Five Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat

1. Do What You Really Want to Do

If you keep waiting for the “right time” and the “right opportunity”, you’ll be waiting forever. There is never a right time to make your dreams come true. Life-changing decisions always require an effort and create some hassle.

InterNations Expat Blog_Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat_Pic 4Are you dreaming of living in a particular country for a while? Or are you merely longing to travel and see the world? Then stop dreaming, wake up, and get to work.

Is there any way you can take a sabbatical from your job? Would a shorter break — such as an extended language-learning vacation, a “work and travel” scheme, or a volunteer position — also be enough? How much of a financial cushion do you need, and what would a realistic savings plan look like?

As for the nay-sayers in your life who keep objecting to your preparations — just remember that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact than for permission.

2. Learn to Let Go

Yes, “Frozen” in-jokes are so 2013. Nonetheless, the advice to let it go is timeless.

You literally can’t take along everything you want when moving abroad. You need to pack light and let go of plenty of things. It’s time to raise a detailed inventory and get rid of the unnecessary stuff that has been accumulating for years.

bye bye-cloud text on blue sky backgroundBut letting go of tangible possessions isn’t the hardest part. Letting go of family and friends can be way more difficult, although you’re not saying goodbye forever. Don’t give into the temptation of avoiding any potential awkwardness or displays of emotion — don’t just rush out of town, but make time for a proper farewell.

After all the goodbyes, when you have finally arrived, the letting go isn’t over yet. You still have to let go of your fears, doubts, and insecurities. Only then can you make the best out of life abroad.

3. You Got to Keep Your Balance

Life is a balancing act, and focusing too much on one thing can easily trip you up. When you have just moved abroad, finding your balance is often more difficult than normally — and also more important.

For instance, expats who move for the sake of their career may give it their all at first: their new job is literally the chance of a lifetime. But you can’t do a good job if work is all you do. Poise

Obviously, productivity isn’t a bad thing — especially not if you love what you are doing. But remember to balance it out with other aspects of your life.

Don’t be that person who neglects the family that moved with them! Your loved ones may have sacrificed a big part of their own lives for the sake of your career and you shouldn’t repay them by setting up camp in your shiny new corner office.

4. What Is Now Normal Anyway?

Everyone who has gone abroad for more than just a nice summer vacation knows how much culture shock shakes up your idea of what’s “normal”.

After all, you’re now living in a foreign country, and they do things differently there. So far, so good. At first, while you are in the honeymoon phase, every little difference seems exciting, and you’re endlessly curious about everyday life abroad.

Memory LaneBut after a while, all the changes you need to get used to start wearing you down. You begin to consider them a little weird, then downright irritating, and find fault with just about anything. You will probably paint an overly rosy picture of how much better life back home is.

Finally, though, the fog of frustration will be lifting. You’ll be able to look both your old and your new culture and appreciate their differences (and similarities) again. Welcome to the new normal!

5. Get By — with a Little Help from Your Friends

Funnily enough, you don’t have the slightest problem with asking for directions on vacation, and you’ll readily admit that you barely understand half of what any native speaker tells you in the local language.

However, when you are settling in abroad, showing that you are out of your depth becomes a source of embarrassment. You are used to being an independent, functioning adult, and you’d like to demonstrate how much you have learned about your adopted country. Silhouette of helping hand between two climber Something as simple as a trip to the dentist or a conversation with your landlord shouldn’t be a nerve-wrecking experience.

Sometimes, it helps to swallow your pride and remind yourself that asking for help isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As you’re missing your usual support network, start building a new “team you” that includes both locals and other expatriates. You’ll be amazed at how happy most people are to offer their help.

Is there another “life lesson” from living abroad that you’d like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Expat Life? There Must Be an App for That!

“Why is there no InterNations mobile app?” or “when is the app coming?” are questions we’ve been hearing a lot, whether in our forum, at official events, on social media, or simply as part of the feedback we have received from our members in the course of our ongoing website relaunch.

“It’s the most frequently asked question when I talk to our members at events all around the world”, says InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck. “During my community visits, I always ask members for their honest feedback about InterNations, and a mobile app appears to be high on everybody’s wish-list.”

share of login across devices

Of course, the high demand for a mobile app doesn’t come as a surprise. The share of devices used to surf the web is shifting more and more towards mobile, be it tablets or mobile phones.

We have also observed this trend on InterNations: the percentage of members visiting our website from mobile devices is increasing constantly. Last month, for instance, only just over half the logins on InterNations were still made through desktop computers. This is hardly surprising, considering not only the general trend, but particularly the international and mobile lifestyle of our members!

Long Awaited — Nearly There: The InterNations App(s)

This year has been a busy one for InterNations, with an ever-growing member base and the relaunch of the platform keeping us here at headquarters on our toes. However, it is this relaunch and the fact that our website is now being mobile optimized that has paved the way for the long-awaited app!

InterNations Team at Work_big

Or should we say apps? “We are currently busy developing both, an iOS as well as an Android app,” reveals Philipp von Plato, the co-CEO and also a founder of InterNations. “We’re planning to launch a first version of both apps in the first quarter of the upcoming year. This will be a long-anticipated milestone in our company’s history and working with our Product Team and the developers on it has been immensely exciting so far!”

So what will the app look like? Very similar to what you can see in the picture below. And it will of course allow you to comfortably use InterNations on the go — be it in order to connect with fellow members you’ve just met at an event, reply to a message (or Twinkle!), accept an invitation for brunch with your local InterNations Business Networking Group, check for upcoming events on your next business trip or vacation, or join a group that’s been recommended to you…

Expat life? There will be an app for that!

A preview of the upcoming InterNations apps for iOS and Android

My InterNations: The Networking Professionals

My personal networking tip — don’t follow my example! Despite loving the written word, I get nervous talking to strangers: my perfectly honed elevator pitch would probably leave my mouth sounding like “warrrghaabllfff”.

Moving abroad, you can’t afford to neglect business networking, though — not even if you’re shy, like me. So I’ve asked some of our Group Consuls, who organize business networking activities in London and Perth, to share their experience from their careers and their role on InterNations.People and Network Concept with Textured Effect

“It’s easier to connect in your own country, where you’ve grown up and made friends,” Patricio, one of the consuls running the Perth Professional Networking Group, confirms. “Before attending one meeting, you already have a great network”.

Elsewhere, you’ll know a lot fewer people, though connections are key for anyone starting a career abroad. Networking “could be the game changer”, his fellow Group Consul Francesca stresses.

Patricio, Francesca, and Melda, who’s heading the London Entrepreneurs and Startups Group, have plenty of helpful advice, both for less experienced and more seasoned networkers amongst us.

Three Transformations

The interviewees know what it’s like to overcome obstacles abroad. Francesca’s case is probably the most dramatic.

The trilingual Chilean-Italian architect had plenty of expat experience in the UK, Italy, and the US under her belt when facing her biggest challenge yet — her husband needed to move from Palo Alto to Perth for his scientific career.

“I had to leave a promising position in a multinational real estate company behind and reinvent myself,” she sums it up.

Compared to Francesca, Patricio “only” had to cope with the geographical distance from Chile, an unfamiliar business environment, and the difficulty of speaking English as a second language. He came to Australia to enjoy the international experience and improve his language skills — and stayed.

“In terms of professional life, I came sort of fresh from Chile,” he remembers. “With only a year of work experience, I had to start from zero.”InterNations Expat Blog_Professional Networking_Pic 2

Melda, on the other hand, decided to work abroad while doing her Master’s degree in Warwick. “Some people always want to explore, and I’d count myself as one of them,” she says.

To explore expat life, she went for the safer corporate route first: her job in the HR department of a global cosmetics company took her from her native Istanbul to Paris and London. Opening a business in the UK was the real challenge.

Fortunately, their stories have a happy ending: after looking for casual jobs where experience in Australia wasn’t mandatory, Francesca eventually found one in her original field. Recently, she has begun to reinvent herself again, breaking into marketing and cultural events organization.

Patricio has established himself as Communications and Control Systems Engineer in the mining industry. Perth is an ideal destination for overseas specialists — Francesca describes it as a multicultural city, and about 60% of Patricio’s colleagues are expatriates.

Lastly, Melda is now a successful learning and development consultant with local and international clients from the UK, Mexico, France, Ghana, and many more.

Empowering Expats

The consuls are passionate about “paying it forward” and empowering other expats to make the most of life and work abroad. “The Perth Community is a friendly environment of open-minded people,” Patricio says. After his first event, “the decision to keep attending was a no-brainer.” He wants to use his role to help others and generate connections.

“The Professional Networking Group is crucial,” Francesca emphasizes. “Lots of people come to Australia for better job opportunities. But you have to learn the way people work here, their protocols, and the industry’s technical jargon. Above all, be open to the idea that you’ll have to start all over again.”

Francesca, Patricio, and Monica, another Chilean expat, regularly organize speed networking events. Guests get feedback on their personal pitch or listen to short lectures on selected topics, such as writing an Australian CV. But it’s about more than factual knowledge or soft skills — the aim is “to create synergy with peers.”Close up of microphone in conference room

In London, Melda has chosen a similar format for the Entrepreneurs and Startups Group. Usually, a member gives a 15-minute talk about their entrepreneurial journey and personal learnings. She fondly remembers one on creating business plans: “Entrepreneurs tend to wake up inspired every morning — it was good to have someone to help us ground ourselves.” Soon, the group will also have their first entrepreneurial dinner.

Blatantly touting products and services is a strict no-no: “There are a lot of bright, talented, and courageous people out there,” Melda says, and she wants to give them the opportunity to grow their network organically. The latter is indeed essential advice.

Tips from the Networking Pros

What works best for them when it comes to (net)working abroad?

• Melda stresses the need to treat networking as a mindset rather than an objective. “I feel useful and happy when introducing the right people to each other,” she says. “But some are so focused on their goals that you get ‘I want something from you’ vibes — which is anything but nice.”

• Be curious and open-minded, patient and relaxed instead. “No worries, mate,” as Patricio jokingly quotes the Aussies’ favorite saying. senior businesswoman using smart phone

• If you’re shy or nervous, “think of it as a game rather than a stressful task”, Melda suggests. A standard repertoire of ice-breakers comes in handy, like commenting on a hot topic in the media: in Australia, for example, it pays off to follow cricket and footie, as Patricio knows.

• Experienced networkers can play Sherlock Holmes, Melda-style: “Watch people — depending on their style and the way they interact with others, you might find an angle to strike up a conversation.”

• “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” — be proactive with regard to your host country, learn more about the culture and the business environment, and try to put theory in practice.

• Finally, turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage. Patricio uses his Spanish accent “to engage, be remembered, entertain, and laugh about himself.” Expats have a certain “international flavor”, as Melda calls it — “people sometimes want and need exactly that.”

And what’s your favorite tip for business networking abroad?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Zombies, Lights, and Turkey — Holidays in November

For most of us, December is the month of holiday celebrations. After all, it is the last month of the year (according to the Gregorian calendar at least) and the time when people all around the world celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Lucia’s Day, Pancha Ganapati, or Winter Solstice, to name just a few.

However, the months before also bring a lot to the plate. If you are one of those people who count down the days until New Year’s Eve, we have some great events this November to pass the time and distract yourself from the cold (or heat if you find yourself in the southern hemisphere and summer is knocking on your door).

The Halloween Groove

The celebrations already started at the end of October when our members around the world got ready to get their Halloween groove on. Witches and monsters flocked to our events and zombies walked around, hunting for brains.


Great Halloween parties have indeed become a tradition for our Frankfurt Community. The wonderful people of the Champions Bar at the Marriott even decorated the venue especially for us. While spooky costumes were optional, InterNations members brought their A-game to this Frankfurt Halloween event. The best costumes won a small prize.

Who says you can’t be scary and classy at the same time? Our members in Strasbourg combined the fun and excitement of a Halloween party with the delight for the taste buds that only a wine tasting can provide. With vampires, witches and one bad-tempered ghost all enjoying delicious wines and candy, this ghost wine party in Strasbourg was a huge success.


Clad in feathers, rhinestones and sequins, members of the San Francisco Community celebrated Halloween in Moulin Rouge style. The guests of this Halloween party surely dressed to impress. However, aside from cancan dancers and the phantom of the opera, some monsters had found their way to this San Francisco Halloween party as well.


Our community in Chisinau went back to the roots of this American holiday. They hosted their Halloween party at a traditional American barbecue place, the Smokehouse. InterNations members got to enjoy some delicious snacks and drinks while voting for the best, the sexiest, and the scariest costume. It was a tough choice, considering all the great costumes at this Halloween party in Chisinau.

The Festival of Lights

A November holiday which originated on the other side of the globe is Diwali. Officially starting on 11 November this year, Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. It is one of the most important celebrations of the season and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and many other countries.

The After Work Drinks Group in Dubai hosted a Diwali dinner for its members and their friends. They met at a traditional Indian restaurant to celebrate the festival of lights while enjoying the ambience and delicious authentic food.

The Munich Namaste Group went all out and celebrated Diwali with fanfare and fireworks. Members of the group were asked to dress in colorful Indian outfits and meet at the Kulturhaus Milbertshofen for music, dance, and Indian food.

DiwaliBangaloreVP2015Our Bangalore Volunteer Group took the opportunity to combine the Diwali festivities with a good cause. Members donated books, crayons, chocolates, and other toys and sweets, which were given to underprivileged kids on Diwali. A small gesture that put a smile on everyone’s face!

Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: Oh My!

Halloween events and Diwali aside, there are many more occasions to celebrate this month. On Thursday, 26 November, many expats in and from the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday to be grateful, peaceful and share a huge feast with your family and friends. Although Thanksgiving is not quite as widely celebrated as Halloween, members in more and more of our communities are getting together for Thanksgiving dinners and potlucks. Thanksgiving2015_1

InterNations Orange County invites all of their members to a pre-Thanksgiving celebration on Friday, 20 November. This is the perfect opportunity to take a moment to reflect on the blessings in our lives and be grateful before the usual mixing and mingling.

Members of the Basel Women Only Group are invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with their Group Consul on Saturday, 28 November. It’s a potluck-style activity and every guest gets to bring some food that is typical for their country of origin. So dust off your recipe books!

The Honolulu Outdoor Action Group has their own way of celebrating Thanksgiving: a pool party! Members meet on Saturday, 28 November, for a post-Thanksgiving party. Aside from the swimming and soaking in the hot tub, there will be the traditional potluck dinner to enjoy. Bring an appetizer, main dish or dessert, and, of course, a towel!

Members of the Newcastle Social Dining Group will get together for a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, 26 November. This is your chance to find out what this holiday is all about and if American food is more than just burgers and fries.

Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey on a Plate with Stuffing and Potatoes

Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey on a Plate with Stuffing and Potatoes

There is plenty to do before the year ends and, of course, these holidays are not the only festive occasions in November. What are you celebrating this month?

(Image credit: 1)-5) InterNations, 6) + 7) iStockphoto)

Kick Off Your International Job Search

Are you crazy for a change of scenery at work? Would you like to boost your CV, or are you “just” looking for a career-related challenge? So, what about searching for a new position abroad?

Kick Off Your International Job Search Pic 1

But before you start your international job search, consider the following questions to determine your goals and priorities:

– Do you already have a destination in mind? Or are you open to move anywhere?
– How long do you plan on staying in your new “home city?” Will this move be temporary, long-term, or open-ended?
– Will you bring anyone with you?
– What’s your timeline for moving? Could you drop everything at a moment’s notice? Or do you need three to six months to get your affairs in order?
– Will you be staying in your current industry and function? Do you want a step up with more prestige? Or fewer responsibilities?

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you’re looking to get out of a global move, you can begin your international job search the right way.

1) Check within Your Company

Generally speaking, the term “expatriate” refers to people living outside of their country, but it’s usually understood that these individuals move for their career. First, try speaking to your current supervisor and colleagues about opportunities to move abroad, within the company.

You might be surprised at what options are available. More and more organizations are opening satellite offices in cities all over the world, and if your own firm doesn’t have a location in your hopeful destination, perhaps there’s a sister company that does. Young applicant in bright office giving thumb up after obtaining the job

As long as you’re satisfied with your current employer, this option provides the most stability. If your company is also happy with your performance, they’ll most likely be sad to see you leave, but they could help you to navigate some tricky situations, like a working visa or relocation costs.

Furthermore, if you decide that you’d only like to travel abroad for a short time, perhaps you can sort out an arrangement – for example, your office in Madrid could “loan you” to the London office for six months, instead of doing a permanent transfer.

2) Activate Your Contact Network

Germans have a phrase for networking through personal connection: “Vitamin B,” where B stands for “Beziehungen”, or relationships. Time for you to tap into your own personal source of Vitamin B!

As expats tend to attract like-minded friends, chances are that someone within your own network, professional or personal, has a valuable connection that might help you land your next great career opportunity in an exotic new locale. And what’s more, referral hiring has been the favored hiring method of most HR managers worldwide for years now.

Reach out to colleagues and friends with international experience, and you might be surprised what comes out of it! Perhaps your colleague in Accounting used to work for your dream company in Milan before moving to New York. Or maybe an old university friend runs the Marketing department for a small start-up in Marrakesh. Businessmen talking

Social and professional networking sites are a great way for you to advertise your desire to move abroad, so don’t be shy when it comes to talking to people. InterNations, for instance, offers various groups dedicated to professional networking, entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as start-up founders. Just have a look at the Group Section to see if there’s one in your community too!

Even if an acquaintance works in a different industry or function, they may have a neighbor, a friend, or a partner in that city who could help you. Furthermore, these contacts could give you valuable insight about the working conditions in a new country, or recommend you to other helpful acquaintances.

3) Find a Headhunter

Headhunters used to be thought of as a secretive group of mysterious professionals, inaccessible to the average candidate. But nowadays, executive recruiters are growing savvy, utilizing social media and online presence to locate top talent all over the world.

Julian Blücher is a Munich-based “brainhunter,” (his term of choice), and the CEO of his own international firm, Talent Tree GmbH. Blücher advises candidates to simply begin searching for career opportunities through their browser. But for a more targeted and precise search, it’s a great idea to get in touch with a headhunter. While not every headhunter is open to cold calls, some modern firms like Blücher’s might embrace an introduction from a qualified candidate.

Says Blücher, “A headhunter can sometimes work magic and open doors — especially on a high-level when job ads are not published (for whatever reason).”

Businessman Looking At  Photograph Through Magnifying Glass Ideally, you would have a connection or an invitation who could introduce you to a headhunter in your specific industry. Take advantage of your contact network to see who knows who. But if that’s not an option, do some research and identify some international headhunters working in your field.

Experteer, a premium career service for highly qualified senior level candidates, offers a headhunter directory where you can search for executive recruiters specializing in different fields. For a good start, try looking here for specialists in your industry.

Remember that regardless of the outcome with any headhunter or recruitment specialist, these professionals usually have a broad network of connections. It is imperative to always maintain a respectful relationship with headhunters — should your name come up for a future position, they’ll be much more likely to recommend you if all interactions were positive.

One more tip: make sure to keep all of your professional social media profiles up to date! You never know when a recruiter may stumble across your profile, and it’s in your best interest to sell yourself as best you possibly can!

There are plenty of ways to find your next great position abroad, but networking is your secret weapon. Crucial aspects of job satisfaction like cultural fit and communication styles should not be overlooked, so if you have a contact with an insider’s perspective on a new career lead, take advantage of this chance to see if this opportunity is really right for you.

And before you commit to any new position, ask for Skype interviews or even plan a trip to visit the company in person. Working and living in a new foreign environment is one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable, but make sure to do your research first!

Maggie Quigley grew up dreaming of living and working abroad. Since 2013, she has called Munich her home. With a passion for travel, journalism, and Tina Fey, she’s blogged about everything from love and relationships to Roman cuisine. Maggie currently specializes in writing career advice for senior executives, in her role as the Content and Communications Manager for Experteer, Europe’s premiere career and recruiting service for senior talent.

(Image credit: 1) Stocksnap 2)-4) iStockphoto)

Six Essential Apps That Every Expat Should Have

Moving overseas soon? Or have you been based on the other side of the globe for some time? Whether you are just starting out in this exciting and rewarding lifestyle, or are well accustomed to its challenges, there are ways to make your day-to-day life easier with the help of your trusty smartphone and the countless useful apps at your disposal.Happy travellers using mobile navigating system

Check out the following six essential apps for expatriates that can save you time on getting to your next meeting or help you avoid eating chicken gizzards at the corner café.

1) Google Maps

Even if you have been abroad for a while, your lack of experience with your host city’s layout will put you at a disadvantage: one wrong turn, and you may find yourself hopelessly lost, and probably in a neighborhood that you don’t want to be lost in…

By ensuring that you have Google Maps on your phone (Apple, we love you, but your maps utility does more harm than good), you can stay on track in your quest to explore new neighborhoods, find coffee shops with ease, and avoid arriving late to important business meetings.

2) Waze

Your basic knowledge of your new city’s streets is another stumbling block, a truth that is exacerbated by the fact that many people abroad may speak a tongue of which you have limited command, making it hard to ask locals about trouble spots. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What’s more, traffic in some parts of the world (especially in densely populated countries in Asia and South America) is considerably more snarled than what you’re probably used to back in your home country.

Whether you’re meeting friends for drinks, or heading out to meet a prospective client face-to-face for the first time, checking out the congestion on major routes using Waze is the smart thing to do.

By avoiding routes that are gridlocked, you can get on with your day without worrying about whether a traffic bottleneck will ruin it.

P.S. Google actually bought Waze so it’s “uber” powerful now!

3) Uber

While an exotic metropolis like Bangkok has many qualities that draw in more and more expats every year, taxi cabs in these places are rife with over-chargers, meter-fixers and dangerously aggressive drivers. Rush Hour

Uber has made a name for itself in the West, but it has now spread to a variety of cities around the globe. As a result, you can get a ride in many places overseas that will be marked by friendly, honest drivers that take pride in their professionalism.

The star rating system will see to that, making your taxi-hailing experience in questionable parts of the globe much more comfortable.

4) XE Currency Converter

Ever walk away from a money changer’s booth wondering if you got a fair deal for the large chunk of foreign currency that you didn’t end up spending by the end of your stay?

Knowing where you stand before stepping up to the counter is an informational advantage you need to have; for this task, we recommend that you download the free XE currency converter app.

foreign currency exchange rate board with lighting hand in backgKnown for years as the gold standard for currency exchange rates on the internet, their data is updated continuously throughout the business day, giving you the upper hand over dealers that try to push a criminally low rate on you in the hopes that you don’t know any better.

It also works great even if you are not connected to Wi-Fi or cell service for when you’re at a restaurant, store, etc. Just hope the world markets don’t crash while you’re at lunch!

5) Teleport

Looking to relocate to a cost-effective base for a while? There are a number of cost-of-living resource sites on the web, but Teleport is one of the best smartphone apps for on-the-go comparisons between cities and neighborhoods.

By selecting what needs and interests matter the most to you, you can find places around the world (and sectors within cities in its database) that resonate with your desire to get the best bang for your buck — and lifestyle.

6) Google Translate

This one might seem like an obvious suggestion, but if you haven’t updated your Google Translate App recently, most definitely do so. There is now a new feature now that utilizes your camera: whatever foreign language you hold it over, it will automatically translate the text, and even in the same font as whatever you’re pointing at! This works great for street signs, menus, etc. No more eating chicken feet by accident! Translation

At the time of this post, you can instantly translate English to and from almost every major language, see an official list here.The translations are much more accurate nowadays then a few years back as it seems to account pretty well for slang and other colloquial expressions.

By Jeremy Albelda, a location-independent entrepreneur and travel blogger at The World or Bust.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Things Worth Revisiting in Milan

Malte Zeeck, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO, talks about Milan’s classic sights that you shouldn’t miss out on.

I am no stranger to Milan. In fact, in 1999 you would have found me among the hundreds of students lugging books around the campus of Bocconi University. Milan has a reputation for high-end design and expensive fashion houses, but the Milan enjoyed by the select in-crowd staying at the Seven Star Galleria, for example, is by no means the only Milan worth visiting.

Exploring the streets of the old town, seeing the hustle and bustle of the preparations for the Milan Expo 2015, and visiting architectural landmarks such as the duomo, were more than enough to bring back the memories of the Milan I called home over a decade ago. Here are five places in Milan I enjoyed seeing again.

1. Il Duomo di Milano — Milan’s Finest Work of Design

For its façade alone, this beautiful cathedral (duomo) is definitely worth a visit. Even the biggest fans of Gothic architecture may be thrown off by the style of the building, and they probably couldn’t quite put their finger on the exact reason why. At one point during its conception, it was decided that marble rather than brick would be used as building material. As a result, experts from all over Europe were recruited, and the cathedral’s unique style is reflected in this mix of cultures.Duomo Milano

Fascinating as it is, don’t dedicate all your time to the façade and be sure to go up to the terrazze del Duomo. If you’re imagining the terrazze to be on the ground floor, somewhere to sit down and sip an espresso, you would be mistaken: the terrazze del Duomo is the rooftop of the cathedral. You can walk along the peaked roof and look over the city through the adornments that make the cathedral’s style so distinct.

2. Il Teatro alla Scala — a Milanese Classic

La Scala can be enjoyed in many ways. You can simply admire the opera house on your way to the duomo; you can attend a performance; you can take a guided tour behind the scenes; or you can visit its museum. Getting tickets for a performance can be challenging, though, both because of the price and the high demand. La Scala Opera House, Milan, Lombardy, Italy

That’s why visiting the museum — though a cold comfort to the true lovers of classical music — is a good compromise for those who aren’t too keen on opera but appreciate the building’s interior design. When visiting the museum you can take a look at one of the luxury boxes in the theater! It might not hold a candle to actually sitting in it while enjoying an opera, but the inside of La Scala is a wonderful experience on its own.

3. Brera District — the Lingering Taste of Bohemia

The Brera district is located in the historical core of the city and has all the characteristics one would expect of such a neighborhood, such as narrow streets, small venues, and old churches. Although some of the charm it used to have back when it mainly housed artists and bohemians has been lost due to modern construction projects, it is not hard to imagine such a crowd roaming through its winding streets. Via Brera

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering we’re in Milan, but walking through Brera you can spot intriguing design left and right, from interior design to artisan shops. Brera’s central location is perfect for sightseeing. After visiting such main attractions as La Scala, il duomo, or il castello, you can choose among several Italian and international cuisines for lunch or dinner — or both.

4. The Navigli — Wining and Dining by the Canals

A lot of the sights in Milan are concentrated in the city center, which is by no means a bad thing. If you feel like venturing a little further outside the city, just visit the canals (navigli). You need to head to the outskirts of the city, to a neighborhood that has really benefitted from the preparations for this year’s Expo in Milan.Bridge across the Naviglio Grande canal

Although you can see two different worlds meeting around here — well-off and poorer tenants alike — the area retains a modest, charming character. The ultimate experience combining all the best features of this neighborhood is to simply plan an extensive evening of dinner and drinks at one of the restaurants and bars along the canals.

5. Il Castello Sforzesco — Once a Fortress, Now a Gallery

This imposing structure looms over the city center, ready to protect it against potential intruders. Naturally, this is no longer the fortress’ primary function, to say the least. Castello Sforzesco has gone along with the times and now contributes to Milan’s cultural scene by hosting many art exhibits.

The photography archives give fascinating insights of what wandering the streets of mid-nineteenth century Milan was like. Furthermore, Michelangelo’s last sculpture is a permanent feature of the castle museums, as are several paintings by the likes of Tizian or Tintoretto. The impressive setting of the castello definitely gives such masterpieces an edge.Castello Sforzesco

Walking round the grounds and visiting the different courtyards is a relaxing way to pass the time. The building’s exterior with its dark red, weathered bricks is intriguing, not to mention the fantastic clock tower over the main entrance. Do not let the exterior fool you into thinking the interior will be much the same, though.

Inside, you’ll find some beautiful decorations on the walls and ceilings inside the fortress depicting colorful landscapes and cultural scenes from back in the day. You’ll probably notice the Sala delle Asse attracting a relatively large crowd. After finding out that murals by Leonardo Da Vinci decorate this chamber, I was quick to join the visitors. Standing in these rooms, it is not hard to imagine the Sforza and Visconti rulers from centuries ago getting ready to attend a service in the duomo.

(Image credit: iStock)

Founder’s Diary: Milan

Just like Rome, Milan — Italy’s industrial, commercial, and financial capital — used to be my home for a while when I was younger. My alma mater, the University of St. Gallen, offered me the opportunity to spend a semester at Bocconi University, Milan’s famous institution for economics, business, and law. Founder's Diary Milan November 2015 Pic 16

While my university days are definitely long gone by — I lived in Milan in 1999 — I have been back several times during the past 15 years, but I’d never had the chance to visit the InterNations Community in Milan — until now. It was even a very special occasion that took me there.

Unfortunately, I had missed out on our eighth anniversary celebrations in Munich, though I could now make up for that by joining a slightly belated birthday party in our biggest Italian community: by now, Milan’s InterNations Community has over 17,000 members, which gives it a definite edge over the somewhat smaller one in Rome, with “only” 13,000 global minds.

The InterNations Community has been in good hands for quite a while now. Our Ambassador Team has been organizing great events for the city’s international community for several years. thumb_IMG_5535_1024

Dutch expatriate Lianne made Milan her new home in 2010, but though she’s been putting down roots in bella Italia, frequent international travels — be it to Spain or Brazil, the UAE or the UK — clearly remain her personal passion. Her “colleague” in the Milan Ambassador Team, Michela, is an expert for everything there is to know about her hometown, though her globetrotting ways frequently take her far away from her native country.

Recently, these two were joined by Luna, a Swedish expat with Latvian roots, who came to Italy to work as a commercial director for a resident furniture and design company. I was sorry to hear, though, that Luna couldn’t join the after-work aperitivo that night. I’d have loved to chat with her about the brand-new Newcomers’ Events that she’s just begun to organize.

thumb_IMG_5533_1024All in all, I think there were about 300 guests from around two dozen different countries thronging round the pool on the terrace of the Novotel Milano, nibbling on fingerfood from the buffet or sipping on their welcome drinks. In the crowd, I even happened to run into the former InterNations Cologne Ambassador — it’s a small world!

But the Milan Community didn’t only have a great turnout on that particular night. I found out that there are nearly 60 InterNations Groups in town so far: for opera lovers and fashionistas, wine enthusiasts and passionate skiers, and many more. Thus it was a pleasure for me to officially thank the entire Milan Community Team for regularly bringing people from all over the world together. Founder's Diary Milan November 2015 Pic 11

After we cut the birthday cake, shaped like an enormous eight, and handed out the slices to as many members as we could, the party could get started! Michela and Lianne had organized a DJ for later on when the general mood turned from talking to dancing.

Since we blew out the candles on the cake together, I suppose that, as superstition has it, I’ll still be granted a wish: I’d like for all InterNations Events around the world to be as enjoyable as that evening in Milan.

(Image credit: InterNations/Michela Bovolenta/Malte Zeeck)

In Honor of Halloween: Haunted Places round the Globe

Halloween lurks around the corner! Around the world, the creepiest of celebrations is primarily a tradition for expatriates from the US and Canada. In many places, the festival is quickly gaining in popularity as an import from American pop culture — mostly among teens who appreciate any excuse for costume parties or horror movie nights.

Evil halloween pumpkinPersonally, I associate the date with preparing the family plot for All Saints’ Day and rather prefer turnip ghosts to jack o’lanterns. However, my inner ten-year-old still enjoys a good spooky story — such as the folklore and urban legends associated with these “haunted” places across the globe.

If you are an expat living nearby or will be in the neighborhood during your travels, you could give ghost-hunting a try. Or simply enjoy the sights.

Himeji Castle, Japan

Himeji-jô is probably the most splendid castle from the samurai era: the well-preserved fortifications and extensive castle grounds recently reopened for the crowds of awed visitors after extensive renovation works. But the castle doesn’t just boast ingenious defenses and an aesthetic appeal that has given rise to its nickname, “White Heron Castle”. It even has its own haunted well. Himeji, Japan - October 25 2014

If you listen closely, you might hear the mourning cries of poor Okiku: a maid serving in the household, she wasn’t only wrongly blamed for the loss of a precious porcelain plate, but also killed and thrown into the castle’s well. Perhaps you’ll get the chance to watch the traditional puppet play based on the story.

Highgate Cemetery, London

One of Britain’s most beautiful cemeteries, the burial ground in northern London is both a site of historical interest and a luxuriously overgrown nature reserve. Celebrities buried here include Victorian women writers George Eliot and Christina Rossetti, Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, and Karl Marx. InterNations Exppat Blog_Halloween_Haunted Places round the Globe_Pic 2

However, it’s not the specter of communism that’s haunting the necropolis. In the 1960s and 1970s, the graveyard became associated with ghost sightings, occult rites, and sundry supernatural phenomena. Not one, but two self-proclaimed “paranormal researchers” insist on having performed exorcisms and vampire hunts there.

Well. The scariest thing in the general vicinity is probably the rental price index for Highgate and Hampstead.

The Princess Theatre, Melbourne

Contrasted with the alleged satanic rituals and vampire kings of Highgate Cemetary, the resident ghost of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre seems almost quaint — though the story is based on a real-life tragedy. In the 19th century, Frederick Frederici, a British opera singer on tour in the colonies, collapsed when exiting the stage after the last scene of Gounod’s popular opera Faust. He died of a heart attack at the age of only 37.

InterNations Exppat Blog_Halloween_Haunted Places round the Globe_Pic 3The fact that Frederici, a celebrated baritone, was playing the part of Mephistopheles, the devil dragging Faust’s soul into hell, may have suggested the stories of his haunting the building. That, or the well-known tendency of theater folks to be a superstitious lot. For years, a seat in the auditorium was kept vacant for him.

One can only hope that Frederici — who owed his success to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan — is just as fond of modern musical theater. Today, the Princess Theatre is both one of the city’s iconic landmarks and the local stage for hit productions in the vein of Mamma Mia!, Hairspray, or (aptly enough) The Phantom of the Opera.

Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico City

This island in the borough of Xochimilco is definitely not the right place to visit for anyone suffering from automatonophobia (fear of humanoid figures), pediophobia (fear of dolls), or pupaphobia (fear of puppets) — or anyone who, like me, was forced to sit through a viewing of Chucky: Child’s Play at the tender age of thirteen.

The isle — more precisely, the chinampa, a plot of artificially created arable land — is located amidst Xochimilco’s famous system of waterways. Even from one of the brightly colored gondolas, it’s easy to spot the broken dolls hanging from the branches. InterNations Exppat Blog_Halloween_Haunted Places round the Globe_Pic 5

The practice was started by a Don Julian, a local loner who “rescued” cast-off toys from the rubbish and used them to adorn his island. He made several outrageous claims concerning the dolls: he was trying to appease the soul of a drowned girl he’d seen floating in the water; he wanted to ward off evil spirits, or that the dolls came alive at night.

Though these stories (including the one about the victim of drowning) are all figments of an eccentric recluse’s imagination, the dolls look rather creepy. After Don Julian died in 2001, one of his relatives has been running the chinampa as an odd tourist attraction.

To be honest, you’d have to ply me with plenty of tequila before I’d set foot there.

Bran Castle, Brașov

If you have 95 million euros in spare cash tucked away in a secret stash, you’ll be able to purchase your very own haunted castle. Castelul Bran near Brașov in central Romania, better known as “Dracula’s Castle”, is up for grabs.

InterNations Exppat Blog_Halloween_Haunted Places round the Globe_Pic 1 While the restored 14th-century fortress is, without a doubt, extremely picturesque, looking like a bona fide fairy-tale, there’s just a tiny catch: there’s no direct connection to the Dracula myth whatsoever.

It is unclear which, if any, location, author Bram Stoker had in mind when he described his hero visiting the ominous count’s mansion in the Carpathian Mountains. Moreover, the historical “Dracula”, Vlad III “the Impaler” Drăculea, Prince of Wallachia, has probably never stayed in this place at all.

Owing to its romanticized architecture and the impressive scenery, Bran Castle is one of Romania’s most beloved tourist attractions, with nearly 200,000 visitors per year. However, the well-deserved popularity does have a darkish backstory.

The Dracula-themed tourism is partly due to the fascination of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu with Vlad III. He regarded the voivode as a strict, but just national hero and co-opted that image for the personality cult of his dictatorship.

Maybe this example of propagandist myth-making is a salutary reminder that the most frightening tales from history are human rather than supernatural.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6): iStockphoto 5) I See Dead Dolls by flickr user Esparta)

Culture Sharing for Children’s Day

InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 1On 20 November we celebrate the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day. Jacira Barros, Volunteer Group Consul in São Paulo, shares her experiences of organizing creative activities for children with a local non-profit organization.

What does the Universal Children’s Day mean to you in relation to your role as Volunteer Group Consul?

This is a month for uniting all our commitment to contributing to a better world, and it begins with children. If we can give them a seed, in the future they may have a tree.

What is the non-profit organization that you are supporting, and what do they do to benefit children?

I support the NPO Vivenda da Criança. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 2 In Brazil, schools are part time, so parents go to work and leave their children at the Vivenda da Criança. Here they have access to art classes, playrooms, psychologists, educational counseling, and drug prevention lectures. For teenagers in need, they also offer vocational courses, such as hairdressing, baking, and IT.

The charity institution Vivenda da Criança is a non-profit organization that helps more than 4,000 people in Parelheiros, São Paulo, every month. In 1989, they started their activities as a shelter for at-risk youth. Over time, the institution has been growing, and today it offers various opportunities for children, adolescents, and adults to develop as people, citizens, and future professionals.

Which activity has been the highlight of your work with Vivenda da Criança?

The activity “Your Culture, My Culture” was the one I loved best, but I really liked the “Creative Factory” activity, too. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 3These two activities were the most demanding with regard to time, organization, and financial investment, but they were also the most enjoyable. The InterNations members, as well as the children, had a great time — I could clearly see it in their faces.

“Your Culture, My Culture” was a creative activity organized by Jacira and supported by 23 amazing volunteers. They created a fictitious passport for each child, which they could use to visit eight booths, each representing a different country. In the booth, the kids had the chance to learn more about the culture of the respective country, and at the end they participated in a fun quiz about what they had just learned.

What was the impact of this activity on the kids and the InterNations volunteers?

These activities were a great educational exercise for the kids. We planted a seed in the hearts and minds of these children when we taught them how to say “hello” in Chinese or when the Spanish booth taught them about famous painters. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 4

The children, who live in a poor, underprivileged neighborhood of São Paulo, were able to experience that the world is much larger than that. Our members worked really hard, donated their time and love, and felt genuine gratitude for participating and working together with these children.

Jacira continues to organize activities together with her Co-Consuls and with the help of many volunteers in São Paulo. Visit the São Paulo Volunteer Group page to get in touch with Jacira or to join one of the activities.

If you’d like to get involved in another city, please check if there is a Volunteer Group in your community. Every InterNations member can join the group and take part in the activities!

Find out more on our About page or write to

(Image credit: Jacira Barros/InterNations)