A Month Full of Colors — The Best Holidays in March

What is there to do between Carnival and the beginning of summer/winter, you might wonder! Although March is greatly under-appreciated and is often considered an in-between month in which nothing exciting happens, it does have a lot of great holidays in store for you. Our communities around the world take every opportunity to have a good time, from celebrating the patron saint of Ireland to commemorating International Women’s Day.

Going Green!

St. Patrick’s Day is not just the most typical Irish holiday but also one of the most widely celebrated ones. When Irish people moved abroad, they took this day with them and established it in their new home, making it THE holiday for Irish expats, people of Irish ancestry and their friends. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is not just celebrated in Ireland but also in Canada, the USA, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world.

InterNations Nairobi hosted a Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Party on Wednesday, 15 March 2017. They met at the Emerald Garden to celebrate with their Irish friends and just have an exciting evening together. Of course, the dress code for this event was a touch of green.

On Thursday, 16 March 2017, our members in Raleigh celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with the best local liquor Chapel Hill has to offer as well as some delicious sweet potato fries. The guests got to relax over a game of pool and, of course, everyone was asked to wear green for this special occasion.

On the same day, our community in Quito celebrated an Irish night with friends. After a speed networking session to break the ice, everyone mingled and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Irish pub. On top of that, the person with the best Irish outfit or accessory won a prize.

InterNations Luxembourg also awarded a prize to the attendee with the greenest outfit. At their St. Patrick’s Day special, members got to enjoy green beer and international music while celebrating this very Irish holiday.

On Saturday, 18 March 2017, our community in Goiania had their St. Patrick’s Day party. They celebrated the patron saint of Ireland with great food, beer, and all things green. Hopefully, nobody got pinched!

You haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate your Irish friends, yet? Don’t worry! We have a few more St. Patrick’s Day events in the pipeline for you.

The InterNations community in Los Angeles is hosting a belated St. Patrick’s Day party on Friday, 24 March 2017. Although this event takes place at a Vietnamese restaurant, the delicious food and the great signature drinks of the venue make it the perfect place to celebrate the luck of the Irish.

On Thursday, 30 March 2017, our members in Omaha are getting a taste of Ireland. The venue is a typical pub with lots of traditional meals on their menu, including fish and chips, as well as Irish stew. Put on your favorite green attire and come out for a belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner with other expats and global minds.

Our community in Dar es Salaam is celebrating at an Irish pub as well. On Friday, 31 March 2017, you have a chance to win a prize for the best green costume while spending time with your favorite global minds. Don’t let the leprechaun pinch you!

Celebrate the Women in Your Life

International Women’s Day takes place each year on 8 March. It is the day on which we honor the amazing women in our life and our communities but also a day to fight for equal rights for all women around the globe.

InterNations Mumbai celebrated Women’s Day on Sunday, 5 March 2017, giving its members a head start. The event was exclusively hosted by two women: Cara, the Consul of the American Group and long-term member Yulia. With a live jazz band, flowers for every woman, and a raffle with lovely gifts, this event was the perfect opportunity for a night out with your favorite gal pals.

The International Women’s Day Party in Houston took place on Wednesday, 8 March 2017, at the Rosemont Club. The rooftop bar which is well-known for its seasonal cocktails and delicious snacks was the perfect environment to get to know all the great women of the community.

The Bologna Mindfulness and Life in Balance Group hosted an activity which was all about the words of women of the world. Attendees were asked to share lessons they have learned and advice they would like to give with other women in the group to help and empower each other.

The Unusual and the Unexpected

This is not all, of course! We have a few stray Carnival events that took place at the beginning of the month, plus some more unusual holidays.

Our community in Lagos, for instance, celebrated Mardi Gras on Saturday, 4 March 2017. Expats and global minds partied New Orleans style with masks and beads. The colors of the day were green, purple and gold and the bar tender served some concoctions worthy of a full-blown Mardi Gras.

On Friday, 10 March 2017, it was also Carnival time in Luanda. Members of this community met at a local restaurant to dance and mingle. Between dancing and chatting, some new friendships were forged and our members had an all-around great time.

The Bangalore Outdoors Groups celebrated Holi on Sunday, 12 March. The Hindu festival is a day-long celebration of color and joy. The group had a great time spending this special day in Bangalore.

Our community in Madagascar is celebrating the Night of Happiness on Wednesday, 29 March 2017. The goal is to spread joy and get people to look at the bright side of life. Happiness really is contagious, so let’s share some good vibes!

On Friday, 31 March 2017, Johannesburg celebrates Fools’ Day Eve with a big glamorous party. Forget playing silly pranks on your friends! This is your opportunity to dress up and hit the dance floor. Let’s paint the town red together!

 

Whether you dressed in green or are preparing for International Day of Happiness, we want to know what you are celebrating this month. Share it with us in the comments!

The Best Cities for Expats: And the Infrastructure Award Goes To …

“Same procedure as last year” — that oft-cited quote from the cult television classic Dinner for One could also refer to the latest results of Mercer’s Quality of Living survey. The annual city ranking compares over 200 destinations for foreign assignees with regard to quality of life.

The five best-rated cities in the 2017 edition have defended their top ranking for the fifth year in a row. The global number one — Austrian capital Vienna — has even emerged victorious for the past eight years! Again, it’s followed by Zurich (2), Auckland (3), Munich (4), and Vancouver (5).

However, the top 5 cities with the best quality of living are by no means the same as those with the best infrastructure worldwide. Mercer has also taken a closer look at factors like energy and water supplies, public transportation and international airports, phone services and other fundamental facilities. In this category, the winners are…

Singapore: As Pretty as an Airport

The late great British sci-fi writer Douglas Adams once famously quipped that “no language on Earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport’.” If only he’d explored Singapore’s Changi Airport, he might have changed his mind: the well-connected transport hub has just been rated the world’s best airport, providing its 59 million yearly passengers with public gardens, a koi pond, a free movie theater, and the world’s longest slide.

Singapore is widely known for its highly efficient local transportation network, too. Since owning a car in the densely populated city state is also notoriously expensive, there are only 12 vehicles per 100 residents.

However, the same number of inhabitants owns over 180 telephones between them. After all, the ICT sector is a pivotal part of the national economy, and Singapore has repeatedly earned the title of best international e-government.

A new infrastructure initiative aims to offer the best of both these worlds: by 2020, every train station and major bus interchange is supposed to come with free Wi-Fi.

Frankfurt: The Beating Heart of Europe

Did you know that the first airline in history was founded in Frankfurt? Today, Germany’s fifth-largest city is home to the country’s busiest airport, with over 60 million passengers per year, as well as the main aviation hub of Lufthansa, the largest German airline.

A third airport terminal is under construction: it’s scheduled to open in five years to handle the ever-increasing passenger flows. As far as I know, they are no plans to build a gigantic slide anywhere, though.

Frankfurt’s historic station building benefits greatly from its location in the heart of Europe. With more than a dozen high-speed connections, it is arguably the most important railway hub in Germany, linking Frankfurt to such European metropolises as Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest, Paris, Vienna, and Zurich.

Last but not least, Frankfurt was also the first place in continental Europe to open its open sewage treatment plant. The city’s current supply of tap water is not only of excellent quality, but also boasts the cheapest water tariffs among all major German cities. Unfortunately, the River Main is still not a suitable place for a swim in summer.

Copenhagen: A Green Capital

Once your plane is approaching Kastrup Airport, a few kilometers outside the Danish capital, the offshore wind park in the Øresund is clearly visible from above. The turbines are part of Copenhagen’s ambitious vision to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. In order to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels, it has added more wind farms to the power grid and expanded energy production from burning waste or biomass.

Though Copenhagen is sometimes accused of “greenwashing” its policies — for example, using biomass as an energy source depends on deforestation — its image of an environmentally friendly city remains. Cycling is such an essential part of its local transportation system that the process of making a town more bike-friendly is often called “to copenhagenize”.

If you aren’t keen on riding your bike in the rather volatile Danish weather, don’t panic. You can still make use of the fully automated metro lines or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi in the S-train system. On a beautiful, hot summer day, you could just alight at Islands Brygge, though: the former industrial harbor has been cleaned up and turned into a public bath.

Düsseldorf: The Ruhr Area Gets Copenhagenized

Though the financial and political center of Germany’s Rhein-Ruhr area hasn’t made it into the top five so far, Düsseldorf has been listed among the global top ten of Mercer’s overall Quality of Living ranking at least since 2010.

The boomtown is home to about 135,000 foreign residents: its large Japanese expat community has earned Düsseldorf the affectionate nickname “Nippon on the Rhine”. Lately, the city has also started attracting other East Asian expatriates, especially from China and Korea.

Expats living in Düsseldorf benefit from the dense network of regional transport connections. Its public transportation network belongs to the so-called Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr, a huge transport association that includes 15 other cities in the region.

In terms of local transportation, Düsseldorf strongly encourages the use of new car-sharing providers, offering subsidized fares for those drivers who make use of local buses and trains as well. Moreover, the city is being “copenhagenized”: Düsseldorf is trying to become more bike-friendly and has even developed its own free navigation app for local cyclists.

Hong Kong: More than the Iconic Trams

When you think about local transportation in Hong Kong, it’s easy to conjure up nostalgic images of its famous tramways. After all, this first form of commuter transport in the city goes back all the way to 1904.

Though the iconic double-decker cars still serve the northern coastline of Hong Kong Island, the city’s sophisticated transportation network has rapidly expanded to keep up with the times — and the rising demand. Today, Hong Kong has over 7.3 million inhabitants, and public transportation covers more than 90% of all daily journeys.

In addition to the historical trams, another unusual kind of local transport has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The Central-Mid-Levels outdoor escalator system along Cochrane and Shelley Street in the Central and Western District connects an exclusive residential area to Hong Kong’s CBD. The moving stairs and pavements are lined by numerous shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Supplying a densely populated metropolis with enough water requires solutions just as ingenious as building a mile-long escalator for pedestrian commuters.

Hong Kong mostly depends on water imports from the Chinese mainland, although seawater-flushing toilets are widespread. To shake off that dependency, the Hong Kong government has published its “total water management plan”, which includes constructing a brand-new desalination plant.

Do you agree with Mercer’s rating? Or would you have chosen different destinations for the best city infrastructure?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

The Trendiest Travel Destinations for 2017

Are you, like me, already dreaming of your upcoming summer vacation? But you haven’t yet decided where to go? No matter if you prefer trains or the theater, backpacking or living in the lap of luxury, cities or the countryside, this list should have an off-the-beaten-path recommendation for you.

From Vikings to Venus: Europe for Culture Vultures

Two smallish cities in very different climes share this year’s title of European Capital of Culture: the university town of Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, frequently (and unfairly) ignored by tourists in favor of Copenhagen, as well as Paphos in southwestern Cyprus, mythical birthplace of Aphrodite (aka Venus), the ancient goddess of love.

In honor of this occasion, both cities have scheduled a wide array of cultural events throughout the year, spanning several millennia of local history, from pre-historic archeology to contemporary art.

To be honest, my inner ten-year-old would like to pay a visit to Spøttrup Castle in northern Jutland, where the International World Championship in Medieval Martial Arts will be hosted in May, or to Moesgard Museum in Aarhus itself. The museum’s rooftop will be serving as the stage for several open-air performances of Røde Orm, a beloved Scandinavian children’s classic about the adventures of a Viking boy.

If you prefer the Mediterranean sun to the gray shores of the North and Baltic Seas, you should explore the archeological sites of Paphos instead.

The local cult of Aphrodite is mentioned by none other than Homer in The Odyssey, and the town’s rich heritage combines Hellenistic, Roman, and Ottoman influences. The ruins of its amphitheater are the perfect backdrop for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in summer, where classical plays like Lysistrata or The Trojan Women acquire a modern edge.

Hiking and Horses: Along Hadrian’s Wall

Thirty years ago, the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall — the northern fortifications of the Roman Empire — were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That anniversary offers the perfect opportunity to pack a pair of walking boots and a raincoat before you set forth to celebrate…

“Over the heather, the wet wind blows / I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose,” English poet W. H. Auden once wrote from a legionnaire’s point of view in ‘Roman Wall Blues’.

If you brave the unpredictable weather of Cumbria and Northumberland, you will be rewarded with a relatively easy trail for long-distance walking from coast to coast. Along the way, you’ll have plenty of chances to explore the frontier of Roman Britain.

Some of the heritage sites and museums have come up with special ways of commemorating what’s literally ancient history: if you make it to Carlisle in early July, you’ll be able to watch the live re-enactment of a Roman cavalry charge!

And once you’ve made it to Newcastle-upon-Tyne — and are probably fed up with ruins and footpaths alike — you can take advantage of the city’s buzzing nightlife. Newcastle being home to a student population of roughly 50,000 (as well as countless stag and hen parties), you have a sheer unlimited selection of pubs, bars, music venues, and nightclubs to choose from.

Instead of some Romano-Celtic cervisia, enjoy a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale!

Transcontinental Traffic: Across Australia by Train

Instead of traversing the English countryside, the leisurely traveler with ample time and a generous budget can celebrate a different anniversary by crossing an entire continent.

In 1917, the Trans-Australian Railway between Port Augusta, about 300 km from Adelaide, and the mining town of Kalgoorlie was finally finished. The tracks across the bleak desert of the Nullarbor Plain ended the isolation of Western Australia, helping to unite the newly established Commonwealth.

100 years later, in the era of inexpensive flights, traveling by train has become a bit of an indulgence. The Indian-Pacific passenger service from Sydney to Perth incorporates the old Trans-Australian line, but offers an upscale travel experience rather than freight transport.

If you can afford spending three nights and four days on a luxurious sleeper train (and the hefty fare to boot), you have the extraordinary opportunity to travel about 4,350 km in (more or less) one stretch.

Scheduled stops along the scenic route allow you to discover the art scene of Broken Hill, the wineries of Barossa Valley, the attractions of Adelaide, and the Australian outback. With gourmet meals and vintages served on board in the dining car, this journey must feel like the “Down Under” version of the legendary Orient Express.

Georgia: Two Continents Meeting in the Caucasus

Nestled in between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the mountainous country of Georgia has been designated the up-and-coming tourist destination by lifestyle magazine Vogue. From the shores of the Black Sea to snowy peaks, from Orthodox monasteries to swanky casinos, and from bustling Tbilisi to remote villages: Georgia offers something for everyone.

The capital is a great starting point for visitors. Strolling through the labyrinthine streets of Old Tbilisi with their eclectic architecture is an enchanting experience. From the historical district, it’s not far — albeit a steep climb — to the crumbling ruins of Narikala Fortress, which provides splendid views of the Kura River.

After making your way downhill from the castle, don’t forget to drop in at one of the sulphur baths in the Abanotubani neighborhood or to taste some Georgian specialties. Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) is a staple of the local cuisine, as are khinkali (soup dumplings).

From Tbilisi, it’s just a day trip to Mtskheta, a center of the Georgian Orthodox Church and home to the most important monuments of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia, which once stretched from southern Ukraine to northern Iran at the height of its power.

Those preferring scenery to history can board the next flight to Mestia or Batumi. The former is the heart of Svaneti, a picturesque paradise for trekking and mountaineering; the latter is Georgia’s fanciest seaside resort, complete with yacht club and exclusive beach parties.

Ecotourism for the Ethical Traveler: Costa Rica

Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler publishes a list of destinations that do their best to protect the environment, promote human rights, and support the social welfare of their population. If you’d like to spend your vacation without a guilty conscience, you should be heading straight to Costa Rica!

The Central American country has been a trailblazer in the emerging field of ecotourism, and its varied landscapes and amazing biodiversity offer a wide range of potential destinations for those interested in flora and fauna.

Even from the capital of San José, it’s just an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a privately owned nature reserve with easy walking trails — and the world’s largest butterfly observatory. The Costa Rican government has also declared about 25% of the country’s territory a protected area.

All in all, there are 26 national parks, so you can take your pick. For example, Tortugero in the remote northeast is famous for featuring one of the world’s largest nesting beaches, where marine turtles lay their eggs and hatch. The Arenal Volcano National Park in Central Costa Rica attracts hobby ornithologists: it’s a natural habitat for most native birds, including toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds.

My personal dream? To visit Costa Rica’s only sloth sanctuary in Limón Province! To paraphrase a quote by a popular German comedian: “A life without a baby sloth is certainly possible, but surely devoid of meaning.”

And what are your hot travel tips for 2017?

(Image credit: InterNations)

Let’s Create a Happier World Together!

What makes you happy? And what makes the world a happier place? Ideally, happiness is a chain that connects us all, with every one of us becoming an essential link in this chain.

One happy person has the power to make the people around them happy as well. How many of you have ever started laughing just because the people around you did? Or maybe you have simply returned their smile.

How InterNations Decided to Officially Celebrate Happiness

Happiness plays such an important role in our lives that the United Nations decided to dedicate 20 March to highlighting its positive impact.

When we at InterNations launched the Social Impact Night, a new kind of event to raise awareness of social issues and bring members together to take action for a good cause, this also happened in March. What better month to organize the first Social Impact Night than the one when the International Day of Happiness is celebrated?

The simplest way to increase happiness in your own life is to help someone else. Therefore, we dedicated our first Social Impact Night to helping refugees at Bayernkaserne, a local shelter in Munich. We asked our members to donate all kinds of items which would make both children and adults happy, such as toys, board games, materials for handicrafts, or even musical instruments.

Those members who didn’t bring along any articles showed their support by donating money instead. More than 200 Euros were collected on behalf of Caritas, the non-profit organization that runs several refugee shelters in Munich, while the goods donated to Bayernkaserne made more than 70 residents happy.

How InterNations Members Spread Some Happiness in Their Own Lives

During the first Social Impact Night, Thomas Zawadzki, an expert on positive psychology, presented an inspiring speech called “The Moment of Happiness” and shared his top five tips for a happier life:

1. Enjoy your relationships with family and friends; get in touch with other people — for example, InterNations members — and build a network for yourself.

2. Actively express your gratitude: if someone has done something to help you, make sure to tell them!

3. Offer help and support to others as well, whether this is a favor for a colleague or friend, or a random act of kindness for a passerby.

4. Try to be an optimist: look for the potential positive outcome and work on ways of making it come true.

5. Live in the here and now rather than hoping for the future or dwelling on the past.

After this speech, our guests were asked to write down what made them happy and what they would do to make someone else happy. The moment when everyone started answering these questions, we could see a smile appearing on everyone’s face. Deciding to share their own happiness already proved to be infectious.

Moreover, their answers demonstrated that the secret to happiness consists of seemingly small and trivial things. Curious to know what makes our members happy? We’d like to share some of their answers with you:

“To see happy people around me.” — Ricardo, Italy

“Going home and meeting old friends.” — Mara, Argentina

“Dancing.” — Annika, Germany

And what will they do to make others happy in turn?

“I will call my mother to tell her that I love her.” — Nella, Greece

“Bring some sweets for my students.” — Elena, Spain

“Making my friend Eva tea.” — Amelie, Germany

“Cook French food and make someone laugh. A lot.” — Astrid, France

How You Can Join Us in Making Others Happy

The secret of happiness lies within us, and you have the power to make the people around you happy as well. We’d like to invite you to celebrate the International Day of Happiness together with us.

In March we will try to make others happy and post about it (maybe even including a photo) on our social media channels. Just join us, and the chain of happiness won’t be broken!

(Image credit: 1) Stocksnap.io 2), 4), 5) InterNations 3) Pexels.com)

Why Your Long-Distance Relationship Might Be Better Than You Think

When I moved to Germany from the UK last July, I knew that leaving behind my long-term boyfriend would be one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Although I was to move back home after a year, saying goodbye to him was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had.

After living in Germany for seven months, however, I have realized that there are more advantages to a long-distance relationship than I initially thought.

1. You can benefit from additional travel opportunities.

If money and time permit, having a partner who lives overseas is a great opportunity to travel. My boyfriend, for example, gets the chance to visit Munich six times throughout the year — something he wouldn’t have had the chance to do if I had never moved abroad.

Your long-distance relationship might also give you the opportunity to travel more as a couple. If your new home is a convenient base for exploring new countries and cities, don’t miss out on these new places when your significant other comes to visit. Researching local sights can be a fun project to work on together and will keep you bonded despite the distance.

Whenever my boyfriend visits Munich, we try to take a day trip to another nearby city. In February, we spent the day strolling around Salzburg, eating Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Austrian pancakes) and exploring the city’s historical sites, such as Festung Hohensalzburg (a medieval fortress, which sits on the top of the Festungsberg — one of the city’s famous hills).

Not only was this a great chance to make new memories together, but planning the trip prior to his visit kept us both busy and distracted us from the distance.

2. You’re forced to discuss your issues.

When you live on the other side of an ocean from your partner, you can’t simply hug, make up and move on when you’ve had a disagreement. You need to deeply discuss any underlying or overwhelming issues, or you will run the risk of ruining your relationship.

One of the most common arguments among long-distance couples is caused by one partner not making enough time to talk to the other. The person who has moved abroad often wants to spend their time making friends, exploring new places, and trying to settle in — which means they have less time to check up on their other half.

The good news is that this disagreement is easily resolved! Over time, the partner living abroad will establish a routine. Moreover, the partner who is still at home will also adjust to the new methods and frequency of communication with their loved one and will feel less lonely and resentful.

The important thing is that you set common expectations. On the one hand, it’s not fair if your partner expects you to sit at home and wait for their call rather than explore your new country.

However, you need to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and cater to their needs a little more than you would if you were at home, as they’re probably feeling a little vulnerable. Discussing this problem, and any other issues that arise, will hopefully mean that the disagreement is fully resolved and won’t come back up in the future.

While communication is vital, don’t be afraid to give each other space. This can seem like a daunting thought when there are already hundreds or thousands of miles between you, but even stepping away from a video call for ten minutes can help you to have a more constructive conversation when you return. After a small break to collect your thoughts, you’re likely to feel calmer, more patient and more willing to find a solution.

3. You appreciate each other more.

The phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is clichéd but true!

While having less time to talk to your partner may be upsetting at first, you will quickly learn to appreciate the time your significant other can make for you. Those honeymoon-phase butterflies will make a sudden reappearance whenever you get to hear their voice. Be sure to express these feelings to your partner — they are bound to be thankful that you are sharing your gratitude instead of taking the relationship for granted.

Since you’ll get to see each other less, you will definitely appreciate time physically spent together more. Whether you go on a hike or cook a meal together, just being with your partner after weeks or months apart is bound to reignite that special spark.

Make the most of your time together by having new and exciting experiences; for example, my boyfriend and I always try out different restaurants, stroll around a park we have not yet explored or check out an interesting museum whenever he gets the chance to visit Munich.

Also, be sure to take plenty of photos and perhaps create a scrapbook to look at whenever you’re missing each other. My boyfriend and I have a joint photo album, and each time we see each other we swap ownership of it. This way, we both get the chance to reminisce when we’re feeling low.

4. You have time to work on yourself.

Spending less time with the person you may depend on the most might show you how to rely on yourself more instead. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be with your partner, but that you are responsible for your own happiness.

You’re likely to realize that spending time alone isn’t as daunting as you first thought and that having a little more space could help you to come to terms with any personal issues, such as your mental or physical health.

One of the biggest problems I faced when first living abroad, for example, was making friends. While I could rant to my boyfriend whenever I needed to, he couldn’t solve this issue for me. This forced me to be more proactive in socializing and leaving my comfort zone, and thanks to my own strength, I now have a great circle of friends in Munich!

Furthermore, spending more time alone might help you to (re-)discover a passion that you’ve been neglecting for a while. My boyfriend, for example, has picked up plenty of new hobbies since I moved to Munich. Spending less time together means he now has time to learn German, go to the gym and try out lots of new recipes he’s been collecting for a while.

5. You will see if the relationship is truly meant to be.

Only true love will survive long distance. Living in another country to your partner will prove whether your relationship is happy and functional, or whether it’s time to call it a day.

Nothing puts as much strain on a relationship as distance does — from only spending a few days a month together to only hearing each other’s voice once a week, there’s an endless list of challenges to overcome when you both live in different countries.

I won’t deny that it takes time to make a long-distance relationship work. From posting gifts to spending your evenings video calling each other, these relationships require effort from both sides, but when both people are committed, they’re totally worth it.

If your relationship can survive distance, it can survive anything!

Leah Martin is a German and History student from the University of Leeds, currently undertaking a year abroad in Munich and working as the Social Media Intern at InterNations. She loves exploring new areas of Munich and Bavaria and is an avid chef and baker.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Ten Wonderful Words without an English Equivalent

Traduttore, traditore. ‘The translator is a traitor.’ This oft-cited Italian pun wittily sums up the dilemma every translator faces.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to capture all the nuances of the original, and some words can only be explained rather than translated directly. Every expat may have made that experience when communicating in a foreign language. It can often be frustrating, but it can also give you a new-found appreciation of languages’ infinite variety.

Take the following words from ten different languages. Funny or odd or simply beautiful, they don’t have a precise equivalent in English. (Which is a pity, as they’d come in pretty handy at times.)

Fernweh (German)

Let’s start with a feeling all expats know only too well: Heimweh. The English translation ‘homesickness’ has been in use since the 18th century, but there’s no single word to capture its opposite: Fernweh.

Yes, in German, you can also be ‘distant-sick’! You are missing a place that’s not your home, or you are longing to go far, far away.

Pavonarse (Spanish)

Once you’ve succumbed to Fernweh and set out for another country, everything will seem fine and dandy at first. Perhaps you can’t even resist the temptation of pavonarse, as they say in Spain.

This Spanish word could be rendered in English as ‘showing off’, such as telling everyone on social media what a wonderful time you’re having abroad. If birds used social media, that is. Literally, pavonarse means ‘to peacock yourself’: strutting around and displaying your shiny feathers for all the world to see.

Yoko-Meshi (Japanese)

But alas, instead of having the time of your life in another country, you might encounter the sad reality of yoko-meshi. That Japanese phrase means something along the lines of ‘boiled rice eaten sideways’. Huh. Have we all been eating sushi the wrong way?

What this term is actually getting at is ‘the awkwardness of making yourself understood in a language not your own’. Table manners aside, that’s something we can all relate to, isn’t it?

Buitenbeentje (Dutch)

Due to the language barrier, you could even start feeling like a buitenbeentje (Dutch), no matter whether you are living in the Netherlands or somewhere else.

A misfit isn’t just a misfit there, but a ‘little outside leg’. Apparently, this expression originally referred to babies born outside of marriage, but nobody quite knows where the thing with the leg comes from.

Kalsarikánnit (Finnish)

If you are feeling a bit like an outsider, it’s no wonder if you are also feeling a bit blue. Perhaps you haven’t managed to build a new social circle yet, and the thought of another weekend on your own can be daunting.

Then it’s time to follow the Finns’ example and embrace kalsarikánnit: ‘drinking at home alone in your underwear on a Friday or Saturday night’. Could be that I’ve seen one Aki Kaurismäki movie too many, but somehow I’m not that surprised the Finnish language has a proper word for that.

Dor (Romanian)

During kalsarikánnit, the homesickness sets in. If your Heimweh gets really intense, the German word is no longer enough. Only the Romanian dor can express the full depth of your emotions.

Dor is what you feel when you want something you’ve had before, even if it’s unattainable; the strong desire to see someone you hold dear again, the almost agonizing feeling of missing them, missing home.

Chī Kŭ (Chinese)

After you have wallowed for a while, just think of the Chinese expression chī kŭ: ‘eating bitterness’. Just like yoko-meshi, this has got to do nothing with real food.

The closest translation is ‘to persevere’, but chī kŭ is about so much more: it’s all about bearing hardship, carrying on regardless, and hopefully moving forward. If you can master that, then goodbye to homesickness and welcome to hygge abroad!

Hygge (Danish)

The Danish concept of hygge has even sparked a recent trend. If you google the word, you won’t only find countless images of people wearing hand-knit sweaters and fluffy socks, relaxing in front of a brightly lit fireplace or gathering round a laden dinner table, but entire books telling you how to hygge.

Hygge is said to be more than mere ‘coziness’: it’s the warm and cordial atmosphere in which you enjoy the simple things in life and share them with your loved ones.

Utepils (Norwegian)

For the Norwegians, an utepils could be hygge. For the Brazilians, it might be a moment of cafuné. The former term literally means ‘outside beer’, but it encompasses more than simply having a drink in the open air. It also implies enjoying the moment and the sunny weather.

Considering both the average price of beer in Norway and the average local temperatures, it’s easy to see why this would be considered the epitome of happiness. (Utepils would also be a useful word to adopt in Bavaria, where beergarden culture is everywhere.)

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)

Cafuné, a word of uncertain origins, is a much more affectionate term than the casual utepils. It specifically describes the ‘act of tenderly running your fingers through the hair of a person you love’, a sweet gesture among family members, couples, or close friends. All together now: aww!

Are there any interesting words in your language that can’t really be translated into English? What do they mean?

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) Pexels; 5), 7), 10) iStockphoto; 8), 9) StockSnap)

All You Need Is Love — Spending Valentine’s Day with InterNations

It’s February and love is in the air this month. Couples plan their romantic dinner dates and raid flower shops for their loved ones, while others celebrate “Galentine’s Day” with their best friends instead.

No matter if you believe Valentine’s Day was invented by the greeting card industry or that it goes back to the romantic, yet gruesome fate of its patron saint, there is space for everyone at our February events around the world!

From Pre-Valentine’s Parties to Red Parties

On Tuesday, 7 February, the Sydney Singles Group got together for a “Pre-Valentines Singles Mingles Get Together” at the Hilton’s prestigious bar. Our members used this occasion before the “big day” to spend a relaxed evening chatting over drinks.

Sydney Singles Group Barcelona

Our community in Nice also hosted a pre-Valentine’s Day Party on Friday, 10 February. The evening started out with some networking and mingling, followed by party music and an opportunity to hit the dance floor with your expat friends.

Nice Pre-Valentine's Party

InterNations Barcelona invited all expats to join them for a romantic evening at La Confitéria 1912. The venue, that still displays the same interior that is has done for about a hundred years, was the perfect location for a pre-Valentine’s event on Saturday, 11 February.

Pre-Valentine's Event Barcelona

For our Montréal Community, Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers. On Tuesday, 14 February, expats and other global minds met to celebrate with their friends (and maybe makes some new ones), and just enjoy the evening together.

Valentine's Day Montréal

Our members and global minds in Paris, on the other hand, spent this day at a Valentine’s dance party. Little heart-shaped cakes and great company made it a fun event even for those who did not want to hit the dance floor.

Valentine's Dance Party in Paris

Dubai DinnerNations met for a special Valentine’s Barbecue on Wednesday, 15 February. The buffet at the best barbecue place in town was complemented by live music and a chance to win a hotel stay or dinner gift voucher.

Dubai DinnerNations

InterNations Sydney got their members into the Valentine’s Day mood with a red party. On Thursday, 16 February, friendly expats donned their favorite red outfit in honor of Valentine’s week. A private bartender and a scenic view of the Sydney harbor made the evening complete.

Red Party in Sydney

On Friday, 17 February, InterNations Casablanca celebrated friendship at Barcelo Hotel. This was the perfect opportunity for members to get together and make new friends or maybe even meet their own Valentine. Between networking and partying, expats enjoyed the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day Casablanca

The Valentine’s Month and Carnival All Around

Valentine’s Day may be over, but who says that you cannot celebrate friendship and love all month?

On Friday, 24 February, our community in Dar es Salaam will get together at a great venue and enjoy the breathtaking view of the city and the ocean. You will also have the chance to win exciting prizes, so come around and celebrate with other expats and global minds.

On the same day, the Amman Better Life Walking Group is meeting up for their Valentine’s Day party. Both singles and couples are welcome, of course. Try your luck at the raffle with a chance to win great prizes, mingle at the open buffet, or just enjoy this evening with friends.

Love Padlock

Love is in the air for the Strasbourg Photography Group! In order to enjoy Valentine’s Day just a little bit longer, group members will look for great motives illustrating the theme of love, be it people holding hands, a warm smile or a specific object. It’s a great opportunity to share your hobby and celebrate the beauty around us this February!

If you are looking for an alternative to all those lovey-dovey events, there are some fun Carnival events you should definitely not miss.

Our community in San Francisco will celebrate Mardi Gras on Saturday, 25 February, at one of the city’s retro-chic hotspots. All attendees are asked to wear green, purple, and gold, as well as beads and masks, for this occasion. Join us there, it will be an amazing party!

InterNations Tallinn is combining two reasons to celebrate in one event: Carnival and Estonian Independence Day! Dress up to brighten this long Estonian winter night and meet other expats and global minds at Art Café on Tuesday, 28 February.

Carnival Mask

If you are looking for a crowd to celebrate Carnival in the Netherlands, you should join the Out and About Group in Maastricht. On Sunday, 26 February, you can admire the most impressive costumes at the parades and the city is abuzz with people ready to celebrate this joyous time before the beginning of Lent.

The Abu Dhabi Nightlife Group, on the other hand, is ready to shake things up a bit with a Goan Carnival on Friday, 24 February. Get ready for live music and entertainment provided by Forefront and La Vida! Use this opportunity to enjoy the nightlife of this great expat hotspot and make some new friends.

 

How are you spending this Valentine’s month? Whether you had a romantic dinner with your big love, went to a singles party, or had a great time with your best friends, let us know how you celebrate in the comments.

Image credit: 1)–2) InterNations, 3) Raquel Begué, 4)–8) InterNations, 9) StockUp, 10) Pexels

Moving Abroad for Love: A Romance in Four Acts

There are plenty of excellent reasons for deciding to live abroad — that amazing career opportunity, your sense of adventure — but none so exciting as moving abroad for love. In fact, up to one in seven expats cites romance as one of their motivations for making the big move: just look at the Expat Insider survey results from the past three years!

In addition to the countless survey respondents who let us know about their wish to live in their partner’s home country, more than just a few of my colleagues know the same feeling only too well. It was love that brought them to Munich, too.

So I’ve talked to several members of the InterNations Team about how their very own international rom com played out. Life might not be a Hollywood movie, but it does write the best scripts.

Meet Cute

Sometimes, you have to travel thousands of kilometers to meet the right person: Evgenia, one of our International Relations Managers, set out from St Petersburg to attend a conference in London and drop in on a friend in Oxford — who introduced her to a German student, Michael.

True to the tropes of many a romantic comedy, there was even a fancy dress party involved. (Fortunately, no awkward screen moment when the heroine realizes that she’s mixed up the dates of her business networking meet-up and her friend’s costume party…)

Lisa from our Groups Team even embarked on a whirlwind summer romance on a vacation in Lebanon, about 12,000 kilometers from her native Australia: “lying on the beach, road tripping in the mountains, sleeping in treehouses in an eco-village outside Beirut, snacking on Zataar manoushe [Lebanese pizza],” and even smuggling her new boyfriend out of a “no male visitors allowed” apartment at 04:00 in the morning — that’s how she remembers the start of their relationship.

However, as many expats who’ve been part of an international couple know, romance often gives way to reality all too soon.

Evgenia and Michael were trying to establish a long-distance relationship via Skype and occasional meetings in Munich and St Petersburg, as well as Barcelona, Helsinki, Sardinia, Vienna, and probably a few other places across Europe.

In a movie, this time would be neatly summed up in a quick montage of a happy couple walking arm in arm through various cities, violins swelling in the background. In real life, it’s not only romantic, but also exhausting.

Running through the Airport

We all remember that scene from the pictures, don’t we? The protagonist realizes their True Feelings in a flash of inspiration, ditches both job and friends on the spot, hops into a taxi and rushes to the departure gate in pursuit of their One True Love. They are never late; the flight is never overbooked, and they can always afford a last-minute ticket to start a new life with the Man or Woman of Their Dreams.

The actual decision to move to your partner’s home country usually involves a great deal of pragmatic planning. By now, Lisa had moved to the UK, but her visa was running out, while Evgenia had considered getting a graduate degree in Germany before.

“My relationship with Michael motivated me to apply for a master’s program in Munich,” she says. “Once my application was accepted, it all became very real.”

After all, there are so many things to work out if you start from scratch in a different country. Will it be difficult to settle in? Will your relationship survive living together after the initial honeymoon phase? How will your family react? Fortunately, my colleagues all had understanding and encouraging relatives.

“I remember announcing my plan to move to Munich and live in my German boyfriend’s tiny apartment over dinner,” our Social Media Manager Erin remembers. “My family was surprisingly supportive. I did leave a stable job, but I didn’t have any long-term commitments, like a mortgage, holding me back. I just went for it.”

Fish out of Water

Moving to your partner’s home country has one very practical advantage: you have your own tour guide, interpreter, and intercultural consultant at your disposal. Other expats often have to fend for themselves in order to deal with local bureaucracy, overcome the language barrier, and generally figure out how to fit in. The lucky romantic, however, needn’t worry too much about those pesky details.

Erin, for instance, arrived in Munich knowing (in her own words) almost nothing about the city and even less about the language: “I’ve now been here for over three years and still can’t understand all the announcements on public transportation. Is the train just five minutes late or have aliens landed at the central station? Don’t ask me!”

Luckily, having a native speaker to sort out the logistics —such as the dreaded Kreisverwaltungsreferat, where every new arrival to Munich needs to get an official registration certificate — and to explain cultural rules — such as “don’t walk in the bike lane” — comes in very handy.

However, these unwritten cultural rules can also make for unexpected pitfalls in your relationship, in addition to the run-of-the-mill disagreements about whose turn it is this week to take out the trash.

As Lisa puts it: “It took me a while to understand the difference between being rude and German directness. I think we both compromise a little now. Tom has learned to compliment my new haircut regardless of his actual opinion; I have learned that blunt text messages without emoticons aren’t inherently angry.”

Happily Ever After

All three of my colleagues have found their happy ending, in different ways. Evgenia has been living in Germany for five years now and recently got married to Michael. “For now, I feel like Munich is my home,” she says.

Lisa isn’t quite that sure: “I don’t think I can be apart from Australia forever, but I’ve definitely become more German,” she adds with a laugh.

“I have recently found myself clearing my schedule to watch Tatort [Germany’s most popular police procedural], cursing my neighbors for vacuuming on a Sunday, and separating the plastic windows on envelopes from the paper so as not to contaminate my recycling!”

Though Erin’s relationship with her German boyfriend has ended, she has no plans of going back home. “I fell in love with Germany instead. After my break-up, I got very close to leaving, but I couldn’t quite imagine it. While I’ll always love North Carolina, life back there will never be the same. Living abroad has completely changed my perspective — it gives you a level of self-confidence that’s hard to replicate.”

Indeed, there is one thing that all of them agree on and that they’d pass on as advice to others who are planning to move abroad for love:

“Make sure you are also doing it for yourself,” Erin recommends. “I had always wanted to live somewhere in Europe, ever since an amazing summer abroad in Spain. Sometimes, love alone isn’t enough, and this can breed a lot of disappointment and resentment.”

Evgenia also emphasizes that it’s important to have another reason for moving and a back-up plan in case the relationship goes awry. “Thinking about your decision as moving for your partner’s sake puts too much pressure on your relationship,” Lisa says. “Just have fun, and enjoy the experience!”

Happy ending guaranteed.

Have you ever moved abroad for love? What kind of advice would you give to other people in that situation?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: London — Feat. Cigna Innovations in Health

Do you know what a smoothie bike is? InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck reports from the Innovations in Health and Wellbeing event in London — hosted by InterNations Global Partner Cigna — before exploring how the InterNations London Community welcomes new arrivals in the British capital.

When I recently visited the InterNations London Community, I had the amazing opportunity to attend two great networking events — our very own London Newcomers’ Event, as well as Innovations in Health and Wellbeing, the first event of that kind organized by our Global Partner Cigna.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have spotted my tweets about #CignaInnovationsinHealth. So here’s the full story!

The Event Space of My Dreams

Innovations in Health and Wellbeing was hosted at 30 Euston Square, a spacious conference venue just a few steps from Euston Station, right in the heart of the British capital. Fittingly enough for a health-focused event run by a global insurance company, the beautiful location started out as the headquarters of an early 20th-century assurance provider. Today it is owned by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Apart from the apt symbolism, the facilities couldn’t have been any better: the building features several meeting and dining rooms, boutique hotel rooms, a café, a few stores, and a large event space. A similar location catering to expats and international business travelers, ready to welcome our guests in large InterNations Communities like London, would be my personal dream for the future come true.

But back to the present! We had invited the London Community, and I was happy to see how many people had turned up to explore how technology can help you stay healthy while you’re living abroad.

Smoothie Bikes and Smartwatches

Arjan Toor, CEO of our Global Partner Cigna, gave a short speech to officially open the event, which was very much characterized by a hands-on approach. I seized the chance to try the innovations on display myself.

Did you know there’s such a thing as a “smoothie bike”? You simply ride a stationary fitness bike for a couple of minutes, and since it’s fitted with a special blender that spins while you pedal, you get a freshly made smoothie as a reward for working out.

There was even a ranking to compare your efforts with those of other participants. I must say this looked a lot easier than it actually turned out to be: you do have to pedal very fast without slowing down at the end to keep the blender going! With lots of cheering by the audience, it was a fun way to promote regular exercise and balanced nutrition, though.

Afterwards, I rewarded myself for that effort by giving the virtual relaxation pod a try. You put on a pair of virtual reality goggles and headset to simulate a soothing environment. While you’re sitting in a cozy chair, you are suddenly transported to a faraway beach, escaping the stress of real life for a few precious minutes. This kind of VR technology could, for example, be used in mindfulness therapy.

And not only were there quite a few Cigna Global staff members present to answer questions about international healthcare plans: Apple was also in attendance to introduce the fitness features of their Apple Watch 2, like its new level of water resistance. Don’t fear ruining your new smartwatch by jumping in at the deep end!

Inspiration for Healthy Living

Evidently, the other guests enjoyed networking over (healthy) fingerfood and checking out some innovative gadgets at least as much as I did: the event started at 18:30, but the last people didn’t leave until 23:00. It was very convenient that I could just stay at the venue, in one of their very comfortable bedrooms. After all, a good night’s sleep is another essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks again to our Global Partner Cigna for making Innovations in Health and Wellbeing possible! The event was a great motivation booster: the following morning, I was very much inspired to go for the healthy options from the delicious breakfast buffet.

From Bloomsbury to Westminster: The Newcomers’ Event

Now it was time for me to switch locations for the InterNations Newcomers’ Event: I moved from the academic atmosphere of Bloomsbury, with its many universities, museums, and research institutions, to the seat of political power. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel is located just across the river from Whitehall, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament. Its Primo Bar — where the event took place — offers iconic views of the Thames and Big Ben from its exclusive VIP area.

Speaking of VIPs: We’d invited all the Group Consuls of the InterNations London Community to stop by about an hour before the event and have a drink on the house. Alex, our polyglot British-Slovenian Newcomers Ambassador, took the time to explain the special event format, and the 40 attendees had plenty of other questions.

During our Q&A session, I thanked the volunteers and updated them on what we’re currently working on at the InterNations head office. InterNations Changemakers — our ever-expanding community outreach program — and the upcoming guest list app for our volunteers met with particular interest.

But we discussed other pressing issues as well, such as how to improve cooperation among our volunteers, and I received plenty of valuable feedback, both of the positive and the critical variety. Such input — especially the constructive criticism — helps us tremendously to figure out which concrete steps we need to take towards improving the InterNations experience for volunteers and regular members alike.

For example, the no-show rate is often a major concern for Groups Consuls: people spontaneously sign up to attend an activity and never cancel officially when they can’t make it. For smaller groups or activities that require a certain number of participants, this can be rather frustrating, and this issue very much needs addressing. But despite such valid concerns, our gathering was not all gloom and doom — quite on the contrary.

Motivation for Newcomers

With its 80,000 members, London is one of the three biggest InterNations Communities worldwide, and it has a considerable number of thriving groups, too. Our more than 80 groups in London are dedicated to a wide range of interests — from the London Entrepreneurs and Start-Up Group to the Book Club to the Salsa & Bachata Social Dancing Group.

All of the 40+ Consuls in attendance briefly introduced themselves and their group, sharing their motivation for organizing these activities in the first place. A few newcomers, who’d been early for the actual event, ended up listening to this introduction round. Two of them even found it so inspiring that it motivated them to jump in right away and become Group Consuls, too!

During the Newcomers’ Event, which started at 19:30, I had the chance to talk to quite a few of the consuls personally. The new InterNations members and new arrivals in London seemed to be enjoying the live music and the animated conversations — with nearly 190 guests altogether, the lounge was packed.

Officially, the event was supposed to end at 22:00, but it wasn’t before 23:30 that I made it back to my hotel room at the Plaza, so I’d definitely call the Newcomers’ Event a success.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

A School in the Congo: A Changemakers Success Story

There’s no better way of starting 2017 than sharing a success story with you. We have a great example from the Madrid Changemakers Group: this particular story began in April 2016 — almost one year ago — and reached its happy ending in January.

Back in 2016, Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group, decided to support the Mzungu Project, which aims to provide education to children in need in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Beginning of an InterNations Success Story

The Mzungu Project was founded by José Antonio Ruiz Díez, an active member of the Madrid Changemakers Group.

When José Antonio decided to contact Rosa regarding his education project, he had already built one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a matter of fact, the successful completion of this school building was the reason why he wanted to establish the Mzungu Project in the first place — to open more schools, create more jobs for local residents, and enable more children in rural areas to get an education.

“I found his personal story so inspiring, about how he’d reached a point in his life when he was quite successful professionally and just wanted to give back to society. So he decided to embark on an adventure and built a school in a remote area of the Congo. He had already done it once, with his own money, and then he wanted to raise the funds for another school.”
— Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group

The Challenge: How InterNations Contributed to a School in the Congo

The Consuls of the Madrid Changemakers Group decided to sign up for this challenge. They were planning to host an interactive and interesting fundraising event, so members could join an activity and hopefully learn more about the cause. Therefore, the Consuls opted for an African fundraising dinner, where José Antonio could present his project to the attendees and answer any questions they might have.

Unfortunately, the Consuls couldn’t find a Congolese restaurant, as they had originally planned. Thus they opted for an Ethiopian one, which ended up being a very popular choice!

The Successful Outcome

The members were so dedicated to supporting the Mzungu Project that every single one who’d accepted the invitation made sure to attend the fundraiser! Everything was perfectly organized, thanks to our wonderful Consuls, and the attendees who signed up managed to pay in advance for the fundraising dinner. More than 300 Euros were collected for helping to build another school in the DRC, money that benefited the project directly.

José’s dream of building a second school has now come true. The foundations were laid last May, and the construction was finished by the end of the year. Nowadays, over 200 children can attend primary school thanks to the Mzungu Project.

In order to commemorate all the donors that contributed to this cause, José Antonio dedicated a brick to each sponsor. Here’s the brick dedicated to InterNations, thanks to our fantastic Consuls from the Madrid Changemakers Group and our generous members. This brick is the proof that we can indeed change the world, one small step at a time.

If you’d like to know more about José and his project or get more information on the two schools it has helped to build, just check out the Mzungu Project.

Find out more about the InterNations Changemakers Program on our About Page or write to support@internations.org.

(Image credit: 1), 4), 5): José Antonio Ruiz Díez / Mzungu Project 2), 3) InterNations)