IWCN Celebrates 9-Year Anniversary

On November 3rd 2023, the IWCN is celebrating its 9th anniversary! For the past nine years, the IWCN has been a staple in the North and its home city of Groningen. For thousands of internationals, we’ve been a lifeline for settling in the North.

Throughout the years, the IWCN has been helping internationals in the three Northern provinces of Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe with the added services of our collaboration with the IND, the Dutch immigration and naturalization services, and many of the Northern municipalities. In addition, the IWCN has been working closely with numerous companies in the North to promote internationalization.

In our 9th year, the IWCN has become an even bigger beacon of knowledge, information, and community building when we joined forces with two other icons in the North. IWCN, City Central, and Connect International officially joined forces in 2023 as an independent foundation.

City Central & Connect International

City Central was a Groningen icon with its yellow-dot icon and intensive work on getting internationals and locals to share the joy of the many cultural events the city has to offer. We still continue those efforts through our website, social media, and integration initiatives such as FietsFriend and My Local Friend.

Connect International was an international hub that had been building communities here in the North since the late 1990s, something we continue to offer today with the myriad of events we host. Last year, IWCN hosted 557 events throughout the year, ranging from Dutch conversational groups to walking clubs, and so much more.

Between 2014 and October 2023, we have helped 18.655 clients with our formalities services. In addition, we’ve helped 421 companies. In these nine years, we’ve had a total of 38.903 interactions, e.g. permit pick-ups and walk-in questions. With the help of our events team and many dedicated volunteers throughout these years, we’ve hosted more than 3500 events.

Operations Manager Karen Prowse with Former Business Manager Michiel Kasteleijn and Consul General at U.S. Embassy John Wilcock

Here Since The Beginning

All of these different facets are made possible in part thanks to Karen Prowse. As the constant factor in the history of IWCN, together with a passionate and dedicated team, Karen has been working to build up IWCN to what it is today. Karen has been with the IWCN as the Operations Manager since its inception. Originally from the New England area of the United States, Karen has been living in the Netherlands for almost 30 years. Through her own personal immigration experience and helping many internationals who followed in her tracks, she has been an example and beacon of information at the IWCN.

However, the North has changed a lot in the past thirty years, especially in terms of how the North has welcomed and facilitated its international Groningers, Frisians, and Drenten.

“In the past 27 years since I moved to The North, I have experienced a huge change. In those days, I heard only Dutch (and some German) on the streets of Groningen. Now, I hear a dozen languages on any given day. Websites (both governmental and commercial) did not have any language options other than Dutch in the past and now most have at least English, and sometimes other language options.

“Regulations for residence permits for non-EU citizens have been simplified and the range expanded in response to the need from companies for more workers in the Netherlands. Due to the influx of international workers, innovation in companies has been documented to increase. And having a better understanding of other cultures also gives an economic edge to the companies.”

Karen Prowse with Mayor of Groningen Koen Schuiling, Sweden's Honorary Consul Heleen van Balen, Swedish Ambassador Johannes Oljelund.

Local Roots, Global Challenges

As an international organization rooted in the local culture, both local and foreign changing tides have had a great effect on the daily workings of the IWCN. Just in the past few years, there have been big challenges such as Brexit, COVID-19, and the war in Ukraine.

“Each new challenge brought new experiences, rules, and regulations, and we had to adapt our procedures or create new ones to keep serving the international (and local) communities effectively. Learning everything we could about the new situation, consolidating information, and communicating this knowledge in a timely manner was essential. Especially when the situation kept changing.”

As soon as the United Kingdom officially left the European Union, the IWCN helped over a thousand Brits in the North weather the uncertain changing residency requirements throughout 2020, 2021, and 2022.

When the global pandemic hit, our visitors were no longer able to just walk into the office with their questions. In response, we set up an online chat service to keep our information and services readily available. In addition, we hosted several social and informative events online and, when the guidelines allowed it, outside of the office.

And, of course, when the war in Ukraine started, Ukrainians and the rest of Europe had to face the still ongoing aftermath of a quickly changing conflict. Volunteers helped us translate information and guides into Ukrainian and Russian to keep the information readily available for Ukrainians finding refuge here. Together with the Ukrainian embassy and consulates, we hosted events attended by thousands of Ukrainians who needed help with travel documentation, passport stickers, finding housing, finding work opportunities, and other immediate advice to set up life in the North.

“All of us can do more than we think we can, especially with the support of a team, and being able to rely on each other is key. Our staff has been amazingly caring and effective during all these situations and it is due to our common goals and resilience that I believe we have succeeded in providing the best service possible under challenging circumstances,” said Karen.

IWCN Partner Day in Leeuwarden, Friesland in 2023

From Fryslân to Jakarta

The IWCN team doesn’t just preach embracing an international mindset, it also fully practices it. The team at IWCN consists of team members living in all three Northern provinces hailing from all over the world from Friesland to Finland, from Colombia to South Africa, from Indonesia to Romania, and from Ireland to New England. An entire team of people who chose to stay in the beautiful North.

“The Northern Netherlands is a dynamic and beautiful place to live. The region has both small villages and medium-sized cities as living options; a huge variety of cultural activities and nightlife; many places to explore nature; job opportunities in many different fields; a bike culture but also with good public transportation and well-maintained roads; a safe environment; a good work-private life balance; and a consensus-driven decision-making culture where all ideas are discussed,” Karen added.

Advice For The North

With 27 years’ experience in the North of the Netherlands and already 9 years at the IWCN, Karen is a beacon of inspiration for everyone at the IWCN. However, there’s one piece of advice she’d like to share with all of us in the North.

“Although everyone does speak English to varying degrees, learning the Dutch language, customs, and culture will make settling in much easier. While learning, be patient with yourself. It takes time to absorb, adjust, and grow, but it is entirely worth the effort. Once I obtained a certain proficiency in Dutch, I also was able to make Dutch friends. And then I could really relax and enjoy the experience of living in The North!”

Future Of IWCN

Here at the IWCN, we’re thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last nine years. In the next nine years, we hope to help even more internationals and also Dutch companies. For example, two years ago, we also started to work with student clients for their IND needs and have been able to help over 1200 students already. If there’s one thing for certain for the IWCN is that the future is never sure, and everything changes all the time.

Karen sees a lot of value in this continuous growth of the internationalization in the North. She said, “My hope for the future is that The North continues on its international path, integrating internationals and locals, while choosing to keep what is unique about the Netherlands while incorporating new ideas from internationals, for the betterment of all.”