By Sydney Eichel / News Reporter || Edited by Jacopo Menichincheri
ROME — Study abroad students called on administration for help after multiple housing issues and a reported burglary in JCU’s Neighborhood Apartments in Trastevere.
Lucia Catino and Isabel Keller from Sacred Heart University with Isabel Haglund, Allie Aloia, and Gracie Ohlson from University of San Diego, are study abroad students living together in the Neighborhood Apartments this fall. The students share a nine-person apartment, three girls in each of the three bedrooms, in which they share two bathrooms and one kitchen.
Upon arrival, the students found multiple items and appliances broken as well as dirty bedding and mattresses. After making a list of the issues in the apartment, Catino sent out several maintenance requests and an email to Housing and Residential Life. Two Resident Assistants were sent to the apartment to inspect the issues and assist in reporting them, as well as informing the students on who to contact for further assistance.
Aloia said she “implored” her parents to reach out to JCU about these issues, because it would “move things along a little more than the students.”
The students said that all maintenance requests have been fulfilled since. Catino described the maintenance staff as “patient, generous, and kind.” The students said that maintenance responded quickly and efficiently, with most issues being addressed within days of the maintenance requests being placed.
Catino, Haglund, Aloia, and Keller said they were initially “shocked” by the state of their apartment upon arrival in Rome. The apartment did not have a gas line to the kitchen, so neither the oven nor stove worked. Several of the screens on the windows and doors were broken, allowing bugs to enter, and multiple students found dirt and stains on their bed sheets. Ohlson said that her mattress had paw prints on it. Although the washing machine in the apartment worked, it leaked water and soap when in use. Aloia said that she feared that someone would slip and hurt themselves, while Catino said she was afraid of mold growing.
The shower did not have hot water. “The fact that I dread taking a shower and cleaning my own body because I know it’s going to go cold on me two minutes in has been awful,” Keller said. Not being able to shower has taken a toll on her mental health, she said.
The students were not provided with microwave or laundry hampers, both of which are stated to be provided on the JCU website, while many of the other amenities provided were left unused as a result of the nonfunctional stove and oven, leaky washing machine, and closets that were missing rods for hangers.
Manuela Trujillo, a fellow JCU student who is not currently living in neighborhood apartments, described the conditions as “absurd.”
The JCU student residences consist of the Gianicolo Residence, Lungara Residence, and Trastevere Apartments. The Neighborhood Apartments house JCU undergraduates, graduates, study abroads and JCU staff—as well as local residents. Although the majority of apartments are located in Trastevere, others are located in nearby neighborhoods.
Of the 1,625 students registered at JCU this fall, 850 live in JCU housing, of which 763 are study abroad students from 80 American universities and eight international universities.
Carla Wiegers, the Dean of Students at JCU, said that a majority of student complaints about living situations involve unfamiliarity with their surroundings.
“Most of the housing issues we have are related to that adaptation process,” Wiegers said.
Some examples Wiegers lists are how to use public transportation, how to get to campus, where to find a grocery store, and how to buy a metro ticket. Wiegers said that the biggest issue in housing is acclimating students to urban living.
Wiegers said she hopes that as JCU and its student body grows, the university will be able to add more space to the residences and acquire more housing options, as well as make the JCU Housing Portal as easy to maneuver as possible.
“Errors happen,” Wiegers said. “JCU is in no way 100 percent perfect, 100 percent of the time.”
Dr. Jose Alvarez, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Operations at JCU, is also in close contact with JCU’s Student Government to listen to the students’ concerns in order to remedy these issues. Alvarez said the housing and overcrowding issues were caused by the lack of space in Rome more than by the number of JCU students—with tourism also increasing since the ease of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university does not plan to accept more students than the housing capacity can hold in future semesters, according to Alvarez.
Keller and Aloia both said they were concerned that students were not given any information beforehand on where they were living or with whom they were living. This did not allow students to research the area or building they would be living in prior to moving in, nor could they contact their future roommates, many of whom they did not know. Aloia said that this “added an extra layer of unnecessary stress” to the moving process, to the point that she questioned if she wanted to come to Rome at all. Keller also said that the JCU website was “quite vague” when providing information on where she would potentially be living.
The JCU website describes the Neighborhood Apartments as an authentic Italian living experience in which students live amongst Italian citizens. It states that the apartments may be shared by three to nine students, and the three campuses can be as close as accessible by foot or a 35 to–40-minute commute using public transportation. The website states that students in the neighborhood apartments would be provided a fully furnished apartment, kitchen equipment including a refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave, pots and pans, plates, and utensils, towels, bedsheets, a comforter, a pillow, a laundry hamper, clothes hangers, a washing machine, and access to other on-campus amenities.
Although the apartment buildings do not display the JCU logo or require a JCU ID to enter, students applied to live in the Neighborhood Apartments through JCU over the summer. Neighborhood apartments are located using housing agencies selected by JCU that have spaces in Trastevere. All apartments are inspected beforehand and must satisfy certain criteria before being approved for student living.
Alvarez said housing agencies must look at the size of the apartment, amenities, and the distance from campus. These housing agencies will decide how many students are able to live in the apartments. Students do not have to pay rent to landlords and instead pay their housing costs to JCU. The management company of the apartment building deals with maintenance, and maintenance staff is local to the area.
Besides the JCU students and their assigned Resident Assistants, the apartments are predominantly home to Italian residents.
Josephine Gray, a student studying abroad from the University of Miami, said she was “disappointed” in JCU’s response to her housing issues. When she first arrived in Rome, Gray lived in a three-person apartment that was about a 45-minute uphill walk to campus. Gray’s apartment was not equipped with air conditioning or any fans as the summer months raged on with record breaking temperatures. Though the three students were provided with other amenities such as kitchen equipment, Wi-Fi, and a washing machine, the refrigerator in the apartment was unable to close, resulting in the students not being able to purchase groceries, the Wi-Fi was out, and the washing machine would not turn on.
“As we were trying to deal with that,” Gray said. “One of my roommates tried to take a shower, and the water would not get hot. It was ice cold, it burned to touch. She ended up washing her hair in the sink and using a washcloth to try to wipe off the soap on her body. For the next few weeks, we all showered out of the sink because it hurt too bad to actually shower.”
Gray said she attempted to contact Housing and Residential Life on multiple occasions, even visiting the office in person to voice her concerns, but they did not assist her or her roommates.
Gray’s apartment was burglarized on Sept. 11, after which she said she questioned the safety of the apartments. The burglar stole the wallets of Gray and two other roommates, as well as a set of keys to the apartment with the intent of returning. The incident was immediately reported to local police. Prior to the burglary, Gray expressed concerns over the lack of streetlights on her street, stating that she was afraid to even walk home from class at night, as well as her being in an apartment with three girls on the first floor with only a small lock on the door. Gray said that it was not until after the burglary that JCU assisted her and her roommates. The three girls were immediately moved into new housing and given 60 meals at the Tiber Cafe.
“JCU responds as necessary to student needs as they arise and are reported to our offices, to provide resources and care as necessary,” Wiegers said. “The Dean of Students office advises all students to reach out to the JCU Emergency Phone when there is any kind of urgent or emergency need. JCU collaborates with local private and public authorities to intervene and resolve issues of concern.”
Housing and Residential Life were contacted for comments, but the staff referred all questions to the Dean of Students.
International Housing Crisis
American universities, including University of Miami, New York University and Northeastern University in Boston, have been struggling in placing students in housing due to over enrollment. As a result, they have been urging first-year students to study abroad for their first semester of college, an experience usually occurring during a student’s third year.
In Europe, Erasmus University students studying abroad in Ireland are at risk of being sent back to their home university due to lack of housing facilities resulting from the country’s housing crisis.
First-year students at New York University are chosen to study abroad by their university and paired with a location that best matches their interests and preferences.
Divya Dhawan, a first-year student at Northeastern University, is spending her first semester of college at JCU rather than at her home university in Boston. Dhawan said the transition to college life while abroad has been difficult, but she has created a routine to help her through the “ups and downs.”
“I was admitted to Northeastern contingent on doing the NUin program,” Dhawan said. “So, in a way, it wasn’t my choice to study abroad in the first semester. I don’t regret coming to Italy at all, but I would’ve rather done it later in my schooling career because I would’ve liked to have gone to Boston first.”
Between 2019 and 2020, 19,731 U.S. study abroad students came to Italy to study, being one of the top five most popular destinations to study abroad for Americans.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of students from the United States who studied abroad for academic credit declined by 91% in the 2020/21 academic year, according to the new Open Doors Report data. However, after the pandemic the number of students studying abroad is rising again.
According to Erudera, and Open Doors, the number of U.S. students pursuing studies abroad increased by 523 percent. Figures show 14,549 U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit for the 2021/2022 academic year.