International students Ping Dai and Yao Xiao from China have been living in Avans staff member Lia Geerts’ home in Chaam, Brabant for a few weeks now. They landed here as a result of the call of Avans to staff and others to take in international students. This came at just the right time for the duo, who had previously had unpleasant experiences with landlords. “Lia feels like a mother to us.”
Glowing with pride, Ping and Yao show us around “their” home in Chaam, where they feel completely at home after just a few weeks. “Look, we even got a small heater from Lia,” says Yao, pointing to a device in the corner of the study room, which the Avans staff member has set up especially for the two foreign students. “It’s so nice of her! We also like that we have a nice view of the street through the window. Now the leaves on the trees are brown, but a few weeks ago they were very colourful. We always have something to look at.”
While the two students from China are having a good time now, they had a bad experience a few weeks ago. Their search for accommodation in the Netherlands began a few months ago in Poland, where the duo are studying at the University of Warsaw. That was difficult. “On Facebook we came across mostly scammers and many landlords didn’t want us because we were only staying for a semester. That was not long enough for them,” says Yao, who became increasingly desperate and made several phone calls every day until the day before leaving to find something. That seemed to bear its fruits when the two found a place to live in Breda. However, it turned out to be a very unpleasant experience.
“The landlord was not nice. Because she often came into the house unannounced. Sometimes she even entered my room without permission. I found that very unpleasant,” says Yao. “One night it got so bad that she came into my room with a metal object. She was very aggressive. I even called the police. The next day we packed our bags and went to Avans for help.” The university then took action and arranged for the duo to spend the night in a hotel in Oosterhout. They stayed there for five days, until they heard from the International Office that an Avans employee had a place for them. That turned out to be Lia Geerts from Chaam, a village near Breda.
“It is really great here. Lia is very open and made us feel at home right away. We have our own floor with bathroom; really a place of our own. That is very nice,” say the two, who have not exactly found a lively student town in Chaam. “But that’s not a problem; it has everything we need. People are friendly, greet each other in the street, and it is quiet, so we sleep well. It is the place we dreamed of.”
The two underage students do not have to pay rent, but they do have to pay gas, water, and electricity. They also pay for the groceries when they cook. “We enjoy that a lot. We cook Chinese food for Lia, and she cooks Dutch food for us, so we learn from each other. We like Dutch food, except for potato soup,” say the duo, who have got to discover much more about the Netherlands than just the food. “We have already been to the Efteling and Kinderdijk with Lia’s family, which was straight out of a fairy-tale. It was very enjoyable too, and a good way to learn about Dutch culture.”
When the two students are not exploring the country, they are studying. They are enrolled at the University of Warsaw in Poland and are following the minor Teaching English Abroad (TEA) programme at Avans. They’re following an Erasmus programme. “We heard about that in Poland. We asked lecturers where the best place to go was. They told us Avans is very well regarded,” say the duo, who so far can confirm this. “The lecturers here are very nice and help you a lot as an international student. The fact that at Avans they also helped us to find accommodation when we were in trouble says it all. The atmosphere is really great.”
Ping and Yao are very happy that Avans is taking action to find housing for international students. “That speaks volumes about the school and the staff. We are happy with this solution,” say the duo, who are even happier that they ended up with Lia. “Lia is a mother to us; it really feels like that. We are part of her family. That is very special.”