There are four main options for accommodation for exchange students in Toronto: University Halls, Private students’ residence, student co-op housing, and Private renting. I opted to go for a private residence on the edge of campus, which was perfect for me, but I will talk about that later. I will give some general advice first; then, I will go through each of these (there will be a sentence overview after each one if you don’t want to read the whole thing) and finish with what I would advise to make sorting accommodation as stress-free as possible.
Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)
Housing can be one of the biggest worries when moving abroad, especially when you don’t particularly know anyone that’s going out with you. As a bit of a social butterfly, I had my sights set on a living situation that would allow me to meet a lot of people -ideally university halls, or a share house if not. Unfortunately, university halls were extremely far out of my budget which initially worried me as that’s where I’d envisioned myself; halls seem perfect as everybody is in the same boat of not knowing anyone. So in a slightly less than ideal but fairly common situation, I found myself arriving in Australia in July and being welcomed with open arms by a hostel ( admittedly not the homeliest) while I searched for somewhere more permanent. I’ll admit it’s not the best situation to be in when you’re brand new to a country but the time flew by and after a week of manic house viewings, estate agent visits and sending messages on all sorts of housing advertisement sites, I found myself signing a contract into a student share house. It was pretty much exactly what I’d wanted – a house in one of the most sought-after suburbs in Brisbane filled with other brand new international students, all small fish in a big shiny new pond. The catch? The house had the capacity to accommodate 30 people. That’s 30 raucous students under one roof. It definitely set me up for an interesting year.
The old part of the house is an ‘Old Queenslander’ style, the same as most residential houses around the East coast of Australia. This basically means it’s big, airy, wooden and set on stilts for ventilation. It’s then been extended backwards, forwards, sideways, below – most possible directions – to make room for the 29 bedrooms (one is designed for 2 people to share).
We have two kitchens (one upstairs, one downstairs), 5 bathrooms, 2 living areas and a very comfortably sized garden with a barbecue: great for if the kitchens get overcrowded at mealtimes.
Without a doubt, the mess. Imagine this: everybody has a glass of water and completely unintentionally forgets to wash up the glass. That’s immediately 30 dirty glasses covering every surface, table, wall, floor, ceiling – you get the picture.
You’re never alone. This can be bittersweet when the time comes that you come home from a long day at uni and just want to make a cup of tea without having to make conversation with 16 different people in the kitchen.
There is a definite and prominent lack of resources. At 7pm when 17 people are battling for the dinner rush front line on the ONE oven in the upstairs kitchen, things can get a little hectic. The same happens when 6 people simultaneously run for a shower before uni. Chaos.
First and foremost, the social aspect was amazing. With so many people, there will always be somebody that you get along with, and maybe one or two that you don’t – but honestly that was never an issue. Chances are, in a house full of 19-25 year olds that have all chosen to do a year or semester abroad in Brisbane, you’re going to have a lot in common with most of the people. Although despite the commonalities in mindset, it was such a great way to meet people from different social, educational and cultural backgrounds.
You’re never alone. I’m aware that this was also a negative, but for me the benefits of this point drastically outweighed the costs. With 30 restless students it’s extremely rare that nobody will be down for a weekend away, or even just a trip to the supermarket. One quick message in the group chat and within minutes you have a fully-fledged convoy, no matter where you’re off to.
Being around international students, everybody is in the same boat of coping with homesickness, university stress and all the drawbacks of a year away from all that you’re used to. This means that there was the most incredible unspoken support network. Everybody just gets it.
With 30 people, although house events are a mess to organize (I’d compare it to herding cats) when everybody pulls together it means you can get some seriously great games of rounders underway.
30 people was an incredibly fun yet a little overwhelming experience when you’ve only ever lived in 6 or 8 people flats, but I’d do it again 10 times over. I was so full of apprehension arriving in that hostel alone last July knowing that the easy choice of university halls simply wasn’t an option, but looking back I’m incredibly glad I took the matter of housing into my own hands. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but from now on I’ll always vote for the more the merrier.