InterNations Insider Tips: Five Destinations in Historical Budapest

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares five personal sightseeing tips for what many consider to be the most beautiful city in Europe — Budapest.

Chain bridge Budapest

I was excited to be going to Budapest as I had not been there for ten years. Luckily, I was able to stay at some friends’ apartment in the heart of the city. It was an amazing location close in proximity to the Parliament and the Chain Bridge. This central location made it easy to enjoy Budapest to the fullest.


Buda Castle: The Best of Budapest

I started my sightseeing by ascending the cobblestone streets of Castle Hill. Located on top of the hill, Buda Castle is the palace complex of the Hungarian royalty in Budapest. On my way to the palace complex I strolled through Trinity Square, inside Matthias Church, and around the Fishermen’s Bastion; all of them have amazing architecture and are great viewpoints to see the city from.

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While I was at Trinity Square, I enjoyed some coffee and cake at Ruszwurm, a quaint little café located close to Matthias Church and one of the oldest bakeries in Budapest. It certainly has the nostalgic charm of a 19th-century coffeehouse. After filling up on sweets and caffeine, I continued on my way to the castle. From there, I had a fantastic view of the cityscape and the Danube River below.

The palace complex — an iconic sight of Budapest — is a must-see for any traveler to the city. Apart from sightseeing in Buda Castle, you can explore labyrinths, tour museums, and visit numerous art galleries in Castle Hill. Definitely worth it!


Sziget Music Festival: A Party like No Other

Another stop on my itinerary was the Sziget Music Festival. This festival takes place every August and is held on Obudai-sziget, an island located in the Danube River. During this massive event, over one thousand performances take place in the course of a week.

This party's on fire

I was pleasantly surprised that I had the chance to see Manu Chao, an artist that I liked when I was a student. Thanks to his ability to sing in a wide variety of languages, his music is a fascinating combination of different styles and cultures from around the world. Anyone else remember his first hit “Bongo Bong”?

Other popular performers were Rihanna, David Guetta, and Muse, but unfortunately I did not have enough time to see them. If you are a festival fanatic, the Sziget Music Festival is absolutely a stop to put on your list!


The Hungarian Parliament: The Stylish Face of Democracy

Renowned for its neo-gothic architecture, the Parliament building is a classic landmark of Budapest. This building is absolutely gorgeous, and the interior is even more stunning than the exterior.

House of Parliament in Budapest.

When I was sightseeing, I had to observe the facade from different angles to fully appreciate the building’s beauty; you cannot really see the whole building just by walking around it. The best view I had was from the top of the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Hungarian Parliament also looks stunning from the boat on a night cruise along the Danube.


Széchenyi Baths: Bathe in Style

I had heard of the Széchenyi Baths before, but this was my first time going. The large yellow building itself is glorious: built before the First World War, the spa with its neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance architecture brings back the atmosphere of the bygone Belle Époque. Today, it is one of the largest thermal spas in Europe — and it definitely is an adventure that I will indulge in again! It has 18 pools that vary in temperatures — from 27°C to 38 °C — and it also offers massage treatments.

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The best thing about the spa is its affordability; tickets to the Széchenyi Baths start at 18 EUR online and you can add extra packages for additional costs. It is certainly not cheap, but it is not too expensive considering that you have access to all of the pools and steam rooms.

A piece of advice: reserve before! Luckily I planned ahead, but some of the other people at the spa were thankful that they had a free opening for them that day.


Citadella: The Best View in Town

Just like Castle Hill, the Citadella — a 19th-century fortress on Gellért Hill — is a great viewpoint to see the rest of Budapest from. It is accessible by either walking up a long staircase or by taking a bus. I opted to climb the stairs; this was longer, but the effort was totally worth it. The views on the way up to the top were incredible, and there were plenty of vendors offering snacks and drinks along the way.

Liberty statue on Gellert Hill in Budapest, Hungary

While I was exploring Budapest, I could always see a large statue on top of Gellért Hill. It is the called the Freedom Statue or Liberation Monument; the fourteen-meter tall statue near the Citadella symbolizes the Russian liberation of Budapest from the Nazis during World War II.

The Citadella and the Fishermen’s Bastion are definitely the best sightseeing points to overlook Budapest. Apparently the Citadel is even more spectacular at night, when you can see the entire city illuminated in a glittering glow. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to go there after dark, but hopefully I will be able to next time! After all, Budapest is always worth another visit.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) iStockphoto 5) Graeme Churchard)

Founder’s Diary: Budapest

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck tells us all about his recent trip to visit the InterNations Budapest Community, a vibrant expat event in a charming metropolis.

I hadn’t been to Budapest in a decade, but after ten years of absence, the city impressed me all over again with its sheer beauty.

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As I was lucky enough to stay with friends in a centrally located apartment, close to the river, it was easy to see why the capital amply deserves its nickname “Pearl of the Danube”. And those who are more interested in present-day nightlife rather than architecture and history will love Budapest as well — it’s a perfect city for heading out and enjoying yourself!


An Eclectic Event Venue and the Perfect Hosts

The InterNations Official Event was hosted at Up & Down, a fairly new bar and restaurant whose riverfront location surely makes it one of the most panoramic venues in town. From its terrace, you have a great view of the majestic Danube, provided you aren’t distracted by the place’s eclectic and extravagant interior design.

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The stylish location had been chosen by our hosts Samira and Erika, two members of the InterNations Budapest Community Team. The two perfectly complement each other: Samira came from Teheran to Hungary to acquire her Ph.D. in pharmacy and work in the pharmaceutical industry, while Hungarian-born Erika used to work as a chocolatier in Iran until last January.


A Growing Community and a Stylish Party

This great duo is one of four official Ambassador Teams in the Hungarian capital: our Budapest Community has grown to an impressive 12,000 members, and a total of eight InterNations Ambassadors from Hungary, Iran, Italy, Romania, Sweden, and the US organize three regular events and a Newcomers’ Event each month. Moreover, nearly 30 InterNations Groups offer a plethora of activities for a wide range of interests, from business breakfasts to live concerts to aviation.

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Over 250 guests from nearly 50 countries had signed up for this event, and while I was giving an interview to a young journalist from Daily News Hungary, the two friendly hosts offered a warm welcome to everyone. Then I seized the opportunity for a brief welcome speech, thanking all the volunteers.

Volunteers such as our great photographer Wolfgang, a German expat, to whom we owe the professional-looking pictures of the smartly dressed crowd. (The night’s dress code motto was “Black & White”.) I hope I could encourage other members to step up and get actively involved in our community life, for example by joining our many group activities or even by starting their own InterNations Group.

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I enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere and the interesting people at the event so much that I just didn’t want it to end at the official closing time of 23:30: so the Ambassadors, several members, and I unofficially continued the party at BOB — short for Barcardi Original Bar, an elegant long drink club close to the famous Chain Bridge. If you love sipping a classic Cuba Libre or gin and tonic, this is the right place for you!


A Swedish-Hungarian Love Story and an International Festival

On the following day, Erika, Samira, Daniel (another member of the Budapest Ambassadors Team), and I met up for lunch at Pomo D’Oro, a traditional Italian trattoria in downtown Budapest, to discuss the general business strategy for InterNations and the future development of our Budapest Community in particular. (Aside for ice-cream lovers: all visitors with a sweet tooth should also make sure to stop by at the Pomo D’Oro gelateria and artisan confectionary right across the street.)

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Daniel, an expat from Stockholm, who works for a Scandinavian telecommunications company, was very enthusiastic about Budapest: he considers it to be Europe’s most beautiful city. But he didn’t fall in love only with the Hungarian capital: thanks to InterNations, he also happened to meet his wife Katalin here, with whom he now organizes some of our local events for the Budapest Community. It was them, for example, who hosted the recent celebrations for our ninth anniversary. Unfortunately, Katalin — whom I chatted with the night before mdash; couldn’t make it to our lunch, though.

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While Daniel and Samira had to leave after a delicious meal and a productive discussion, Erika kindly took the time to show me the Sziget Music Festival, where Manu Chao, an artist I remember from my student days, was currently playing. But there’s more about this in my sightseeing tips for Budapest

Viszontlátásra, Budapest! I will definitely be back.

(Image credit: InterNations)

Managing a Split Identity as an Expat

When you walk off that airplane as an expat for the first time, do you realize how your life is about to change? You may have heard stories, met other expats, and even had friends who were expats from other countries, but when your own turn comes isn’t it different?

Traveler stands near the backpack at airport.

Afterward you go through all the standard phases of expat life. You settle in, get exposed to a new culture, make some friends in your new location, grow used to your new routine, and become accustomed to both the pluses and minuses of your new life. Apart from those expatriates who rush back home soon, others start participating in local life in some form or other. You develop views on local politics, start supporting your city’s soccer team, and give gifts during local festivals.

This means you are beginning to assume a split identity. As an expat you are now both ‘them’ and ‘you’. The share of each part of your new identity could vary, changing the respective fractions of ‘them’ and ‘you’.

Can’t Stop Thinking About Home

Thinking business womanThis identity has a strong hold on you when you, as an expat, identify strongly with your home culture. Typically, this occurs when you have moved only recently or moved to many countries for short stints. If you have such an identity, you are likely to feel unsettled in your new location. You tend to relate to your home culture whenever faced with an unfamiliar situation. If the cab driver expects a huge tip, for example, you will decide based on whether you would have given one in your hometown.


Left My Home and Family

ChangeThe second identity is dominant when you have started identifying strongly with a foreign culture and issues back home have receded to the background. Typically, this occurs when you go home infrequently, don’t keep in touch with old friends, and have developed a strong community in your new environment. This is quite like the process individuals go through prior to becoming naturalized citizens of a foreign country, where they have lived for so long that their identities have changed fundamentally.

Both Here and There

This is a midway ground between the other two split identities. It can be a transitional phase when you are moving from the first kind of split identity to the second one. In this phase, you fluctuate between strong and weak identification with your new environment.

This is probably the type of identity that is most predominant in the expat community. Expats usually don’t live in the same foreign location long enough to develop strong ties, yet they do often stay long enough to become quite familiar with the foreign culture. This is a state when you frequently switch between the behavioral style adopted from your home culture and that practiced in the foreign location where you reside.

Code Switching vs. Naturalization

As an expat you have to learn to switch between your ‘home’ and ‘away’ identities. At times the switch may be unconscious, but ideally you should be able switch consciously. This will enhance your ability to network and thrive both professionally and socially in a foreign location.

internations-expat-blog_managing-a-split-identify-as-an-expat_pic-4While complete naturalization may seem like a perfect solution to not fitting in a foreign culture, it may not be strategically sound. As an expat you may be better off remaining a foreigner to a certain extent. It creates a distance that can lead to much needed privacy. It is also an acceptable excuse for not following social norms if you don’t want to. Identifying strongly with a foreign culture is still fine, but you should not give up all significant ties to your country of origin.

As an expat, you have probably experienced your identity being held up to scrutiny. It is not uncommon to be judged about your professional intentions, personal interests and even your moral values. Identity management is a priceless skill in such an environment. So learn how to be friendly in a foreign culture, but also to quickly withdraw into your shell when you need to. Develop methods of localizing your identity if it helps you settle in, yet do not forget that you ultimately came from somewhere else.

Rohit Chattopadhyay is the founder of Culture Cushion™ Consulting, a firm that offers personal branding services to expats and immigrants. He received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Rohit has conducted independent research on cultural identity issues apart from working as a marketing research and marketing professional in Canada, India, and the United States.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

App, App, Hooray! — InterNations for Android and iOS

“Is there an InterNations app?” That is the question which InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck has heard most frequently from our members when visiting our official events in many of the 390 InterNations Communities around the world. Now we can loudly answer with a resounding ‘yes’.

We are happy to present the first version of the InterNations app for iOS as well as a slightly updated version for Android.

The app helps you to find other global minds, stay in touch with your InterNations friends, and sign up for events while you are out and about.

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Both versions of the app offer you access to the following features:

• Connect with international people in your InterNations Community and across the globe.

• Get in touch with other people from your home country.

• Find information on InterNations Official Events and Activities happening near you.

• Stay up to date on your upcoming events on the go.

• Discover our InterNations Groups for a variety of hobbies and interests, from food & drinks to sports & fitness to volunteering, and many more.

• Check your inbox and write personal messages wherever you are.

• Off to Geneva, Shanghai, or Mexico City? — Visit other expat communities on your travels.

• Change your account settings and edit your personal profile.

• See your latest profile visitors and search for members with shared interests.

• Discover the benefits of our premium Albatross Membership and upgrade directly.

• Invite your friends to the world’s largest network for expatriates and global minds.

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We are very excited to share the InterNations app with you and hope you are just as happy as we are that networking for our globally mobile members has become even easier.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions: after downloading the app from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, please take the time to leave a review and tell us what you like best about it or what you’d like to see in the future. We will definitely be adding more exciting features soon.

Enjoy the international experience — on your smartphone!

(Image credit: InterNations)

Nine Years of InterNations — Come Celebrate with Us

It is September, the month when the seasons are slowly starting to turn, with crispy brown leaves in the northern and longer, milder days in the southern hemisphere. But it is also the time when we celebrate our birthday. In 2007, our founders started InterNations with not much more than an idea about a global network that would connect expats all around the world. Nine years later, we have over two million members and communities in 390 cities worldwide.

This is an achievement we are incredibly proud of and, without a question, a reason to celebrate! Let us give you an overview of only a few of the many amazing birthday events worldwide.

Tokyo

Brazilian Vibes and Lucky Draws

Beijing Our community in Tokyo made the start on Thursday, 1 September, with a performance of the best Brazilian dance group in the entire city, a raffle, and a great party at an elegant venue. Later, many of the guests joined the dancers on the dance floor.

Members in Beijing gathered on Friday, 2 September, to celebrate with delicious drinks and colorful birthday cupcakes. Everyone who attended had the chance to participate in a lucky draw and global minds mixed and mingled on the terrace and enjoyed the view of the city’s south.

Düsseldorf, too, hosted an InterNations Birthday Party on that same day. Members met at a cozy and stylish bar to enjoy their welcome drink and hit the dance floor. To mark the special occasion, event attendees received a gift voucher and a scented rose from Fleurs de Paris.

On Wednesday, 7 September, members in São Paulo met at a club inspired by Cuba’s passionate and joyful culture for a birthday celebration. The event started with some relaxed mingling, followed by amazing Latin tunes and our members didn’t hesitate to hit the dance floor.

Düsseldorf

InterNations Shanghai also hosted a 9th Anniversary Party on Friday, 9 September. This community relied on the usual fun to celebrate this great occasion: delicious drinks, awesome entertainment, and, of course, a great crowd.

Sao Paulo

Time for Cake — Upcoming Birthday Parties

Of course, the party isn’t over yet! Most of our birthday celebrations are still coming up, making September a fantastic birthday month.

Shanghai

On Friday, 16 September, you should join our members in Prague for an InterNations Birthday Bash. Aside from our 9th anniversary, members in Prague will also say goodbye to their current Ambassador Jana and welcome their new Ambassador Fernando. You can take part in a raffle and, as every year, all collected raffle money will go to the Pink Crocodile School charity.

Global minds in Athens are celebrating on the very same day with a Birthday Full Moon Party. This event will be full of surprises! Plus, there will be a birthday cake and the chance to dance until the early hours of the morning.

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On Saturday, 24 September, our community in Tenerife, Canary Islands, is welcoming all expats and global minds to our Anniversary Party in the city center of Santa Cruz. While it is one of our smaller communities, our Canary Islands Ambassador still knows how to throw a party. Come around and don’t miss the after-party at one of the many clubs on La Noria.

Join other expats and global minds in Cairo for a Blue and White Party on Thursday, 29 September. The event takes place at a comfortable, intimate venue which offers a great view of the Nile and Cairo Tower. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed evening together with a great crowd. The dress code is blue and white, the InterNations signature colors.

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Our community in Izmir welcomes you to a Double Birthday Celebration on Friday, 30 September. Not only will they celebrate nine years of InterNations, but it will also be the 5-year Anniversary of the Izmir Community. To commemorate this special occasion, there will be many surprises, a birthday cake and a professional photographer. Sign up for this event before the guest list is full!

Dancing and Movies — Birthday Activities around the World

Are you ready to hit the dance floor but our official events are just a tad too crowded for your taste? Join the Sofia Dance Group and celebrate the 9th birthday of InterNations with a dance party on Saturday, 17 September. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the dancing scene and to have a great time with your friends.

The Dubai DinnerNations Group will celebrate this year’s anniversary with some German Gemütlichkeit. On Sunday, 18 September, members of the group will meet at a German restaurant to enjoy an international buffet together. After all, celebrations aren’t complete without food and drinks.

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Our Brussels Romanian Group is getting together for a viewing of the movie “The Paper Will Be Blue” on Sunday, 18 September. To celebrate InterNations this month and to match the title of the movie, group members are asked to wear InterNations colors.

Of course, there is much more going on in our communities in September. Let us know how you are celebrating nine years of InterNations this month.

Also, while you are in a festive mood, make sure to check out our Nine Birthday Wishes — From Us to You.

Image credit: 1-5) InterNations, 6) Pexels, 7) InterNations, 8) Pexels

Nine Birthday Wishes — From Us to You

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Having gone online in September 2007, InterNations has just turned nine. Another twelve months, and the world’s largest global network for people who live and work abroad will be in the double digits!

It is thanks to our InterNations Ambassadors and Consuls that our members could attend 52,000 official events and activities worldwide in the past year. Thanks to the Volunteer Groups, InterNations members are now able to give back to their local community in 36 cities across the globe. Last but not least, it is thanks to the feedback and the support from our members that we are continually learning how to better fulfill our mission of making life easier for expats.

Therefore, we would like to share our joy on this special occasion with you. Now that we have blown out all the candles on our birthday cake, we’d like to make a wish — or nine, one for every year of successfully bringing expatriates and global minds together. Our nine birthday wishes are meant for all of you.

Tasty cakes with fresh wild blackberries and icing sugar


We Wish You … All the Sweetness in Life

A delicious cake — like the many presented at our birthday events all over the world — is essential to get every good birthday started. We hope that life abroad will always have a treat for you in store: find something you enjoy for its own sake!

Just like cake isn’t always the most “sensible” option, food-wise, but surely the most tempting, don’t hesitate to give in to life’s little temptations that make it all the sweeter.

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The Opportunity to Shine Bright

But don’t forget about the candles! The candles on a birthday cake should be burning bright, and you might even throw in a few sparklers for your own mini-fireworks. May they remind you to make life brighter for somebody else, too.

Volunteering could be the perfect way to do so; it’s definitely the perfect opportunity to make new friends among expats and locals alike. After all, what good are fireworks without somebody to share them with?

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The Right People to Share Your Adventures

Speaking of sharing: let’s admit it — most of us don’t mind getting showered with presents on our birthday, no matter if we are five or fifty.

Mostly, it’s not the gift rather than the thought that counts: the mere fact someone cared enough to share their time and creativity with us. Therefore, wherever you are, we wish you plenty of people to have a great time with and to share your adventures abroad.

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The Strength to Put on a Smiling Face

Sometimes, however, the colorful wrapping paper covers a less than pleasant surprise. Surely, each of us has once been forced to give a polite nod and smile for the world’s ugliest sweater from a great-uncle.

Unfortunately, life’s gifts are sometimes equally unpleasant — that applies just as much to life abroad. If your chosen destination presents you with an ugly sweater, figuratively speaking, we wish you the strength to nod and smile and take it in stride.

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That Special Souvenir from a Special Day

Even though not all birthday gifts may be to your liking, they usually come with heartfelt greetings in the form of a card. Better than text messages or emails, birthday cards serve as tangible reminders of the kind wishes and the fun you had after the party is long over.

We wish you just as many mementoes for every place you’ve ever lived in. Remember to buy that souvenir, keep that postcard, and frame that picture!

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A New Crowning Achievement to Aim For

If you are the sort of person who loves sparklers, you might also wear a glitzy birthday crown to the party. While getting older happens automatically, everyone has other milestones to celebrate, even if you don’t actually get crowned for them.

Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, like learning a new language, making a long-distance relationship work, or raising kids abroad. But don’t rest on these achievements: hopefully, you’ll always find new goals to strive for.

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Only Hopeful Goodbyes

In addition to cake, candles, wrapped gifts, and a special crown, every decent birthday party needs balloons. Nowadays, it’s become a trend at anniversaries or wedding receptions to choose fancy helium ones. The guests let them go together, standing there and watching the tiny specks disappear.

Every expat knows the feeling of watching people and places disappear. Perhaps your next farewell will be as light and hopeful as the sight of those balloons rising skywards.

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Wisdom and Curiosity

Pondering the passing of the years may be another inevitable aspect of birthday celebrations. It seems like yesterday that you received your degree, found your first job overseas, and were planning an international wedding. Now you’ll be turning fifty and your oldest kid has graduated from high school? When did this happen?

Just remember: with age comes wisdom. May life abroad provide you with opportunities to benefit from your experience and yet to keep learning.

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A New Beginning around Every Corner

Every birthday not only marks the passing of one more year, but also the beginning of a new one. Regardless of where you live, how old you are, or what you do, it’s never too late to change something that bothers you about your life or to try something you have always dreamed of.

We’d like to wish you the best of luck on your next journey, no matter where it may lead you.

Raise your glass with us right now, or at one of the many InterNations birthday parties around the globe. Here’s to another year of InterNations for all of us — and to all of your wishes coming true!

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2)-10) iStockphoto)

Honor the International Day of Charity — Get into Volunteering!

Volunteering is not just a way to give back to your local community, but also a brilliant way to learn new things and to meet other incredible people. It will give you the chance to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things while helping others in need.

But taking the step into volunteering may be daunting if you have never experienced it. You may have many questions or worries: what should I do? Which charity should I choose? How do I start? Here are some useful tips for getting into the rewarding world of volunteering.

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Make Waves like the Butterfly

If you are put off volunteering, worrying that you won’t be able to have a big impact, think of the butterfly effect. The small butterfly is described as having an impact on the other side of the world with just a flutter of its wings; so could you if you take up volunteer work.

Large-scale change can only be achieved by the small actions of many people joining together to strive for it. Just because you can’t see the impact of your actions, it doesn’t mean someone else isn’t grateful for your time and efforts.

“I wanted to do something to contribute, even if it is just a drop in the ocean.” — Ricardo Coronel Lemus, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Paris

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Choose a Focus

You may want to change the world but if you don’t know where you want to start, you are going to struggle. Most volunteers work with one or two particular organizations in order to feel a connection with their mission and to make sure they have time for their particular tasks.

When considering the plethora of non-profit organizations, you should think about where your passions lie. Do you want to improve the lives of refugees, help underprivileged children, or assist an animal shelter? Once you have decided this, your path to volunteering will be much smoother.

“My motivation is to raise the educational standards and to contribute to society by helping people that are living in the slum areas of Bangkok.” — Mink Leelapanyalert, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Bangkok

As well as focusing on a particular cause, it may also be beneficial to focus on particular activities or tasks within the NPO. While working on lots of different tasks may teach you many new skills, it could be hard to adjust between constantly changing responsibilities and may be mentally draining. Hone your skills and be the best help you can be for your chosen cause.

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Use Your Money Wisely

This goes without saying, but if you are short on time and choose to donate to a charity rather than volunteer, then make sure the organization is legitimate and will make good use of your money. As mentioned above, it may be wise to focus on a specific cause in order to make sure you still have money in the bank to pay the bills!

Perhaps you have some spare time every now and then and would like to go the extra mile to help your charity of choice. Why not consider holding a fundraising event such as a charity dinner or a bake sale? This can be a good way to let your hair down and have some fun, while also helping out a deserving cause financially. You could also participate in a race or similar sports events and raise money on fundraising sites such as JustGiving, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo.

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Avoid Burnout

Volunteering will inevitably make you feel better about yourself and, knowing that you are helping a good cause, you will want to do as much as possible for them. But make sure not to commit to too many hours before you have even begun.

It is better to start small and gradually increase your commitments when you know what you can handle than to start with many hours per week just to find that you can’t commit and drop out completely. Remember that non-profit organizations are grateful for all the help they receive and will not begrudge you being unable to commit to many hours per week.

“After starting to volunteer for five hours every Saturday afternoon alongside my full- time job, I realized the time commitment was too large. After a year, I unfortunately had to stop. It is a shame as I was very passionate about the cause.” — Margit Grobbel, InterNations, Content and Communications Team

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Most Importantly: Have Fun

Volunteering offers many great opportunities besides the chance to support a good cause. Be sure to give yourself the opportunity to reap the benefits that should be gained from the experience. Working with new people who care about the same things as you will naturally help you to make good friends; see if anyone wants to go for a coffee after volunteering to get to know each other better.

“It is really special when I am at a Paris Volunteer Group activity; they surround me with like-minded people that enjoy helping others.” — Ricardo Coronel Lemus, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Paris

You can also learn a lot about your cause, and about yourself, from volunteering. Fellow volunteers with a variety of interests and careers can share a wealth of knowledge about many different aspects of life. Appreciate the chance to increase your knowledge and, most importantly, enjoy every minute!

If this has inspired you to get out and start volunteering, why not check out the InterNations Volunteer Program to see if there’s an opportunity you can start today? And if you are already a volunteer for a good cause, share your experience in our chat on Twitter 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: 1)-4) iStockphoto 5) InterNations)

InterNations Volunteers Strive for Peace in their Communities

On 21 September we celebrate the International Day of Peace, a day which seeks to strengthen the co-existence between not just countries and nations, but humans as individuals. Peace is an idea that sometimes fades from our minds; however, it is vital to the sustainability of life for future generations. The International Day of Peace, also known as World Peace Day, was first observed 34 years ago.

The InterNations Volunteer Groups celebrate peace not only once a year, but in their activities all year round. Through the month of August our groups in Sydney, Shanghai, and Bangkok have incorporated the ideals of peace and kindness in their activities. Find their activities here and get inspired for your own way of celebrating World Peace Day!

The Bangkok Volunteer Group Gives Back to Thai Children

Ussama Kaewpradap, Bangkok

Bangkok

On 24 August, the InterNations Bangkok Volunteer Group visited the kindergartners at the Duang Prateep School. The school is run by the Duang Prateep Foundation, which actively seeks to combat child abuse and improve the standard of living for people of all ages living in the slums.

Over 15 of the Bangkok volunteers assisted in teaching English to Thai kids aged from four to six. The group is actively establishing a sustainable English teaching program supported by both InterNations volunteers and locals from the Bangkok Community. At the August event, they also collected donations — money as well as supplies — for the kids’ upcoming sports day happening later this year.

Devoting a Morning Full of Cheer to Children with Special Needs

Boya Xu, Shanghai

Shanghai

InterNations member Boya Xu, Consul of the Shanghai Volunteer Group, recruited the volunteers for their mission of bringing some extra joy and happiness to children with intellectual disabilities. On the morning of Saturday, 20 August, 13 volunteers visited a center for children with special needs and made their day by singing and dancing with the kids. Other volunteers spent time playing various games, attending classes, or simply sharing a moment of interaction using body language and smiles in order to be understood.

Organizing a Bake Sale Fundraiser for Animal Welfare

Nami Otani, Sydney

Peace is not only about how we treat other people, it´s also how we treat our fellow friends: animals. The recently opened Sydney Volunteer Group kick-started their commitment with their very first activity and made an incredible difference to animals. The members of the group gathered on Saturday morning to sell 280 homemade cupcakes and join the non-profit organization RSPCA for their 2016 Cupcake Day.

Sydney

Nami describes their highly productive morning: “I baked cupcakes on Friday until 2:00 in the morning. When I came to the market on Saturday morning, all the group members had a big smile on their faces, and before we knew it we started talking about different sales strategies for the cupcakes.”

Both the delicious cupcakes and the smart sale strategies must have helped, because a total of $915.50 has been collected and donated to the RSPCA, which helps to fight animal cruelty. “After the activity, we went to the pub to warm ourselves up after this cold winter day. I told the group how much we raised and we immediately started celebrating our big success!”

Create Your World Peace Day Activity!

Looking forward to this month’s World Peace Day, the Volunteer Program Team would like to share this day with our global InterNations Community.InterNations Expat Blog_International Day of Peace_World Peace Day

Post an activity in your local Volunteer Group and gather the members in order to create your own peace sign. Take a picture and share it with your community to show the world that your group strives to overcome differences of race and religion and seeks to improve the lives of those around us instead. Let´s stand together in peace as we celebrate this day!

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

(Image credit: 1)-3), InterNations, 4) iStockphoto)

How to Be Mindful of Your Mental Health as an Expat

It’s no secret that I love to travel. On my own, with friends and partners: I have lived, worked, holidayed and adventured in countless locations around Australia and around the globe.

It was the challenge of relocating to another country that I found much more difficult.

In 2005 I moved to Bristol after traveling in Southeast Asia for five months, fresh working holiday visa in the passport, dirty flip-flops and faded vests chucked away, winter coat purchased. I had a partner who’d lived there before and I thought it would be like an extended backpacking trip.

A mix of multicoloured houses in Bristol, on the banks of the floating harbour

We found a very British downstairs flat in a colorful part of the city, close to pubs with live music and a Banksy mural. I remember being in awe of these old, old buildings, and delighting at all the little things, like the red double-deckers and the dry sense of humor. We jumped on the bus and visited Bath to find architecture and history and Jane Austen. It was fun … but it was still felt like going on vacation.

The group of friends that we had when we arrived fell apart for a number of reasons that still sting a little to remember. We went from belonging to a big group of people to just being ‘us’.

mindfulness

It got a bit lonely.

I couldn’t get a job. I thought I’d find work as a social worker really easily, but it turned out my qualifications weren’t quite right. I leapt into a pub job — so cliché — and that job was really helpful in making British friends and feeling closer to local life, but the money was terrible and I was always worrying about my finances.

I ended up having maybe ten different jobs by the time my visa was up. All of them were interesting in their own way, and I had fun and made new friends, but it was disjointed. Strange. Unsettling.

I remember feeling invisible to the outside world.

And on top of that the weather was so dreary. I was prepared for the cold — I wasn’t prepared for the fifth straight month of gray.

Nicole Hind Pond_smallI look back with so much fondness on that time of my life now, and I absolutely do not regret a single moment, but when I dig into my memories, I also find these little pockets of despair. Flailing around disconnected, feeling homesick, wanting something familiar.

If you are also dealing with more serious concerns, such as various mental health issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, grief, and a nameless bunch of other things, those pockets of despair can be magnified by 1,000.

So what do you do?

If you’re too stuck at home (i.e. the past one in your memory), then you’ll be failing to see what your new home has to offer. But if you disregard your old home completely, you’ll be equally missing out on a huge part of what makes you YOU.

Good mental health involves being able to create and recreate new visions of the future in different circumstances. When you are stuck in a mental loop, you can’t do that. You are living in the ‘reptile brain’ that just experiences the world. You are not using your ‘thinking brain’ that helps you link experiences with an ongoing narrative fitting with your identity.

But you can move back into thinking, connecting and feeling joy with some simple practices.

mindful neighborhood

Here are three ways to settle into your adopted home as well as take care of your mental health:

1) Incorporate a “mindful neighborhood” journey into your routine.

Walk around your street and simply describe what you see in your head without value or judgment. Just shapes and colours and visions and people. Try and connect to what is in front of you without ‘thinking’ about it. This is a way to practice mindfulness, which is great for speaking to your ‘reptile brain’ without diving into a pit of anxiety or depression, but it also connects you with your current environment.

If it’s not too much of a stretch, you might imbue this little walk with a purposeful positive spin: looking for things that make you smile and then connect them with your own smile and the positive feelings in your body that automatically come with a bit of exercise and fresh air. You can also do it together with kids — they’re better at seeing and finding fascinating things than we adults are.

2) Write an actual letter.

Post someone from home a letter: get the snail mail going. Pouring your heart out in the written word can be cathartic in itself, so don’t shy away from expressing your pain, but for this purpose you could also use the letter format to tell more stories.

mindful letter

Glue in some quirky bits and bobs from a local magazine, or print some photos of the little things you saw on your walk that made you smile. Make a collage. Reinforce the idea that this is your home now, but that you want to share it in a genuine way with a special person back home.

3) Contact a counselor from your homeland

You could consider connecting with a counselor from your home country. So many services, individuals and therapists now offer online counseling, and you might be able to have sessions (even just the occasional one) via video, email, instant messenger or phone with a professional from ‘home’ who might have an easier time understanding you culturally. Even their voice or written lingo can be soothing.

You might even do the same if you WERE an expat and you’re now struggling back in your homeland: find a professional from your old adopted home to talk to and help you work through these issues.

These are just a few ideas, but I’m sure when you really get thinking and mindfully writing or taking snapshots or drawing, then you’ll find many more that are unique to you.

Nicole Hind_smallNicole is a professional online counselor with a passion for helping people discover their untold stories. She has particular interest in supporting women to increase self-esteem, heal from trauma and find their own power. Like many Aussies, Nicole loves travel and enjoys getting creative with mindfulness ideas that can be adapted to any environment.

Image credit: 1) iStockphoto, 2) Pexels, 3) Nicole Hind, 4+5) Barn Images, 6) Nicole Hind

Founder’s Diary: Bonn

InterNations Founder and Co-CEO Malte Zeeck tells us of his visit to the InterNations Bonn Community, a city of great personal importance to him.

A Trip down Memory Lane

Former capital city of West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, birthplace of the famous composer Beethoven, and also home to my former high school: Bonn really is a beautiful city with a rich history. In July, I had the opportunity to return to Bonn to attend my 20-year high school reunion at the Aloisiuskolleg in Bad Godesberg.

Bonn_Pic 6As well as taking a trip down memory lane, I decided that, while I was there, it would be nice to catch up with the members of the InterNations Bonn Community. Given its international past, it is not surprising that Bonn still attracts large numbers of expats who work, for example, for the United Nations, Deutsche Post, and Telekom. Currently, the Bonn Community consists of about 4,000 members and has a dozen different groups for activities from multilingual meet-ups to Sunday brunches to outdoor activities.

Global Minds Make Great Company

Although the weather was rather cloudy on the morning of the event, just as I was heading to the Strandbar — a stunning venue situated on the Rhine, directly next to Kameha Grand Hotel — the sun started shining, right on cue. The event was organized by two of our three Bonn Ambassadors, Zrinka and Birgit. All of the Bonn Ambassadors are perfect examples of what it really means to be a global mind.

Founder's Diary Bonn Pic 1Zrinka was born in Croatia and has been travelling abroad from a young age. All of the travelling with her parents had a big impact on Zrinka, and she has been studying and working abroad for the majority of her life. Birgit is a local from Germany and is currently living in Bonn with her family. She has a lot of experience in an international business environment, having spent 15 years working for big multinationals.

The third InterNations Ambassador, Alexandra, unfortunately could not attend the event, though I’d have loved to get to know her as well. Originally from Russia, she speaks five languages and has also spent 14 years of her life working for international companies. All these women perfectly capture the InterNations spirit, and it was a pleasure to meet and spend time with them.

Not Just for the Locals

Not only did I get to meet many of the members, InterNations Consuls and Ambassadors of the Bonn Community, but the event also gave me the chance to meet members from several other InterNations Communities in nearby cities, including Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, and Dortmund.

Founder's Diary Bonn_Pic 3One of our much-loved Cologne ambassadors, Kate, also made the trip to Bonn to attend the event, and InterNations Dortmund Ambassador, Vanessa, travelled the whole way from Dortmund to join us for the wonderful evening. The fact that they all took the time to come here really shows the community spirit of InterNations, and it was also a great excuse for a long-overdue catch up!

There were a number of journalists at the event as well and, sitting comfortably in one of the beach loungers, I gave a few interviews — it was an amazing opportunity to spread the word on InterNations and get more people involved.

A Great Success All Around

As the evening progressed, more and more members arrived and enjoyed a refreshing welcome drink. Birgit introduced me to many of the guests: It was a genuine pleasure getting to know them and hearing how InterNations had helped to make their transition abroad that little bit easier. I also got the chance to listen to feedback from some of the InterNations Consuls and members, as well as talk through some of their concerns.

Founder's Diary Bonn Pic 2Getting the opportunity to discuss these issues face to face with people who have first-hand experience of living and working abroad is always a very eye-opening experience. I also had the chance to say a much-deserved special thank you to our volunteers, who really are an essential part of every InterNations Community, and to encourage others to get more actively involved in our community by starting new groups or even just taking part in our activities.

The evening went on well until midnight before the bar served us our final drinks and I headed for bed at my hotel, which was conveniently located next door. It really was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a city I will always have a soft spot for!

(Image credit: Sunset over the Rhine and the Seven Mountains by Wikimedia Commons user Hans Weingartz 2)-4) Malte Zeeck/InterNations)