International Center Tilburg

Since 2018, you can find the International Center in the IJzerstraat. A place for all Internationals in Tilburg; studying, graduated or working. As an International, you can come to the International Center here for help with housing, the language, or finding a job, among other things. But just as well for fun get-togethers, a nice chat or a beer! We spoke with initiators Thom and Zoë about connections, challenges, opportunities and coffee.

What brought you to Tilburg?

"My roots! In fact, I was born in Tilburg," Zoë tells us. "We met in Utrecht and now we are engaged. During our studies, we were introduced to the challenges of internationals in Utrecht. Compared to larger cities in the Randstad, we could imagine that internationals in Tilburg might also face these challenges. Finally, we were given the opportunity to start the International Center Tilburg and we seized it."

"In the first pilot, we looked at what the needs were. For example, there are challenges around housing, but there are also challenges around all the other 'practicalities,' such as application processes, that come with starting a life in a new country. In addition, we thought it would be cool to provide a place where internationals could meet each other, as well as Dutch citizens. From there we started building a concept with input from internationals." 

Where did you hear about these challenges?

"Initially, at our own study when we were still studying in 2018. You don't necessarily think about these challenges until you come into contact with internationals yourself. We were studying at the time when the turnaround of internationalization in education was taking place in the Netherlands. Half the students in our program were internationals. That's when we first heard what they were up against. That's where it started to come into play."

Many Internationals don't know where they can go. We wanted to cater to that.

How did you then come up with the idea for an International Center? 

"We didn't want to fill in too much beforehand what the concept should look like. No, we wanted to do that based on people's stories and experiences. Bottom-up, in other words. Looking at what the need is, where it is and then getting people to join the causel." 

"There are generally few facilities for internationals at the moment, let alone when we started in 2018. At the university it is well taken care of for students, but there are many groups of internationals who don't know where they can go. We wanted to cater to that. Open a place. See what comes in and try to help people with everything they need."

And what do you help internationals with here? 

"It comes down to four things, namely help with information issues, events, jobs and the language."

"The help with information issues boils down to the following: internationals don't always know what to do with certain documents, such as insurance. Also, they are not always well informed about this and there is no central place facilitated from the government to get help," Thom says. "Many of those documents are in Dutch. We help internationals deal with that and can tell them what steps to take based on their situation." 

"In terms of events, we organize several activities per month with the goal of connecting people and making events accessible to internationals. For example, we organize our own English-language comedy show. We also organize film screenings with English subtitles, dinners and drinks at hotspots around the city. Our goal is to try to connect people, but it's also just 'fun.'" 

Zoë continues, "Help with the language is a really big one. We started as a language school three years ago. We have about 70 students per semester. We teach Dutch courses in English. We started this because of the demand for affordable language schools. Also, we often missed a social approach to language courses. We wanted to offer that, which is why we started it." 

"Fourth, we help with jobs." Thom explains: "We mediate between employment agencies and employees on the one hand, and on the other hand, more and more companies are approaching us to place staff directly, for example for marketing and translation positions. Internationals receive all the information and assistance with application processes from us. In addition, we act as the employee's representative. We help them with disputes or other questions. In this way, we function as a kind of protective layer for them."

And is this your full-time work now? 

"Not at first, but it is now. It sometimes feels like our baby," they laugh together. "This is our full-time occupation. It's our job, which also feels like a hobby at the same time." 

"A lot of people ask if we receive funding. We don't get that. We make a conscious choice to do it this way," says Thom. In this, we are very inspired by the statement, "Many beautiful initiatives die in beauty."

Zoë explains: "We know so many beautiful initiatives that are dependent on funding. And when the funding stops, everything collapses. We don't want to depend on others, so that we can stand on our own feet and therefore exist for the long term. Therefore, we have created our concept so that the international community invests in itself. From the proceeds of the language courses, we can for example pay rent and offer assistance for free." 

So what does a workweek look like for you? 

"It depends on for whom," they both joke. "For the visitor, it's pretty 'tranquilo.' We are open three days a week, and only in the afternoon. Anyone can walk in whenever they want. There's a casual atmosphere here."

"For ourselves, it's pretty busy and hectic. We have a lot of things to do in that respect, and there are only two of us. One day you arrange all kinds of things for the language courses, then you make coffee and then you help people with important documents. One day you're doing boring administration, the next you're at a cool event. We want to make people feel at home here, so we try to know as many people as possible by name."

It is always very nice to see that there is a mix of working people, graduates and students. That's great because it allows people to learn from each other.

What kind of people visit the International Center?

"A third of our visitors are students. It is always very nice to see that there is a mix of working people, graduates and students. That's great because it allows people to learn from each other. The only thing they have in common is that they don't speak Dutch. When you are new to a country together, you can bond very quickly. We are very grateful that we can facilitate the first step in this." 

So, what have you noticed since you started working for internationals in Tilburg? 

"Lately you see that in a city like Tilburg, we have a lot of talent. Many students want to stay here to find their jobs here. However, most students leave for cities in the Randstad. That's not because they want to go there, but because that's where the jobs are. They cannot connect with the international companies in the area. Conversely, companies don't always know how to find the high potentials. So something is going wrong in the connection. We want to focus on that." 

But, in these challenges Thom mostly sees chances: "Some of the international students really do want to stay here. That's where we see opportunities. Keeping them here is a challenge, which is why we want to actively approach companies to see if they might be looking for English-speaking talent."


Are you curious about what the International Center has to offer? Look around on their website, or follow them on Instagram!