Finding the right accommodation is a stressful task, no matter which year of study you are in. This is only made more difficult when you’re trying to find your home for a placement abroad. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to view any accommodation before booking it, meaning that you have to take a risk no matter what you decide and there are many factors to consider. This week, I’ve decided to weigh up the pros and cons of living in university accommodation versus private accommodation while on a year abroad.
Nine times out of ten, choosing to rent accommodation through a university comes with a lot less risk that renting privately would. As part of the official university set up, halls are a legitimate form of accommodation and scams are far less likely. Additionally, they would usually have to adhere to certain safety and sanitary standards. With private residences, especially those that you are unable to see beforehand, there is an increased risk. Using reputable letting agencies or websites that allow former tenants to leave reviews mitigates this somewhat, but there is always a chance that your accommodation won’t be how it was advertised.
Cost is another important factor when looking for accommodation and, in this instance, private accommodation often comes out on top. As there is more competition in private accommodation, there is often an opportunity to save some money. University accommodation doesn’t usually need to lower its costs to tempt students and offer services such as cleaners and security measures, so rent tends to be higher. Costs are one of the main reasons that second year students move out of halls, and this definitely plays an important role in the decision for year abroad students as well. Be sure to check what is covered by your rent (bills, internet etc) and what will cost you extra, so you have no nasty surprises when you get there!
Embarking on a year abroad is a lot like starting as a fresher all over again, namely in the fact that you won’t know anyone in the cities that you’re moving to. So, for the same reason why most freshers choose halls for their first year, a lot of Year Abroad students do the same. It’s easier to meet people when you’re living in halls (Pau has a residence that is almost exclusively for Erasmus students) and, thus, you’ll have a great base for making friends who are in the same boat as you. In private accommodation, there is no guarantee that this will happen as you will be living with a much wider variety of people or, perhaps, no one at all. The private accommodation that I’m staying in at the moment has one long term resident, myself, with other tenants staying for a few weeks or so and then departing again. This can get lonely.
I found, when looking into the options for residency in halls both here in Pau and in Salamanca, that there really wasn’t a lot of choice. Pau puts all its Erasmus students into one residence, no doubt to encourage us to interact with each other and make friends. This meant that I had a choice of a room in a flat with bathrooms and a kitchen shared between 10+ people or looking elsewhere. As someone who enjoys cooking and cannot cope with too much mess, this would have most likely proved to be an untenable situation for me, and I ultimately decided to rent privately. In Salamanca, I didn’t even have the choice of staying in university residences as they were reluctant to give rooms to people who were only there for a semester, prioritising those who wanted to rent for the whole year.
For both semesters, I ultimately decided to stay in private accommodation based on the costs involved and the wider variety of options available. I haven’t regretted this choice in either instance. However, a large selection of my friends decided to stay in halls as the process is easier and involves less risk. Ultimately, whichever option you go for, it is important to fully research the accommodation before committing to payment. In the case of private accommodation, this means talking to the landlord to confirm rent and upfront costs, what you can expect to find in the accommodation (kitchen utensils, locks on the bedrooms and bathrooms etc), making sure that the website it was advertised on is reputable and secure, and reading any reviews from previous tenants.
For those of you who are in second year and starting to think about where you’re going to live while abroad, I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have and offer suggestions of any websites through which I, or my friends, have secured accommodation. As always, just drop me a comment below.