Having a Cow: Finding Accommodation on My Exchange Year
Updated: Sep 9, 2023
Finding private accommodation is a struggle for every student heading on a year abroad. Unable to find anywhere to live in Leiden, I had to go for a slightly more rural setting...
It’s hard to find housing in Exeter every year. We seem to think the ‘nice’ properties will go quickly and so we rush into renting places, only fueling the vicious cycle of students eating up contracts as quickly as possible. I remember being in Exeter and thinking about how the issue needed to be sorted out somehow.
I now realise how easy I had it before... As my original placement, Utrecht University cancelled on me very late in the process, I received an offer to study in Leiden just eight weeks before I was due to leave for my year in the Netherlands.
To put things mildly: this was a little bit stressful.
For the next eight weeks, I continuously said “I won’t believe that my year abroad will happen until I’m sat on the bed looking at the ceiling”
I realised I had to look for private accommodation when I was emailed by Leiden University saying I was 2396th on their list for university-provided accommodation. I was on the lookout for a place to live in a country I’d never visited or had any in-depth knowledge about. All without viewings or any way to accurately assess where I’d be living for almost a year, until the moment I arrived.
For the next eight weeks, I continuously said “I won’t believe that my year abroad will happen until I’m sat on the bed looking at the ceiling”. I had serious doubts about whether I’d actually be able to go and not having a clear plan really freaked me out. At this point, I reached out to find a fellow Exetah student heading to Leiden, in the hope that we could look for accommodation together. Besides, what kind of year abroad would it be if I was living alone? I got an email back from Imogen and it seemed like things were on the up.
This didn’t last long. After we became desperate, and nowhere seemed to be available, I decided to bite the bullet and look at hostels where we could stay temporarily until housing became available. Although the continuous rejections were disheartening, they only increased how pleased I was to actually make some progress when I was finally told about a flat on a dairy farm in a village near Leiden. We finally had a place to stay!
Fast forward a few short weeks and my Dad and I arrive at the farm and it seemed a lot nicer than what I had in mind. At first… Meant primarily as a getaway to the fresh air of the countryside for inner-city Dutch families, it may come as a surprise to hear that exchange students weren’t the main clientele. However, as demand slumped in the winter, the farmer allowed us to stay.
"Cycling seven kilometres, drunk, in the cold of a new day, able to see the light of the sun on the horizon, really encourages you to think about where you live."
Despite this good fortune, soon enough, my flatmate and I began to see the flaws of living there. Firstly, the distance. Being seven kilometres away from the city was further than either of us bargained for, especially when considering how there weren’t any bus stops nearby that we could use. That meant that no matter the weather, we had to make the journey. Not ideal…
I myself began to think more about moving off the farm after one particular party in the centre of Leiden in October. Cycling seven kilometres, drunk, in the cold of a new day, able to see the light of the sun on the horizon, really encourages you to think about where you live.
"On the other hand, the farm possessed a quiet charm and quirkiness that was difficult to dislike"
That’s not to say there weren’t any perks of course. It was always relaxing to go on a walk around to see the cows and sheep (especially during my initial 5-day quarantine upon arrival). Besides, now I can say that I’ve witnessed a calf being born and I feel that’s something that will stay with me for a very long time.
Overall, I can’t deny that the farm was a memorable place to live. I can prove that because for three months, whenever I met new people, I was often greeted with “Oh, you must be the guy from the farm?“. On a different note, Imogen and I won’t easily forget the farm due to the late-night, eerie red lights from the barns. Such an alien glow gave the whole place a real B-list slasher movie vibe.
Today, I no longer live on the farm; I was especially fortunate to be offered a room in a flat in the city centre. Looking back at the farm fills me with mixed feelings: on one hand, I’m glad I no longer have to cycle thirty minutes every day to get to lectures; yet, on the other, the farm possessed a quiet charm and quirkiness that was difficult to dislike. I had way more fun than I expected there and I’m glad my exchange year began how it did.
Besides, if things were easy, they’d get boring pretty quickly.