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Connecting Worlds

Connect International Serving the international community in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe. Supported by an international staff and Board of Directors, we provide quality relocation services and practical information to help familiarize international residents with all aspects of living, working or studying in the Northern Netherlands, as well as organizing events and activities to make connections.


Join Us!

● Immigration services

You can register to become a Connect International member via our website. For a small yearly fee, you receive the Connections e-magazine newsletter delivered directly to your email inbox, you have access to the Connect International community through organized events, you can ask us any questions you may have and much more.

● Home search & set-up ● Career services ● Social events, activities & clubs ● Business events ● Personal support & assistance


● Free access to books & guides ● Knowledge database

Welcome New Members! Connect International would like to welcome the following new members: Kepa Noguera, Siobhan Coffey, Camilla Nielsen, Ivana Maric, Balint Fridrich, Antonio Toral, Sam Mathew, Maddie Llewellin, Ozge Demirci, Anastasios Bardoutsos, Panagiotis Athanasopoulos, Stella Verkhnyatskaya, Michael Tscholl, Drew Longacre, Norbert Hazafi, Sofie van den Eynde, Suqing Wu, Lasha Abzianidze, Shirley Brewin.

Connect International Office: Gedempte Zuiderdiep 98, 9711 HL Groningen Telephone: 050 367 71 97 Email: Website:


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Editorial Editor: Stephanie Fermor Assistant Editor: Margaret Metsala Writers: Margaret Metsala, Milena Stanojevic-Bergink, Rachel Heller ( Send all letters and submissions to:

Editorial and advertising in Connections is based on material, written and verbal, provided by contributors and advertisers. No responsibility is taken for errors or omissions, and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher. All material in Connections is subject to copyright provisions. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission by the publisher.

What’s on: December 2016

CONNECT EVENTS During December 2016 International Coffee Morning Friday 9 December, 10:30 hrs Doppio Cafe (Groningen)

Culinary Connect: La bûche de Noël Tuesday 13 December 13:00 hrs Adeline’s house

Writer’s Circle Monday 12 December, 19:30 hrs

Book Club Wednesday 14 December, 20:00 hrs TBA Painting/Drawing Club TBA

IMPORTANT DATES & School Holidays Sinterklaas Winter Solstice Chanukah, lasts 8 days Christmas Day (1e Kerstdag)

5 December 21 December 24 December 25 December

Boxing Day (2e Kerstdag) Kwanzaa New Year's Eve

26 December 26 December 31 December

Primary Education & Secondary Education Schools Basisonderwijs & Voortgezet onderwijs North Netherlands Mid-Netherlands South Netherlands

24 Dec 2016 - 8 Jan 2017 24 Dec 2016 - 8 Jan 2017 24 Dec 2016 - 8 Jan 2017

Week 52 & 1 Week 52 & 1 Week 52 & 1

Some schools do run different vacation times, so be sure to double check with your school for exact dates.

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Information Center

CONNECT INTERNATIONAL IS GROWING AND CHANGING As 2016 draws to a close, we would like to make our Stichting Connect International members aware of some exciting upcoming changes to Connect International. In addition to providing information and support to internationals in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe, and organizing events and activities to connect them to the region, Connect International has also offered relocation services to companies and organizations to assist their employees with moving and settling into the Netherlands. As of 1 January 2017, the commercial relocation services formerly provided by Stichting Connect International will be offered by a new organization, Connect Relocation v.o.f. run by the same great relocation team. More information about Connect Relocation v.o.f. can be found on their new website (live as of 1 January 2017):

the focus of Stichting Connect International can more fully align with the goals of the IWCN, and Connect Relocation v.o.f. can continue to grow and expand as a separate commercial service.

Why the change? Two years ago, the International Welcome Center North (IWCN, opened its doors, and Stichting Connect International was and still is one of the four founding parties, along with the Municipality of Groningen, the University of Groningen and the IND. Connect International contributed its (then) 18 years of experience with internationals to the information and referral services for the IWCN, and to offering a broad range of events and activities for the international community in the northern three provinces. During this time, the relocation services continued to operate successfully as a part of Connect International but did not fall under the umbrella of the IWCN. Now the Connect Board of Directors feel that the time is right to spin off the relocation services so that

A renewed website for Connect International will be live in January 2017, and can still be found at We can be reached by telephone at: 050 367 7197. And our visiting address will also be our new postal address: Connect International Gedempte Zuiderdiep 98 9711 HL Groningen


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Stichting Connect International will still continue to provide information and referrals and organize events, and will also offer a new Personal Advice service to its members and companies. This two-hour paid service offers individual information and advice specific to the needs of the client on any of a wide variety of topics concerning coming to live or work in the Netherlands. The client chooses which specific topics he or she is interested in learning more about and is also free to ask any questions he or she may have in a private setting. The advice can be accomplished by e-mail, in person, or via Skype, either before or after arrival in the Netherlands, depending on the wishes of the client, and can be used over a 3-month period.

Netherlands and beyond

CHRISTMAS COMPARED It’s almost Christmas, and I’ve been thinking a lot this year about the holiday as an event. Perhaps because I was much less busy this year than in previous years leading up to it, I’ve been noticing more. I was born in the US and lived there until I was 35, minus the two years I spent in Malawi in the Peace Corps. I’ve lived here in the Netherlands for more than 18 years. The two countries feel very different at this time of year.

Christmas in America In the US, Christmas marketing starts well before Halloween, but goes into full gear just after. That means all of November and December are dedicated to urging Americans to buy stuff: as much stuff as possible. The fact that Black Friday even exists is an example of this. If people didn’t go out en masse to shop the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday wouldn’t happen. (I understand that this improved somewhat this year, with many people staying home and placing orders online instead.)

Christmas carols. People give more to charities at this time of year. They collect food for the poor or hold fundraisers for various causes. Maybe it’s the tinsel and piped music that makes people more amenable to giving. Maybe it’s something deeper than that. I don’t know. Americans say that it’s all too much of the commercialism and not enough of the kindness. Yet every year it happens again. By the time Christmas arrives, people are fed up with carols, they’ve gained weight from all the sweets, and they’re really looking forward to taking down the Christmas tree and getting back to normal.

Christmas in the Netherlands Things are going the same way here as well. When I first arrived, 18 years ago, I was pleased to experience my first Christmas. It was so much lower-key than in the US!

At the same time, it’s not all about consumerism. For many it’s a religious occasion as well, yet that meaning gets lost in all the clutter. Even for those who don’t believe (and for the Jews and Muslims and other religious adherents in America), a certain spirit is noticeable among the tinsel and piped Connections #75

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Netherlands and beyond

Yes, shopping streets were lit up with Christmas lights. Yes, some stores held sales. But it was all much more subdued. And I particularly liked that the commercials on TV were far less obnoxious than Christmas commercials in the US could sometimes be. I especially liked, and still enjoy, Sinterklaas. I have my issues with its Zwarte Piet tradition, but the fact that Sinterklaas is on December 5 means that, traditionally, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until the day after Sinterklaas. The shortness of the Christmas season made it much more enjoyable. It didn’t drag on the way it does in the US. I liked, as well, that since Sinterklaas is no longer a Christian tradition, children received their gifts then: all children, no matter what religion they were. So I could give my kids Sinterklaas gifts without that vague residual guilt that many secular Jews in the US feel if they cave to the general societal pressure and get a Christmas tree and put up lights. That left Christmas a truly religious holiday, which some celebrated in church, and many celebrated with a Christmas tree and a nice meal at home with family. As non-Christians, we would spend Christmas day quietly at home, watching videos or reading a book. Small scale, low key: perfect.

Things have changed. The Dutch Christmas is gradually changing to resemble the American Christmas. While Sinterklaas is still welcomed enthusiastically, businesses are increasingly trying to wring more out of 5

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both the Sinterklaas shopping season and Christmas. In recent years, the Sinterklaas merchandising has begun earlier and earlier. Pepernoten, a small spice cookie that’s traditionally eaten at Sinterklaas time, appeared in the supermarkets in August! The Christmas lights, normally never appearing until the day after Sinterklaas, went up weeks earlier. The advertising for gifts of all sorts didn’t let up at all after Sinterklaas; now they reference Santa Claus, American-style (called the kerstman here, or “Christmas man”), and urge gift-giving at Christmas as well.

This is Santa Claus, not Sinterklaas!

While many Dutch already decorated their houses for Christmas with a candle here and there and a Christmas tree, now whole sections of stores are dedicated to displaying Christmas decorations. Often it’s the usual shiny Christmas ornaments, but lately more stores are selling items with images from the American Christmas story: reindeer pulling a sleigh; Santa carrying gifts, riding in a sleigh; and so on.

Netherlands and beyond

These tree ornaments seem to be representing Santa Claus visiting Paris by sleigh for Christmas.

It makes no sense here to sell these images. That’s Santa Claus’s story, from America! Why would a Dutch person buy that? Santa Claus has never been part of the Christmas tradition in the Netherlands, nor have reindeer or a sleigh. I wonder, too, how Dutch people explain this all to small children. When my son, now 17, was little, I told him the story of Sinterklaas—that he lives in Spain and comes to Holland on a steamboat, and that he (or his Piets) come down the chimney to leave presents. While Sinterklaas and Santa Claus have the same historical roots in Saint Nicholas, they look different and their stories are different. Sinterklaas is tall and severe, carries a crook, rides a white horse, and wears a bishop’s mitre. Santa Claus is fat and jolly, lives in the North Pole, and drives a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer. Two different cultures: two different stories.

Creepy stuffed reindeer heads to hang on the wall for Christmas

presents from both Sinterklaas December 5 and Santa Claus December 25?

on on

I don’t know, but I fear the worst. I fear that Sinterklaas as a holiday for children will disappear. I fear that it’ll merge into Christmas and become a commercial shopping frenzy like in the US. I fear that those who prefer to celebrate Christmas as primarily a religious holiday will see that meaning get lost in the growing emphasis on gift-giving. I liked it the way it was.

Written by Rachel Heller. Rachel Heller lives in Groningen and writes about travel, expat life and other topics at

When children see all these images of Santa Claus these days, what do Dutch parents tell them? Do they say, as I told my son when he was little, that Santa Claus is a cousin of Sinterklaas and brings gifts to kids in the US? Or are the children getting Connections #75

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Taste of Dutch

SPECULAAS TIRAMISU Child Friendly Dessert

For the ones who are not familiar with speculaas, this is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit, traditionally baked on St Nicholas' feast in the Netherlands and Belgium and around Christmas in Germany. You can also buy it as a spice for baking, or as sandwich spread (Speculoos). Spiced with Speculaas kruiden (nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger), thin and crunchy speculaas biscuits bring a spicy twist to this classic Italian dessert. This version is without coffee, therefore also child friendly.

Instructions In a big bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese, quark, sugar and vanilla sugar until creamy, but be careful to not over whip it. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it just holds its shape, and then gently fold it into the mascarpone mixture. Use a few spoons of cream and spread it on the bottom of a deep 25cm cake tin or serving dish. Arrange half of the speculaas biscuits on top of it and sprinkle frozen berries on the speculaas layer. Spread the rest of the cream and finish with the second layer of


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Ingredients 250 g Mascarpone 250 g Quark (Magere kwark) 100 g Sugar 1 pack Vanilla sugar 200 g Whipping cream (Slagroom) 200 g Speculaas biscuits 400 g Frozen berries

Cocoa powder to decorate

Taste of Dutch

speculaas cookies. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving. Sprinkle each tiramisu piece with a layer of cocoa powder using a fine sifter, just before bringing to the table.

Written by Milena Stanojevic-Bergink

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Life Experience


In May this year my first grandchild was born and for this happy event, I stepped up to technology to help us get our relationship started.

It started the night he was born. My daughter Catherine and I prepared for a Skype chat from the hospital so she could give me the news and let me see him right away. There would be no sleep for me the night my grandson was going to be born so Hans and I set ourselves up to wait with snacks and music. Cathy's call came around 02:00. I was not 100% awake but levitated from the couch and fumbled everything and then recovered and got Skype going without video. It was great because the pictures came in via Facebook soon after. I was pleased and proud to see the little guy they named Natsu, which means 'summer' in Japanese.


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My grandson had the biggest mop of black hair that has only grown more impressive. With pictures coming in by snail mail and Facebook, I have watched him grow. Now he's smiling, teething, and chewing on Sophie the Giraffe, a French toy I sent him that he likes very much. Recently, we had a video chat during "normal" hours. For this we chose Facetime. Working out a time to call was harder. Depending on the time change, we are six or seven hours apart from the west end of Lake Superior in Canada. Cathy and I settled on 20:00 hours here/14:00 there. Natsu was having a nap so we

Life Experience

postponed it to 21:00/15:00. When we started he was happy and alert. By the end he was ready for another nap. I was amazed how well it worked. Cathy and I did most of the chatting while Natsu contributed a few contented gurgles and looked occasionally at the screen, aware of my voice. It was fun to talk with my daughter and watch him play on a blanket with his toys. It was almost like a real visit with tea and cookies. I just couldn't hold him - that will have to wait until I see him in person which won't be until next year at least. My son-in-law uses Facetime to keep in touch with his family in Japan so Natsu gets to know all his grandparents over Facetime! We all have become comfortable using Facetime as our first choice.

My how times have changed! Keeping in touch with family overseas used to involve writing letters on special blue airmail paper and envelopes and sending parcels which would take weeks to arrive and, for urgent situations, we could send a telegram. Pictures were taken on a roll of film that had to be developed so you'd wait until the roll was full before sending them to be developed which would take a while and it would always be a surprise what you got. Now we snap and send. I'm looking forward to seeing Natsu in person and it's good to know that when I do, I won't be a stranger.

Written by Margaret Metsala

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