William Dongmo, a 25-year-old Cameroonian student, has been living in Rome for three years and is in his final year of earning a master's degree in computer engineering. With his university stipend, help from a church and small jobs, he earns nearly €450 a month – just barely enough to keep himself afloat.
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“I didn’t expect life in Italy would be quite so expensive”

I studied Italian for six months in Cameroon before leaving to do a master's degree in Rome. My family contributed so I could buy a plane ticket and leave with a little money in my pocket. Once I arrived, at the end of a semester of courses at the university, I was able to receive a 1,500 euro-a-year stipend from the Rome region because of my good marks. But unfortunately, this doesn’t even cover my rent, which is 185 euros a month, with an extra fixed rate of 105 euros for water, gas and electricity. I live in university housing; it’s a lot cheaper than living in the city, where a small room costs at least 350 euros a month.
I spend 50 euros a month on food. I buy rice and pasta in bulk, and I don’t eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables because they are expensive. I only eat two meals a day: I skip breakfast to save money. Therefore, I have lost a lot of weight since coming from Cameroon, and I am very often tired. This affects my morale, and it is not easy to study under these conditions.
“I never go out on the town”
I never go out; not to restaurants nor to the cinema. I spend around 100 euros a year on clothes that I only buy during the sales. I have internet for free: with a few neighbours on the same floor, we successfully created a sort of WiFi network that we share, thanks to a modem and an internet key. I have a mobile phone, but it has been months since I bought any minutes; I can receive phone calls, but I can’t make outgoing calls. I take public transport. Even though I am 25 years old, I managed to talk the transport agents into selling me a yearly transport pass at a reduced price of 62 euros, which is usually reserved for people under 18.
In terms of my study expenses, there I don’t skimp: I buy all the books I need for my courses; this comes to around 100 euros a year. I also have to pay 400 euros a semester to enroll in courses. We call this a “university tax”, which is the same rate for all students, regardless of their financial circumstances.
On top of this, there are several other obligatory expenses: a residency card costs 140 euros a year. It has almost doubled in price under the new government, no doubt a way to discourage immigration. In Italy, it is imperative to have health insurance. I took the least expensive cover, at 150 euros a year.
“Employers prefer to give priority to their countrymen when they hire”
My biggest difficulty is not having stable work. My studies leave me very little free time, and as lots of Italians are looking for work during this economic crisis, it seems to me that employers prefer to give priority to their own countrymen when they hire. But I was able to sign up to an agency that provides me with small jobs: I go for walks with elderly people or people with disabilities. It pays seven euros an hour, and the amount of hours they give me varies; I earn about 120 euros a month with this. For some time now, I have also been doing cleaning work two or three Saturday nights a month at a Chinese bar and restaurant where there are dancers. Its clients include wealthy businessmen and politicians. This place takes in quite a bit of money, so if it was a good night and the boss is in a good mood, I can earn up to 100 euros in cash. I also receive 50 euros a month from a church that gives money to foreigners who need it.
“I am worried about saving up enough money to buy a plane ticket to return to Cameroon”
At the end of the month, I barely make ends meet. There are months where I spend more than I earn, so sometimes I have to borrow from friends. But I have always succeeded in paying them back. Once, it was really difficult: I fell ill, and I had to spend two months in the hospital. My health insurance only covered the minimum, so I had to pay 600 euros for X-rays and a partial operation on my stomach. It was hard to bounce back after that, but I successfully found work during the summer harvest. I even managed to send a few hundred euros to my mother, who lives alone.
I didn’t expect life would be quite so expensive in Italy, but I am proud that I have overcome these challenges and succeeded in my studies. However, I expect to return to Cameroon as soon as I have finished. I know that, during this economic crisis, I could wait for months before finding work, despite my degree. And without the stipend I enjoy as a student, it would be impossible to survive. Now, I am worried about saving 800 euros to buy a plane ticket back home. I don’t yet know how I will do that.