First appeared in THEXPAT Journal Spring 2014 Publication
Community Education: More Than You Would Think
At the heart of ACCESS’ history was the need to provide internationals living far from home with an opportunity to build a community for themselves while in the Netherlands. Creating a volunteer network to provide support for internationals was one thing; the founders of ACCESS followed the example of a similar project in Egypt at the time, and created a ‘community education’ department. In essence what this activity was to do, and has been doing since, was create circumstances in which people could learn or share skills, pursue or explore interests and, in the process, develop friendships and build relationships. In short; create an active community of doing and learning.
A Solid Model
More than 25 years ago, a group of resident expats found there was a need for something more within the international community. It was, predominantly, one which led them to approach a group of expat mental health professionals and ask them if they would be willing to provide the support internationals required. This was to be the foundation of the organisation which we know today as ACCESS. In the process of identifying the need for a confidential and safe support network of Counsellors, it was also apparent that many of the challenges expats were facing could also be prevented. Not all, but many. The illusive ‘expat community’ needed their own community in order to flourish and successfully survive far from home. The Counselling Service Network (CSN) was a curative response, and what we now know as the Community Education Department (CED), was part of the preventative solution – the first being creating an environment and purpose for volunteering.
By creating an environment in which people could share their needs, skills, interest, passions, and hobbies with others, through workshops, events and courses, it was inevitable that connections between people would be made which would go beyond the group setting. It was these interpersonal connections which would ultimately allow individuals to get to know more people, find things in common and start to feel they were part of something – and not only from somewhere else, out of their known environments, and transitory. A case in point is the very popular Child Birth Education courses offered through ACCESS. Not only is there something to learn about having a baby in the Netherlands – different approaches to health and child care – these courses have given countless new parents the opportunity to meet others like them and have led to many a ‘mother baby group’ as they moved from pregnancy to parenthood.
It has been more than 25 years since ACCESS was founded, but still, Community Education plays a similar function; that of offering something to help internationals, expats if you will, from feeling isolated in their new surroundings. The ‘trainers’ (as ACCESS refers to them) who currently provide their courses through ACCESS, cover a wide variety of topics and subjects – all in English, all with a view to meeting a need within the international community, and all with the added benefit of bringing likeminded people in a similar situation, together. Furthermore, being expats themselves, ACCESS Trainers appreciate the added value of what they can offer.
Whether it is learning or updating skills in digital photography, public speaking, IT, social media, self-defence, finding some direction, career support, greater awareness about cross-cultural living, simply exploring your desire to know more about art history, diversity or calligraphy – the ACCESS pool of trainers is a good place to start. Add to these the language course options (Dutch, English, French & Arabic) offered through their Partners and Associates, and you are sure to find something which appeals to you and will help keep you from feeling isolated in your new home.
So, whether you are looking to learn something new, brush up on skills not practiced very often anymore, prepare yourself for new challenges, or tackle a new language, you can rest assured that the courses provided through ACCESS will be able to help you do this, and much more. There is a community of internationals waiting to be met and ready to be part of your new community here, far from home and the familiar.
For an overview of who the ACCESS Trainers are, what courses they offer where and when, you can refer to the Trainers page on the website, or the back pages of ACCESS’ quarterly e-zine. Registration for courses can also be done via the ACCESS website.