Going Home – Easier Said Than Done

Saying farewell is hardly ever easy. Our guest blogger Ben shares in the following his thoughts on the temporality of expat life and on going home again…

Hong Kong is such a transitory city. You have people from all over the world coming here to study, to work, or to live; but usually just temporarily. Sometimes they stay for a few years, and sometimes just for a few short months. It’s this ever changing environment that allows you to make friends so quickly, but on the flip side, it seems that there are always good-bye parties to attend. Recently, I had to bid farewell to a few friends in Hong Kong. It seemed like we had just gotten to know each other, and yet it was already time to say good-bye.

InterNations Expat Blog Saying GoodbyeI remember one good friend in particular. Her assignment at the Hong Kong office was up, and she was being called back to the head office. It was time for her to go home. During one of our last outings together, I asked her how she felt. She told me, “You really start to miss where you were because you forget all the disadvantages and only remember the good things.” She was understandably sad because this was her first time living abroad. She’d made some unforgettable memories and great friends. At the same time, she was nervous because going “home” would not be the same.

Having lived in a few different places and attended countless farewell parties for both friends and for myself, I understood what she was going through. I have often experienced short periods of depression when I returned home. The first thing I miss is the adrenaline rush of being in a foreign locale. When I am abroad, even mundane tasks can turn into an adventure – sometimes a very frustrating one. However, after returning home, I often forget the difficult moments and why they were so stressful. I just remember the excitement.

Secondly, everything at home seems to be the same: the people, the food, and my old stomping grounds. But for some strange reason they don’t feel the same. What I have soon come to realize is that it’s me who has changed. I am not the same person who left, perhaps, just one year ago. I have grown and been infused with new ideas and new perspectives. As journalist Pico Iyer so eloquently states it: “Once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home, become something different.”

Lastly, by being abroad, I usually have a wealth of interesting experiences and stories to share, but I often find that there are not too many people who I can share them with. Many people around me don’t seem to be that interested in hearing about them. I have learned over time it is not that they don’t care about me. They simply can’t relate very much to what I went through. When it is hard to relate to something, it is also hard to contribute to the conversation. And when it is hard to contribute to the conversation, it’s really best to change the topic.

InterNations Expat Blog Going HomeI am fully aware that my Hong Kong journey will probably come to an end eventually. There will be many parties to attend and farewells to say. I always hope that I will be able to stay in contact with the people I’ve met along the way. I do try my best, and all the new technological tools are definitely helpful, but everyone gets busier and it becomes harder to keep in touch.

When the adrenaline and excitement slowly subside, I am left with my thoughts and memories. I know that I will probably go through a period of melancholy while adjusting to my new-old surroundings. But after returning home, I always try to keep in mind what writer Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in seeing with new eyes.”

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations at the Expat-Expo Ticino

On Sunday, March 30th, our two Lugano Ambassadors Maria-José Horstkamp and Alon Goldreich, along with their team of helpers, spread the InterNations spirit at the local Expat-Expo in the Ticino region of Switzerland. In Lugano’s Palazzo dei Congressi, they distributed flyers, enrolled quite a few new members, and created a lot of visibility for our community.

InterNations Blog Expat Expo Ticino Pic 2 From the beginning, the booth was abuzz with conversation. Local InterNations members visited the booth and mingled with other expats. There were moments when a dozen people gathered around the stall, which attracted considerable attention. No other booth caused the same kind of interest, except for the food stalls maybe.

Some people came to our booth because they had heard about InterNations and wanted to know more. Others approached us out of curiosity, and some came because they were interested in the free raffle. All of them were welcomed by the Ambassadors and warmed up quickly to the concept of our network. Furthermore, they got to know some of our friendly and welcoming InterNations members and started chatting with them.

Our Ambassadors truly went the extra mile and organized everything themselves: They made the arrangements, they set up the physical location, and they used their social skills to get people involved. InterNations is about connecting expats and global minds, and the success of the Expat-Expo highlights the power of this idea.

InterNations Blog Expat Expo Ticino Pic 1 After the Ambassadors had arranged the logistics, everything else happened all on its own. Our members talked to non-members, shared some stories, and many people decided to sign up. And this is in no small part due to the genuine spirit of openness that each InterNations member demonstrated.

This event also offered an opportunity to network with other companies and even venues (i.e. restaurants, hotels, etc); accordingly, our Ambassadors proactively sought out new ideas for activities and ways to enhance their official events.

Our Ambassadors Maria and Alon used the banners and proceeds of previous events to help our network grow and get new members on board. We would like to thank them for their great commitment and for sharing the InterNations spirit so generously!

(Image credit: Jim Fok, Lugano Foto)

Visualizing International Communication Patterns

Can some graphics with lots of arrows, squiggly lines, and a couple of captions save your international business meetings? One man thinks they can.

Cross-Cultural Communication Charts

Richard D. Lewis is an author and a consultant for cross-cultural communication. In his approach to doing business around the globe, he has attempted to summarize the conversational attitudes of various nationalities in a series of diagrams.

An online article that depicts these “communication charts”, as Lewis calls them, went viral a while ago, and so we’ve decided to take a closer look.

Hand drawing chart in whiteboardAt first glance, his simplification of how different nationals will approach, for example, corporate negotiations verges on the stereotypical at times. According to Lewis, Italian business people are often “verbose”, the Australians tend to be informal and “matey”, and the Danish put great emphasis on “hygge”, their version of well-being and relaxed intimacy.

Orderly Germans

Being German myself, I did find myself nearly laughing out loud when I scrutinized the communication chart for business talks among Germans. That particular illustration is all distinct and direct steps, as well as orderly, straightforward lines.

According to the captions, German business meetings usually include such stages as “examining the facts”, “making a frank proposal”, and “offering a counter-proposal” if the original suggestion should meet with unexpected resistance. The participants are very evidence-based in their outlook and can rather labor their points during discussions.

While the unofficial German motto is, “just the facts, please”, the official one is definitely “follow the agenda” (no detours or sidetracks allowed). And whereas other cultures strive for “clarity” of outcome, or for reaching an agreement, that’s apparently not enough for us nit-picky Germans. A result isn’t merely a result, but “the truth is the truth”, end of story.

The reason why I almost burst out laughing at those descriptions is because I actually recognized my own behavior to a certain extent. Admittedly, I love having an agenda and sticking to its points. I’ve also been called “awfully German” in my frankness before, though that comment was meant in a jocular manner.

Understated Brits

The person who considered me the cliché of a blunt, outspoken German was my former English conversation teacher. I attended his classes for eight years, during my university days and beyond.

My teacher was a very British gentleman, who’d taught English as a foreign language around the world and then settled in Munich to work for the local branch of a multi-national company. I wonder what he’d make of Lewis’s charts. InterNations Expat Blog International Communication Patterns 2

I’d like to think that I also recognize some of my old language teacher’s “typically English” traits from the respective diagram. While I preferred cutting right to the chase in debates, he wanted to share his appreciation of small talk.

When the discussions among us students were gradually becoming heated or tedious, he’d remain calm and unflappable, relieving the tension with a dry joke or two. Even in the face of verbal resistance, he avoided open confrontation and went for vague compromises or understated humor instead. “Don’t rock the boat” could have been his motto, too.

Everything’s Always More Complicated?

However, other team members at the InterNations office disagree with Lewis’s assessments. One of my co-workers, somewhat familiar with Finland and its people, told me that she doesn’t share his impression of a very laconic and yet highly efficient Finnish work culture. However, Lewis himself has lived and worked in Finland for many years.

As usual, such differences in opinion show that, even for experienced expats, it can be difficult to summarize the business world and mindset of an entire country – be it in a few sentences or a few strokes. However, such simplified models of culture can be a great starting point for exploring how other people work and talk and think.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Book Review: Quiet New York

“Let silence take you to the core of life.”

This quote by the 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi could serve as the unofficial motto for author Siobhan Wall and her series of unusual travel guides. She is an artist, photographer, writer, and curator in search of tranquility, even in the very midst of urban life.

Motivated partly by her personal preference for a slower and quieter way of life, partly by an illness that caused some loss of hearing, this quest for silence has inspired four eclectic travel books so far.

After Quiet Amsterdam, Quiet London, and Quiet Paris, the latest volume, Quiet New York, is just fresh off the presses. It is a guide to a selection of peaceful places in the biggest US metropolis, oases of calm right in the City That Never Sleeps.

IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 1The vivid evocation of NYC’s soundtrack in the book’s introduction makes this sound like a rather elusive goal: New York is full of noises, from the early-morning clanging of the garbage trucks, over the constant honking of angry cab drivers, to the throbbing beats of party music from the city’s nightclubs. There are even some construction sites that are busy 24/7, at noon as well as midnight!

However, in the course of her seven-week research, the author did assemble an astounding variety of silent spots in all five boroughs of New York City, free of traffic noise and background music. Many of them are word-of-mouth recommendations by friendly locals.

The over 150 portraits all provide brief descriptions of the location, an illustrative photograph taken by the author herself, as well as practical information for visitors. Both tourists and residents who are new in town may now take a laidback, blessedly noise-free tour round the featured places from one of the following categories:

• Parks and gardens IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 3
• Museums and art galleries
• Cafés and restaurants
• Places to relax
• Shops and bookstores
• Places near water
• Libraries and cultural centers
• Places of worship
• Places to stay

Some are fairly well-known locations that even I have heard about. (Unfortunately, I’ve never been to NYC, though it’s definitely on my list of places to see before I die.) These include, for example, Central Park, the inter-faith chapel at the United Nations, or Katz’s Deli of When Harry met Sally fame.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of unassuming nooks and crannies off the beaten track: for instance, several community gardens created by local activists and lovingly maintained by neighborhood residents, or an old-fashioned millinery shop for hand-crafted headgear.

The selection of quiet places also reflects New York’s history and diversity: In the museums, you can explore, among other things, the city’s colonial era, 19th-century immigrant life on the Lower East Side, or contemporary gay and lesbian art.

Cultural centers are dedicated to the resident Korean, Japanese, and African-American communities, and St Peter’s Catholic Church is introduced alongside the beautiful Central Synagogue and a Quaker meeting house.

Obviously, you can sample diverse cuisines in New York City, too. In the proposed eateries, you can enjoy Chinese dumplings, organic food, or traditional Italian dishes in peace and quiet.IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 2

If you are on a shoestring budget, you may be interested in free institutions such as public libraries and parks, but there’s something for the well-heeled as well: You can relax at an upscale spa or sleep in a luxury apartment suite with its own Zen garden.

For me, the concept of Quiet New York holds great personal appeal: I rather like exploring cosmopolitan cities, but I’m also a bit of an introvert who gets stressed out by too many crowds and too much noise. Travel guides like this one could be a nice solution for this dilemma. If or when I finally make my dream of going to NYC come true, Quiet New York could be a useful source of information and inspiration.

For example, I’d dearly like to see The Cloisters, a museum of medieval art designed in the style of a French monastery and situated in Fort Tyron Park, above the Hudson River. The author’s own favorite spot sounds like a great place for a picnic in spring: In Brooklyn Botanic Garden, you can admire the cherry blossom esplanade in April, or dine in a bluebell wood in May.

Perhaps this book will inspire you as well!

What are *your* favorite peaceful places round the globe?

PS: If you are an expat living in New York, feel free to come to a book signing at Word Brooklyn (126 Franklin St) on Sunday, April 6, at 4 pm.

Special thanks to Siobhan for the review copy of her book!

(Photo credit: 1) Japanese Pond in Brooklyn Botanic Garden, public domain 2) Red Coat / Red Stairs (Roosevelt Island, NYC, at Dusk) by Ludovic Bertron 3) Central Synagogue, NYC, public domain)

Make Your Choice: Voting Rights for Expats

Today, we’re exploring the issue of voting rights for expats, especially within the EU. Find more information on absentee voting below!

Outside the InterNations office in Munich, the cityscape is still cluttered with slightly faded posters for the most recent electoral campaign. About two weeks ago, eligible residents were invited to go to the polls and vote for the new city council. On Sunday, another run-off ballot will decide who is going to be Munich’s next mayor.

Voting Locally

For some members of the expat community in town, local elections may have a special status. Since 1992, expatriate EU nationals have been allowed to cast their vote or stand for candidate in their current country of residence, provided they live in another EU member state.

Some countries in the European Union also permit non-EU resident to participate in local elections. This is, for example, the case in Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden.

InterNations Blog Absentee Voting for Expats Pic 1Compared to the huge media response that usually accompanies national campaigns, voting on a local level seems somehow less exciting. However, decisions made in local politics often affect our day-to-day lives more than we might think.

In Munich, for instance, the municipal government is involved in issues as diverse as disposing of our household waste, maintaining the public transport network, running daycare centers for toddlers, or sponsoring cultural events.

Therefore, it’s a bit surprising that comparatively few EU citizens make use of their right to the local vote. About 8 million people living in other EU member states are eligible to vote, but only 10% of them go to the polls in municipal elections across various various member states.

Voting for the European Parliament

Voting for a new mayor or your town councilor of choice isn’t the only political decision that European expats may be entitled to. As soon as Munich’s posters for the mayoral elections are taken down, I suspect that others will soon appear in their place. After all, the EU-wide elections for the members of the European Parliament are scheduled for May 22, 2014.

Again, EU nationals can vote in any other member state where they reside. In this case, the voter turnout tends to be a lot higher. It normally ranges from 45% to over 90%, depending on the individual country.

And yet again, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of our decisions. The European Parliament can debate and pass laws applied from the Polar Circle to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. The institution is also responsible, together with the European Council, for discussing and adopting the EU budget. InterNations Blog Absentee Voting for Expats Pic 2

If you’d like to read up on the impending European elections, please check out European Citizens Abroad. The non-partisan NPO wants to raise awareness of EU issues, increase the voter turnout among EU expatriates, and help to standardize some aspects of voting legislation within the EU.

For example: nationals of some EU member states can participate in EU elections even while they live outside the EU, whereas other can’t. If you do decide to go the polls, the site’s voter registration deadlines for various EU countries are of interest as well.

Voting in National Elections

Last but not least: what about expats in general, EU nationals or not, and absentee voting in national elections? If you live abroad and still want to have some say in national politics back home, it’s best to get informed as early as possible.

Get in touch with your nearest embassy or consulate and ask them for further details on the absentee ballot. Often, there is some sort of application process to complete and that may take a while.

So, no matter where you are from and where you live now, find out in which elections you are able to vote and how to go about it. Regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to participate, at least you can make an informed decision.

(Image credit: 1) Vote icon: public domain 2) Flag of the European Union by flickr user rockcohen)

Founder’s Diary: Farewell in Madrid

Time to say goodbye… InterNations founder and CEO Malte Zeeck talks about the special occasion that motivated his latest trip to our Local Community in Madrid.

In early March, I was back in Madrid after quite a while. The reason for my visit was a rather sad one, though: not only was I planning to attend an InterNations Event (obviously not the sad part), but I also had to say goodbye to our long-time Ambassador in the Spanish capital, Catharina.

Way back in March 2008, about half a year after InterNations went online, I organized the very first Madrid Event myself. We were still looking for the perfect InterNations Ambassador to look after our budding expat community.

InterNations Expat Blog Madrid March 2014 Pic 3_Photo Credit_jpvargas at flickrAt that time, the Local Community in Madrid counted barely 500 members. Nonetheless, as many as 70 guests came to the first get-together in a bar near the Puerta de Alcalá, right in the city center.

That’s where I met Catharina, a German expat from Hamburg, who’d heard from her friend Daniela (then the InterNations Ambassador in Barcelona) about our network. So we immediately found some common ground, deciding to develop InterNations in Spain together.

Catharina had moved to Madrid only recently in order to join her boyfriend, who was running his own business there. She knew what being new in town felt like. Ever since spring 2008, she’s been our Ambassador in the Spanish capital and organized regular events for the international and global-minded community.

These days, there’s actually an InterNations Event in Madrid every week. They take place in the city’s most popular venues, in exclusive locations like the rooftop terrace of the ME Hotel, the Real Café Bernabéu, or the Fortuny nightclub. No wonder that these gatherings attract up to 500 members from all over the world!

By now, the Local Community in Madrid has grown to an impressive size of nearly 20,000 people. InterNations has clearly become the place to be for expats living in the heart of Spain.InterNations Expat Blog Madrid March 2014 Pic 4_Photo Credit_Pazit Polak at flickr

During those six years, Catharina has had a lot of support: from her Co-Ambassadors, her assistants, and, of course, from her boyfriend. They got married and now have two kids, and she still managed to host the best events in town.

Therefore, it was with a rather melancholic feeling that I traveled to Madrid for Catharina’s farewell party. For the InterNations Event, she’d reserved the Callejón de Serrano, a stylish club on one of Madrid’s poshest shopping streets.

Over 300 people, regulars and relative newcomers alike, were there to bid their Ambassador farewell. Everyone told me what a great job Catharina had been doing and how much they’d miss her, now that she was going to return to Hamburg with her family.

I’d bought one of the biggest bouquets available at a local flower shop, as a little “thank you” gesture for everything that Catharina had done for our community. Handing her the flowers turned out to be a very touching good-bye – it was clearly a highly emotional moment for Catharina. She received an enthusiastic applause from the guests, and afterwards, they were lining up to say their goodbyes in person.

A few members also expressed their interest in the Ambassador position. For obvious reasons, we are now searching for new InterNations Ambassadors to follow in Catharina’s footsteps. One thing is certain: they’ll have a big pair of shoes to fill!InterNations Expat Blog Madrid March 2014 Pic 1

After the event on Thursday night, I got to stay in Madrid for a few more days. Thus I had the chance to invite Catharina and her husband to La Mucca, one of the best tapas places in the city. (The next time you are in Madrid, just give it a try.)

We dined out together on the first really beautiful weekend in spring, and Madrid was appearing at its best. Due to the mild weather, the residents flocked to the streets, enjoying the sunshine during the day and the buzz of the nightlife later on. There was very little that pointed at the severe economic and financial crisis that Spain is going through at the moment.

After such a lovely weekend, I’m sure I’ll find the opportunity to return to Madrid soon enough. We have big plans for our InterNations Community there, but I can’t reveal them quite yet. More on this topic is to follow – we’ll keep you updated!

(Image credit: 1) Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid by flickr user jpvargas 2) The Bear and the Arbutus Tree, Madrid by fickr user Pazit Polak 3) Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Got Spring Fever?

Have you ever heard of “spring fever”? (No, it’s not the same as hay fever.) Today, we’re talking about the difference betwen “spring fever” and its negative side, “spring tiredness”. Read on for some helpful tips on how to stay active and healthy in spring.

Finally! In the past week, spring has arrived here in Munich. Last weekend, sunshine and blue skies lured the locals out of their cozy apartments: everyone switched off their central heating, flung the windows open, and then took to the streets.

Beergardens, open-air cafés, and ice-cream parlors were packed as though they were all to be closed tomorrow. Munich is firmly in the thrall of “spring fever”.

“Spring Fever” vs. “Spring Tiredness”

In English, you talk of said “spring fever” to refer to the sudden increase in energy, vitality, and even libido that many people feel once the cold season’s over at last. In German, however, there’s a different expression.Beautiful tulips in various colors are in full bloom.

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit literally means ‘spring tiredness’. Indeed, more than a few folks go through an annual bout of Frühjahrs- müdigkeit before they eventually enjoy the beneficial effects of spring fever.

In regions particularly affected by seasonal changes, for example large parts of Europe and North America, spring tiredness is a fairly common phenomenon. The closer you live to the equator, the less impact it has. In the sub-tropics and tropics, it shouldn’t be an issue at all.

It’s Those Pesky Hormones!

Spring tiredness usually rolls around in March or April – in the Northern Hemisphere, that is – and last for several days, if you’re lucky, and for up to one month, if you’re not. Typical symptoms include sleepiness, exhaustion, dizziness, headaches, and mood swings.

It’s not an actual disease, but it can be really irritating. Why do so many of us have to put up with those annoying ailments when we’d rather bask in the sunny weather?

Well, we just can’t deny our animal nature. Us human beings don’t hibernate and then wake up again like so many other mammals, but we do get a slight “hangover” after the long, cold darkness of the winter months. Once daylight hours lengthen and temperatures rise, our body reacts to these changes.

A tired-looking brown bear is lying on a rock. The brain starts curbing the production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle) and begins to ramp up serotonin and endorphins instead. These substances are responsible for many bodily functions (such as feeling pain or hunger), but they are widely known as “happiness hormones” for a reason. However, until our hormonal levels are perfectly balanced, our body gets a bit confused, simply speaking.

Moreover, warmer temperatures widen our blood vessels. which makes the blood circulate more freely through our veins, but which also causes our blood pressure to drop. If you have low blood pressure to begin with, this will contribute even further to your general lack of energy and moodiness.

How to Keep Active and Healthy

In short, we suffer from a kind of seasonal “mini-jetlag” until we’ve adjusted to the new environment. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to feel fit and healthy again!

• Natural light and fresh air are the two easiest remedies. Venture outdoors for a brisk walk as often as possible – even if it’s cloudy and cool outside.

• If you are a sporty kind of person, this is the perfect opportunity to indulge in some exercise. Endurance sports such as swimming, running, hiking, Nordic walking, or cycling are particularly recommended.

A smiling young woman is doing stretching exercises in an urban park. • Even if you are very tired, try to adopt a regular sleep schedule that follows the sun, more or less: early to bed and early to rise, and perhaps a short power nap after lunch. (Emphasis on short!)

• Alternating hot and cold showers will also raise your energy levels. If you aren’t brave enough to begin your day like this, the occasional visit to the sauna will do the trick just as well.

What (Not) to Eat

Vitamins and proteins are good for you, too. In winter, we tend to eat rich and heavy foods: this is another reminder of our mammalian forebears, who needed protective layers of fat during times of scarcity. Furthermore, before greenhouses and freezers were invented, fresh produce was often hard to come by after harvest time.

In spring, you should switch to plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, as well as lighter dishes, for instance fish, grilled chicken, or tofu. Don’t forget to drink lots of mineral water and herbal tea as well, and lay off the alcohol and hot chocolate for a while.

Of course, you shouldn’t overdo the self-chastisement. You still want to enjoy the spring fever, don’t you?

Just go outside, take a long walk, and sit down in a nice café afterwards. Maybe you could switch the ice-cream sundae for a fruit salad, but you can still soak in the sunshine regardless.

What are you doing to keep fit and healthy in spring?

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

False Economy? The EIU Cost of Living Index 2014

In last week’s blog post, we introduced the best (and worst) cities for expat life in 2014. Thus, it’s only fitting that we’re taking a closer look at the worldwide cost of living today. We are examining the results of the latest EIU Cost of Living Study and how helpful they are for individual expats.

If you want to indulge in luxury, pack your belongings and move to Singapore. At least, that’s what the Economist Intelligence Unit claims. According to their latest cost of living index, the Southeast Asian city state is the priciest expat hotspot on the globe.

InterNations Expat Blog EIU Index 2014 Pic 1Every year for the past three decades, the EIU has published a yearly survey, ranking up to 140 international cities in 93 countries, based on what expat executives need to pay in order to maintain their lifestyle.

In the 2014 study, the top ten costliest destinations are as follows:

• Singapore (Singapore)
• Paris (France)
• Oslo (Norway)
• Zurich (Switzerland)
• Sydney (Australia)
• Geneva (Switzerland)
• Caracas (Venezuela)
• Melbourne (Australia)
• Tokyo (Japan)
• Copenhagen (Denmark)

In Singapore, this list has caused quite a stir among the concerned public: it fits neatly into ongoing debates about rising living expenses and the resulting worries among the local population. After all, Singapore is often called “the Switzerland of Asia” for a reason.

It’s hardly surprising, either, that two cities in actual Switzerland have made the list, or that Norway and Japan make an appearance: all these countries are known for forcing residents to dig deep into their pockets.

In some other ways, however, the ranking seems a bit counter-intuitive. What on Earth makes the Venezuelan capital such an unaffordable place?

Once you move a little further down the list, the bafflement continues: InterNations Expat Blog EIU Index 2014 Pic 2 Is Frankfurt (Germany) on #11 so much more expensive than both London and NYC? Is Mumbai in India on the very last rank (#131) really the cheapest metropolis ever?

If we review the survey methodology, we might clear up some of the confusion. The EIU researchers have compared about 400 prices for 160 products or services across a dozen different categories, from groceries over utilities and rental costs to leisure activities.

Each price is converted into USD, and then the items are weighted according to a unified pattern. For the final ranking, the price of staple foods, for example, is of much greater importance than, say, the expenses for concert tickets.

However, as just mentioned, the weighting scale for the items is indeed the same everywhere. This, in turn, assumes that spending patterns remain the same around the globe.

One of the survey’s original purposes is to help companies decide upon the cost-of-living allowances for their foreign assignees. Expats on international assignments – thus the argument – should have the financial means to live in the same manner, with the same kinds of goods, as they would back home.

InterNations Expat Blog EIU Index 2014 Pic 3Obviously, this reasoning doesn’t account for the different lifestyles among local residents, nor does it take into consideration that expatriates, too, often adjust their way of life to various circumstances.

One of the reasons cited for Singapore’s #1 ranking are the extremely high transport costs, due to the prohibitive expenses associated with owning a car. Now it’s true that ownership of a vehicle is a downright extravagance in Singapore. But in a fairly diminutive state with a well-developed public transport network, plenty of expats will think twice about their need for speed and switch to the MRT railway system instead.

What is more, the fact that all prices are converted to US dollars and compared to New York City as a base poses another fundamental problem. For instance, the Venezuelan bolívar is officially pegged to US currency: 1 US dollar is worth 6.3 VEB. Emphasis on “officially”.

As the country has been suffering from high inflation for years, the reality looks rather different. On the black market, you’ll get far more favorable exchange rates for your dollar, which means that Caracas should be a lot further down the list.

Of course, Venezuela – a country plagued by currency depreciation and violent unrest – is an extreme example. Still, the conversion to US dollars means that fluctuating exchange rates can cause changes in rank just as much as actual price increases or reductions do.

If you’re worried about your actual expenses after an impending move, rankings such as the EIU one aren’t actually false, but they can be misleading. Above all, they don’t replace the need some for in-depth research according to your personal situation!

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto.com 2) Sunrise, Marina Bay, Singapore by Mohd Kamal 3) 100 Bolívar Banknote by Cleiberlopez)

The Best (and Worst) Cities for Expat Living

InterNations takes a closer look at the highest-ranking — and lowest-ranking — international destinations in the Mercer Quality of Living Survey 2014.

What kind of qualities should you bring to the table so you can enjoy expat life in the most livable cities worldwide? It might come in handy to have some German language skills – or to really love hobbits. Being a fan of ice hockey might also do in a pinch. Just kidding!

However, the expatriate hotspots with the (allegedly) highest quality of life around the globe are indeed clustered in a number of specific countries, i.e. Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as New Zealand and Canada.

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Quality of Living 2014 Pic 1Every year, Mercer, a global HR consulting firm, conducts both a big cost of living and an in-depth quality of life survey. The data for the latter were collected last November, and the results were published only recently for the Mercer City Ranking 2014.

The Mercer team gathers detailed information on nearly 40 factors from 10 different categories that all influence the quality of living in a particular place. These factors can be political and social (e.g. safety and crime), economic, socio-cultural (e.g. degree of personal freedom), or medical (e.g. healthcare, health risks). Moreover, they assess local infrastructure, education, opportunities for leisure activities, housing, availability of consumer goods, and the natural environment (e.g. climate, special hazards).

All these variables determine the overall “livability” of a city for foreign assignees, expat executives, and their families. Depending on such rankings, personnel sent on certain assignments may or may not get a so-called “hardship allowance” as part of their relocation package. But for moving to the top destinations, no such financial incentive seems to be necessary.

The five highest-ranking cities in the current Mercer table include:

• Vienna (Austria)
• Zurich (InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Quality of Living 2014 Pic 2Switzerland)
• Auckland (New Zealand)
• Munich (Germany)
• Vancouver (Canada)

Other cities from the same countries make up nearly all of the first 15 to 25 places in the league table: Swiss metropolises Geneva and Bern are to be found on rank 8 and 13, respectively; Düsseldorf (#6) and Frankfurt (#7) aren’t far below Munich, while Berlin and Hamburg still show up among Mercer’s top twenty.

Canada is further represented with Ottawa (#14), Toronto (#15), and Montreal (#23) – all of which are soundly beaten by Kiwi capital Wellington (#12).

The European cities in particular received glowing recommendations for their general stability and safety, infrastructure and healthcare services, as well as recreational facilities. In addition, Canada and New Zealand both have breathtaking natural beauty to offer. Of course, in Munich, Vienna, and Zurich the awe-inspiring scenery of the Alps is less than a day’s journey away.

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Quality of Living 2014 Pic 3

On the other end of the scale, the lowest rankings go – rather unsurprisingly – to places greatly affected by poverty, natural disasters, social unrest, and war.
Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) was the theatre of a bloody civil war in the late 1990s, and the local infrastructure still hasn’t recovered from its aftermath. Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, regularly appears as a “no-go area” in travel warnings, due to the high risk of terrorist incidents and targeted kidnappings.

N’Djamena (Chad) is unfortunately (in)famous for being one of the poorest and most corrupt cities in the world, and Bangui (Central African Republic) is plagued by similar problems. After a putsch in the CAR about one year ago, the political situation remains unstable, and the city’s infrastructure is more or less non-existent. Even in the capital, a lack of water, electricity, and phone connections are often the norm.

On the last rank of all 223 Mercer cities, there’s Baghdad (Iraq) – still one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where only the International Zone provides a certain measure of safety for the foreign community. It’s a long way from drinking coffee in a Viennese café along the River Danube to the River Tigris, where armed guards are part of many people’s daily routine…

(Photo credit: 1) Michaelerplatz, Vienna by Marek Ślusarczyk 2) Town Hall, Zürich by Roland Zh 3) Devonport, Auckland by Ronnie Macdonald)

Things to Consider Before Taking an International Assignment

Since the new year 2014 is barely two months old, many of us are still considering new beginnings. If your new beginning involves working abroad as an expat woman, this is exciting news and you are in good company.

There is a projected boom in the number of expats over the next few years, due to organizations recognizing the value of developing leaders who intimately understand business at an international level. As you consider the option to work and live abroad, we would like to share some advice from women who have already taken the leap. InterNations Expat Women Advice Pic 1

Here are some thoughts that WiSER (Women in Senior-level Expatriate Roles) have shared with us on things to consider before accepting an expatriate assignment.

Think it through: Think deeply about the implications of moving to a wholly new environment.

Find an assignment that is a good cultural fit for you and your family: It is essential to do your homework in order to truly understand the market and other relevant variables, including safety, living conditions, schools, proximity to daily activities, and so forth.

Find a female-friendly employer: If you are considering an employer who provides international opportunities, it is also important to determine whether it has a corporate culture where female employees are encouraged to identify their goals and then helped to achieve them.

Make sure your family supports you: You need to think whether or not this is a good move for your family because it does change and impact everyone in the family. Without familial support from your partner and your children, your chances of succeeding will be undermined.

Make sure it is your personal choice, not just a career move: Despite the obvious career advantages of accepting an international assignment, you want to make an authentic decision. There is too much at stake and the impact on everybody involved is so big. We’d recommended you to rather not take on an international assignment if, deep down, it is not what you want.

Even if it has not been your lifelong plan, working abroad can be an excellent fit: Even if you have never seriously considered working abroad, you should examine the possibility. Remember: We rarely regret what we have tried, but we may well regret what we haven’t tried.InterNations Expat Women Advice Pic 2

It’s okay to have doubts: Despite their success in international roles, the women we interviewed revealed that they were occasionally plagued by doubts about their decision to accept an expatriate assignment.

These are what you might refer as the “preconditions” for embarking upon an international assignment. Do you have any other considerations to add? Please let us know.

Sapna Welsh and Caroline Kersten met in Bonn, Germany, as they moved there from the US and the Netherlands respectively, about four and a half years ago. With similar backgrounds in human resources and business in the international arena, they decided to take full advantage of their time in Germany to better understand women in the global workforce.

They joined forces at Leverage HR to help fast track women to the top. Moreover, they have also collaborated on their book “Worldly Women: the New Leadership Profile”.