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Student as a subspecies of human. Endures more, needs less [OPINION]

Image source: © canva
Maja Kozłowska,
10.12.2023 13:00

Life for students in Poland is not strewn with roses. Problems with finding accommodation and dealing with contemptuous attitude towards them are just some of the problems young people have to deal with.

The pressure is immense. Young people have to decide very early on who they want to be and what they want to do. The media is promoting future-oriented fields of study, while at the same time spread fear that artificial intelligence will make some professions obsolete. Meanwhile, the entry level into the recommended and, after all, future-oriented IT industry for a junior position has become incredibly high and just finding a job is proving gigantically difficult. Competition is already huge. It is important to note that the hottest commodity in the job market are students with work experience, who will agree to work on a full-time contract.

Students without experience are put in a rather uninteresting situation. They are often forced to combine their studies and work in order to be able to support themselves at all. What needs to be stressed here is the fact we are not talking about living, but merely surviving. Paying rent, buying public transport tickets and food is literally the basis of existence. Where can we find entertainment or relaxation in all this?

Where do students live? Cheaper options are not always good. And not always affordable

Studying often means leaving one's home town. The young are drawn to larger towns and cities, to provincial capitals, where there are better prospects, especially on the job market. The idea is simple - the more popular and bigger the city, the more expensive it will be to stay there. Among the most expensive cities in Poland are Warsaw, Gdańsk, Kraków and Wrocław. Studying in Kielce, Radom or Zielona Góra will allow you to save on rent, but at what cost?

If it is the distance of a few hundred kilometres to the family home, the lack of friends or giving up the degree course of your dreams, the money is not worth it.

There are several options for housing. The cheapest is, as you know, staying in the family home. In this case, residents of large cities with universities (or nearby towns) are privileged. However, not everyone smiles at living that long with their parents. There can be many reasons for this: the desire to try an independent life, uninteresting relations with the family, or long commute. Getting up at five in the morning for classes, a three-hour free period and returning late in the evening, only to have to get up before dawn again the next day, does not sound very appealing. Especially since you also have to prepare for classes by studying on your own, reading or working on projects. Is it possible to live like this? Of course it is. Is it physically and mentally exhausting? Absolutely.

The second option is to rent a room in a dormitory. And this is where the real "fun" begins, because even if you really want to do so, there might be not enough rooms for you. Only 10% of students in Poland live in student halls of residence. In Warsaw, these figures are even lower, as only 5% of students live in dormitories. In addition, a number of requirements have to be met in order to get a room of often debatable standard.

The only people who can count on a place in a student hall of residence are those who live the furthest away from the university and those whose families have shown the lowest income. Someone who was "unlucky" to earn extra money during summer holidays in order to have a chance of moving out at all and exceeds the minimal income even by €1 is already in trouble. In such a scenario he or she doesn't qualify for a student residence and a budget of €335 a month won't allow him or her to rent anything else. Differences in the cleanliness standards of roommates can also be a problem. However, it's usually easier to get along with two rather than twenty with whom you have to share a kitchen.

Room for rent - 810 zł per month
Room for rent - 810 zł per month (Facebook)
Room for rent - 810 zł per month
Room for rent - 810 zł per month (Facebook)

Student’s life on rent

Ultimately, students can rent a room or a flat. A bedsit monthly price in a voivodeship’s capital city estimates around 2,000 PLN (€450) + fees. Of course you might be lucky to find a cheaper accommodation, but you might also run out of luck and only encounter more expensive ones.

You pay a little less for a room in a shared flat or house these days, and it all depends on the size, the standard and the area. We have arrived at a time when IKEA-furnished flats are referred to as "premium standard" and the pathologies of the real estate market are at their peak. Some dodgy dealers divide their four-room flats into seven compartments and microapartments are built where toilets are combined with kitchens and beds are placed next to showers. In multi-apartment flats, closets the size of a Cupboard under the Stairs where Harry Potter lived go for 800 zloty (€180 euro) a month (fees not included). However, to make it look not THAT bad, there are sometimes two bathrooms, a hob with as many as two burners and a full-size fridge - where it could just be a cool box!

What are the real costs? The minimum wage at the moment is 3600 zloty (€800 euro). Let's assume that this is a hypothetical budget for a student - which is still very large if it were to be funded solely out of the family's pocket. There is no fooling around - most young people, if they are working, are employed in shops or restaurants, looking for jobs with flexible schedules. Few people are able to work full-time, so this wage is a very wishful threshold anyway.

The pathological housing market is also worth mentioning. Ramshackle buildings, flats divided into 25 rooms (is this still a flat or already a hostel?), and newly-built closets that dodgy dealers refer to as "suites" are just a few examples of the "wonderful" offers one can come across.

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How much do students pay for renting a flat? There are no discounts

To rent a bedsit in Poland you have to pay around 2/3 of the minimum wage. Renting a room in a shared flat or house costs "only" a third of the minimum wage.

How much is a room in a dormitory? It depends. In one city you can rent it even for PLN 390 (€87) a month (Gdańsk University of Technology), in another for almost PLN 3,000 (€673) – the latter comes with an access to a gym or private cinema (Wrocław). The cheapest rooms mean getting used to not only a low standard, but also the company of more than one person.

And living at home with your parents? One would like to say it's free, but sometimes it’s not the case. Some parents require their adult children to contribute to the living costs. And that could end with a young person going to therapy afterwards, which also costs money (PLN 300 minimum). For it to be effective, you should attend it every week, so monthly it may sum up to the equivalent of a rent. Of course, I'm not saying this is always the case. If someone gets on well with their parents, good for them and go for it. It's just that, as with everything, there are times when the downsides far outweigh the upsides.

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While the Left party’s proposal (PLN 1000 for each student) is quite debatable - people could enrol just to collect the promised thousand zloty - the idea of supporting students is in itself quite legitimate as a recent story of one would-be student at Jagiellonian University (UJ) in Krakow proves. His post on Facebook went viral when he wrote that he had not been admitted to the dormitory and could not rent a flat, and because of that he had to resign from the university. Surprisingly, he got a reply directly from UJ itself with a link to the relevant resignation form.

Internet users were outraged by the university's reaction, and the person running the UJ’s fanpage hid all comments regarding the post. In theory, the would-be student did not ask for help, but nevertheless, the vision of dropping out of a university due to insufficient income is chilling. Especially because the fact that "education in Poland is free of charge". Equal opportunities? Education available to all? That’s also a theory.

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Student food? Thanks, but no thanks

"Student food" is another young-adult term for dishes that are both quick and inexpensive to prepare. Why? Because our society considers students to be lacking of both money and time.

And what do such students eat? The flagship dishes are, of course, toast, pasta with pesto and fried vegetables with rice (and chicken, if one eats meat). There has been a recent trend on X where students showed what makes up the basis of their diet. Most of the replies listed ready-made food, snacks and energy drinks.

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Then, of course, there are students who cook for themselves and froth at the mouth when they hear about living on snacks when "preparing a wholesome meal is not at all that expensive and does not take that long". It is also worth adding that instant noodles (called "Chinese soups" in Poland), muesli and protein bars will not get you far. Nutrients won't replenish themselves, even with the right supplementation, if your diet looks like this for a long time.

There was a comment in the aforementioned X thread that answers the question of why students don't cook. It is not surprising. It is simply accurate.

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I really envy people who have the time to cook, because when I get back from the lab at 9pm, I don't have the energy to make something substantial to eat

- wrote an internet user.

Studying doesn’t look like a full-time job: eight hours at the desk and knock-off time afterwards. It’s more like attending the classes, going to work to pay the bills and running some errands if one has enough time. It shouldn’t be surprising that young people don’t want this kind of life.

What are students themselves saying? "I can't imagine studying without working"

Dominika: "I am in my third year of full-time study in Toruń. I rent a flat with four other students. I can't complain about the conditions. We have a terrace, a living room, an oven - everything that students in dormitories can dream of. The fees, including rent, amount to an average of 1,200 zloty per person. I can't imagine studying without also having a job.

"I work part-time in gastronomy, write content for websites, occasionally photograph events or celebrations, resell used clothes I find in second-hand stores, and sometimes scan or sell tickets at various events. For the last year I've had a scholarship from the mayor of my home town and a scholarship from the university chancellor. I don’t know if I get another one this year, however, so I wouldn’t bet I’ll have enough money for some toast. Is the life of a student easy? Not a bit. It is the beginning of the survival school called adulthood. You can forget about private therapy or a weekend at the spa. Besides, it's hard to find time for the latter when you have classes from 8am to 1pm and work from 2pm to 9pm. Do I have any regrets? Only the choice of city, because Toruń is not a student city and it is difficult to find a job there."

Kasia, a sophomore at the Warsaw University of Technology (Polish: Politechnika Warszawska): "I am still supported by my parents and this is definitely a huge convenience because I don't have to worry about financial matters and I can focus on learning. However, I know a lot of people have to work after classes because they don't receive such help and it's certainly harder for them because they have to set priorities for themselves. There are generally a lot of time-consuming projects at Politechnika, so it would be hard to go to work during the week. We also have poorly designed class schedule. I did some work during the summer holidays, but I was able to spend everything on my needs and cravings e.g. concert tickets. I also bought a new laptop needed for lab projects to at least ease the burden on my parents."

Student as a subspecies of human?
Student as a subspecies of human? (canva)

Students – are they still human?

Going to college or university is a fun time. Or rather being in your twenties can be a really cool time. There are a few "buts" however. The way society looks at students does not encourage people to go to university. It you’re not a full-time student and have a job at the same time, you are considered a demanding person. It’s probably because when the so-called boomers were your age "they were doing triple shifts, and majoring in five fields of study at the same time". Or so they say.

There's apparent lack of empathy and understanding that someone simply can't cope, which is influenced by at least a hundred factors, including health problems, be them mental or physical. Added to this is the derogatory narrative and contemptuous attitude towards students. "A perfect flat for a student" usually turns out to be no more than 12 sq m with not a single window, but so what? After all, a person who rents it will only eat or sleep there anyway.

Students are normal human beings, not subhumans. And it would be good to treat them as such.

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