Kristian Lindhardt was excited to start his student exchange in Toronto.
But there was only one little problem: he had no idea where he was going to live for the next four months once he got off the plane.
It’s a story that many international students coming to Ryerson are all too familiar with.
“I was freaking out. I was like ‘OK, I’m basically going to be homeless,’” – Shabnam Nasrollah, exchange student
Ryerson expects exchange students to find their own accommodations for their stay in Toronto. But housing options are limited, especially for the majority of students who are staying for only one semester.
Ryerson offers on-campus accommodations for exchange students at Pitman Hall, ILLC (International Living/Learning Centre) and O’Keefe House, but only for those who are staying for both semesters.
Christina Tachtampa, Ryerson International’s student mobility adviser, says it’s because the residences want to ensure occupancy for the entire year.
Students who are staying for four months are forced to look into private housing, despite the fact that it’s more difficult for them to find such a short lease agreement.
“That was one of the problems when I looked for private housing because most of them wanted a year lease or six months,” says Lindhardt, a current RTA School of Media exchange student from Denmark.
With nowhere to go when he arrived in Toronto, Lindhardt was lucky enough to have friends in Canada that offered their couch until he found something more permanent.
But not all exchange students are so fortunate.
“I was freaking out. I was like ‘OK, I’m basically going to be homeless,’” says Shabnam Nasrollahi, an RTA School of Media exchange student from Sweden. “I didn’t know anyone here in Toronto at all.”
Many students are forced to pay for hostels, hotels, or other temporary accommodations for their first couple weeks in Toronto, until they are able to secure a more permanent residence.
Lindhardt was one of those students.
“The first of September, which is move-in day, I got a room,” says Lindhardt.
“I called (Tartu College) every day for three or four days and then at the end they were like ‘OK, this guy’s cancelled, if you can be here in an hour you’ll get the room.’”
Lack of resources and assistance is another reason why exchange students believe they are having such problems finding housing.
Ryerson International provides exchange students with a detailed 12-page accommodation handbook five to six months prior to their arrival.
But exchange students think they still need more guidance.
“It’s hard to look for other places because you don’t know the areas around here. You don’t know which area is good to live in, or which is bad,” says Nasrollahi. “I think the school maybe should be better at giving us this information.”
Ryerson International, in collaboration with faculty exchange co-ordinators, is also concerned about a lack of secure housing for exchange students. A solution may be reserved spots in the new residence buildings that are going to be built.
“This conversation has been going on for a long time,” said Suhair Deeb, international mobility co-ordinator at Ryerson International, who added they have not contacted administration with the idea.
They want to make the rooms in the new residences available for exchange students that are staying for either four or eight months.
“The demand of students has gone up so we knew that something had to be done,” says Tachtampa.
“We’re bringing them into our university, there should be some sort of guarantee that they have housing. Most of our partners have that. So why don’t we?”
Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University, says that it’s not a problem exclusive to exchange students.
“It’s not only exchange students and international students that have difficulty finding accommodations, it’s all students,” says Levy. “There is just no way that we can accommodate the number of students.”
Tachtampa suggests students should start looking into housing the minute they know they want to go on exchange, and the earlier, the better.