Finding and settling into your student accommodation can be challenging – even more so as an international student still trying to find your feet in an unfamiliar country. Stellenbosch University (SU) International understands this, which is why a group of staff are dedicated to the task of helping international students find their home away from home. This enables students to focus on their studies and everything else Stellenbosch has to offer.
According to Grant Leukes, SU International's senior coordinator of Immigration and Student Housing, their chief focus is short-term accommodation for postgraduate students, the majority of whom are semester students. “We support short-term students, affiliated researchers, who usually come for about two to four months, as well as postdoctoral fellows," he explains. “And we also have some accommodation options available for visiting academics."
Since semester students have to compete with degree-seeking students for housing, especially at the beginning of the year, SU International recommends that international students apply for accommodation at the same time as their application for admission, even before they have a student number. “That way, they will have received confirmation of their accommodation by the time we send out contracts, which means they can simply pay their deposit into their student account," Grant says. “Everything, including payment for accommodation, is centralised by us. This makes it much easier for students to manage."
Many of the students are placed at Academia, Concordia and other on-campus housing facilities. Both Concordia and Academia offer self-catering apartments with kitchens. “Whereas Concordia provides bedding and kitchen utensil rental, we assist Academia students to order everything they need through an external rental company, to be delivered a day before they arrive."
Asked whether they ever have to scramble at the last minute to secure accommodation, Grant says this is no longer the case. “It used to happen in the past, but students are now required to show proof of accommodation as part of their visa application, about six to eight weeks before arrival. So, now at least we know that when the students arrive, they have accommodation ready." One exception is when students write their home university exams late in the SU semester, and their exchange depends on their exam results. “However, we do have some spare rooms available for students who apply late as a result of this," Grant adds.
The generally high rental tariffs in Stellenbosch remain challenging, though. “The more affordable accommodation options are off-campus, and often also in nearby towns or on farms. This is not ideal, as most international students don't have cars, and public transport is not always reliable," he says. “Luckily, this is slowly changing as more and more student accommodation is being built in Stellenbosch, which will help make rental more competitive."
Suitable accommodation for families is also in short supply. “Our more senior postgraduate students from Africa and sometimes also Europe often come with their spouse and kids. Since they require a more private and quiet space, we can't place them in a student community. At the same time, renting a house on a student budget or bursary is expensive."
Despite having to navigate these challenges, however, working at SU International has been extremely rewarding, says Grant, including in terms of the strong bonds formed over the years. “We've seen many international students arriving and settling in at the University. Some love it so much that they end up staying for another semester or another degree," he says. “One became such a great friend of mine that he was the best man at my wedding, and now is the godfather to my son."