Between 12 July 2005 and 12 July 2006 Canadian Kyle MacDonald traded up a red paperclip for a house in Saskatchewan in 14 separate trades. Two Dutch high school students are now trying to follow in his footsteps by trying to trade up a red thumbtack for a place to stay in Utrecht because next year they will attend business school there. So far they traded a red thumbtack for a lighter, the lighter for an analog photo camera, the camera for a digital photo camera, the second camera for an MP3 player, the MP3 player for two days worth of canoe rental, and the canoe rental for a key chain that doubles as a photo player.
For those of you unfamiliar with the lack of rooms who are thinking what’s the big deal, you have to understand how unbelievably tough it is to get any kind of housing in the Netherlands, let alone as a poor student who needs a place to sleep and shower. Allow me: 1) Many students continue to live in their rooms after their studies because they cannot find housing, so life is rough for new students. The law also says you can’t throw them out to make way for the new arrivals. 2) There are even stories of universities telling foreign students to go study somewhere else because of a lack of rooms. 3) Emergency living space, which is supposed to be temporary but ends up permanent, is made out of shipping containers. During a severe wind storm a few weeks ago, one of the stacks of containers detached itself from the pier to which it was attached and started floating.