ACCESSing information for internationals
2019-06-07 | By Olivia Van Den Broek-Neri
Since 1986, ACCESS has been a valuable information source for the international community. We collect and organise key information for internationals, with a multitude of volunteers responsible for compiling it.
The ACCESS Helpdesk can be contacted by phone or email, and we endeavour to respond to inquiries via email within two working days. Making use of our database of “expat referred and preferred” service suppliers, we try to provide our clients with three options to answer their inquiry.
Our volunteers, once new (or returning) arrivals have a unique insight into the questions asked upon arrival in the Netherlands. Our group of volunteers keep up with the issues facing internationals in the Netherlands to ensure our Helpdesks and website are always up-to-date.
The ACCESS website has a comprehensive collection of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) compiled from our years of answering client questions. Beyond that, if internationals have a question not answered on our website, they can get in touch and we will research and provide guidance how to best support them.
Our DAISY database
At the heart of this knowledge is the Database Access Information System, an integral part of ACCESS. Known as DAISY, this database is continuously updated by a group of ACCESS volunteers making it a valuable source of the information provided via the ACCESS Helpdesks and website.
Originally from Germany, Heiner Pierenkemper manages the IRD (Information Research Department), and with three other volunteers constantly updates the database. As of April 2019, there were 5,344 listings covering an array of services. Categories include: support groups, helplines and counselling, dog walking services and children’s activities. “We are constantly striving to find new service providers,” says Heiner.
The database includes contact details and a two or three sentence description about the types of services each provider offers. “You can compare it to an address book,” he explains. While there is no charge to be included in the database, services or providers must meet certain requirements. IRD is responsible for checking these requirements.
Another key resource
“A lot has changed over the years,” says Madhavi Mistry. Originally from India, Mahdavi has lived in the Netherlands for 28 years, volunteered in different ACCESS positions and been Communications Manager for two years.
ACCESS launched its new website in 2018, and FAQs were incorporated and presented in a new and more user-friendly format. Madhavi says, “We have made them more concise.” These FAQs are the go-to place for many internationals thinking of moving to the Netherlands, arriving here, or even having lived here for a while.
“We also have feature articles on the website,” Madhavi says. “That our partners and trainers write for us.” These articles cover a range of topics, including the Dutch school system and career tips. “It is another way to provide information to the expat community,” she says.
Online articles are also shared with a larger population via the organisation’s social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and ACCESS uses these channels to engage, share and respond to inquiries.
While the Helpdesks receive many questions, some have become standard. “For example, people often ask about the difference between international schools and Dutch schools,” Madhavi says. “And how will that affect their children’s later education.”
While other questions can focus areas such as healthcare, housing, childcare, and transport, recently the Helpdesk volunteers are getting more questions about pensions, and the most downloaded FAQ covers dual careers–advice for “accompanying spouses” on building a networking community and keeping professional skills updated.
From a book to a booklet to DAISY
During 13 years of ACCESS volunteer service, Dutch native Genoveva Geppaart has seen the organisation undergo a major transformation. When she began, it was not compulsory to begin at the Helpdesk, whereas now it is a valuable starting point for all volunteers. Back then, “the phone was ringing all of the time,” she recalls. “At ACCESS in those days, we didn’t get a lot of email contact. Unlike now.”
Genoveva explains how information was in booklet and fact sheet form that volunteers referred to. “I became coordinator of the fact sheets,” she says. Her first assignment was to change the format of the fact sheets. The Publications Department designed a new format and guides were born.
Helping throughout the expat cycle
These guides grew as new questions were answered by volunteers. “We were doing a lot of work for people who were new to the Netherlands, but almost every international leaves the Netherlands at some point,” Genoveva says. By adding information about leaving the country, Genoveva pointed out that ACCESS would be addressing all parts of the expat’s “life cycle” in the Netherlands. Another guide was created.
Questions might be getting harder
“The questions seem more complicated nowadays,” says Genoveva. “Maybe because people have already started looking online before they contact us.” But because ACCESS’ vision remains the same, to help people successfully settle in the Netherlands by providing essential and comprehensive assistance, DAISY and the knowledge of the volunteers is still key.
ACCESS volunteers reflect the clients we serve. We have been on the journey they are on, from the pre-arrival, arrival and settling-in process. We know what new arrivals do not yet know, where to find the answers, and who to contact for solutions. Our information database is a valuable tool in helping us to assist our clients.
“We are a non-profit organisation, and we are here to help expats who come to the Netherlands and provide free information so please visit our website,” says Mahdavi. “If you don’t find answers to your questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. You will get an answer!”
About the author
California-native Olivia van den Broek-Neri works as Project Coordinator Communications & Events at Holland Expat Center South in Eindhoven, and was previously an ACCESS volunteer.