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International students who are here to do their Master's are just not given enough help in finding housing, argues Colombian student Felipe Leon. It is time for the University of Copenhagen to step up to its responsibility, he says.
I am honored to be a Master’s student at the University of Copenhagen. During the almost eight months I have lived here I have had the opportunity to meet fantastic people and experience the first-rate teaching and research of a great institution.
Still, to be honest, I have to say that I feel a strong and disappointing lack of support from the University of Copenhagen regarding a quite basic practical issue: the accomodation of full-degree international students. Apparently, the University has done nothing yet to solve this serious problem, at least judging from the informal talks between old and new full-degree students and the concerns they express about it on the social networks.
As far as I know, the problem of accomodation for students (and non-students) in Copenhagen is not new at all.
It is a big and well-known problem. I am also aware that the International Office is clear on the fact that it doesn’t take any commitment on the accomodation of full-degree students, although I still think that the reasons they offer for this are not compelling.
I will come back to this point in a minute. For the moment, it is important to stress that having housing is not only important for the evident reason that one needs to have a roof over one’s own head, but also because it is a precondition for having a CPR-number. This is requested in order to have access to medical services, bank accounts, etc. In short, in being recognized as a member of the community. I also needed it to receive a scholarship for covering living expenses.
It surprised me that exchange students have more support from the University of Copenhagen than full-degree students in finding an accomodation. As a full-degree student, I benefited with a scholarship from the Danish government granted on the basis of my academic achievements. But I didn’t have the right of having assistance in finding a place to stay, nor of having a mentor who would introduce me at least into the basic facts of academic life in the University (I also asked unsuccessfully for this help).
But let us return to the issue of the accommodation. How does the University justify that full-degree students are not helped? Having shared this concern with different authorities from the University, I got the following answers.
The first one came from my full-degree coordinator: Full-degree students cannot be helped because they are considered as being in the same situation as local students. The second one, which I will quote, came by e-mail from the housing department of the International Office:
»This office consists of two people. We simply do not have the resources to search for housing on behalf of all the international persons at the University of Copenhagen.«
Is it necessary to argue that, without being acquainted with the language, the culture or the city, full-degree international students are clearly not in the same situation as a local student when it comes to find a place to live?
Personally, I had to face inconveniences going from fake online offers, to the unkindness of locals who didn’t seem to feel comfortable with the idea of renting to a foreigner. After talking with other students in my same situation I realized that I wasn’t the only one going through such difficulties. Concerning the second point, I wonder if the University has considered to improve the resources of the housing department of the International Office.
This would help solve a problem which is affecting not only the well-being of many students, but also their academic performance. Needless to say, it is hardly possible to concentrate on the studies when focused on the most basic concerns for decent living.
I have to confess that, in my own case, what I have described is not exactly what I had in mind as a welcome to Copenhagen. I am completely sure that an institution such as the University of Copenhagen should somehow contribute to prevent this uncomfortable, humiliating and in some cases financially unsustainable situation.
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