Helping yourself by helping others

2nd October 2003, Comments 0 comments

One expat found that the best way to start sorting out her new life as a trailing spouse in the Netherlands was to get involved helping others do the same.

Susan Gould

I arrived in The Hague in March 2003 with mixed emotions. I had made the tough decision to leave behind my family, my career and my friends in order to start a new life with my husband. His company had offered him the opportunity of working in this fabulous city and we had taken it. His life was "sorted".

Literally, from day one of our arrival, he got up every morning and went to work, met new colleagues and carried on as normal. It was just a different office for him and he quickly learnt the crucial expression: "een kopje koffie alstublieft." For me though, as for hundreds of other partners who are left at home, what do we do after our partners have gone to work? Clean the apartment, go to the local Albert Heijn supermarket, cook dinner, attempt to learn the Dutch language and hope some good job will appear on the horizon in the not too distant future.

I was very lucky as I had a lot of support from my husbands company, but not everyone has that kind of support and there were a hundred and one questions that needed answering when we stepped off that plane: where will we find a doctor/dentist? What paperwork do we need to complete for permits? And can we get our English TV to work over here? Other families have more pressing questions such as: where can I find a good school for my children?

Or what maternity help can I get in Holland? These are just a fraction of the questions that the Administrative Committee to Co-ordination English Speaking Services, better known as ACCESS — is asked on a daily basis and it can help with these and many more. Some of the more far-reaching questions that I have heard asked are: Where is my local kickboxing club? And where can I go mountain climbing! I volunteered to help at ACCESS as it was a means of getting out, meeting other people in the same situation as myself, as well as helping to provide a valuable service. People that I have met recently are under the impression that you need to know everything about everything in order to volunteer at ACCESS but that is not true. After six months of living here, I still have little real knowledge but I know a group that does.

ACCESS serves the international community in a really valuable way. There are several ways of contacting ACCESS: by calling into the offices in The Hague or Amsterdam; calling the help line or sending an email. No question is too challenging. If ACCESS cannot help, you will be put you in touch with some one who can. I found out about volunteering from going to one of the regular monthly meetings and I have now been working for three months in the Volunteer Resources Department. We help to make sure that the volunteers are feeling happy, update the database with starters and leavers and arrange volunteer lunches amongst other things.

My work for ACCESS is similar to that of a Personnel/HR department, and as I used to be a HR officer in my 'former' life it is not too hard to handle. I have been involved with organising the monthly information meetings, helping volunteers to decide where best their skills can be utilised and ensuring they are enjoying themselves once they become members. There is also a regular volunteer lunch, which our team organises. We ask our volunteers to bring in a contribution of some sort — my first offering was a Quiche with real English Cheddar cheese.

I was very pleased with myself until I dropped it on the floor and smashed the dish. There are many other departments in ACCESS that are a vital part of the work that it does. Publications is a large department, which produces some fabulous, informational books for expats.

The Babies and Toddlers book is currently being reprinted and is extremely popular with all the expat pregnant Mums as are the maternity courses that the ACCESS Community Education department organises. The Guide to Working in The Netherlands is also very popular as it gives excellent tips on how to find work here. I found that the ACCESS calendar is a lifesaver: it has every phone number and contact point that a new expat could wish for.

The sale of the ACCESS publications is a major source of much-needed income. Advertising and Fundraising are two other departments that are vital to ACCESS. There is a large Information Research department that checks out new and interesting facts for the database of information and maintains the existing information - they are always are on look out for more help.

Alongside these departments, there is a Finance, Administration, IT, Public Relations, Counselling Services and of course the Telephone Help line department. Some departments need more help at the moment and if anyone is interested in finding out more about becoming a volunteer, I encourage you to call 070 346 2525 or e-mail to contact ACCESS for details of the next information meeting. ACCESS's work in helping people settle with ease into the Netherlands has been recognised and praised by many of the business and expat communities.

On a personal note, I have found ACCESS to be professional group that do a great job. I can volunteer in hours that suit my life and I now have other English-speaking colleagues and not just four walls to talk to.

If you are interested in doing something worthwhile and can offer a minimum of three months of your time at three hours per week then give ACCESS a call – it really can make a difference.

The Hague
Plein 24
Telephone: 070 346 2525 Amsterdam
Herengracht 472 3rd floor
Telephone: 020 423 3217 Email:
2 October 2003 Subject: Expat support groups

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