International Student Housing Woes – Living With Monsters

Secret cameras, rotten strawberries and losing your housing at the drop of a hat. These are just some of the issues international students face when finding housing.

When we mention college stressors, we’re usually talking about homework and grades But college is also the time when a lot of people have to start worrying about moving out, and the problem of looking for accommodation rarely gets the attention it warrants. Although some people have it easy, others have to go through hell to look for housing and then have to live with terrible human beings. This can be especially true for international students. Since everything is so expensive, looking for a place to stay can be difficult. And staying in an unwelcoming place can be a real pain in the ass.

Searching

Looking for a place to stay seems like the hardest part of all. From Facebook posts to homestay organizations,
there are many resources for students to look for housing. However, it is tricky to be able to find housing that fits one’s preference.

Homestay

For newcomers, SCC provides a variety of options for students to choose from. There are organizations that provide students with homestay — they match students with host families — and also websites that allow you to search for rentals. For parents whose children have to stay in a different country and away from their embrace, they trust host families to take the responsibility to look after their beloved sons and daughters.

There is one tiny problem though: it is expensive, at least for international students.

The cost to live with a host family is roughly $700 to $1000 a month, including meals. Because the families of these students already have to work extra hard to pay for the approximate $3400 quarterly tuition fee, another $1400 to $3000 every quarter can be too much.

I had a funny story when using one of these homestay services.

I applied for a homestay with one of the organizations. They did not give me multiple options to chose from, which I thought was strange. Instead, they just accepted my homestay application and informed me of my new host family.

I flew to the U.S. with my mom and was ready to move in. Well, sort of.

It was the chilly month of December, and the sky turned dark at around 3 p.m. The house was located in a small neighborhood in Shoreline, in-between the tall trees and on a steep hill with little public lighting. There was no gas station or grocery store nearby. Even though this is pretty common for houses in the Shoreline area, the scene, looking like it was pulled out of a horror film, freaked my mom out. Fast forward, my mom decided that we move to one of her friends’ aunt’s house before I even had the chance to unpack.

According to the SCC website, the homestay organizations offer application fee and deposit refunds if the students’ visas are denied. Apparently, since my visa was accepted, I could not request a refund. I ended up losing hundreds of dollars, without even staying for more than 3 hours, which sucks. I don’t blame the organization or the family. I was the one at fault for leaving so soon. But I wish it hadn’t cost so much, and that I had asked for photos before deciding.

When I told people this story, they told me that I could have saved money by looking for homestay websites on Google. But because it seems so easy to become a host family on these websites, how do I know I wouldn’t accidentally choose to live with a serial killer, or a rapist for that matter?

Rentals

Students who have already been in the U.S. for a while often prefer to look for rentals, whether it be a room in a house or finding roommates to rent an apartment with.

I am a member of the Facebook community of people from my country living in Seattle as well as other SCC students. It is not hard to find people looking for rooms for rent or housemates in these groups. In fact, these types of posts are a large portion of the feed.

I have also seen a lot of messages on the bulletin boards at SCC about this same issue. There are some that have been up for several quarters.

In both cases, though, it seems like it’s not always easy for students to find a rental or housemate whose lifestyle matches with theirs. And as long as searchers can’t find what they’re looking for, they have to either stay in the old
accommodation that they wish to move out of or endure the high cost of the space that could house more individuals.

Sharing

Although searching seems to be the hardest, having conflicts with others under the same roof is the absolute worst. Everyone experiences this differently, but some scenarios can get so bad that they affect the renters’ finances, and even their visa status.

“Host-age” Families

Although host families earn a lot of trust from the parents of their boarders, they can sometimes be insincere and
take advantage of students.

J, an international student at SCC, shared her horror story about the host that she’s living with now. According to J, her host set up cameras around the house, one pointing directly into J’s room, without informing her or the other students.

Furthermore, the host told other students that J wasn’t a nice person, that she wasn’t home most of the time and that they should put up their guards with J. Luckily, because all other students were J’s friends, they didn’t buy it.

The host did multiple other unacceptable things, like bringing students rotten strawberries and refusing to cook for students who had paid for meals.

Not being able to stand this behavior, J decided that she would move out by the third month.

When she first moved in, J signed a six-month contract with her host and paid a deposit. By the second month, the host told J that if she wanted to move out before six months, the host would happily return the deposit. But when J expressed her desire to move out and asked for a return of the deposit, she was denied communication and threatened.

“I was polite and wanted to have a conversation with her, but she and her son started threatening me that they would bring this to the police,” J said.

As an international student, J was afraid that encounters like this would make her look bad, which could affect her academic path. Interactions with the police could even result in her student visa being revoked, forcing her to return to her home country. The incident left J feeling vulnerable.

J expressed her frustration, “I was very upset. I felt like my privacy was taken away from me and that there was nothing further I could do because the host family was too deceitful.”

Knowing there was nothing she could do to get her deposit back, J decided to stay until the end of her contract.

Additionally, there are students who have to pay for services that their hosts don’t provide.

Rocky, another student at SCC, had to pay a monthly fee of $800 to his host family. One month, the family decided that they would stop providing him meals, but would not reduce the monthly amount. This meant that Rocky has to pay an extra couple hundred for food and spend time cooking every month, in addition to paying his rent of $800.

Housemates From Hell

Sometimes, your housemates can be a little too annoying. Some other times, they can be straight up rude or fraudulent.

D.N., an international student, expressed his frustration when his housemate basically scammed him.

His housemate, who was also the “host,” rented the place from a landlord, and D.N. rented a room back from her for $700. One month, like any usual month, D.N. paid his rent to the host, only to later learn that her lease had ended and she had to move. This also meant that D.N. had to move because the place was too expensive if the host wasn’t there. He ended up paying for a room that he couldn’t stay in, and had to find a new place to live because there wasn’t a new host.

Living with others can be hard, especially when your housemates don’t have manners. From not cleaning their own dishes to being too comfortable with other’s property, roommates can be horrible.

I recently moved out of my old housing because my lifestyle was too different from my housemates’ and everybody has their limits.

I used to live with about six other people in a rental. We were (and still are) good friends, but we had very different lifestyles.

I shared a room with a female roommate. We got along, but there were aspects of her personality that I couldn’t tolerate.

She was a very “comfortable” person, so comfortable that I would sometimes find my things in places they didn’t belong or see them run out too quickly. I got mad when she told me that her boyfriend (who also lived there) had used up more than half of my bottle of body wash, but then decided to remain calm to dodge the fight.

She was also very messy, and most of the time our bedroom looked like it had just gone through war. Seeing clothes on the floor and personal items scattered all over the table made me very uncomfortable. It all peaked  when I returned to my then-house after a long vacation, only to see the sink covered in a thick brownish-yellow because nobody cared to clean it.

Some of my other housemates were also messy and loud. I remember not being able to cook because the kitchen table and stove was covered with unwashed pots and pans. I also remember not being able to focus on my assignments because it sounded like someone was having a drunk karaoke night upstairs. All of this added up, and I eventually decided to move.

Being in situations like these made me realize how much I should pay attention to my behavior when living in a shared house in order to avoid conflict.

It is true that everyone might have their own lifestyle. Some prefer it quiet, some like it loud. Some don’t mind a little mess here and there, others can be total clean freaks. However, the trick to living in harmony with others is to adjust oneself to the well-being of the community as a whole. So, you might be wondering, what is there that you could do to avoid becoming the annoying housemate? Refer to the Do’s and Don’ts on the article Roommate Survival Guide to save yourself from trouble.


By KHANH DINH, Online Editor
Photo by ADITYA SINDHUNATA
Photo: Roommates Medeline Hendrick, Kevin Adinata, Adeline Hendrick and Michael Sutedja spend some time together in their shared house.

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