It’s about that time when students across the country are gearing themselves up to head abroad for the coming academic year. Job placements and teaching assistantships are being secured, meetings attended and university handouts devoured, and “essential” country-specific wardrobe additions purchased. (One does not simply embark on a year abroad without a new handbag.)
However advanced the stages of preparation, there is one organisational nightmare causing headaches for students nationwide: accommodation. Apart from those blessed few handed over the keys to their new apartment or student room by their employer or university, the rest of us have to struggle with the pressure of finding a roof over our heads in a far-flung land whilst sitting, almost powerless, at home.
Short of actually flying over to Salzburg and Paris before moving there last year, I pretty much tried everything to sort out my accom in advance. You can imagine my frustration when most of the replies I received from flat-sharing websites were from absolute weirdos (“couple seeks young girl to share bed”; “Spare room available on the condition that you let me rub your feet whenever I want… for a reflexology course.” I’m sure.)
In the end I booked a week’s stay in a Salzburg hostel and took the plunge, and once I was actually in the city it became much more straightforward to set up house. After getting to know the network of teaching assistants in the area I became great friends with another girl in the same situation, and we quickly moved into a flat with an obsessive compulsive landlady with a fear of garlic who was writing a self-help book. But that’s a blog post for another time. I did the same thing in Paris, and even though nearly everyone had been helpfully warning me about the lack of accommodation there, I found a multitude of ads on the American Church noticeboard and in the FUSAC magazine’s apartment pages, and managed to secure a room in a student flatshare on my first day. The next six months were spent living in relative harmony with four foreign students, two English girls who became my best friends, and another completely erratic landlady who slept in the corridor and sang naked around the house – again, another time.
Despite the initial gut-wrenching panic everything worked out well, the landladies provided classic anecdotes and once the organisational headache was over I could get on with enjoying the best year of my life. If you’re heading abroad next year and are losing sleep over accommodation, my advice is this: keep calm. Get to know as many people in the area as you can and ask them to keep their eyes open for rooms to rent. Have a look at the links below, especially Couchsurfing, for possibilities. And even though it has the potential to get expensive the ‘Metro Journal hostel plunge’™ is always an option. Good luck!
YoHo Salzburg – my favourite Salzburg hostel. Great party atmosphere with a bar doing drinks deals and cheap food, dorms are clean and comfortable, and a daily showing of the Sound of Music. Need I say more?
Couchsurfing – a great resource and free to use. As well as looking for couches if you need to stay somewhere, try searching for language exchanges and weekly Stammtische in your area as they’re a great way to meet people and improve your speaking skills.
I found that FUSAC, a magazine aimed at Anglophones in Paris, and daily ads on the noticeboard outside the American Church were the best places to look for flats. Be prepared to spend most of your wages on a shoebox – lots of postcards, photographs and a thick duvet are essential for Paris living!