The International Welcome Center North officially opened its doors to the public in 2014, but our story starts all the way back in 1998.
That’s when Connect International began, as a place for newcomers to Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland to connect with one another and start building their own social circle in their new home.
Connect International was the result of a merger between of the International Club Noord Nederland (IntCNN), founded in 1995, and Stichting Connect, which began 1996 with the goal of providing practical information in English about the Northern Netherlands. From 1998 onward, the joint organisation was known as Connect International, and was based at Damsterdiep, the N.V. NOM building, and the Launch Cafe for most of its existence.
Through personal advice and a wide range of events, intercultural training, relocation services and Connections, a monthly magazine in English, Connect recognized and catered to the social and informational needs of foreign residents in the region that extended beyond just being employed here. Newcomers anywhere need to feel at home, feel like they can see themselves here, and feel like they’re not alone in their new lives in an unfamiliar country, and that Connect’s purpose.
Sixteen years later, IWCN, a long sought dream of Connect, became a reality at the location we still call home to this day at Gedempte Zuiderdiep 98. IWCN works with local municipalities and employers across the north to provide formalities for employees and their families moving to the region from abroad.
The welcome center provides expedited formalities for some of the biggest employers in the north, thanks to our collaboration with the municipality of Groningen, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) and the knowledge institutions in Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe.
IWCN also works with companies to ease their transition into being more international. Throughout the Northern Netherlands, there is significant opportunity for start-up businesses, and for existing businesses to think more internationally, whether through hiring staff or exporting to new markets.
The final piece of the puzzle: City Central, which started in 2017 with the goal of bringing international students and young professionals in the city of Groningen together with the long-term local population.
Their projects, such as FietsFriend, My Local Friend, Welcome Walks and Lekker Kletsen, plus cultural performances and collaborations, have helped hundreds of students and young adults in Groningen become locals, all from the heart of the city in their cosy shop at the Akerk with financial support from the Groningen Alliance.
Starting in 2021, plans began to form for a merger among IWCN, City Central and Connect International. And over the course of 2022, City Central’s staff started calling the IWCN office on the Gedempte Zuiderdiep home. The process of the merger was an exciting challenge, given the sense of loyalty to each of our own existing following, our style of communicating and the kinds of activities we did. But the shared goal of making it easier for internationals residents to feel like locals and feel at home here in the north was what brought all of us together.
Now, as of 2023, we’ve officially joined forces and can proudly say that IWCN is the undisputed knowledge hub and service center for internationals in the north. With Dutch language support, business workshops, social events for all ages and more, IWCN is truly the one-stop shop for all the formal and lifestyle needs of talent from abroad, their families, students and employers that make the north a great place to live, work and grow.