The expat parent community in South Holland (Zuid Holland) is vibrant, diverse and supportive, but nothing beats a bit of inside knowledge on the best groups to join and things to do in Rotterdam and The Hague to find your marks as an expat in the Netherlands.
Think South Holland, think edgy Rotterdam. Stately, regal The Hague. Delft, all pretty porcelain and quaint vistas. And student paradise Leiden, of course. They may have different personalities, but South Holland’s cities and towns – home to global HQ’s, world-renowned universities, United Nations agencies and one of the biggest ports on earth – are seriously international. With one in 10 residents being foreign, there’s a huge support network for the expat parent community in South Holland. And lots of things to do in Rotterdam, The Hague, and their neighboring cities: sporting, cultural and social activities, the great outdoors, you name it! What’s more, international schools in the area all offer varied extra-curricular activities to keep your kids well engaged and integrated outside the classroom.
Pauline, Digital Marketing Manager at the British School in The Netherlands (BSN), located in The Hague, is a native Rotterdammer. She recommends resident expat families invest time in getting under her home town’s skin to understand what really makes it tick.
International school children playing together in the grass at Kralingse Plas, Rotterdam
“Discover the city one area at a time,” she suggests. “Take a walk through Kralingen, Hilligersberg or Kralingse Plas, or discover Kop van Zuid: where high rise buildings stand side-by-side with Hotel New York. That’s where all the emigrants left in the 1940s/50s looking for new lives in the US, Canada and Australia. This connects up to the Deliplein, with its great Fenix Food Factory.”
Here’s our lowdown and tips about South Holland for expat families and their children, from the people who live there.
The British School in the Netherlands
An international school for children 3–18, The British School in The Netherlands is a thriving community of 80+ nationalities. They offer a British and international curriculum, with GCSE examinations and four pathways from the age of 16: A Levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, the International Baccalaureate Career Program and BTEC qualifications. The BSN’s blend of traditional British values, educational rigour, and caring and committed staff provides an environment for students to prepare for a happy and successful life, no matter the pursuit.
Join an expat-friendly social club
For expat families in South Holland, it can be tricky (and tiring) to build a social life with kids beyond the daily term-time grind, occasional Saturday birthday bash or playdate/sleepover. And when your teenagers’ best friend and confidante is an electronic device, it’s probably time to join a club.
Forget coffee mornings and origami, though. Think excursions that even your grunting offspring may actively want to participate in.
InTouch hosts expat-focused events in Rotterdam for members, including international food nights, family barbecues and baby/toddler groups. Older expat children with designs on pursuing higher education in The Netherlands may be interested in joining International Students Rotterdam (ISR), which also hosts events.
The Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam
The American Women’s Club of The Hague, the German International Club in the Netherlands (also in The Hague) and the British Club of The Hague, all have kids’ sections. The city’s Spanish-speaking expat community may want to try the Spanish Association of The Hague, which also offers family activities, while The Australia and New Zealand Club has events in The Hague and Rotterdam.
Delft Mama organizes playgroups for young children as well as offering invaluable parenting advice, while expat parents in Wassenaar make a beeline for The Clown Club, a popular international childcare center.
If members’ clubs are not your cup of tea, join a meetup! The Delftians have informal get-togethers, while families with older children might be interested in Expat Republic Rotterdam or the many other Expat Meetups in the city. Leiden Expats, similarly, has events which help expats settle into their surroundings.
International schools offer loads of activities
Pauline says BSN, along with other international schools, offer extracurricular activities for children of all ages.
“Life at BSN is about so much more than our classrooms,” she says of the school, which has four campuses across The Hague.
“Our wide range of clubs, groups and activities – both during and after school – offer students the chance to extend and enrich their interests, as well as provide opportunities for personal development.
“Schools’ extracurricular activities are great for integration, as students mix and form new friendships, in some cases outside their own year group or campus as they learn new skills, or perfect existing ones. The lessons learned through collaboration on after-school projects, hours of dance rehearsal or dedicated sporting practice are invaluable. It is through a full range of clubs, activities and sports that schools help students find their true passions,” she continues.
Children’s after-school book reading club, The Hague
“At the BSN, students, staff and parents are actively encouraged to get involved in co-curricular activities at the school – coaching, advising and passing on their own expertise wherever possible. The busy co-curricular life helps families to integrate with both the school and Dutch local community.”
And it’s not just the kids who benefit from the rich, global-minded environment of their learning institution. Because international schools welcome students from all over the world (BSN has 80 nationalities!), chances are you will come across other families who come from your home country. At the very least you will encounter like-minded expat parents who face the same questions and challenges you do, and that solidarity breeds a powerful community spirit.
Online resources for the expat parent community
Need English language swimming lessons in Delft? Want recommendations on Italian-speaking nannies in Dordrecht? Trying to find a Gaelic football team near Wassenaar? The online expat community in South Holland probably has the answer to all your whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys!
A British mother of twins living in Rotterdam advises: “Join online communities such as Rotterdam Mamas, which is a valuable support network in the city. Also check the Rotterdam UIT agenda for child-friendly events.”
In fact, expat-geared Facebook ‘mama’ groups can be found across South Holland, and are a great way to make friends or find playmates for your little ones.
Rotterdam Expat is a really handy guide to life in The Netherlands in general, while Expats in The Hague is chocked full of useful, up to date information with an active community which shares advice and opinion. Leiden Expats fulfils a similar role.
Official resources: expat centres and children health centres
Recently-arrived expat parents in South Holland may want to head to dedicated ‘expat centers’ across the region. Rotterdam Expat Center, The Hague International Center (which also covers Delft) and Expat Center Leiden are treasure troves of help, advice and listings for expat families in the area.
City canal running through the center of Leiden
The Rotterdam-based mother adds: “consultatiebureau (children’s health centers) tend to have a lot of information for expat moms, and they should be able to set you up with new contacts.”
Integration: make it a family affair
If the idea of striking out on the family tandem overcomes you with dread and embarrassment, fear not! There are stacks of activities for expat families in South Holland which will keep you sane while preserving your kids’ street cred!
Going to a football match is a rite of passage for many Dutch families (check out this cute video if you need convincing) and can be for expats too. Cheer on one of the local clubs Feyenoord, ADO Den Haag or Excelsior.
The Binnenhof overlooking the water, in The Hague
For the musically-inclined, the Viotta Youth Orchestra Association caters for children and youths of different ages and musical abilities, while budding actors may want to explore Stichting The English Theatre in The Hague, or the International Drama Group of English-Speaking Associates (IDEA) in Dordrecht. SKVR in Rotterdam, meanwhile, offers art courses for children.
In summer, hit one of the many festivals celebrating cultural and ethnic diversity. Try the Feel at Home Fair in The Hague or in Rotterdam De Parade, an open air theatre festival in June which includes special children’s programs – a fun way to learn some Dutch too.
A native Rotterdammer, Pauline has travelled a lot and lived overseas in Canada, Egypt and Switzerland – but she always returns to Rotterdam because of its diversity and spirit. She enjoys going for walks around the green parts of the city with her adopted Egyptian dog. She has been working at the BSN for over a year and loves the inspiring atmosphere of the school.Contact BSN