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Coming to Norway is a boost of excitement, curiosity, education, and the anticipation of discovering new things, especially for international students who have never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country before.

One of the nicest opportunities for students to visit Norway is through the diverse international student programs such as Erasmus+, Nordplus, Bilateral Exchange Agreements, North2North, Sami Parliament’s Scholarship Program, The Fulbright Program, and other exchange programs. Once all the procedures for studying here are completed, international students arrive by plane, boat, car, train, or bus. Let us strongly hope nobody came solely by bike. To be honest, I have met a French man (coming from Paris) at Lillehammer train station who was riding by bike through Norway in late December of 2023. So, we never know what kind of things life brings before our eyes.

In front of the eyes of international students coming to University of Agder for one or two or more semesters, there also arose a recent controversy about The Student Association of Agder (SIA), in regard to its department of Housing and Student Services in the Kristiansand Campus.

SIA Housing and Student Services has long been a cornerstone of student accommodation in Grimstad and Kristiansand Campuses of UiA, boasting a wide range of affordable housing options for both domestic and international students. No, I will not write now about the dissatisfactions of some Norwegian and international students regarding the fact that in general they are allocated in rooms with the same nationality, or some Norwegians are in the same room with Norwegians just from the same regions they come from. And in this way they do not have to chance to meet new people and cultures in a more profound way. But coming back to SIA, it has a reputation for reliability and fair practices, and many students have relied on SIA Housing to provide a comfortable living environment during their studies.

And because communication mostly between students both international and national is “something that not even Thor can stop”, new things and feedback about some recent SIA practices became the headline of a relevant amount of students. It seems that a large number of students from the 2023 Spring semester received exorbitant invoices for insignificant “cleaning services” with poor to no explanations from our “beloved” SIA. In respect of the privacy to some students, I will just cite here some of their raw feedback regarding this matter being analyzed: “that’s a crazy amount to be charged for…”, “btw this is truly insane”, “scammers…”, “I’ve done exchanges before and never had to pay a flipping cleaning fee… especially after CLEANING”, “this has to be a joke”, “…that’s the picture in question, if you find something wrong with it, please, tell me”, “Haha, seriously?”, “it’s mad”, “same”, “have they ever seen a dirty apartment?”, “they also sent me pictures where there’s nothing wrong”, “targeting disabled people and people from developing countries, Wow SIA”, “Hmmm aight I’m going to start a cleaning company in Norway… Who wants to invest?”, “ask them which part took how many hours to clean and for a complete breakdown of costs”. When it comes to the amount of money they had to pay there are some students that mention that the currency should be Russian rubles, Zimbabwean dollars, and other examples could continue… It is easy to understand that these “final experiences” about Norway have a profound impact on students’ memories and pockets.

As space and time are limited, one other “interesting” experience about SIA during the 2023 spring semester is as follows: an international student aged over 20 years old, arriving at SIA to take his key full of luggage, tired and excited to be in Norway, was informed by SIA “face to face” that there was a small problem, and that is they do not have an accommodation for that student. Woow! Really wow! Take a moment to put yourself in this situation, and I think we can guess that it’s not full of happiness for anybody… Besides this, “the solution” they had was to tell the student to book a hotel and they will try “to find a solution” but with no deadline. What could be the difference in booking room hotel in being student or tourist? In this case should we understand that SIA might “like” younger students? Hmmm… Who knows?

At the same time, SIA is doing a good job about organizing student accommodation, and I will also present a feedback in this way: “There are mixed opinions among students when it comes to the SiA topic. Personally, they helped me a lot. In the first semester I was able to transfer from living in Marviksveien to campus. They are always responding in very short time, and are really nice and helpful. Even when there was a problem with my mailbox they came with me to the building to check it out. On the arrival day this semester my key wasn’t working and I couldn’t get into the building. Even though it was late, I managed to find the person who was working long hours that day. He drove me to the SIA office and my place just to fix a problem and check if it was working properly after that. They are not perfect, but nothing is, and I just believe they are doing a lot of great stuff for students at UiA. My overall personal experience with them is great. Aleksandra Nowak – full degree MA Popular Music- Music Business and Management student.”

So it seems here we have a mixture of different types of experiences. For all the good things we can appreciate about SIA, but for the not so good ones, we should expect that things need to be improved. And if it will be the case to write more about it until the awareness of it and the need of improvement will have less and less to ask, “to be continued” could be a good solution. And perhaps someone could reflect on the question: To SIA or not to SIA?


Header image from UiA


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