Expensive, More Expensive, East Asia?

For the 22nd year running, global HR consulting firm Mercer has just published its annual Cost of Living Ranking that lists the costliest and cheapest destinations for expatriates. Except for the obligatory mentions of Switzerland, the top ten most expensive cities, out of 209 surveyed in 2016, are strongly dominated by African and East Asian destinations: Hong Kong Harbour at sunset.

1) Hong Kong (CN SAR)
2) Luanda (Angola)
3) Zurich (Switzerland)
4) Singapore (Singapore)
5) Tokyo (Japan)
6) Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo)
7) Shanghai (China)
8) Geneva (Switzerland)
9) N’Djamena (Chad)
10) Beijing (China)

While Luanda had been topping the charts for the last few years, Hong Kong has slowly climbed to first place: ranking third in 2014 and second in 2015, it is now officially the priciest expat destination around the world. Or is it?

Actual Price Changes vs. Currency Fluctuations

First, it needs to be said that the methodology of the Mercer index has a built-in weakness: the consulting company is headquartered in New York City and mainly aims to provide global corporations and their executive staff with relevant information for foreign assignments. swimming pool and scene of the  city Therefore, they do not only use NYC as their base of comparison, but they also calculate local living expenses in US dollars.

Currency fluctuations thus account for some of the year-to-year changes in the ranking list. For example, Mercer point outs that several South American cities across Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay have plummeted quite heavily in comparison to the 2015 survey. However, this rapid drop is entirely due to the weakening of the respective currencies — the actual prices for goods and services in these countries have remained stable or even increased.

Import Goods and Expat Housing Come at a Cost

Do changes in rank due to currency fluctuations that expats moving to the ten cities cited above can rest easy? It’s not quite as simple, either. The extreme living expenses in Luanda, Kinshasa, and N’Djamena are mostly owing to safety issues and lack of political stability: secure living quarters on the upscale real estate market are often hard to find and accordingly expensive.

While places like Hong Kong and Singapore might be safe as houses in comparison, it is their housing market, too, that keeps expenses high. Mercer hasn’t only provided us with the relative ranking, but they have added some absolute figures as well. Tokyo city view visible on the horizon

A two-bedroom apartment in the kind of upmarket neighborhood preferred by their clientele costs over 3,200 USD per month in Singapore — and, at 6,800 USD in rental costs, more than twice that price in Hong Kong. In January, the Financial Times reported that Hong Kong has become the most expensive housing market across the globe, for expats and locals, tenants and owners alike: the average price for purchasing property was 19 times (yes, nineteen times — you’ve read that correctly) the median pre-tax income of a Hong Kong resident.

In comparison, the fact that you need to pay around 100 US dollars for a pair of brand-name blue jeans in each Asian city on that list is just a monetary afterthought. Again, Hong Kong holds the sad record for pricy consumer goods: most of them are imported and therefore don’t come cheap. But, hey, at least beer is relatively affordable there, at 1.35 USD per 0.33-liter bottle, so you might as well drown your financial worries in alcohol.

Local Cost of Living in the Expat Insider 2015 Survey

How do Hong Kong & Co. fare in other ratings? Does it make a difference if similar studies don’t focus mainly on the needs and expenses of expats in upper management positions? We have taken a look at how the four Asian countries represented in Mercer’s top ten did with regard to financial topics in our very own Expat Insider 2015 survey, where a wide range of people beyond the “classic” expats had their say.

Unsurprisingly, the comparisons for China and Japan are a bit inconclusive. shanghai skyline in sunny morningUnlike Mercer’s city ranking, the Expat Insider data covers countries, not cities; even in the Mercer listing, there’s a vast difference between Beijing on #10 and Chengdu on #34, and an equally wide range between expenses in Tokyo (#5) and Nagoya (#54).

Generally speaking, however, China and Japan received above-average ratings in our 2015 (reverse) Cost of Living Index, ranking 22nd and 31st out of 64 countries, respectively. On the other hand, Hong Kong and Singapore, where the distinction between city and country doesn’t really matter, did appear at the expensive bottom of the Expat Insider 2015 Cost of Living Index: they made it to place 58 and 54 out of 67, respectively. As far as the factor affordable housing was concerned, all of these destinations had mediocre to bad rankings, with Hong Kong bringing up the rear on place 64 last year.

Expat Incomes vs. Living Expenses

However, one shouldn’t forget that an extremely elevated cost of living doesn’t matter that much if the income is equally generous. With regard to the respondents’ personal finances in general, none of these destinations did too badly, not even Hong Kong: 68% of the 2015 respondents said that they were generally happy with their financial situation, and about half (51%) thought that their disposable household income was more than enough to cover their expenses.

Nonetheless, those expats who don’t have senior management salaries may be feeling the pinch of rising prices, while Mercer points out that companies have also been cutting traditional expat allowances for their assignees. Elevated View of Beijing SkylineHave these trends affected what the participants of the Expat Insider 2016 survey have to say about their expenses, especially in these destinations? Do their subjective responses match up with the hard facts from the newest Mercer Cost of Living report?

Let’s wait and see. Our Expat Insider 2016 survey report is still a work in progress, but we’ll keep you updated once we officially announce the results. (Spoiler: things aren’t looking good for Hong Kong.)

What’s the cost of living in your city like? Have there been any major changes in expenses lately?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Attractions in Rotterdam

InterNations Founder and Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares his personal recommendations from his recent trip to Rotterdam.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to visit Rotterdam, thanks to a summit hosted there by the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). The EO is a global network of 11,000 influential business owners that was founded on the idea of helping entrepreneurs achieve personal success and fulfillment.

Being a part of this organization has presented me with several other opportunities to travel. Driving on Erasmus BridgeEarlier this year, I went to Malta with a few of my comrades from the organization and, last year, I was lucky enough to travel to Bosnia with the EO to visit the InterNations Community in Sarajevo.

Although my trip to Rotterdam was short and sweet, I made sure to find time to explore the city. Just a 90-minute flight from Munich, Rotterdam is definitely a hidden gem in the Netherlands. Known as the “gateway to Europe”, this modern city is without a doubt worth a visit.

Overblaak Development (Kubus Houses): Innovative Architecture

Following a friend’s recommendation, I paid a visit to this unusual attraction, and it definitely caught my attention. The innovative housing development, designed by Piet Blom, supposedly represents treehouses in a forest. Unfortunately my creative imagination let me down at first glance, but after studying the slightly tilted, cubed-shaped houses on top of a hexagonal pillar for a while, I started to see their resemblance to trees. Low-angle shot of yellow cubic houses in Rotterdam

Although contemporary architecture has never been a particular interest of mine, this sight definitely didn’t disappoint. One of the houses is actually open to the public: after having a look inside, I can safely say that living in a lopsided house is not for me. Firstly, the doorways are much too small, and secondly, the houses have no straight walls — I do applaud the residents’ creativity when it comes to arranging their furniture!

Delfshaven: A Pilgrimage Back In Time

As much as I’ve enjoyed the contemporary side of Rotterdam’s architecture, the harbor at Delfshaven has to be one of my favorite spots in the city. The Netherlands aren’t exactly known for their sunny weather, but if you are lucky enough to get a day with sunshine and 20°C outside, do spend it sitting in on the terrace of a bar on the waterfront to admire the old harbor.

historical delfshaven in rotterdam Delfshaven harbor is one of the only areas of Rotterdam that wasn’t completely destroyed in the war, and I found it to be a refreshing escape from the modern city center. My inner history buff led me to take a page out of the tourist’s book and pay a visit to the Pilgrim Fathers Church. This is where the Pilgrims met just before they set sail for America in 1620 and, although it may not appear very grand, the church has a rich history.

This area is also an ideal place for an evening along the canal, for example, to have dinner in one of the many lovely waterside restaurants.

Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim: Drinking and Dining Like a Local

After joining a tour of the Old Jameson whiskey distillery during my trip to Dublin last summer, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a traditional brewery to that list. The Stadsbrouwerij De Pilgrim makes Pelgrim beer based on pure Rotterdam water, earning the beer the nickname “the liquid gold of Rotterdam” — just try for yourself if the taste lives up to the name! Beer taps at a bar with golden bars

A tasting selection of five beers costs just five euros and, given that the brewery also serves food inspired by and prepared with their own beer, I decided it would be rude not to enjoy a meal there. The great thing is that every time you go back, they’ll have a brand new experimental beer on tap for you to try and give your comments on.

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen: An Artistic Adventure

I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert when it comes to art, but whether you’re an art fanatic or not, this museum is definitely worth a visit. The collection has 14,000 pieces on display, focusing mainly on the history of European and Dutch art.

It features some household names that I immediately recognized, like Van Gogh and Monet, or Breughel’s famous Tower of Babel, but the exhibition also houses some other, more modern and unusual artworks, including two cardboard boxes held together with parcel tape — like I said, unusual. Founder's Diary Rotterdam_Pic 6 I was told that this piece of art was a representation of modern society, but as I already mentioned, contemporary art is maybe not one of my strongest points…

After a walk around the museum, I decided to take a break and grab a coffee at the onsite espresso bar. Now that design concept I really loved: even the walls of the café are covered in interesting murals, meaning that the whole time you are within the museum, it truly is an artistic adventure.

Euromast: Reaching New Heights

Given that I only had a short time in Rotterdam, I decided to spend my last morning 185 meters above ground to get a full view of the city. After a busy visit, taking the elevator instead of climbing the 589 stairs up to the “Crow’s Nest” seemed like a much better option. Luckily enough, it was a fairly clear day, so I could enjoy a view of the cityscape from above. Euromast

But as urban planners kept adding skyscrapers to Rotterdam’s ultra-modern city center, the panorama from the “Crow’s Nest” is no longer quite what it used to be. So the architects of the Euromast just added a whole new level on top. In the so-called Space Tower, you take a seat on a rotating platform, which moves slowly so that everybody has a 360 degree view of the city. On my way down I learned that you can actually abseil or take the zip wire down the side of the tower — definitely one to add to the bucket list!

Rotterdam, I’ll be back.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) iStockphoto; 5) public domain)

Founder’s Diary: Rotterdam

Malte Zeeck, Founder & Co-CEO of InterNations, met numerous volunteers from our InterNations Communities in Rotterdam and The Hague.

For the second time this year, after my trip to Malta in April, my membership in the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), a peer-to-peer network for founders and business owners, took me abroad — this time, to the Netherlands. Founder's Diary_Rotterdam_InterNations Volunteers_Pic 3

After I got up at 4:30 in the morning and flew to Rotterdam in order to participate in a full-day workshop at the EO summit, I also attended a new event format for getting together with the volunteers from our local InterNations Communities.

A New Kind of Get-Together

Our Rotterdam Ambassadors — Algina, Hanane, and Sourish — had been so kind as to organize a get-together for all our InterNations volunteers from both Rotterdam and The Hague. After all, the most important port of the Netherlands and the country’s seat of government are only separated by fewer 30 km or a 30-minute car ride.

Our Rotterdam Ambassadors Team is currently a dynamic and highly international mixture of a Dutch-born finance specialist with Moroccan roots, a Lithuanian student and researcher, and an IT analyst from Kolkata. This trio picked just the perfect location for our meet-up: De Machinist, a restaurant in the popular neighborhood of Delfshaven. About 30 volunteers supporting the InterNations Communities in Rotterdam and The Hague followed their invitation.Founder's Diary_Rotterdam_InterNations Volunteers_Pic 2

Generally speaking, the Netherlands has a very large and lively foreign community, and our InterNations Communities in these particular cities are fairly large and pretty active as well. In Rotterdam, our 5,000 members can choose among nearly 20 InterNations Groups for various interests, from African culture to business networking.

The community in The Hague is even busier. Here, around 10,000 members meet up twice a month for the InterNations Official Events in town, and more than three dozen groups host numerous activities on top of that. We will even be introducing our very first Newcomers’ Event in The Hague this month.

The Backbone of Every InterNations Community

This thriving community life wouldn’t be possible without the support of our volunteers, and it was a great experience for me to meet so many of them: they are the foundation of our communities and the backbone of the InterNations experience, creating all those amazing opportunities for international people to meet in real life, get to know one another, share their interests, and find new friends, often far from home.

I truly could not thank them enough for sharing our vision and bringing our members together — but I hope my speech (as well as the fact that the drinks were on me, or rather on InterNations) helped to show them how much we appreciate their commitment. Founder's Diary_Rotterdam_Pic 5

I also used the opportunity to give a glimpse “behind the scenes” of InterNations as a company, sharing our long-term vision, our short-term strategy, and our product development roadmap, and encouraging everyone to ask questions. And ask they did!

This Q&A session turned into quite an intensive discussion of various aspects concerning InterNations in general and community life in particular: how to react to members repeatedly signing up for events without actually showing up; how to negotiate better deals with event venues; what our plans for our upcoming app are; what our social media strategy is like, and many more.

A Productive Exchange of Ideas

It certainly wasn’t just me doing all the talking: it was especially a great opportunity for the volunteers to meet up and to exchange their own ideas. Connections were established; plans to promote each other’s events were made; visits to the other community were scheduled. While I was listening to these conversations, I also learned a lot — about their personal success stories, about new friendships found through InterNations, or “just” about how much fun they’d had at the latest special activity. Founder's Diary_Rotterdam_InterNations Volunteers Event_Pic 4

There were also a few young entrepreneurs who are just starting their own business and therefore asked me for a bit of advice, from entrepreneur to entrepreneur, and I was more than happy to share my own experience of successfully getting a start-up off the ground. We all talked until it was rather late, but I think everyone enjoyed the growing sense of a community spirit among the volunteers as much as I did.

Another heart-felt thank you to everyone who could make it that night, and particularly to Algina, Hanane, and Sourish for making it happen! This is definitely a new event format that I’d love to attend again, perhaps in Rotterdam and The Hague, or perhaps in another of our 390 InterNations Communities around the globe.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Let the Sunshine In — The Best Ways to Celebrate Summer

On the southern half of the globe, days are getting shorter and colder, and our members are hibernating, only coming out of their caves in a desperate attempt to fight off the winter blues.

But up here, summer is already knocking on our doors! The beginning of summer, often called midsummer or summer solstice in some parts of the world, is a reason for celebration for many people. Luckily, we have a lot of great events for you to kick off your favorite season!

Summer in the City

The InterNations Community in Rotterdam was the first to host a summer kick-off this month. An international crowd gathered in Wijnhaven on 3 June to dance to the tunes of a live jazz band. What a great way to welcome this season!

Rotterdam1

“Summer in the city” was also the theme of our event in Cologne on 8 June. Members of the Cologne Community met for an after-work summer party on the chic terrace of a former table dance bar, now turned into one of the hippest venues in the city.

Cologne1

Our community in Mexico City hosted a summer Brazilian night on 8 June, complete with Brazilian music, dancing, great food, and Margacheve (flavored margarita). As always, a spur of romance and friendship was in the air.

Summer_MexicoCity

InterNations Paris took their party to the Champs Elysees. On 15 June, expats and global minds met in a private area reserved exclusively for them to celebrate the beginning of summer. Soccer/football fans who didn’t want to miss the game could follow it on a large screen, allowing them to combine the best things about this season.

Paris1

Expats in Istanbul celebrated the season at a chic bar in the heart of Zorlu center with a summer champagne party. Our guests enjoyed the best champagne at an exclusive price and mingled on the terrace to soak up the last warmth of the summer day.

Istanbul2

Let’s Go Outside!

Then, of course, there are the “traditional” midsummer celebrations, those that come with endless summer days, flower garlands, and a maypole for people to dance around. Families gather under the, hopefully, blue sky, share an abundance of food (and sometimes schnapps) and celebrate the beginning of summer.

On Friday, 24 June, the Stockholm Singles Group will head to Fjärderholmarna Island to celebrate midsummer together. There are swimming opportunities, great views, and even a brewery for those who don’t want to bring their own drinks. If you come prepared for any weather, it will definitely be a fun experience, as long as you catch the last boat back to Stockholm, that is.

Summer_Stockholm

Those who are not in the mood for an excursion to a remote island in the Stockholm archipelago should head to Gothenburg on Friday, 1 July, for a full-blown midsummer party. Our members will meet at a comfortable hotel lounge in the middle of the city to enjoy the delicious food and the free welcome drink. If the weather permits, the terrace is open as well to soak up the sunshine.

On Wednesday, 6 July, the Cambridge City Trotters are heading to the Botanic Gardens for a picnic to celebrate summer time. There will be a lot of talented musicians and music groups playing that day, including a klezmer ensemble.

Summer_Cambridge

Are you up for a summer party at a piano bar? The Rome Nightlife Group is going to enjoy a summer evening in front of the Colosseum on Thursday, 14 July. So come on by for a free welcome drink, some live music and great company to kick off this summer in style.

On Friday, 24 June, InterNations Hannover welcomes summer! Members are invited to meet at a rooftop beach bar to enjoy the evening with great company and a drink in hand. The lounge area is covered by a large roof, so even if the weather is not playing along, you can hang out outside.

Now, are you wondering what to do if you live in the Southern hemisphere and the weather is as far from “summer” as you could imagine? Watch out for our events near you to shake off the winter blues, like the one in Gaborone. InterNations members will meet at Sky Lounge on Wednesday, 29 June, to mingle and enjoy a welcome drink.

Are preparing for the winter solstice or the longest day of the year? Let us know how you will celebrate!

Image credit: 1) Hanike.nl, 2) InterNations, 3) Carlos De La Rosa Vargas, 4 + 5) InterNations, 6) Pexels, 7) Barn Images

Our Top 3 #GlobalLocalSpots around the World

Last month, we asked InterNations members and Instagram followers to share their favorite global-local spot with us. We wanted to see your favorite place to hang out in your city, be it a park you love to visit when the sun is shining or a cozy café where you spend hours relaxing and reading.

#GlobalLocalSpot Insta promo image

We received a lot of posts under the hashtag #GlobalLocalSpot of people sharing the places in their city that make them feel at home. Many also included stories about what this specific place meant to them.

With all the great contributions we received, it was really tough to choose the best of the best. Two weeks ago, we were finally ready to announce the three top global-local spots around the globe.

Third Place: A Summer Night Concert in Vienna

@slonska shared a beautiful scene with us, captured at a night concert in Vienna. When asked what made this moment so special for her, she ensured us that it was “the perfect combination of nice weather, a beautiful location, lovely company, and, of course, great music.” While it was her first time going to this event, the annual summer night concert and the castle Schönbrunn, where it takes place, are popular among visitors and locals alike, making it the perfect global-local spot.

3rd place - GlobalLocalSpot contest

Second Place: Picturesque Wira Bruk

@orangemarabou chose a charming place in Wira Bruk, Sweden, as her favorite global-local spot. The historic little village, located about an hour to the northeast of Stockholm, will make every visitor feel like they have been dropped smack-dab in the middle of an Astrid Lindgren story. Aside from the calm, idyllic atmosphere, their café is well worth a visit as well.

2nd place - GlobalLocalSpot contest

First Place: A Hidden Gem in Paris

Finally, our winning picture came to us straight from Paris and was a somewhat accidental discovery for @eudesparis: “I had passed by this garden a thousand times without knowing that it exists and one day, I wanted to take a statue’s picture and there it was.”

eudesparis-globallocalspot winner june 2016_1

Île de la Cité has since become his favorite spot on the Seine, which has brought him many great memories, from a sightseeing boat passing by with its passengers waving, to a private friends-only picnic. The greatest thing about it is that it is calm and peaceful making it perfect for anyone who needs a moment to breathe, meditate or just relax. Or, as @eudeparis puts it, “it’s special because you are in the center of Paris, feeling like you’re not in Paris.”

Congratulations to our three winners and thank you to everyone who shared their favorite global-local spot with us. Visit us on Instagram to see more amazing global-local moments and feel free to share your own favorite spots with us.

Five Signs You’re Homesick for a Place That’s Not Your Home

I’m sure many expats, international students, globetrotters, and nomadic souls will agree with me when I say that you can view several places as your home at the same time. When you move to a new place, whether you live there for months or years, you will inevitably develop an attachment to it and the people you meet there. Sad unhappy woman holding red heart pillow The mere mention of this second home later in life — a picture or a song you listened to whilst living there — will be all it takes to bring memories flooding back and that pang of nostalgia that we all know so well will hit you.

It may sound strange to even talk about homesickness with regard to somewhere that is not our “real” home, but you can indeed feel a true homesickness for this “second” home. In many ways, this emotion is much the same as the homesickness you feel for your original home. However, it might be accompanied by a peculiar feeling when you realize that you are suddenly missing another place in exactly the same way.

Here are five tell-tale signs that you have been hit by homesickness for your “home away from home”.

1) You often consider jumping on the next flight back.

travel bags If you weren’t constrained by your budget, you would probably end up going from one place to the next constantly, and back again, just so you don’t end up missing any of them. Whenever the homesickness for your second, or even third or fourth, home starts to set in, you begin to think about when will be the earliest time you can return. Not only do you want to see all your friends again, but you also want to revisit the old haunts you created so many brilliant memories in.

2) You spend a large amount of time looking at photos and keepsakes.

InterNations Expat Blog_Homesickness_Pic 2 Photos are a great way to remind you of all the brilliant times you have had. If you’re feeling homesick for a place where you have lived for a while, you will probably find yourself looking up old photos or digging up other mementos from there. Whether it’s the stereotypical tourist shot you took when you arrived in your new home, the tacky souvenir you bought in your first few days, or the group photos from an evening with your friends, or the farewell gift you received from your colleagues, you will inevitably look at them often and wish you could go back.

3) You miss the culture and language of your second home.

Everywhere has its own culture and language or dialect. After you leave the place you called home for however long, you will inevitably miss the cultural norms you slowly started taking for granted as you settled in there. You may have begun to learn the local language, too. Now you might be left with nobody to speak it with, making you long for the days when you could just step out the door and hear it on a daily basis. Letterpress alphabet

After leaving this place, you will seek out ways to stay connected with the things you learned to love about it. Maybe it will be a novel in the language so you can remember the culture while practicing your language skills. If films or music are more your thing, you will surely end up watching and listing to media you discovered abroad or perhaps even trying to find new songs or TV shows to make it feel like you are still connected to the place that stole your heart. Perhaps you will even attend expat events in order to meet expatriates from this place and thus to keep in touch with its language and culture.

4) You miss the food you could get only there.

When thinking about culture, we mustn’t forget about food. After a certain amount of time living somewhere, you will almost certainly learn to love its dishes no matter how strange they may have seemed to you when you first arrived. Like your home town, your adopted home will have its own traditional food, which either just isn’t the same elsewhere or is downright impossible to find. Diverse Yard Summer Friends Fun Bonding Concept

If you start to feel the pangs of homesickness for your second home, perhaps you will try to make these delicacies. This could work out really well — or it might leave you feeling disappointed and more homesick than ever. But you should take the risk regardless; it will be a culinary adventure at the very least.

5) You may feel crazy, but it all makes sense.

Whilst you might sound a bit crazy explaining that you are homesick for a place you don’t actually come from to someone who has never lived abroad, there are plenty of others around the world who understand your situation perfectly. I have met people who have lived in too many places to count and are homesick for each one all at the same time. Wax seal and old letters

Once you settle in a place and grow to truly appreciate the local culture, it becomes a part of you and your character in a way that will never go away. Without the little quirks that exist only in that place you will feel a slight emptiness. But you know that you would do it all again in a heartbeat — after all, the amazing experiences you had there have made you who you are today.

Stephanie Crosby is a student at the University of Bath, studying German, Italian, and European Studies. Currently on her year abroad, she has lived in Italy, appreciating the excellent local food and wine for six months, and is now living in Munich trying to learn to love beer and finding the time to travel to as many places as possible. She is currently an intern in the Content and Communications Team at InterNations, before returning to Bath to finish her degree.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

6 Ways to Celebrate Midsummer Like the Locals

Up in the Northern Hemisphere, the sky is blue, the days are getting longer, and we can finally enjoy fresh strawberries from the farmer’s markets. The longest days of the year are happening right now, and particularly in Scandinavia, where the sun barely sets, the summer solstice or midsummer celebrations are a big deal and a perfect occasion for huge family gatherings.

Even though it is a pre-Christian, pagan holiday, summer solstice, as well as the beginning of summer, is celebrated widely throughout countries in the Northern Hemisphere. In some places, old traditions like lighting a bonfire or setting up a maypole prevail, while in others people have found lots of new, unique ways to celebrate the middle of the year.

Raising the Maypole

One of the most popular and best-known summer solstice celebrations is the Swedish midsommar, which isn’t complete without the characteristic midsommarstång (maypole). Each year, midsommar falls on a Saturday between 20 and 26 June, but the preparations already start on Friday, when the maypole is raised and flower garlands are made to adorn the heads of those celebrating this day.
Swedish Midsummer Headgear Traditional on a female head of hair.
In Sweden, midsommar is one of the most beloved holidays of the year (after Christmas) and the Swedes don’t just celebrate it with lots of food (mostly herring, new potatoes, and sour cream with dill) but also by drinking ridiculous amounts of schnapps and beer. The biggest public midsummer festivities take place in Skansen, Stockholm’s outdoor museum, and at Lake Siljan in Dalarna.

The Land of the Midnight Sun… and Three-Day Music Festivals

If you are looking for the full solstice experience, however, you shouldn’t hesitate to head a little further west. Iceland is called the land of the midnight sun for a reason: in summer the sun only barely sets, and summer solstice actually brings a full 24 hours of sunlight. While old pagan traditions are less important nowadays, people have still found a way to put the extra daylight to good use. The Secret Solstice music festival offers three full days of musical performances and artistic highlights. It takes place between 16 and 19 June every year.

Kupala Day — Jumping over the Bonfire

Kupala Day is the summer solstice celebration in Russia, Ukraine, and many other Eastern European countries. Some old folk traditions have prevailed here. For instance, young girls make garlands which they let float down a river. Depending on the movement of the garland, they try to tell their fortune. Another popular tradition is for couples to hold hands and jump over a bonfire. If they let go during the jump, the bond is said to not be strong enough and the couple will separate.
Midsummer-in-Austria

Up Up in the Mountains

Lighting midsummer bonfires is a big summer solstice tradition in Austria’s Alpine regions as well. Particularly in the Tyrol region, huge bonfires dot the countryside on midsummer night and people celebrate until late. The biggest parties take place in the mountain towns, of course, where you have the best view of the surrounding area. However, cruises on the surrounding lakes, such as Achensee, or on the Danube River are rather popular as well.

Where Modern Druids Gather

Midsummer-in-UK
In the UK, Stonehenge is the most famous place to celebrate the summer solstice. When the sun rises right above its Heel Stone, druids, New Agers, modern pagans, and curious onlookers gather to party. Many of the 37,000 annual visitors come only to watch the eclectic crowd while others dance and drum through sunrise.

All Stretched Out in NYC

New Yorkers, on the other hand, have found a completely new way to celebrate the longest day of the year. As 21 June is not just a perfect time for midsummer celebrations but also happens to be World Yoga Day, yogis meet in Times Square for meditation and yoga workouts.
Midsummer-in-NY
This is not just a small, free fitness lesson, mind you. It is an all-day yoga event with around 11,000 participants, which starts early in the morning and continues until just before sunset.

Will you be spending your midsummer stretched out on a yoga mat in the City That Never Sleeps or rather dancing around the maypole? Share your favorite summer solstice traditions in the comments!

Image credits: 1, 3, 4) iStockphoto, 2) Pexels

InterNations Volunteers and Their Positive Impact on the Environment

Celebrating our natural environment is what numerous people around the world do on 5 June. On this day, they raise awareness about and call to action for protecting the environment worldwide. InterNations Volunteer Groups have worked hard to set up several activities that are environmentally friendly and support the well-being of our ecosphere — and we are very proud to present them here.

Supporting the Environment by Educating People

Our daily life has a great influence on our environment, simply due to all the little choices we make. The best way to protect our wonderful and precious world is to educate people about their environmental impact so that they can make more conscious choices. Thus, in the Singapore Volunteer Group, Group Consul Prema invited all members to a screening at the Earth Film Festival, as well as an exclusive speech by the festival’s founder, Michael Broadhead.

Social Impact Night Singapore_010616

At the screening, 29 group members watched the award-winning documentary Trashed, which illuminates the global scale of humanity’s waste production. Later on, several other members joined them for the Social Impact Night, an educational — and exclusive — speech by Earth Film Festival founder Michael Broadhead. Together with the attendees, Michael turned his lecture into an interactive session while he explained what motivated him to set up the Earth Film Festival.

The attendees did not only leave feeling inspired, but they also got to support a non-profit organization as InterNations donated parts of their entrance fee to Zero Waste Singapore. This NGO strives to make Singapore waste-free.

Supporting Local Farmers to Reduce Food Miles

Agro-tourism, bringing visitors to a farm or ranch, is a new sustainable industry that has various benefits, such as improving local economies and decreasing the amount of “food miles” (and thus our carbon footprint). Local farmers in Perucho, Quito, have discovered this alternative source of income, and that’s why Adriana from the Quito Volunteer Group decided to introduce the members of the group to this new initiative.

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The attendees of the Tangerine Tour had the opportunity to meet various farmers in the community and to learn more about local food production: they even went home with bags full of home-grown avocados, mandarins, and, of course, tangerines.

The Washington Volunteer Group Combats Water Pollution

Up to 40% of all American lakes are said to be too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming. The Anacostia Watershed Society tries to diminish this problem, pursuing the mission to clean the waters of the 14-kilometer Anacostia River, to recover its shores, and to honor the river’s heritage.

Therefore, Andrea from the Washington Volunteer Group prepared the members to get muddy and have lots of fun, while they had the opportunity to attend a River Cleanup activity and thus support the Watershed Society.

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More Tips to Celebrate World Environment Day

So many other activities can be done in order to celebrate World Environment Day and to honor its vision. We’d like to share three tips that might inspire you — especially, but not only, on 5 June:

• Plant a tree: its many benefits include filtering out air pollution and providing oxygen. Planting a tree in honor of a loved one makes it even more special!

• Clean up the beach, the park, the woods, etc! Take a walk in the fresh air with your friends and make it a game to see who can gather the biggest bag of litter in 15 minutes.

• Use recycled paper: if you have to work on World Environment Day, you could even propose this idea to the person in charge of your office’s paper supply.

Do you have any other ideas to celebrate World Environment Day? Let us know!

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

Find out more on our About Page or write to volunteerprogram@internations.org.

(Image credit: InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: The Best of Naples

InterNations Founder and Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares his top tips for what to see and do in and around the capital of Campania.

Much to See in the Historic Center

I came to Naples at the end of April for the annual reunion with my university friends from St Gallen and to visit the InterNations Naples April Event, which you can read more about here. The historic center of Naples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest cities in Europe, influenced by a succession of cultures and dynasties, from the ancient Greeks to the 18th-century Bourbons. I had plenty of time to explore the many winding streets here as I was lucky enough to be staying in the centro storico.

InterNations Insider Tips_Naples_Napoli_Pic 1According to some sources, there are said to be 448 (!) churches located in the center, all with an interesting history and quite a few containing brilliant pieces of artwork, both as a part of the sacral architecture itself and individual masterpieces by well-known sculptors and painters.

One such church is Capella Sansevero, where you can find the Veiled Christ by Sanmartino, a truly impressive marble sculpture — the artist managed to depict the draped shroud so realistically and so gracefully that his superstitious contemporaries assumed that he must have transformed, by some kind of magical alchemy, soft cloth into cold stone.

The Castle with a Peculiar Name

The waterfront is not too far from the historic center and is a lovely place to spend some time eating traditional Neapolitan-style pizza, pasta, or seafood. From here, you can see Mount Vesuvius, which makes for a truly impressive vista to enjoy while you have lunch.

InterNations Insider Tips_Naples_Napoli_Pic 2 Before or after heading to a restaurant, you should also go to the Castello dell’Ovo. Called the Castle of the Egg in English, this fortress is surrounded by the myths of a mysterious sorcerer — well, actually the classical poet Virgil, whom medieval folks believed to have possessed supernatural powers.

Supposedly Virgil buried a magic egg in the foundations of the castle, which if destroyed, would bring about the destruction of the building and chaos in the city. Luckily it would appear this hasn’t happened … at least, not yet.

A Beautiful Lesser-Known Island

During our stay in Naples, we took the 30-minute ferry trip to the island of Ischia just 30km from the mainland. We rented scooters and explored this beautiful isle, making a stop at the Negombo Thermal Gardens. This thermal park with a private beach, set in impressive grounds, is the perfect place to relax at one of the many pools and hot springs sitting alongside the cooler ocean. InterNations Insider Tips_Naples_Napoli_Pic 3

Just like on last year’s visit to Rome, I rather enjoyed going around the island on a scooter, which felt like a true Italian moment, but I should mention that driving here is really not for the faint-hearted, and perhaps it is safer to walk or take the bus.

Follow in the Steps of Gods

A nice day in Naples is the best occasion to go on the so-called “walk of the gods”. This hiking trail stretches from the town of Bomerano to Positano and offers incredible views for those who are willing to make the hard effort.

We first went from Bomerano to Nocelle, where we stopped for lunch at the Santa Croce restaurant. InterNations Insider Tips_Naples_Napoli_Pic 4 This family-run restaurant provided us with a well-earned break and brilliant views across the sea.

After taking a pause, we continued the “walk of the gods” down into Positano, where we enjoyed drinks by the beach watching the sun set. This walk really is worth going on, with splendid views of the Amalfi Coast, but if you can’t make it all the way, there is a bus from Positano to Nocelle to help you out.

Not Complete Without a Visit to Pompeii

Of course, I couldn’t go to Campania without visiting the ruins of Pompeii. This world-renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site has fascinated for me for many years. (Who doesn’t love an exploding volcano — provided the eruption safely happened more than 2,000 years ago…). It was very interesting to walk around the well-preserved ruins and to see the way people lived in Roman times.

I took an audio guide to help me learn more about the large site (which would actually require five days to explore thoroughly) and its various key points such as the basilica, which was the home to the law and the main trading site, and the forum, the center of public life. InterNations Insider Tips_Naples_Napoli_Pic 5 It does take a while to see even the most important ruins in detail, so I would recommend you bring plenty of water and a hat to keep yourself protected from the sun, as there is little shade provided here.

But though the Campanian heat can be brutal, especially later in summer, Pompeii is worth it: from the surprisingly vibrant colors of some surviving wall decorations to obscene Latin graffiti (apparently, human nature hasn’t changed that much in those 2,000 years), it offers a near-magical glimpse into a bygone era.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Naples

InterNations Founder and Co-CEO Malte Zeeck recounts his visit to the InterNations Naples Community.

Arriving in the Ancient City

At the end of April I took the short 90-minute flight from Munich to Naples to attend my yearly reunion with other alumni from the University of St. Gallen, as well as the InterNations Naples April Event. The city welcomed me with lovely weather: 30°C was much preferable to 10°C in Munich.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Naples_Pic 5 I was lucky enough to be staying right in the historic center of town at the Foria House Bed and Breakfast. It even came with its own private garden to sit in before heading to the event. In the evening, I joined the official event at the Palazzo Petrucci restaurant in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, just a 15-minute walk from my hotel.

The venue is a really cozy pizzeria, and we were lucky enough to be holding the event on their terrace with a wonderful view over the piazza as the warm spring evening passed by. The square itself is a pretty, and quite busy, public space in the center of Naples, and as the evening progressed, we had a good vantage point on the terrace above to watch the comings and goings below.

A Global Mind

When I arrived, I was welcomed by Lomè, the Ambassador for the InterNations Naples Community. Born in Naples, Lomè has lived in many cities around the world — London, Berlin, and Sharm El-Sheikh, to name but a few. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Naples_Pic 1She is a good example of the numerous global minds in the InterNations Community, speaking half a dozen languages and having visited various countries, especially in Europe. She also likes to use the influence of the many places she has lived as inspiration for her personal passions, cooking and clothing.

After returning to her hometown, Lomè now works as a tour guide, spreading her love for Naples and the surrounding area. In her free time, alongside cooking and reading, she enjoys being our Naples Ambassador, welcoming people to her beautiful city with a friendly smile and brilliant events. She says she chose to do this because she wanted people to have the welcome in their new city that she was missing when she moved abroad herself. Thank you, Lomè!

A Brilliant Event

Naples is one of our smaller communities in Italy with around 2,200 members, about 50 of whom signed up for this event. The event began at 20:00 and carried on until late at night. We were also lucky to have good weather for the whole evening; what started off as a cloudy evening turned into perfect weather to relax outdoors. There was a buffet and drinks provided by the restaurant, which we grazed on throughout the night.

I had many interesting conversations with members from a variety of places around the world: Germany, the USA, Malaysia, Austria, and Venezuela are just a few of the countries that were represented. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Naples_Pic 3 Quite a few of the people at the event turned out to work for the local NATO base, while others introduced themselves as university staff.

During the evening, conversation turned to life in Naples. Many of the expats I spoke to hold mixed opinions about living here. They enjoy living in a city with such brilliant weather and the incredible landscape created by the Amalfi Coast, including Pompeii, Capri, and Mount Vesuvius. They also enjoy the standard of the local food, of course. But many of the people I spoke with also mentioned issues like the presence of organized crime, the dirt, and the crazy traffic.

A Big Thank You

I really enjoyed my time at the event in Naples, especially the very relaxed and familial atmosphere. I also had an interesting interview with a TV crew about my visit to Naples, arranged by Francesca. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Naples_Pic 2

I then gave a speech thanking Lomè for all the energy she puts into the InterNations Community, welcoming so many people with a warm and smiley greeting — we even had quite a few new faces being welcomed at this event. I also asked members of the Naples Community to get active in our Groups and to share their hobbies with other expats and global minds. Thank you to everyone who came for making it such an enjoyable evening!

Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Naples_Pic 4 Many of the guests I talked to over the course of the evening gave me valuable tips for how I should spend the rest of my time in the region. Over the next few days I was able to go to most of the places they had recommended, as well as some other sightseeing trips organized by my alumni reunion.

We, of course, made a point of going to Pompeii, which was at the very top of the list for most of us. Another highlight of my trip to Naples was our visit to Ischia. This island is somewhat less popular than Capri, but it is the largest one in the bay and well worth a visit. We rented scooters and explored the island, stopping at the thermal gardens with their private beach.

You can read more about what I did during my time in Campania in my Insider Tips blog post. I can whole-heartedly recommend this amazing region to anyone!

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)