regarding this matter.
16:19 September 29, 2010 by fatehs
I was lucky to have some friends here in Göteborg. But still I needed to spend 1 week in a hostle and searching for every where I could( even really small rooms with 1.30 hour distance from university) before I found a 18 m2 room to share with a friend!

I know a friend who spent several months in his friend's kitchen before he found accommodation!!!
17:06 September 29, 2010 by beyenpe
I have the same situation. I study at Jönköping and I moved out of my place in summer thinking of finding a better place and did not want to pay for three months. Then I started looking for a place in summer like the beginning of July. I applied for like 20 rooms through studentbostad Jönköping but always got "du har inte blivit visning för detta objekt". I was also checking out blocket.se daily maybe couple of times every day. I was even calling if they had a number but they were getting surprised after they hear me speaking English. Once I called a guy about a room and he told me that he is not the responsible one for the room. I asked him so why did you put your phone number. He muttered something and told me to text him and never heard anything again.

Every story about me looking for a place is quite similar. Jönköping University placed a lot of students to hostels for a short time because they could not fix any place for some students. I asked the same question "so why do you accept this people to your school if you do not have enough place to give them".

I am really happy that I live and study in Sweden but this accommodation problem really annoyed me. I have been looking for a place for three months, my friends back home cannot believe me and ask me "how is that possible".

It is really ridiculous and it is almost the same in every city. I also considered going back home and come back next year and finish my studies.

Hopefully I have two friends who let me live in their place and I sleep on a thin mattress on the floor and we live three people in a pretty small room.
19:31 September 29, 2010 by Puffin
It is very hard for Universities to judge how many students will come - it is just a 3 years ago that some departments in Uppsala chose not to run certain Masters programmes because no-one applied

The problem is also that this is a peak year

- high Swedish unemployment means that a higher than normal level of high school leavers have entered University who otherwise would have taken post high school jobs

- high Swedish uemployment means that people who graduated last summer have not left but have enrolled for new courses and stayed in their student rooms

- exceptional demand from overseas student because of the end to free tutition

I think for many international students used to the 'campus' system in other countries it is hard for them to understand that the University does not have its own accomodation in Sweden - that housing is private. So admissions officers have no idea whether applicants need accomodation - although Uppsala University has also written to all of its staff asking them to rent rooms to students.

It made me laugh when I read the bit at the end about finding a place 8km ie 5 miles from Uppsala - WOW 8 whole km :D - many people commute to Uppsala for their studies - commuting from Stockholm is common - but people also commute 300-500km/day - I know as I am one of them
11:39 September 30, 2010 by Jarvilainennen
A word of advice: Pay it "svart" and you´ll get it. That´s how it´s done back there.

You might be living with maroccans in the next room like i was, when i was working there.

Prepair to give some of them advice on how to urinate so you don´t have to clean up for them all the time.

And be careful with your rent money.

Hey, you´re in Sweden now. Nice place but has it´s quirks :)
13:19 September 30, 2010 by mikewhite
Obviously time for those companies which seem to have taken over the student accommodation system in the UK to look to Sweden ... at least they purpose-build new properties that are clean and safe with good facilities, although not cheap.


But even so there are shortages ...

14:49 September 30, 2010 by Puffin

You really don't know much about student accomodation in Sweden do you? Student housing in Sweden has been private for 20years - its part of the problem as at the times of housing price rises landowners do not want to sell to low cost housing companies when developers are offering megabucks

There has been lots of new student accomodation built by the private student housing companies in Sweden - espcially in Uppsala - the beautiful Ekonomikum park has now been built on to provide blocks of new student apartments and corridors - The 40 private housing organisations in Uppsala have around 11,000-12,000 student apartments and corridor rooms

However it's not enough for a peak year
15:04 September 30, 2010 by Jarvilainennen

Yup. Not enough for a peak year. Cause if it was, on a low streak you´d give them to humanitarian immigrants.

You do this in Sweden. You filled Malmö With them as the industry died away and locals moved away. But you forgot the industry died away and migrants still have nothing to do.

Again, not the migrants´ fault at all.
20:24 September 30, 2010 by jazzIIIlove
anyways, it's expected that Sweden's economy will fall down in 10 year's time, due to insufficient inner market, and the attitude towards immigrant power. Together with economy, Sweden will experience less students for masters programs, who wants to pay enourmous amount of money, for enrollment and tremendous amount to cost of living?

The ones who want to come here as student, simply, don't..it's not gallery of local.se. Seriously, they hate immigrants and i find the answer why Hitler skips this country.

Harsh but true.
04:49 October 1, 2010 by anticommie
12:53 October 1, 2010 by Puffin
@ anticommie

LOL which bit is "socialism"??????

How is a market blip and the lack of private student rental accomodation anything to do with socialism????
12:55 October 1, 2010 by pathor
Actually the housing crisis is quite acute especially this year. Lucky I had a friend who was already here in Stockholm a year ago and so was able to move into a flat with him. Plus I have a SSSB account so next year should have enough points for another flat . :)

But yes I also really really like it here and am willing to rough it out !

Good luck finding a more permanent place !
08:35 October 2, 2010 by farooqkifayat
The problem is agravated by the fact that the old foreign students dont often complete their degrees on time.

And some student housing companies do not allow sharing of rooms
11:23 October 2, 2010 by ybelov
I was also an international student in Uppsala university. I went to study there last year and I could not find a room. After living in a hostel for a couple of weeks, I left my study programme and Sweden.

Now I study in Turku, Finland. Here there is no problem with housing for students.

Yuri Belov

20:44 October 2, 2010 by mikewhite

No, I do not know much about student accommodation in Sweden, nor was I presuming to do so, thanks for the friendly word !

I do know a bit about the UK system and how it has been commercialised, however.

There is space for everyone ~ IF you can afford it …

From my limited knowledge I would also say that finding ANY accommodation in Sweden is an uphill task !
21:44 October 9, 2010 by kaze
How odd. When I came 2 years ago it was pretty easy to find a place despite there being a hell of a lot less student flats. They've built loads over the years I've been there though....
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