The Lucky Number: Happy 7th Birthday, InterNations!

Seven is a lucky number, and this is a lucky occasion for us: It’s the seventh birthday of InterNations. Seven years ago, in 2007, our website went online, launching what is today the world’s largest expatriate network.

Last year’s anniversary neatly coincided with us celebrating our 100,000th Facebook fan and member #1 million of our expat community. This time, we don’t have a round number of similar elegance to announce, but a lot has happened for InterNations in the last 12 months, especially this summer.

In June, we kicked off a major site relaunch. The complete overhaul of the InterNations website, starting with our brand-new networking feature, is our most important project right now. Most of the relaunch so far has been going on behind the scenes of Product Development & IT, but the next year in the life of InterNations will put the results of their hard work into the spotlight.

In the summer months, we also introduced the Expat Insights Survey, a look at the daily life of thousands of expats around the world. While we are still busy with giving our official survey report the finishing touches, we are looking forward to presenting you with the results very soon. We’ll keep you updated!

InterNations Expat Blog Happy Birthday Pic 2Last but certainly not least, this summer featured the very first InterNations World Games – a series of football matches to support the InterNations Volunteer Program. Here it is indeed taking part that counts, and everyone’s a winner in support of a good cause. The World Games were great fun for everyone involved, and we hope for a repeat performance next year.

Today, we are proud of what we have achieved in our seventh year and excited about what year #8 will bring. Therefore we’d like to invite all of our members to celebrate with us: Birthday events in our Local Communities around the world are spread out over the entire month of September.

If you haven’t been to an InterNations birthday party yet, just check our event calendar and watch out for our special 7th Anniversary Events. Enjoy!

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto 2) Sergej Kovalenko)

Founder’s Diary: Gothenburg

Gothenburg is one of our up-and-coming InterNations Communities in Sweden, with as many as 2500 members.

If you know a little about the city, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise: After Stockholm, Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest city with over 500,000 inhabitants, a historical university town located about 400 km from the capital. It has a sizable immigrant population as well – about 20% of residents are foreign-born.

Only a two-hour flight from Munich, the city is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the summer of the century in Sweden. By now the weather is back to normal – meaning some sunshine, interrupted by a few clouds and a light shower of rain once in a while.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 8

As I’m on a tight schedule, I can’t explore the city upon arrival. I just manage to quickly check in at my hotel, which is luckily not very far from tonight’s venue for the Gothenburg InterNations event. The Trädgår’n is an award-winning restaurant and nightclub in one of Gothenburg’s lovely parks – definitely an ideal location to meet up.

Trädgår’n, I’m told, is short for Trädgårdsföreningen, the Garden Society of Gothenburg, who founded this horticultural park over 150 years ago. It’s now one of the best-preserved 19th-century parks in Sweden, featuring a vintage palm house and a world-famous rose garden.

Networking Bingo

We have booked the whole venue for InterNations, and Lucia, our InterNations Ambassador in Gothenburg, welcomes our members. Lucia is a Romanian expat, with Swedish now being her second nationality. An economist and human geographer with an MBA, she has worked in the financial industry and is also interested in related research. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 1

As the event host, Lucia has come up with an original way of greeting her guests: She hands them a networking bingo card. You then have to collect the names, home countries, and occupations of up to nine other InterNations members. It’s a wonderful ice-breaker – everyone starts immediately to talk to various attendees, to mingle and circulate. With about 90 people from more than 30 different countries present, it shouldn’t be hard to fill that bingo card!

However, the winner will be drawn later on. First, it’s time for me to address the Gothenburg Community and say a few words of welcome. It’s a great opportunity to thank Lucia and the Consuls of our five local Activity Groups, as well as to say goodbye and thank you to Alexandra, an Austrian expat and our former Local Ambassador.

After my speech, we get to the second part of the bingo game: We now get to pick from the bowl full of business cards that were collected at the entrance from all arriving members for the game. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 2 Once we have started calling out people’s names, it takes a bit of patience, but we finally get our lucky winner.

The winner is Karin, a Swedish “repat” and passionate researcher who has just returned from a long stay in the US. There she worked on a postgraduate project at Columbia University’s Medical Center to study motor neurone biology and disease, a very impressive resumé. It is her first InterNations Event, and I hope she really enjoyed it – and not only because she got a nice book about cocktails out of it when winning first prize in the Bingo game.

Well, everyone seems to have a good time. As the official part of evening is winding down, a few members suggest moving on to another venue called Lounge(s). The nightclub located in a three-story building with a restaurant and three different dance floors seems to be very popular amongst the local crowd.

Exploring Gothenburg

The next day I meet Lucia, our Ambassador, together with her husband Andrei, another Romanian expat, at the Sjömagasinet Restaurant, a picturesque venue a little outside of Gothenburg, right by the seacoast. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 5 It is a great restaurant (boasting one star in the Guide Michelin), owned by Swedish entrepreneur and celebrity chef Ulf Wagner. He created a gemytlig Swedish atmosphere and serves mouth-watering food based on fresh local produce and traditional cuisine, like all sorts of herring or fish ravioli.

No wonder that the two have taken me here: Andrei is Consul of DinnerNations Gothenburg, our local foodies group, and they both share a passion for gourmet food from all over the globe. They frequently take out our InterNations members for really cool activities, like an Afro-Caribbean dinner or a local shellfish buffet.

After a delicious lunch, we take the ferry back to the city center. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Gothenburg_Pic 3 The boat ride provides an excellent view of Gothenburg, its docks and waterfront, some of the university buildings, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no time to visit one of the many islands in the Gothenburg archipelago – so, no romantic scenery and outdoor fun in the Kattegat for me. There’s definitely less nature than in Iceland on this trip…

In the evening, I have dinner at one of the restaurants around Andra Långgatan, a popular street for vintage shopping and dining among artsy and creative types. Before jetting back to Germany, I also get to discover Haga, a charming district with well-preserved wooden houses and lots of cozy cafés, and from the top of Skansen Kronan, a 17th-century fortress, I take a long last look of the cityscape. Hej då, Göteborg!

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 4

(Image credit: 1) Göteborg, Street Sign: public domain 2) Lana Vidmar 3)-5) Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

Founder’s Diary: Reykjavik

It’s cool, up north: Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, lately paid a visit to one of our northernmost Local Communities in the Icelandic capital.

“I wanted to go to the end of the world, but not quite so far away.” That’s what a German InterNations member from Cologne told me at our recent Reykjavik Event.

This pithy sentence actually describes my own impressions of the place pretty well. Reykjavik is only a four-hour flight from Munich, but landing in Iceland felt a bit like landing on another planet.

The country’s rugged nature and volcanic scenery are well known for attracting thousands of visitors every year: In 2013, over 800,000 international tourists came to the sparsely populated island just below the Arctic Circle. Rainbow Over Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

During my trip, I didn’t only meet plenty of adventurous visitors, but also plenty of expatriates in search of adventure:

They moved to Iceland to do scientific research on geothermal energy, to work in the fishing industry (the economy’s single most important sector), or to get creative in the contemporary art scene. Some even decided to leave everything behind and settle down in Iceland for good.

The InterNations Reykjavik Event

Together with a few traveling companions from EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs), I got to spend a few days in Iceland last month. Through Air BnB, we rented a typical Icelandic house to enjoy the local lifestyle in the capital.

Organized by our Reykjavik Ambassador Vishnu, a Ph.D. student from South India, the InterNations Event took place at Sky Bar, a venue with an amazing view of Reykjavik’s seashore.

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND - JUNY 9: Twilight scene of Harpa Concert Hal From the location’s panorama windows, we spotted Harpa, the waterfront concert hall and conference center – one of the capital’s newest landmarks.

About 25 members from over a dozen different countries – Canada, Germany, India, the US, and many more – came to mix and mingle, sharing their unique perspectives and individual backgrounds.

In addition to the above-mentioned geologists, I encountered a US actor and another member who organizes a large conference for the incumbent President of Iceland.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending a relatively low-key InterNations Event for once: Compared to our big parties and huge networking meet-ups in other cities, the gatherings in smaller Local Communities just give you more time to get to know and talk to everyone in person.

InterNations Expat Blog_Iceland_Pic 2 Despite the less numerous guest list, the event still lasted from around 7pm till midnight. When I left the location, the sky was still bright as daylight under the Arctic midnight sun. And the city didn’t sleep yet.

After the official get-together, we went for a last round of drinks at Rex Bar, one of Reykjavik’s most stylish clubs. The nation’s young and vibrant design culture has definitely made an impact visible in many of the capital’s sleek bars and elegant restaurants.

From Capital to Countryside: the “Golden Circle”

Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, may not be very big (population: less than 125,000), but it’s definitely a lovely city.

From the signature tower of Hallgrímskirkja, we took in the splendid view of the cityscape, from the surrounding mountains down to the sea. Some members of our little group even went on a whale-watching trip right off the local shore – all in a day’s work, so to speak.

But you can’t just go to Iceland and see nothing but the capital. Nature’s really the thing here, and so I set out to explore the Icelandic countryside.

Renting a huge and robust 4×4 monster jeep, especially adapted to local road conditions, we ventured on the so-called “Golden Circle” tour, a popular route in southern Iceland.

Arguably the country’s most beloved tourist route, the “Golden Circle” includes the valley of Haukaladur, where famous geysers blow their scalding fountains over 20 meters high, and the valley of þingvellir. Pingvellir National Park The latter isn’t only the erstwhile site of the world’s oldest parliament, but also a geological hotspot where you can observe two major tectonic plates drifting apart.

We also visited the breath-taking Gullfoss, Icelandic for “golden waterfall”, as well as the Langjökull glacier, where we even had the chance to drive a snowmobile over the eternal ice.

Lunar Landscapes, Thermal Spas, and Local Food

On yet another trip from the capital, we went for a hike on the slopes of one of the many volcanoes, and we participated in a quad “moon” tour as well: from volcanic lunar landscape to coastal dunes and black beaches, Iceland’s scenery is ever changing and ever fascinating.

InterNations Expat Blog_Iceland_Pic 3Trees are about the only thing missing from this truly amazing landscape! Most native birches and junipers, if there are any, just don’t grow very tall. (The locals joke: “What do you do when you get lost in an Icelandic forest? –Just stand up and have a look around.”)

After so much action, it was high time to relax and to gorge on some great food. For the relaxing part, we obviously stopped at the Blue Lagoon, a natural swimming-pool fed by hot springs. I thought that floating in 37°C mineral water was a worthwhile experience, though a bit overpriced.

However, most tourists didn’t seem to mind: There was a veritable throng of visitors crowding the spa’s skincare shop, where you could buy natural cosmetics at prices as steep as Iceland’s mountainsides.

Blue Lagoon For the marvelous food, we opted for Fishmarkaðurinn, an oft-recommended restaurant in downtown Reykjavik. Rumor has it that Icelandic cuisine solely consists of curious delicacies like sheep’s testicles and half-rotten shark, but fortunately, those stories turned out to be merely rumors indeed.

Instead, we got to try an opulent nine-course meal intended for tasting the restaurant’s typical specialty: Icelandic-Asian fusion seafood. Verði þér að góðu! – Enjoy your meal!

But Reykjavik doesn’t only boast great eateries. After dinner, we then discovered Loftið, yet another great place for Iceland’s nightowls. The posh lounge soon transformed into a dance-floor full of cheerful Icelanders and tourists alike.

At Loftið, I even ran into a couple of InterNations members again: It’s a small country, after all. Almost the end of the world.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4) 6) iStockphoto 3), 5) Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

Urban Travel with a Twist: 5 European Cities in the Spotlight

August is arguably the most popular vacation season all year round. While it might be a bit too late to book this year’s trip, this travel-themed post will hopefully serve as inspiration for 2015.

According to the UN World Tourism Organization, Europe is still the most popular tourist destination worldwide. With a share of 52% in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2013, it beats all other continents by far.

European landmarks, collage Within Europe, in turn, the following five countries emerge as clear winners when it comes to counting heads: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK.

They are the holiday destinations par excellence; coincidentally, all five are listed among the UN WTO’s global top ten as well.

Of course, the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean might just have something to with that. However, the ITB World Travel Trade Fair states that the volume of city trips has been continuously growing for the past few years.

We’ve therefore decided to put five European metropolises in the spotlight.

Are you looking for urban travel with a twist? Then check out our suggestions!

Paris: Underground

Don’t bother with the sheer endless queues for ascending the Eiffel Tower. A look at the famous City of Lights from down below provides a different perspective.

For tourists, becoming a true cataphile might not quite be recommended. Those (in)famous urban explorers enter forbidden parts of the Paris catacombs, as well as some of the city’s sewage tunnels, illegally.

Parisian metro sign Obviously, you needn’t break the law or run the risk of getting trapped in an abandoned passage in order to share a bit of that thrill. Les catacombes are partially open to the public, being a well-known visitor attraction in their own right.

However, few tourists know that you, too, can book guided tours through the métro (including a visit to a disused “ghost station”) and explore the history of les égouts – the city’s sewers.

Not only is there an official sewage museum, but you can also follow the waste-water tunnels on metal walkways. Having a strong cold could come in handy, though…

Barcelona: Quirky

When you start a shopping spree in Catalonia’s capital, you’d better ignore the typical chain stores close to the Porta de l’Angel or even the so-called “Quadrat d’Or” near the Plaça Catalunya. Unless you have a platinum credit card – then knock yourself out in the designer boutiques of the “Golden Square”.

For visitors with a less flexible budget, Barcelona rather impresses by virtue of its quirky or old-fashioned stores. While the traditional Mercat de la Boqueria has become a veritable tourist magnet, the covered market is still very much worth a visit. InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 2

And don’t forget to check out the somewhat shabby Carrer de le Riera Baixa: It’s one of BCN’s top addresses for vintage clothes and second-hand bargains.

If you enjoy rummaging through small stores in search of something less than ordinary, this is the place for you. Also stop by at the Els Encants Nous flea market and the curiosity shops in the neighborhood.

Last but not least, bibliophiles shouldn’t miss out on La Central. Generally considered to be Barcelona’s best bookshop for Spanish and Catalan titles, it also offers a (somewhat limited) selection of foreign language books. The big Raval branch houses a nice café as well.

Rome: Tasty

Yes, we’ve all seen Eat Pray Love and are well aware that culinary explorations of the Eternal City’s earthly delights have long gone mainstream.

And yet – Rome just overwhelms you with its embarrassment of artistic riches and religious sites. If you are looking for something a little less cerebral and spiritual, what better option is there than Italian food?

Various agencies offer guided walking tours around the city’s markets, specialty shops, and traditional eateries. However, if you prefer doing your own thing, you can probably cram this foodie program into one day.

Tiramisu Start out at the National Museum of Pasta, lovingly dedicated to nine centuries of noodles. Then you can spend the afternoon admiring (and tasting!) the world’s most famous tiramisu at Bar Pompi and/or eating your way through assorted gelaterias.

If you still have the stomach for it, you can unwind over an early evening aperitivo. In many bars, you’ll even get free fingerfood to go with your cocktail.

Munich: Sporty

When you think of Munich, the first thing to come to mind is probably beer. But let’s just forget about the awful “beer mobile” – a strange, bike-like contraption for sightseeing-cum-drinking tours, as well as an obvious tourist trap for soon-to-be tipsy backpackers.

In fact, Munich isn’t merely home to various breweries and beergardens. If you rather want to see Munich’s more active and sporty side for yourself, there are plenty of ways to do so.

The local surfing community (yes, you’ve read that correctly) that frequents the Englischer Garten is a must-see for curious visitors. But you can easily get a bit of exercise yourself!

InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 4For instance, you could go for a swim or just a couple of hours in the steam room of Müllersches Volksbad, Munich’s oldest public pool, with its elegant art déco interior from the early 1900s.

Unsurprisingly, the city boasts several indoor climbing locations, where you can practice your abseiling skills before you head out to the Alps.

If you don’t have the time for a detour to the mountains, there are also guided tours for climbing the tented roof of the large stadium from the 1972 Summer Olympics. Not quite the Zugspitze, but still fun!

London: Outdoors

A quasi-rural atmosphere with plenty of leafy greenery and a flourishing wildlife isn’t exactly what buzzing London is internationally famous for. But if you should ever stay in the city during the summer months, just join the locals on Hampstead Heath.

The 320-hectares public park in northern London was used as common land on the outskirts of Victorian London until the late 19th century. Today, it’s a great spot for urban ecologists interested in its amazing biodiversity, for long-distance runners looking for a suitable practice ground, and even for fearless swimmers.

Its erstwhile water reservoirs have all been turned into ponds, three of which serve as natural outdoor pools. Take note, though: The water temperature in summer usually ranges from 18°C to 20°C – but you can even use two of the ponds all year round. Brrr…InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 5

In case you’re more the arty than the outdoorsy type, Hampstead Heath is home to the freshly refurbished Kenwood House: The stately 18th-century villa boasts a small but select art collection.

It is also the setting of a recent costume drama. The biopic Belle (2014), starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, focuses on the unusual story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race member of Kenwood’s aristocratic family.

Aficionados of English literature may know that Keats House, the erstwhile home of Romantic poet John Keats, is close to the Heath as well.

While Keats is buried on the Protestant Cemetary in Rome, other famous writers have been laid to rest on nearby Highgate Cemetery – such as Victorian novelist George Eliot and German exile Karl Marx.

The lush and verdant graveyard is truly peaceful, rather than morbid – urban legends about ghosts and the mysterious Highgate Vampire notwithstanding.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

From Trailing Spouse to Trailblazing Spouse!

Today I am going to spill three “dirty secrets” of trailing spouses, and I suspect that many of you will be glad I did. I am talking about things that you or your fellow trailing spouse likely wouldn’t admit in public, but chances are, you can relate.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 1 Don’t worry: After the cat is out of the bag, I will share three proven steps to do less trailing and more living. This insight is based upon years of experience training and coaching trailing spouses from six continents – complimented by my own expatriate experiences in Switzerland and West Africa. Three “dirty secrets” most trailing spouses won’t admit in public:

1. “I am a bit lost.”

You would never guess it by talking to them at the school’s drop-off spot or over a cold drink on a Friday night. However, there are a significant number of women who, while confident on the outside, feel stuck. Self-doubt sits like a small but irritating weight on an otherwise happy heart.

Don´t get me wrong — these are strong, productive women. At the same time there is a part of them that feels lost, in doubt or simply down. Ironically, most are slow to even admit this to themselves. This somewhat subtle yet uncomfortable reality is a signal of an inner desire for change.

2. “It is not enough just to be with the kids.”

What mother in her right mind would admit this in public? We all agree children are a gift. Children can add depth and joy to our lives that is unparalleled. Yet, all too often there is an undertone of shame when women do anything but put their children’s wishes ahead of all else.

One of my workshop participants said it beautifully: It is like negotiating at a street market when you propose a price and the seller responds: C’est bon, mais n’est pas arrivé. It is good, but it’s not enough.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 3 The women who feel this way are amazing mothers. They are dedicated, available, measured in their discipline and generous with their love. They love being a mom. It is meaningful to them.

At the same time, these women are hungry for a purpose outside of motherhood and beyond supporting their partner. They are talented and eager to make a contribution to the world. They have underutilized skills and talents that are bursting at the seams to be shared.

3. “I want control.”

No, they don’t want to control others. They want some sense of control over their time and things that are meaningful for them.

A trailing spouse can easily have her day filled up for her with school and home obligations – especially in some countries where “getting things done” can be far more complex.

Ok, the truth is out. You can see these are actually not dirty secrets but pure realities for women who are hugely supportive of their children as well as their partners.

Business woman with the globeFor those of you who feel like I have just spoken to your soul – I invite you to begin the journey of going from trailing spouse to Trailblazing Spouse™.

By my definition, a Trailblazing Spouse™ comes clean of these “dirty secrets” by taking charge of her own life. Here is how she does it:

* She has projects that are fulfilling and in alignment with her future goals.

* She is happy – and when she is not, she can recognize it and has solid strategies to make things better.

* She has a community of like-minded individuals whom she can call upon for personal and professional support.

* She has resolved the identity dilemmas from the relocation.

* She has found balance between the needs of her family and her own.

A Trailblazing Spouse™ has found joy in her life abroad and is committed to making the best of it.

Here are three steps that will help you get there: up, back and forward.

1. What brings you up?

Get crystal clear on what lights you up. Name two things you know you´ve always wanted to do or experience. Make a commitment to get started on one of these within the next three weeks.

2. What holds you back?

Make a list of the excuses you tell yourself. Name what scares you most about doing the things that bring you joy. Lonely girl with suitcase at country road.

3. What is so appealing that it will move you forward?

Identify one small step forward on your trail. Bribe yourself with something so amazing that it is irresistible to take the first step. Celebrate this accomplishment and repeat liberally.

Just get started today. Your adventure is waiting.

The author, Sundae Schneider-Bean, is an experienced coach and intercultural specialist who helps trailing spouses transform their lives. She offers programs and coaching for trailing spouses to live in better alignment with their passions and skills.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

Playing for a Change: The InterNations World Games 2014

By now, the FIFA World Cup counts as old news, and even the euphoria in the wake of the German victory has died down.

However, at the InterNations office in Munich, we now have another soccer-related reason to celebrate: The first InterNations World Games series has just finished!

What are the InterNations World Games? – The local soccer tournaments in several InterNations Communities are part of our Volunteer Program.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 2“Why not give our members a strong sense of purpose in their Local Community?” InterNations founder Malte Zeeck describes the motivation for introducing the Volunteer Program in the first place.
“We can leverage our huge member base to make a difference on a global scale.”

Where and when did the InterNations World Games take place? – Our volunteers organized these fun activities in seven cities around the globe: Dallas, Dubai, Madrid, Moscow, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich.

The kick-off happened in Munich, as early as mid-June, just in time for the grand opening of the “official” World Cup. The finale, so to speak, took place in Moscow last weekend, on July 27.

Why did we come up with this idea? – With the InterNations World Games, we hoped to accomplish three goals that really matter to us:

– We wanted to increase awareness of the InterNations Volunteer Program in general.

– We intended to show a positive example of multicultural team spirit. We didn’t just want to do something for people in need; what’s also very important is to be inclusive and do it with them.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 1The refugees supported by the Volunteer Program in Munich and Vienna, for example, were invited to form their own teams and join in the competition. The Vienna World Games thus ended in a well-deserved triumph for the Caritas mixed squad from Nigeria and Afghanistan.

– Last but not least, we also planned to raise some funds on behalf of the local NPOs that our various Volunteer Groups cooperate with.

“The World Games activity was perfectly timed. It served as a great platform for promoting our recently formed Volunteer Program in Dallas and the fund-raising efforts underway.” Looks like our three Group Consuls from the Dallas area, Sanjeeb, Shalah, and Doaa, scored a hit with their tournament!

Who benefits from the InterNations World Games? – As mentioned above, every Volunteer Group works together with a local non-profit which they provide with regular and sustainable support.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 3In the seven World Games cities, the respective NPOs include household names like Caritas or the Red Cross; they aid refugees, orphans, or homeless families, as well as impoverished children or kids with special needs.

On behalf of these people and the entire InterNations team, we’d like to thank everyone who made this victory possible.

A special thank you goes to our local sponsors in Madrid (Schindler Group), Munich (Sat 1 / Club Padel München / Sony Music & Entertainment), and Vienna (Sportanlage KSV Siemens Grossfeld), who provided us with t-shirts for our youngest participants, great prizes for our winners, and the gracious offer of a free venue for the day!

Of course, heartfelt thanks go to our Group Consuls in all the InterNations Communities who got involved, to the volunteers who helped to organize the tournaments and made sure they ran smoothly, and to the over 300 attendees who came to participate, cheer on the players, and have fun for a good cause.

And unlike the FIFA World Cup, the InterNations World Games will hopefully return next year. Here’s to 2015!

You haven’t been there? Just have a look for yourself!

InterNations World Games 2014 from InterNations on Vimeo.

(Image credit: 1) Arun Amirtham 2) InterNations 3) Franz Schnedl; video credit: InterNations)

What Not to Bring: The 3 Most Random Items for a Desert Island

What would you take with you to a desert island? When we posed this question in the InterNations office, answers were predictably diverse, but not always serious. Here’s a look at some of the funnier suggestions on what (not) to take with you.

Prompted by the changeable summer weather, quite a few InterNations staffers have found themselves dreaming of crystal clear waters, sandy shores, and calm island life instead of working in a busy city.

Which got us wondering: What would we take with us to a desert island? You may have already had a read through our more serious list of suggestions.

However, among knives, sunscreen, and building equipment, there were also some less serious answers to be found. Here are the InterNation team’s top 3 things (not) to bring to a desert island.

Your Whole LibraryInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 1

True, bringing a book with you for entertainment and survival purposes is generally not a bad idea. Even if you get tired of reading the same old text, paper can at least be used to make a fire.

The range of reads suggested by the InterNations staff, however, surprised even the bookish members of the Editorial Office. From books on reincarnation (to feed the imagination) to Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe (“He managed somehow!”), there seems to have been something for every taste.

But let’s be honest, would you really schlep The Complete Works of William Shakespeare with you to a remote island? Our alternative suggestion: someone develop a solar-powered eBook reader, please!

A Monkey

InterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 2 Life on a desert island is bound to get lonely at one point or another. Having company, even if only in the form of a pet, is not such a bad idea.

One of our colleagues even had a very particular species in mind: a monkey! Her reasoning? “It can not only entertain me, but also get the bananas and coconuts off the trees for me.”

Thinking about it, this really does sound like a good idea. And who knows, if you are already proficient with training animals, you may be able to get any native monkeys to do the same. King or Queen of the Monkeys has a nice ring to it.

BatmanInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 3

Looking at the various answers, you could usually tell very quickly how serious a person took the task.

Mini-bar, ice-cream machine, and an X-Box are realistically not going to help you much after a shipwreck. Better bring a knife, medication, and a rescue flare!

Or go all out and take Batman along with you, as one InterNations staffer suggested:

“Batman is always good at getting out of situations. I figure he’ll help me.”

DC Comics may disagree, though.

(Image credit: 1) 1623 Shakespeare First Folio edition, public domain 2) Bali: The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary by flickr user William Cho 3) Batman Artwork by Wikimedia Media Commons user Nicholas Gemini)

The Mercer Cost of Living League Table 2014

Same procedure as every year: the latest version of Mercer Consulting’s annual Cost of Living Survey is making the rounds again. The yearly report takes a look at expatriate expenses, from housing over food to leisure, in more than 200 cities around the world.

Just like last year’s top ten list, the 2014 ranking shows a sharp divide: The paradoxically cost-intensive capitals of two rather poor countries contrast with various affluent cities. Once more, the list unites the boomtowns of Asia and the consistently high living standard of stable Switzerland.

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 4 The 10 Costliest Destinations

• Luanda, Angola
• N’Djamena, Chad
• Hong Kong
• Singapore
• Zurich, Switzerland
• Geneva, Switzerland
• Tokyo, Japan
• Bern, Switzerland
• Moscow, Russia
• Shanghai, China

A Closer Look at Luanda and N’Djamena

Luanda still ranks at the very top of the Mercer table, while N’Djamena has moved up a little from #4 in 2013.

However, if you have a look at the world’s gross domestic products by state, neither Angola nor Chad count among the wealthier countries by any stretch of the imagination. Their GDPs, as compared on a purchasing power parity basis, rather imply very low living standards for the average resident.

Why then are they such expensive destinations for expatriates? And why do expats keep moving there? While most people will hardly think of either city as a premier destination, both Luanda and N’Djamena do have a well-established expat community. InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 3

In N’Djamena, the foreign community mostly consists of diplomatic staff, employees of humanitarian organizations, and corporate assignees. Since 2003, the lion’s share of Chad’s national wealth has come from the petroleum sector; international companies, mainly from the US and China, have invested there.

Oil is also one of Angola’s key income sources, and both countries boast other natural resources as well, such as diamonds, gold, or uranium. Moreover, unlike unstable Chad, Angola has now put an end to almost three decades of violent unrest and civil war (1975-2002).

The development of Angola’s damaged and much neglected infrastructure requires plenty of qualified personnel, including hire from abroad. The Eurozone crisis makes the former Portuguese colony, with its fast-growing economy and construction boom, pretty popular among youngish immigrants from Portugal.

But life in these cities comes at a price. In places where a significant percentage of the local population lives under the poverty line, adequate accommodation, security measures, and imported consumer goods are all luxuries, which force you to dig deep into your pocket.

From Singapore to Switzerland

The rest of the list requires far fewer explanations for the casual reader. Hong Kong and Singapore have long been (in)famous for their elevated costs of expat living. In the two city states, space is limited, which leads to lots of high-rise buildings as well as soaring real estate prices.

Furthermore, in those meccas of capitalism and global finance, government aid for lower income groups is frequently limited to locals and long-term residents. Plenty of expats who move there for a career boost thus receive competitive salaries, but they are definitely going to need the money!

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 1If Singapore is often called the “Switzerland of Asia”, then Switzerland should perhaps be considered the “Singapore of Europe”: a relatively small country with a highly skilled labor force, a well-developed service sector, a strong finance and insurance industry, and a general reputation for prosperity and stability.

All these factors spell “excellent standard of living”. Alas, it also means paying the equivalent of five US dollars for a simple cup of coffee in beautiful Zurich (and we’re talking just coffee, black or with milk, not a big blended caramel frappuccino).

The Impact of Fluctuating Currencies

Speaking of US dollars: Some of the changes in the ranking are simply due to currency fluctuations. New York City (#16) is used as a base of comparison, and the prices are also compared in USD. Any year-to-year change in exchange rates is therefore reflected in the study.

This explains why both Tokyo and Moscow have dropped a few ranks since 2013. InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 2 When measured against the US currency, both the Japanese yen and the Russian ruble are now slightly weaker than they were last year.

The Chinese yuan, on the other hand, has strengthened. Therefore, Shanghai – indeed one of China’s most expensive places – is the first city in mainland China to move up among the Mercer top 10.

(Source: Mercer.com; image credit: 1) Hong Kong Skyline: A Symphony of Lights by flickr user WiNG) 2) Delapidated apartment building in Luanda, Angola by flickr user Martin H. 3) Zürich and Lake Zürich by Wikimedia Commons user MadGeographer 4) 100 ruble banknote 2013, public domain)

InterNations Relaunch: Follow-Up on Networking Feedback

After our beta testers were invited to try out our new networking features, they sent us lots of positive and helpful feedback.

    Many of you let us know that you’d like to see your sent pending contact requests, as well as those that you’ve received. Therefore we will be adding a sent contact requests page to the feature.Thank You
    Plenty of InterNations members shared their suggestions on enhancing the usability and design of our messaging interface. We will release an updated version of that feature at an upcoming stage in our ongoing relaunch. Your feedback will help us in making it as user-friendly as possible.
    Last but certainly not least, you also contributed to helping us fix some bugs, thus ensuring that the networking features are ready for the general roll-out among all InterNations members.

A big thank you to all our beta testers! If you’re interested in joining them, you can still sign up for our beta testing program!

InterNations Relaunch: Networking Now in Beta Phase

Have you already signed up for our InterNations beta testing program? As a beta tester, you will be part of an exclusive group: the first members to see and try those parts of our website that are going through a major relaunch.

Today, we have just released the first round of changes to update an essential part of the InterNations website — the features that help you manage your international contacts and network with other expats and global minds.

New Networking Experience for Beta Testers

Here’s what our beta testers can try out:

InterNations Expat Blog Beta Test Networking * Connecting with other InterNations members is now a lot easier. You can add them faster to your network. You may still add a personal message if you wish, but this part is now optional.

* The page for contact requests sports a brand-new look: The design is sleek and simple, and more importantly, we have increased its general user-friendliness.

* It really matters to us that all our members feel comfortable and safe when using our website. Therefore, we have added a new functionality to networking on InterNations: You can now block another member from twinkling you, as well as sending you a contact request or a personal message.

Give It a Try and Have Your Say

We hope that the first installment of our site relaunch will enhance your InterNations user experience. Just check out the screenshot in this entry, or try out the new features yourself on InterNations.

If you aren’t a beta tester yet, there’s still time to sign up for the beta testing program!

Got any suggestions regarding the new networking functions? Need to ask us some questions about this part of the relaunch?

Feel free to leave a comment below!

Please understand that we may not be able to reply to everyone individually. However, we will indeed read every comment and do our best to accommodate your input and clarify open questions.

Thank you for your support!

(Image credit: InterNations — To see a full-sized version of the new contact requests page, please click on the small screenshot included above.)