Finding a place to live in Geneva
Marten Hinz is studying French Studies with History at Lancaster University, and is spending his year abroad studying at the University of Geneva. He says, "I have found it immensely difficult to find permanent accommodation in Geneva and have written a piece setting out my personal experiences. The city's housing market is in an extremely difficult position, similar in fact to that of London or Paris and it is one of the main challenges facing exchange students here." Here is his advice!
Locals refer to Geneva as ‘le petit Paris’. Geneva is chic, cosmopolitan and costly. And it is undergoing a severe ‘crise de logement’ which affect exchange students in particular. It really hit me the day I left to Geneva when I still hadn’t received anything but rejections. Even most dormitories across the city seemed filled up. Neither my English habit of sending perfectly polite e-Mails nor the amount of dossiers I had compiled months in advance demanding a ridiculously unnecessary amount of detail about your financial means got me anywhere.
That moment was a reality check. The reality in Geneva is that exchange students seeking accommodation are the fifth wheel in an extremely saturated housing market. I had met exchange students at the university’s Welcome session who didn’t have accommodation for that very night and there was little the university could do. Sharing my stories with a Swiss landlady didn’t seem to surprise her in the slightest and she admitted having spent prolonged amount of time living in an illegal lodging herself.
If you are feeling put off and want to immediately withdraw from your plans to come to Geneva, then do bear with me: for linguists in particular, it really is an extraordinary place to live, be it to study or to work. The multitude of languages you hear solely by getting on a tram is ever so impressive. There is no doubt about how pretty the city is and I am finding studying a great way to systematically work on different aspects of the French language. After all and as the university will remind you, Geneva is where ‘on pense à côté d’Albert Einstein’. As soon as you come to understand the confusing system of credits, you will realise that their thorough organisation is in fact not far from home and that they keep up an extremely high standard in lectures and seminars.
To save you some nerves on the housing front however, I have shortlisted some pieces of wisdom:
1. Look around in neighbouring France
This is where I ended up. The inner city tram takes me right to the border and from there it is a short walk. Cost of living is much more reasonable and it gives you a better idea of what life is like for all the people commuting on a daily basis. You may want to consider the areas Annemasse, Ambilly, Gaillard, Saint-Julien-en-Genevois or Ferney-Voltaire; these have essentially become extended suburbs of Geneva.
Lodging with a family: I spent a week living with a family I found through an online portal. They were lovely and I regret not being able to extend my stay. It wasn’t really an option however because they were frequently letting out their guest room to tourists and travellers, but do consider this option if possible!
2. Be persistent
The landlord wouldn’t have ever got back to me if I hadn’t shown up at his office every couple of days to ask about the room. I must have slightly exaggerated my situation, but he eventually gave in. Put your food in the door and show you are serious about it!
3. Be wary
Forget about the saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’! Not having anywhere permanent to stay and not being fluid enough to understand all linguistic nuances in a lease can make you extremely vulnerable to fraud. There are stories of students paying deposits to private individuals only to find that the place they were putting their hopes on doesn’t actually exist. Equally you shouldn’t feel obliged to accept an offer for a room in university halls with no more than a chair, table and a bed at the price of 900 CHF a month. It is probably not worth it.
4. Nag the university
This is where I missed the trick. The majority of their rooms are in fact both decently priced and in a good location. After submitting the request through the portal, remind them occasionally that you are still looking for a place to stay. Otherwise they will just start making assumptions which is what you don’t want.
5. In an emergency, take up a place in dormitories at Cité Universitaire
These are offered at the start of each semester as provisional solution for stranded students. They are not particularly pleasant by the sounds of it, but you will be taken on to their waiting list and might just - like two of my friends – suddenly find yourself being offered to share a family apartment at the Cité Universitaire with the most amazing view of Mont-Salève.
Please note of course that this is based on my personal experiences and those of people I have talked to. You may in fact just find that things turn out easier for you in which case just consider yourself lucky!
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