Connecting YOUR world with the world of the Northern Netherlands
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About Connect

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CONNECT INTERNATIONAL provides practical information and offers personal advice to familiarize international residents with all aspects of living, working and studying in the Northern Netherlands; organizes events and activities to facilitate making further connections; and offers intercultural trainings to the northern-based companies and their international staff.

CONNECT INTERNATIONAL is defined and supported by its committed and knowledgeable international staff and generous volunteers, a Board of Directors and an Honorary Board. The Board of Directors consists of both Dutch and International members from companies and organizations (N.V. NOM, Talent Performance, Stenden Professionals, The NetworKing Corporation, MTH accountants & advisors) who are committed to making the Northern Netherlands attractive for international residents to live, work or study in. The Honorary Board consists of the King's Commissioners from Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe and the Director of the N.V. NOM.

CONNECT INTERNATIONAL is a foundation that began in 1998 as a merger between two other foundations, the International Club Noord Nederland (IntCNN) and Stichting Connect. The IntCNN, a social club for international managers, was founded in 1995 by five different companies in order to provide better services to the international community in the Northern Netherlands. Stichting Connect, founded in 1996, began as the brainchild of a 'trailing spouse' who had found a lack of practical information in English about the Northern Netherlands upon her arrival and set up Connect to rectify the situation. After two years of working side by side, the two organizations merged to become Connect International. Connect International is also one of the founding partners of the International Welcome Center North which opened its doors in November 2014.


Karen Prowse (USA), General Manager

I moved to Groningen from the USA in 1996 with my Dutch husband and son and was fortunate to meet another English-speaking mom who had just started a foundation called Connect. As I was eager to make contacts in my new home city, I enthusiastically joined Connect as a volunteer and helped organize events for trailing partners (mostly women, at that time). I loved meeting fascinating people from all over the world and learning their life stories. When my expat friend left the Netherlands to continue her journey around the globe, I took over as General Manager of Connect International to be able to continue to provide information and support to internationals in the Northern Netherlands. Through the years since then, I have been privileged to work with many dedicated, caring people who have all contributed their time and efforts to help make Connect International into the organization it is today.

Margaret Metsala (Canada/Finland), Connect & IWCN Staff

Connect has been part of my life since shortly after I moved from Canada in 2005. Browsing the internet I found Connect and they invited me for coffee!  After writing stories for the "Connections" magazine, I became Assistant Editor and later began doing membership administration. Now I am one of the faces you meet when visiting our office. I have a degree from Ontario and have worked with the Government of Canada, Province of Ontario, and my local municipality, once even as a town councillor. I’ve managed election campaigns, helped people find solutions to problems with government programmes, and am at ease canoeing and camping in the wilderness. 

Natalia Zherebtcova (Russia), Co-Events Coordinator Groningen & Drenthe; Personal Advice Consultant

Three years ago in June 2017, I moved to Groningen from Moscow, Russia. I was born and raised in Perm Region (Russia) in a place rich in nature — the Western Ural. After graduating from the Perm Technical University (Mathematical Modeling of Systems and Processes), I moved soon after to Moscow and lived there for 13 years. My professional experience has always been connected with Human Resources and Information Technologies. My role was mostly analytical and project and product management in HR consulting and IT. I was working remotely with the Russian IT-company until January 2020. Sometime after the move to Groningen, I found a volunteer opportunity in Connect International (CI) to organize city trips to the different towns and places in The Netherlands for the members of CI. I was enjoying it very much. There are people from different countries who came to The Netherlands to develop themselves and the fields of science and job areas they work in. I realized that I wanted to work more closely with expats. And when I had an opportunity to become a member of Connect International and the International Welcome Center North team I immediately took advantage of it. I am very happy to be a part of this great team and help expats to settle in the Northern Netherlands.  

Erika Pacheco-Castano (Colombia), Co-Events Coordinator Groningen & Drenthe; Volunteer Meditation Club

I arrived in Groningen in 2017 with my Dutch husband and our two children. The process of adapting to a new life here was quite demanding the first two years (doing Inburgering, getting the Dutch driving license, understanding the new culture, being a full time housewife -which I was not used to-, missing the warmth of my country). Fortunately, in 2019 a friend of mine, who was working at CI told me about the organization and I became a volunteer for Meditation and Latin Dance. It became a nice experience to share with people from different cultures and offer them something that I like. Some months later this friend moved to a different city and recommended my CV for the position of Events Coordinator, which I started in February 2020. For me it has been a blessing to work in this wonderful place to offer a service that I enjoy a lot, as managing Events has always been my favorite area in my 20+ years of career in Communication. CI has also been a platform for me to start renewing my profession, as now I also keep developing my skills as an Integral Coach focused on helping internationals to build capacities in adapting to changes and life in a new country.

Shannon Zurhaar (USA), Friesland Co-Events Coordinator 

I moved to Friesland from Arizona, USA in the summer of 2016. For over a year I felt like a fish out of water trying to adjust to the Dutch way of doing things; from grocery shopping, cooking, to banking and taxes. Once I adjusted to daily life, I still had a hard time making friends and didn’t feel that I belonged to a community.  However, that all changed once I started volunteering for Connect International.  Now as a staff member, I am meeting new people and establishing friendships with other Connect members. I belong to a community once again - and that makes me feel at home.

Charmaine André (USA), Friesland Co-Events Coordinator 

My Dutch adventure began in 1999 when I moved here. But I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Netherlands. Having a Dutch mother and lots of family here, I had spent many of my 12 week summer vacations as a child/teenager in Boekelo (Enschede). It was such a contrast to Los Angeles: not as busy and very green! I loved the Netherlands and hoped to live here when I was older, even if just for a few years.  Later I met a Dutch guy who became my boyfriend so eventually I was able to realize my dream. But my first year here was anything but a dream. Getting used to a new culture isn’t as rosy as summer vacations here are. I finally adjusted to life in Deventer but then moved to Leeuwarden. Fitting in here has been a challenge. Connect International has changed everything for me. Through working for  them and attending the events, I have met so many people, shared so many stories about first experiences here, and learned about many different cultures. I am very thankful for Connect International and proud to work for this organization!

Stephanie Fermor (UK), Publications Editor

I moved to the Netherlands in 2010 to join my Dutch boyfriend (now husband). After nearly two years of trying to integrate into Dutch society I hit a low point, feeling lonely and isolated. That was when I learnt about Connect International and signed up to be a member. I started by attending the Coffee Mornings, then volunteered to help set up the Crafts Club and gave a few workshops about building WordPress websites (as I work as a freelance web developer). In 2013, I was asked by Connect if I was interested in the position of publications editor, and I said yes! Since then I have helped update the Connect website, produced 34 issues of the Connections E-zine, and now manage the Connect Blog.


Alexandra van den Doel (The Netherlands), Book Club Volunteer

After working all over the world and having lived in multiple countries, I took an international job based in the Netherlands in 1999.  Soon after I met my Dutch husband, and we moved to the UK in 2004. Since 2009 we have lived in Groningen.  I was a regular contributor to Connections magazine and e-zine and continue to coordinate the monthly Connect Book Club.

Emma Agneray (France), Social Media Volunteer

I’ve been moving around South Korea, France, the UK and now the Netherlands and communication in my family often starts in French to finish in Dutch with some English in between. Living in foreign countries broadened my mind and gave me the chance to get to know many different kinds of people. I wish to expand this experience within Connect International, where I hope to meet people from all over the world, get a touch and a taste of different cultures, languages, traditions and folklores in a rich cosmopolitan mix.

Sarah YJ Bae (South Korea), Running Club & Beauty Club Coordinator

Originally from South Korea, I followed my husband doing his Ph.D. in Groningen. At first, it was difficult for me to quit my 8-year career in the educational field in Korea, which I loved dearly. However, now I am much more enthusiastic in adventuring in all diverse fields, such as beauty, outdoor sports, and meeting new international friends. That’s why I have decided to share my interests as volunteer at Connect International as Beauty club and Running club coordinator.  I find it a great challenge and fun to meet and help good people around.

Stefanie Nguyen (USA), Volunteer English Conversation Fun

I was born and raised in Southern California in the United States.  In July 2019, I left the hotel construction industry to move abroad with my pets and husband, who is also American as well. He'd been tirelessly traveling to Groningen twice a month for work the last year from California, so it was time to call the Netherlands home! I was so fortunate to find Connect International as a resource for some of my confusion living in a new country, along with their events so that I could make friends, which I'm grateful for. Now I volunteer and lead the English Conversation Group to encourage people hoping to improve their speaking skills. It's been very rewarding helping and hearing the stories of people from all over the world! My other time is spent doing freelance marketing work, learning Dutch, traveling when possible and sharing expat life on my blog:

Aline Eclair Duarte (Brazil), Linkedin Webinar volunteer

After I graduated in Marketing and then with an MBA in Business, I had a long career working in sales and services in big companies. In the last years, I’ve been enthusiastic about working with digital marketing and content creation. I moved to the Netherlands to join my partner and I’m always looking for a good conversation about life and work, but especially about culture. I’m really enjoying Groningen, the people I am meeting here and all the adventures of being an expat. At Connect International I found more than a way of connecting to people; I also found a way to keep learning and being part of the community.

Are you interested in becoming a volunteer at Connect International? Contact us via, we are always looking for new volunteers to reinforce our team.