InterNations Interns Make a Difference This Holiday Season

Towards the end of every year, when the holiday season is spreading the spirit of sharing and the time for New Year’s resolutions has come, most people start thinking about how to make a difference to those less fortunate than themselves. This year, the interns here at the InterNations HQ in Munich resolved to create some holiday cheer among disadvantaged children all over the world.

Our Social Media Intern Leah tells us all about their joint effort to learn more about fundraising, wrap dozens of boxes, and make over 40 kids happy on Christmas Day.

When the InterNations Changemakers came along and suggested taking part in the Weihnachten im Schuhkarton (‘Christmas in a Shoebox’) project, we were delighted to get involved. All of us interns — and there’s more than 15 of us — thought it would be a wonderful way to improve the lives of others while working together on an exciting project of our own.

‘Christmas in a Shoebox’ is organized by the charity Geschenke der Hoffnung (‘Presents of Hope’), and is part of a larger, worldwide project called ‘Operation Christmas Child’. The latter started in 1993 and has since helped over 130 million children in over 150 countries to celebrate Christmas. Its aim is to fill shoeboxes with gifts for children in need, for example in developing countries, who would usually not receive any gifts during the holiday season.

Fundraising 101

With over 15 people who wanted to take part, this was a great opportunity for us to hone our organizational skills: some serious planning was needed before we could really get the ball rolling.

We decided to set up several donation stations around the InterNations HQ as a first step. This way, our generous team members could make their own boxes, give individual gifts which we could then wrap later, or donate cash for us to buy more gifts (each box costs around 8 EUR to fill). Before we knew it, the pile of shoeboxes in our Team Lodge was growing higher and higher.

Donations from the entire InterNations Team were a fantastic start, but our plans were much more ambitious!

Together with the Changemakers Team, we brainstormed ways in which we could get even more gifts or cash donations, and the Changemakers recommended a tried-and-tested strategy: for the past few years, they have attended InterNations Official Events in Munich, trying to persuade our members to donate cash or gifts to ‘Presents of Hope’.

For us interns, this would be another great way to learn more about InterNations and gain some additional work experience: not only would we increase our donations by fundraising, but we would also meet our members in person and get a feel for our official events. So, off to P1 — a popular venue here in Munich — we went!

Before the event began, we let our local members know about our project and our donation station at the venue, where they could contribute to a good cause. A smaller team of seven interns was in charge of setting up the station at P1.

We got a very warm welcome from the guests at the event: once we had explained what the ‘Christmas in a Shoebox’ project was and how InterNations had contributed in the past few years, our members were more than happy to help. In fact, the first person to give to the cause surprised us with a generous 20 EUR note! All in all, we received around 170 EUR in cash — enough to fill more than 20 additional boxes.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Now it was time to spend all that money kindly donated by InterNations members and the InterNations Team. However, purchasing the gifts to put into our shoeboxes wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds: there are relatively strict rules about what can go into a box.

For example, ‘Presents of Hope’ recommends wrapping such gifts as stationery, warm clothing, food with a long use-by date, and small personal items, such as photos of yourself or your family. Meanwhile, perishable food, liquids, and delicate items (such as presents made from glass) should be avoided. Each box should also be aimed at a specific demographic, and should be labeled as such.

So we had to buy gifts for boys and girls, as well as suitable presents for the various age groups from 2 to 14. Once we had worked out how to best apply the rules, we really enjoyed sorting our little treasures — such as scented shower gel, fluffy socks, colorful pens, tiny toy cars, and of course, chocolate — and wrapping the gifts. This definitely got us into the Christmas spirit!

Finally, we needed to drop off our filled shoeboxes — over 40 of them! — at a local donation point. The one nearest point to our office was Vapiano, an Italian restaurant. So we decided that all of the interns should head over to the restaurant together, hand over the boxes, and celebrate our hard work with a well-deserved pizza or pasta dish.

I think I can speak for all of the interns here at InterNations when I say I certainly had a fabulous time working on this worthwhile project. I found it inspiring in both a personal and a professional sense: not only did it encourage us to continue to work with charities, but we would also like to work on other projects together, as we turned out to be a very well-organized and well-coordinated team.

Last but not least, I hope we’ve inspired you to make a difference this holiday season, too: you can find out more about donating your own shoebox to children in need at Weihnachten im Schuhkarton (German only) or Operation Christmas Child (international version).

Thanks again to all those who contributed to our cause by giving time or money, and happy holidays to everyone!

(Image credit: InterNations)

“Be Ready for the Unknown!” — Advice for Expats with Open Minds

What’s the best advice you could give to other expats and expats-to-be? That’s what we asked our Twitter followers for our #myexpattip contest last month.

First of all, thanks again to everyone who took the time to reply and share some words of wisdom with us. It wasn’t easy for us to choose the best among the over 70 responses that we received. In the end, our Social Media Team had to ask for help, which involved getting the entire team to vote for their favorite tip.

Are You Ready?

The poll ended with such a close result that we eventually decided on a winner and a runner-up. Congratulations to Holly from the beautiful Sunshine Coast and to David from Spain!

We asked David if he could expand on his advice. Here’s what he would like to tell everyone setting out on the adventure that’s living abroad, and what he has to say about himself and his own expat life:

“Keep an open mind, be ready for the unknown, and never give up.”

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is David, and I’m originally from Spain. I’ve been living in Edinburgh for the past two years. I came here to take a Master’s degree in Translation and Interpreting and stayed because working conditions for freelancers are better in Scotland than in Spain. I also run my own business specializing in translating, interpreting, copywriting, editing, and proofreading, and living here allows me to work on my projects full time.

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Before coming to Edinburgh for my Master’s degree, I lived in France for a year, where I worked as a Spanish teacher at the Université Inter-Âges in Caen. It was a great experience, but the UK is where I want to stay for now.

2. Is there a story behind your tip? Why did you send us this specific piece of advice?

During the three years that I’ve been living abroad, I have seen a lot of expats giving up because it was too hard to live in a different country.

Obviously, it’s hard, especially during the first months. You need to find an apartment, make new friends, hunt for a job, and the list goes on and on. But once you’ve gone through all this hustle, things do get better!

You also need to keep an open mind and be ready for the unknown: living in a different country means getting used to a new culture, new customs, new food, and new people; you need to embrace all these new experiences.

Edinburgh city in winter from Calton hill, Scotland, UK

3. Have you ever found it difficult to follow own advice? How so?

It was hard at the very beginning, especially the first time I moved abroad. Sometimes you just think that everything is going to be just like back home, and if you’re not ready for a different experience, it can be quite shocking.

But over time, you start to realize that that’s how things work in your new country. The more you travel and the more you get to know people from all walks of life, the sooner you open your eyes to new experiences and start embracing them, instead of judging them.

4. What’s the best tip you have ever received from another expat?

An expat friend of mine once told me to “do everything that your new country can offer”. And I’ve always followed that advice.

Haggis,neeps and tatties

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone and do things that you’d never do in your life — like trying haggis or wearing a kilt in Scotland! However, you’ll learn more about the culture of your new country if you mingle with locals and get involved in their activities.

5. Have you ever received some advice from another expat that you think might hinder expatriates rather than help them?

There are a lot of people who recommend getting in touch with other people from your country of origin who are living in the same city. This may be the easiest and quickest way to make new friends when you’re a newbie. At the end of the day, you already know what people with the same background as you are like and you know that you will probably get on well.

Waist down view of a group of men in traditional kilts

However, we also need to make an effort to get to know locals and people from different backgrounds to enrich our experience abroad.

6. Are there any other tips you’d like to offer to expats?

When you feel that it’s not worth it and want to give up, just think about everything you’ve learned from living abroad and all the things you’ve seen and experienced that you would never have living in your country. You’ll miss your friends and family, and even your country and culture, but they all will always be waiting for you when you come back.

(Image credit: 1), 3), 4), 5) iStockphoto 2) David M.)

“Smile!” — A Winning Tip for Expats with Great Mime Skills

What’s the best advice you could give to other expats and expats-to-be? That’s what we asked our Twitter followers for our #myexpattip contest last month.

First of all, thanks again to everyone who took the time to reply and share some words of wisdom with us. It wasn’t easy for us to choose the best among the over 70 responses that we received. In the end, our Social Media Team had to ask for help, which involved getting the entire team to vote for their favorite tip.

Laughing girl showing thumbs up.

The poll ended with such a close result that we eventually decided on a winner and a runner-up. Congratulations to Holly from the beautiful Sunshine Coast and to David from Spain! Holly received a EUR 100 voucher from Four Seasons for her next trip.

We asked Holly if she could expand on her great tip. Here’s what Holly would like to tell everyone setting out on the adventure that’s living abroad, and what she has to say about herself and her own expat life:

“Smile. You might not be able to speak the language yet, but your positive body language will set you up for success.”

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Holly, and I’m from the land Down Under, where women glow and men plunder! And by “glow”, I actually mean “sweat my behind off”…

In fact, I come from a place called the Sunshine Coast, which does live up to its name. Beautiful beaches, where you can swim all year round (and burn as red as a lobster if you don’t lather up).

Sunshine Coast, Coastline

Then, we moved to Frammersbach, a small town in northern Bavaria, where it’s cold for six or seven months out of twelve and rains rather a lot. I think the question that Germans ask me most frequently is: “Why on earth did you leave?”

My husband is German, and Frammersbach is his hometown. If you are going to uproot your whole life, you might as well move to be near family.

We had a child in Australia in 2012, and as she grew older, I noticed that my husband rarely spoke German to her. Living in Australia, where English is spoken everywhere, it became natural for him to speak English (that’s not a problem I share regarding German…) and rather difficult to swap back to German just for our daughter. internations-expat-blog_twitter-contest_interview-holly_pic-3

I have always thought that it’s such a shame if children from an intercultural relationship essentially lose one side of their heritage, which I strongly believe would have happened if we’d stayed in Australia.

Germany would just have been somewhere to go on holiday, and her father would have played the role of interpreter for conversations between her and other family members. So, when the opportunity arose, we decided it was now or never and made the move to Germany.

We originally wanted to stay for two years, but due to a work contract we are now staying for three years. We will be moving back to Australia in May 2017.

I used to live abroad before, though: when I was 21, I lived in a small Japanese village for two years and worked there as an English teacher. A totally different experience from my time in Germany!

2. Is there a story behind your tip? Why did you send us this specific piece of advice?

Both times when I went overseas, I’ve had minimal knowledge of the local language before I moved there. I learned Japanese in High School, but forgot most of it, and I think I knew about three words in German. Once we got past “Hallo”, I was stuck.

Since I’ve spent four years of my life not really understanding everything going on around me, I’ve learned to watch and react to body language. Both of my expat experiences have also taken me to small towns, so I’ve never had the advantage of a big city, where lots of people usually understand and speak English.

Sometimes people are nervous around me because of the language barrier, so I always try to lighten the mood and show my appreciation and willingness to communicate … as comical as it might be.

Although I’m not too bad at German now, I do believe I have perfected the skill of mime. Charlie Chaplin has nothing on me. And you would want to have me on your team in a game of charades!The Smile of The People

In my first year here, I had to attend an integration course and learn basic German. I was the only one in the class who spoke English as a first language and lots of the other participants could not speak English at all.

Smiling and using positive body language really was the only way we could communicate. It’s a strange situation: you all bond over being foreigners, but yet you are foreign to each other.

Honestly, I think I could have chosen to either really resent my situation, full of all the frustration learning and living in another language brings, or just embrace it. Despite the numbers of times I’ve looked like an idiot when I didn’t properly understand something or said the wrong word, I decided to embrace it.

Even our mailman, “Mr. Happy” (aptly nicknamed thus because he seems to be unable to crack a smile) now greets me warmly. It was definitely not like that at the beginning, but I persevered and threw a few extra big, long-lasting smiles his way — oh my god, I just realized what else he might have thought…!

Life just seems better when you smile, even though it can be challenging and sometimes you just don’t feel like it.

3. Have you ever found it difficult to follow own advice? How so?

Hell to the yes! internations-expat-blog_twitter-contest_interview-holly_pic-6

Apparently, I thought it was a great idea to have another baby once we arrived, and I got pregnant straight away.

So I was raising a two-year-old who thought tantrums were supposed to happen every ten minutes; I was pregnant and tired, in school four hours a day, often alone with the tiny tantrum thrower, in a cold country which to this day I don’t like; I couldn’t understand anything and felt like I had absolutely no control over the simplest things in everyday life. To say it was a bit of a crap time would be an understatement!

But I knew that if I didn’t present myself as approachable and friendly most of the time, I would never make friends and move to the next stage. And when you struggle with the language, a smile is the best way to communicate that attitude. There is always a better next stage, though, if you can keep your head above water and get through the tough part of learning the language and culture.

4. What’s the best tip you have ever received from another expat?

Reluctantly, I must say that the best advice I ever got was from my husband. (Oh, that just hurt to type!)

I really struggled with the language for quite a while, and he told me not to worry about grammar: I should just focus on the vocabulary and then I’d start to understand.

He also said that the best way to learn a new language is full immersion. Which I totally agree with, but given my situation with two kids under the age of four, full consciousness was not possible on some days, let alone full immersion in another culture!

internations-expat-blog_twitter-contest_interview-holly_pic-7

5. Have you ever received some advice from another expat that you think might hinder expatriates rather than help them?

Wearing thongs (flip flops) during a German winter is totally appropriate footwear. Just kidding! No, seriously, I’ve got nothing. Maybe that was an advantage of not understanding a lot of my classmates.

6. Are there any other tips you’d like to offer to expats?

I think we all have to run our own race and not look to others to judge how slowly or quickly we are adapting to our new life abroad.

When I was 21, single, and childless, I could do whatever I wanted in Japan and immerse myself in the culture as much as I wanted. Germany is a totally different story. Raising two young children really doesn’t leave much you time, and when it does, I’m all about sleep, wine, or Netflix, or a combination thereof, and that’s okay, too. Prost!

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4) iStockphoto 3) St Bartholomew Church, Frammersbach by Hans Schneider 5), 6) Holly K.)

Thanksgiving and Fireworks — Beat the November Blues

Halloween is over and the December Holiday season hasn’t quite picked up speed yet. November is a quiet, in-between month, mostly spent in anticipation of the end of the year. Fighting off the November blues seems like a serious task for most expats, especially those who live in the northern hemisphere where the days are getting shorter and darker. Luckily, our events this month offer the perfect opportunity to kick that winter depression to the curb.

Plenty of Reasons to Leave the House

On Wednesday, 9 November, our community in Nairobi embraced its multiculturalism by celebrating Cambodia’s Independence Day. The members were encouraged to wear anything Cambodian to commemorate this special day and make their friends from Cambodia feel welcome.

Nairobi

Whizz, Bang, Pop: The London Picnic or Afternoon Tea Group had a blast celebrating Guy Fawkes Day on Saturday, 5 November. Together, the members watched the amazing fireworks at Battersea Park and gathered around the bonfire to enjoy some hot drinks afterwards.

London

On Saturday, 19 November, it was time for a Thanksgiving potluck for InterNations Las Vegas. Members were asked to share their culture with each other by bringing a traditional dish or beverage of their home country. In the end, it turned into a wonderful celebration and a great opportunity for everyone to get together.

Las Vegas

Those who haven’t had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving yet, should join Tashkent DinnerNations on Saturday, 26 November, for a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. You will get the chance to enjoy a great meal full of traditional Thanksgiving delicacies, and share wonderful stories with other expats.

Thanksgiving is not just about the food of course, it is also about being grateful for what you have and spending the day with your loved ones. For all those who cannot spend it with their family this year, our community in Raleigh is celebrating Friendsgiving on Thursday, 1 December.

Who Cares if It’s Dark?

You are not the festive type? Don’t you worry, there are many ways to beat that November Blues!

After all, who cares if it’s dark? Our Stockholm community, which experiences November as the darkest month of the year, decided to celebrate and have a great time, despite the lack of sunlight. On Wednesday, 16 November, the members met at Hard Rock Café to enjoy some drinks, have dinner together and just mingle and make new friends.

Stockholm

Although it is currently summer there, our members in the Gold Coast are in the right mood to get ready for the festive season. They got together at the lovely Marina Mirage on Thursday, 17 November, to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere and view, and used the opportunity to discuss their holiday plans and share ideas of little get-aways and festive things to do.

Gold Coast

InterNations Tenerife also found a way to make November just a little bit more cheery, by celebrating under the stars. On Saturday, 19 November, members met at a park café lounge to enjoy Canary tapas y picoteo while mingling with other expats and making new friends. All in all, it was an unforgettable evening!

tenerife5

How are you spending this November? No matter if you are celebrating Thanksgiving with your friends or if you are mingling at different bars and clubs, tell us more about it in the comments!

 

Image credits: InterNations

InterNations Insider Tips: Delightful, Dazzling Dubai

When you start exploring Dubai, it’s best to dive straight into the incredible opulence that represents this hybrid city of tradition and futurism. Emily Englert, Head of Community Management at InterNations, has just returned from a trip to the UAE, full of fresh impressions from the desert’s most dazzling city.

Burj Khalifa: On Top of the World in Dubai

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I was quick to discover the most striking among Dubai’s many landmarks by heading to the Burj Khalifa, which just happens to be the tallest building in the world and iconic to the city. From the observatory (which is also the highest in the world), you’ll have an incredible 360° view, which will make you feel as though you were standing on top of the world, as you literally tower over skyscrapers, sea, and desert.

I was able to take my time wandering round, taking in the view, as you are free to stay as long as you like in this slightly surreal spot 555 meters from the ground. If you, too, would like to give the Burj Khalifa a try, you definitely should not be afraid of heights.

Shopping Paradise: The Dubai Mall

From the top of the Burj Khalifa tower, it is easy to spot the Dubai Mall, which is, by surface area, the world’s largest shopping mall — they really don’t do things by halves around here! The mall is situated in downtown Dubai, a convenient ten-minute drive from where I was staying at the Steigenberger Hotel.

This retail heaven boasts more than 1,200 shops, an ice rink, and even the Dubai Aquarium, wedged in between shops. The mall feels more like a mini-city, boasting avenues of designer shops with trees and alleyways. An unexpected find in the shopping center was that the mall had its own Arab souk, with myriads of high-quality jewellery stores and watchmakers.

The aquarium was the real showstopper for me, though. Sharks, sting rays, and other creatures of the deep darted around me in the 270° walk-through tunnel.

Wonders of Water: The Dubai Fountain

After admiring the lavish (and costly) displays at the Dubai Mall, I headed to the Dubai Fountain for some stunning and completely free entertainment. Costing 218 million USD to build, the Dubai Fountain aims to impress, and the spectacle was certainly addictive to watch. This is the world’s largest choreographed musical fountain — no surprise there!

I was completely blown away by the fountain. To give you an idea of what it looks like: set in a vast, 30-acre lake right at the center of Downtown Dubai, the fountain has more than 6,600 lights, and can spray 22,000 gallons of water all at once. The water jets ‘danced’ along to everything and anything from Arab music to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”: in short, Dubai really knows how to put on a show.

Man-Made Perfection: Palm Jumeirah

purchased on iStockphoto in Nov 2016

The only completed part of Dubai’s Palm Islands, the Palm Jumeirah extends five kilometers into the Persian Gulf, and it’s the largest man-made island in the world. Perhaps Dubai has a size complex?

Most of the island seemed to be home to privately owned villas. However, I rode the impressive monorail straight down the ‘trunk’ of the palm, and then wandered past endless restaurants, marinas, and hotels. Of course I took a peek at The Atlantis, not a sunken city, but Dubai’s ultimate luxury resort, which has its own waterpark and beach.

The Palm Jumeirah fans out into the Persian Gulf from the Dubai Marina, which, unsurprisingly, is also the largest man-made marina in the world. I strolled along the spotlessly clean Marina Promenade with the canal winding its way through the area, and enjoyed a wide and beautiful view of the 3.5 kilometer stretch of water. The Dubai Marina walk is something everyone visiting Dubai should take, especially at night when the glowing superyachts glimmer upon the water, the city lights twinkle in the sky, and the atmosphere feels almost magical.

A Day in the Desert: A Night of Sand and Stars

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However, the favorite part of the trip has to be a desert safari tour I took with my husband. Actually, it’s one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had on vacation. About an hour outside of Dubai’s glitzy, glamorous urban life, we found ourselves speeding through the sand dunes, as a 4×4 car threw us around, whirling over bumps and twisting on its side like a rollercoaster — I would recommend not eating before it!

The drive was great fun, but I was glad to settle down and watch a beautiful sunset in the desert before reaching one of the many camps in the area. Our guide told us that about 12,000 people go on a trip into the desert every day.

At the camp, we went for a camel ride before enjoying a traditional evening featuring Arabian coffee and dates. Before dinner, we wandered around some stalls, stopping to smoke shisha, receive a henna tattoo, and simply relax in our oasis of calm. Dinner was, of course, fantastic, with typical traditional food, spread out over three courses, and then we (but particularly my husband!) enjoyed being treated to the final delight of the night — belly dancing.

(Image credits: 1–3) iStockphoto, 4) Pexels)

Team Diary: Dubai

InterNations Team Member Emily Englert — the Head of our Community Management Department — tells us about her recent trip to Dubai, during which she had the chance to attend an event hosted by the local community.

Sun, Shock, and the Trip of a Lifetime

purchased on iStockphoto in Nov 2106

Getting the chance to travel to Dubai was, for me, one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. Luckily, I had the perfect excuse to go — my husband is currently working in Dubai for a few months as Managing Consultant on a short-term expat assignment.

I arrived in Dubai on Tuesday night and stepped off the plane to a very warm welcome. Before leaving, I had heard that the weather in Dubai starts to become slightly cooler in October, but I got lucky. Even the locals were shocked by the high temperatures as, for the duration of my trip, the temperature ranged between from 34°C to 36°C. After leaving behind a chilly 10°C in Munich, there were no complaints from me!

My hotel was located in downtown Dubai. Also known as the “Center of Now”, downtown Dubai is a center for tourism and one of the world’s most-visited destinations. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much as time as I would have liked to explore, but from what I did see, Downtown Dubai is the perfect representation of the capital — a modern, luxurious, and thriving urban hub.

An Up-and-Coming Development: The Perfect Location

dubai-team-diary-2

On my first morning in Dubai, I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick White. Patrick is the Project Development Manager of a major new landmark development in Dubai, called the Al Habtoor City Development.

While some of the venues within the development area are still under construction, I still got a great overall view of how the finished project will look. The development includes a number of hotels, villas, and luxury residential towers, but there will also be a huge selection of social venues — around 35 different bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, as well as a theater. It quickly became clear to me that these brand-new venues would be perfect locations for upcoming InterNations Official Events and Activities — I made a mental note to mention this to our volunteers.

Two Birds, One Stone

United Arab Emirates Dubai April 7, 2014, skyscrapers high rise buildings view from below against the blue sky modern architecture soft focus

As excited as I was to see my husband, I decided that during my trip I would also take the opportunity to spend some time with members of our Dubai Community. The InterNations Community in Dubai is our second-biggest community after London, with about 73,000 members in total, and so it was a real pleasure to finally meet some of the volunteers who have helped make the successful community what it is today.

On Wednesday evening, I met with a number of our Consuls at Brothaus — somewhat ironically, a German-style café, bakery, and lounge at the Steigenberger Hotel in Downtown Dubai. Given that we have around 100 different groups in Dubai, from the Reggae & Afro-Beat Group to the Marketing Professionals Group to the Ladies Wellness Group, with over 100 InterNations Consuls, it was a great achievement to assemble around 25 of our Consuls and talk in person.

For me, it was incredibly valuable to meet the people who are essentially the face of the Dubai Community. We had a great discussion: the Consuls got the opportunity to ask questions and voice any concerns they might have, and I was able to give feedback, help, and advice in person. Seeing all of the Consuls together was also wonderful. I overheard many a conversation during which Consuls were exchanging details and helping each other out — it was very rewarding to see.

Perhaps most importantly, having the Consuls together in one place allowed me to thank them all on behalf of InterNations for their commitment. All in all, it was an amazing experience for me and, truthfully, I was incredibly impressed by how enthusiastic and lovely they all were. It was really good to witness firsthand what a flourishing community looks like, and I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to meet up with me.

The Dubai Ambassadors Team: The Spirit of InterNations

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After a catch-up in the downstairs café, we made our way upstairs to the InterNations Official Event, which was taking place at a newly-opened pool terrace venue called The Backyard by Swim and Tonic. The location was amazing: the wonderful views paired with a relaxed atmosphere and the warm weather really made the event the perfect way to say “Bye-bye Summer”.

There are six Ambassadors in total in Dubai, and I had the pleasure of meeting them all apart from Sophie — a French expat living in Dubai for two and a half years — who was on holiday at the time. The Dubai Ambassadors are the perfect examples of what a global mind looks like.

Philipp, a business consultant from Germany, has lived in six different countries around the world and speaks a total of five languages — and I thought knowing German was impressive! His fellow Ambassador Warmund is also from Germany and has traveled to 80 countries on all continents. He is more than experienced when it comes to life in Dubai as he has been living and working there for almost a decade. Nina is the third member of the Dubai Ambassadors Team who is both a German expat and a long-term resident of the UAE.

Egyptian-British expat Dalia, with her previous experience of expat life in Singapore, her wanderlust, and her passion for all things health and fitness, makes for a great addition to the InterNations Ambassador Team. Last but definitely not least, Waleed from Iraq is no stranger to traveling or living abroad, either. He has been to more than 20 countries in total and knows Dubai inside out, having moved there over a decade ago. This group of Ambassadors is all we could ask for and more — their combined experiences make them the perfect people to help other expats settle in and feel at home in Dubai.

Strange Tastes and Firsthand Friendships: An Event to Remember

Gourmet Middle Eastern salad Tabbouleh in white bowls

To break the ice, the hotel had arranged two games to kick off the event. I took part in one called Strange Tastes and it was definitely a fun (and unusual) experience.  All the participants were blindfolded and then given eight mouth-sized bites of different foods from the kitchen. After each bite, we had to write down what we thought we had eaten — I quickly learned that my sense of taste isn’t as good as I thought it was! The winner was awarded a well-deserved cocktail for free — taste really is a talent.

The evening was a huge success, and I met some fantastic people. However, one particular moment really stands out for me. I was standing talking with a group of people, one of whom was a man from Uzbekistan. After a few minutes, a woman walked past our group and saw his nametag with the Uzbek flag on it. She was so excited to meet someone from her home country!

The woman explained that she had looked at the guest list and had seen that someone else from Uzbekistan was also attending. However, she never thought she’d actually meet him among the 700 people who had signed up for the event. The two of them instantly struck up a conversation and, when I looked over to them after about an hour, they were still chatting animatedly. For me, this little anecdote proves that the nametags really do work, but most importantly, it perfectly captures the spirit of InterNations!

(Image credits: 1) iStockPhoto, 2) iStockPhoto, 3) iStockPhoto, 4) Emily Englert, 5) iStockPhoto)

InterNations Members Improve the Lives of Children All Around the World!

Now that Halloween is over, children and adults, especially in the United States, have — hopefully — nursed their stomachache from too much candy. US Americans now look towards to November’s cherished Thanksgiving Day while around the globe many are already trying to make December’s holiday plans. Not least of all due to these prominent holidays, the last three months of the year always bring an extra focus on the kids.

20 November has also been labeled as Universal Children’s Day. Quite unlike Halloween and Christmas, this day is not about giving gifts or munching candy, but rather about empowering and improving the lives of children throughout the world.

This is also a common goal among many of the InterNations Volunteer Groups. In the following, we would like to show what some of them have recently done to improve the lives of children in Moscow, Manila, and São Paulo.

Transform a Dreary Hospital into a Cheerful Place — Moscow

Elena Urbanovich and the Moscow Volunteer Group have started a campaign which transforms hospital hallways into colorful passages. The project focuses on turning hospitals into a warmer and friendlier space.

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The results have been so amazing that Elena recently had her fourth “Colourful Passage to Healthy Being” project. Volunteers are not only able to paint the walls, but they can also donate much-needed art supplies to ensure the project always has enough paint and brushes to go around!

Make Sick Kids Smile — Manila

Even as adults, whenever we get sick, we still long for someone to cheer us up and make us smile, and so we all can sympathize when children fall ill.

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The Manila Volunteer Group sent over 20 volunteers to spend the day with hospitalized children at Quirino Memorial Medical Center, creating art and distracting the kids from their pains and clinic blues. The group “adopted” more than 30 children and provided them with art kits as a way to entertain them between their treatments.

Celebrate Various Cultures for Children’s Day — São Paulo

When you were a kid, were you ever terribly excited to meet people from other countries? Jacira and the São Paulo Volunteer Group visited the children at the Brazilian orphanage Vivenda da Criança and organized a day full of cultural exchange and positive interaction. sao-paulo

The multinational team of volunteers came from the US, the UK, Israel, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, and, of course, Brazil. They gave a short introduction about all of their home countries to the children and spent the rest of their time playing games and learning about each other’s culture.

Send Postcards to Sick Children — Wherever You Are

As the year is coming to a close, we realize that a lot of volunteers will be traveling home and may not be able to attend as many activities as they would like. So how about an activity that you can do wherever you’re located in the world?

You can write postcards to sick children all over the world, and then post them as you travel. You are staying home for the holidays? You can still participate! Send Kids the World has a list of addresses to sick children worldwide who would love to hear from you — wherever you are. Just go to the website and follow the steps and your postcard will make a difference to a child with a life-threatening illness.

(Special thanks to the newly launched Oslo Volunteer Group for the idea!)

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

(Image credit: InterNations)

Why Living Abroad Will Change You Fundamentally

The dream of resettling in a foreign country entices many people. Whether it’s about entering a more adventurous stage of your life, a cheaper cost of living, the draw of days spent in a sunny paradise, or even the lure of making more money, what everyone will agree upon is that living abroad can transform you as a person.

Woman sitting at airplane and looking to mobil phone.

Approaching the relocation process with the right frame of mind can help you secure a new life that will be deeply and internally satisfying for you in the long run.

Just remember three solid reasons why everyone should become an expat at least once in their life.

1. It Builds Character

There is something about facing challenges on a day-to-day basis, such as forging friendships with locals or finding an agreeable place to live, that will slowly build your internal resilience. Of course, you will have your moments when you’ll want to break down in tears, but as you begin to trust yourself to get out of sticky situations, you will find yourself maturing.

Motivation

As you navigate the choppy waters of living abroad, your maturity becomes more and more apparent with every decision you take, big or small. The more time you spend abroad, the easier it gets. Although you’ll have to deal with local officials, real estate agents, and a new employer as you settle in — some or all of whom may only speak the local language — you will become self-reliant as part of the process.

2. It Offers a Cultural Immersion Experience

When you relocate to a new country, you are giving yourself the opportunity to get to know a different culture inside out. You’ll adapt to a new way of doing things while understanding the social context and historical roots that have shaped the present attitude of the people you are living among. This kind of immersion also allows you to learn the local language more easily, which, in turn, helps you to better understand cultural practices and expectations.

People going by bike in Copenhagen

Another part of the wonderful cultural immersion experience that is living abroad enables you to travel slowly and explore the country at your own pace. It’s the opposite experience of having to cram in all the sightseeing in the few days of your vacation. While you live abroad, you can spend your weekends exploring the wonders of the country, such as historical sights, museums, or national parks, and revisit them as many times as you wish.

3. It Transforms Your Tastes

Once you relocate and become accustomed to a new culture, you will find your own tastes and habits changing. You will find yourself embracing things you wouldn’t have considered before. The local cuisine will excite your taste buds in a new way. The local fashion sense will start to resonate with you and influence your clothing choices.

Chinese dimsum

You may also find yourself scheduling time differently. Some cultures make it easy for you organize events with friends at the last minute, whereas others insist that you schedule meetings weeks or months in advance. You will gradually adopt your pace of life to the new culture: even your sleeping habits might change, especially if you live in a country that embraces the time-honored tradition of the siesta.

Stay open-minded and see how it influences your personal preferences as you adopt new customs and start feeling more like a local.

Once you have taken the leap and look back at the decision of relocating, you’ll find that the rewards of living in another country — especially that inner feeling of achievement — far outweigh the stress and the cost of making the move. Even if the place you moved to didn’t end up being a good fit for you, you have matured as a person and found out what you are made of.

Denise Recalde is a Content Writer at Day Translations with eleven years of experience under her belt. Bilingual and a world traveler, she has been to 14 countries and spent about one half of her life in the US and the other half in Argentina.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Seven Magical Tips for Moving Abroad

Seven is a magic number, and with these seven basic tips, organizing your move abroad will hopefully work like a charm!

Blank sketchbook

1. Make lists, lists, and more lists.

Lists were my saving grace when I moved abroad.

First, make a list of everything you need to do before you move, from booking a flight to contacting your utility company and phone provider to selling or donating old furniture. Next, make a list of things to pack (see #2 for further details), ensuring that all important documents are on top of said list.

Finally, make a list of things to buy during your first week abroad. If your new apartment is unfurnished, ordering furniture and household items will definitely be your first priority. Start off with a comfortable bed and a clothing rack, some kitchen utensils and cleaning products — everything else can wait a little longer.

Be sure to cross items off your list once you have packed or bought them: this helps you to feel more efficient and makes the process seem less overwhelming.

Two suitcases on road

2. Don’t over-pack, but don’t forget about the bare necessities.

Only packing necessities will not only lead to an uncluttered new home and less washing, but also force you to visit local shops to buy what you weren’t able to bring along. This will give you an opportunity to practice your language skills and explore the area.

While you shouldn’t over-pack, it’s important to remember vital items: as far as clothing is concerned, don’t focus on what you usually like wearing, but on what you will need most abroad, according to the dress code at your new workplace, any activities you are planning, and the local climate.

Also pack everything you might not be able to replace that easily. I, for one, seem to have oddly shaped feet and need to wear wide-fit shoes in a UK size 7. In some countries, this might make it rather difficult to get decent ladies’ shoes in my size.

I have already mentioned important documents in passing in the first section, but it bears repeating: your passport, visa, birth certificate, driving license, employment contract, etc. should be your top priority when you pack your suitcase. Ideally, you should also make sure to put a copy of each in a different bag.

Man's hands using smart phone and computer at office desk

3. Get in touch with people in your new home.

Using social media enables you to connect with other expats and local people before you even move to your new home. If you are already an InterNations member, make sure to join our community in the city you are moving to, not in the city where you are currently living. That way, you will remain up to date about upcoming events in town, especially our Newcomers’ Events, and be able to ask for advice in our local forums.

But no matter which site or app you use, don’t be afraid to suggest meeting up with your new online friends. The worst they can do is say no, but you might gain some friends for life. Even if you never meet up, they can give you plenty of tips about living in your new city, like choosing the best neighborhood to live in, navigating local bureaucracy, or simply finding the nicest café to hang out in.

happy young asian woman using laptop

4. Video chat is your friend.

Video chat tools, such as Skype, are a must-have for expats and expats-to-be. Skype interviews are becoming ever more popular for recruiting international employees, and if you plan on sharing accommodation, video chat makes it possible for you to talk to potential roommates from abroad.

Once you have relocated, a fast and stable internet connection with a decent bit rate is a must, too. After all, you’ll want to video call your friends and family back home, won’t you? However, be careful not to miss out on opportunities or events abroad because of Skype.

Sometimes, it will be tempting to hole up in your apartment and talk to familiar faces you have known and loved for years. You will never start feeling truly at home, though, if you keep rejecting your colleagues’ invitations to after-work drinks in favor of video chats with your siblings.

Man and woman meeting over coffee in a restaurant

5. Find someone to learn the local language with.

Yes, grammar lessons can be a slog, and studying a new language in addition to a full-time job or raising a family is a huge amount of work. But though you are often able to make do with English or another lingua franca, learning the language is a tremendous help. It makes it easier to deal with practical matters and to understand the local culture better. Truth is, most people will also be suddenly a lot more outgoing if they perceive you as “making an effort”.

To practice your newly acquired language skills, you can also find a “tandem partner”, a native speaker of the local language in your new country. Language tandems are often advertised online, on university message boards, or at local libraries. Ideally, you won’t just find someone to correct your pronunciation, but a new friend as well.

Lonesome girl watching at Paris city scape at sunset.

6. Go exploring before moving permanently.

If you have the time and money, organize a trip to your new destination at least one month before actually moving there. Relocation agents often call this a “fact-finding trip” — personally, I prefer the term “exploratory mission” as it makes it sound so much more adventurous.

During a visit to your future city of residence, you might want to start house hunting, either by arranging viewings in advance or by meeting estate agents while staying there. Physically seeing a house is vital, so you can get a feel for how homely the place is and if it lives up to the description in the ad. Also take the opportunity to explore the neighborhood and see how safe and convenient it is.

If you can still squeeze in a few items on your schedule, play the tourist, too. While you shouldn’t spend your whole expat life living like a casual visitor, now’s the perfect occasion to find out more about your destination of choice and to ensure that you already have some fond memories when you relocate.

Total relaxation.

7. Take time for yourself.

Living abroad, finding your feet in a new job, and organizing your new home should not mean neglecting the things you enjoy or, indeed, your own health. If exercise was a part of your routine at home, continue to work out as an expat. It’s always easy to find local gyms, exercise classes, or cheap DVDs to work out in the comfort of your own home.

And though it might be easy to bury yourself in work or try to balance all your new responsibilities, some “me time” is essential to recharge your batteries. Apart from regular exercise, make sure to get enough sleep and a few quiet moments to yourself.

Documenting your expat life could be a nice way of relaxing and reflecting on your experiences — you could create a photo album, write an old-fashioned journal, start a quirky scrapbook or a state-of-the-art travel blog, whichever you prefer.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: Artistic, Amazing, Antwerp!

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck explores the charming cities of Flanders — a veritable treasure trove, not only for lovers of art and history.

Grote Markt: A Tribute to Civic Pride

The best place to start exploring Antwerp is, without a doubt, Grote Markt (Market Square), the traditional heart of every Flemish town. Fortunately, it was barely a five-minute walk from my hotel to the place that used to be the pride and joy of the city’s burghers.

old town of antwerp

The merchants and manufacturers of Antwerp had plenty of good reasons for their civic pride: did you know that Antwerp used to be one of Europe’s largest cities in the early modern era? With a population of more than 100,000 people, it was second only to Paris (at least north of the Alps) and richer to boot!

The prosperous residents promptly created a monument to their financial and political clout: flanked by several guildhalls, the impressive stadhuis (town hall) still dominates the market square. With its many cafés and restaurants — though they are just a tad touristy — the square is the perfect spot to follow my example and relax with a glass of cool Belgian beer, perhaps a bolleke from the local De Koninck brewery.

Our Lady Cathedral: A Heavenly Landmark in Antwerp’s Skyline

Just like the Renaissance-style façade of the stadhuis dominates the Grote Markt, the solitary spire of the cathedral overlooks the entire town. Again, the iconic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedral – aka Our Lady’s Cathedral — was so close to my hotel that I could hear the tolling of its bells. The biggest one, as my tour of the church informed one, weighs over 6,400 kilograms (that’s about the mass of an African elephant for you) and requires 16 people to actually ring it.

View over Antwerp with cathedral of our lady taken

Similar to the ornate architecture of their civil buildings, Antwerp’s wealthy denizens apparently didn’t do anything by half, either, when it came to the city’s most important place of worship – incidentally, the largest Gothic church in all of the Low Countries. Thus they commissioned Flanders’ most sought-after artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to paint its monumental altarpiece, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Today three other triptychs by Rubens are on display there, and until 2017, while renovation works at the Royal Museum of the Fine Arts are ongoing, more Flemish masterpieces with religious motives are currently on loan to the cathedral. So you’d better be into Baroque!

Rubenshuis: Selfies of a 17th-Century Superstar

As my tour of the cathedral demonstrated, there’s just no way of escaping Rubens, Antwerp’s most famous inhabitant. Therefore you might as well give in and head straight to the Rubens House, the painter’s former private home and studio.

If you are imagining a quaint little bohemian cottage, you couldn’t be more wrong: as Rubens was an early modern superstar, he could afford to build an Italian-style palazzetto with a state-of-the-art Baroque garden for himself, his assistants, family, and household staff.

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The Rubenshuis has been lovingly restored and now houses several paintings by the master and his students, including self-portraits by the man himself as well as his most successful protégé, Anthony van Dyck — the selfies of the 17th century, so to speak.

But mostly, I was impressed by how many different talents Rubens possessed. In addition to becoming a renowned painter, he was also a shrewd businessman, a passionate collector of books and artworks, an architect, an amateur scientist, and a polyglot. Fluent in about half a dozen languages, he was among the “global minds” of his age, too.

Antwerp’s Culinary Heritage: Frieten, Filet, and Gefilte Fish

After so much history and art, I more than deserved something rather more down-to-earth — a proper meal, that is. As far as street food is concerned, Antwerp offers plenty of frietkoten, where you can partake in Belgium’s greatest gift to humankind, the erroneously named French fries. For more local fare, check out smoskes (baguette sandwiches stuffed with different fillings) or filet d’Anvers, salted, dried, and smoked beef with a unique flavor.

Potatoes fries in a little white paper bag

Unfortunately, my stay in Antwerp didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked, or I’d have used the time to try some of its many restaurants. As an important port town, it has always attracted a multicultural population, which is reflected in, among other things, the local culinary scene. In the vicinity of Antwerp Central Station, you’ll find both Chinatown and the Jewish quarter.

In addition to offering a wide range of Chinese restaurants, the streets near Chinatown are home to various Japanese, Korean, Nepalese, Thai, and Vietnamese eateries. The traditional Jewish neighborhood around Pelkenstraat hosts its fair share of kosher places, such as the famous Hoffy’s, which specializes in Yiddish cuisine, just in case you should be overcome by a sudden craving for gefilte fish.

Cozy Towns and Sandy Beaches: See Even More of Flanders

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: I’m cheating a bit, as I’m recommending a daytrip outside of town. While there is still plenty left to see in Antwerp itself — from exploring the fashion museum to shopping for antiques and curiosities in Klosterstraat — you should also take advantage of the fact that Flanders is not a very large region after all.

Bruges, Belgium.

If you can’t get enough of picturesque Flemish towns, with their characteristic ensemble of market square, town hall, and belfry, I’d recommend following my itinerary to Ghent or Bruges. Both cities have a very cozy feel and offer the opportunity to take a leisurely cruise on their canals, provided the weather is willing. (Bruges is said to set a record for frequent rainfall, which would dampen the riverboat romance quite a bit…)

Or you could rather hop on an NMBS train to Knokke, a swanky and affluent seaside resort. Its promenade along the North Sea features plenty of chic bars, but if you’re traveling with your family, your kids will probably love baking mud cakes on the beaches best.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4), 5) iStockphoto 3) Rubenshuis by flickr user Ramón)