InterNations Volunteers Strive to Close the Gap between Cultures

This month we are celebrating the International Day of Cultural Diversity on 21 May. In today’s globalized world, encountering different cultures and what they contribute to humanity’s common heritage has become easier than ever — something we think needs to be shared!

We’d thus like to share with you what the InterNations Volunteer Consuls have organized to honor our diverse cultural backgrounds and to inspire you.

Embracing Cultural Diversity through Traditional Food

Traditional cooking classes, Asian cuisine, and new superfoods: it’s hardly a secret that food cultures are spreading around the globe. While recipe books and the internet are doing a good job at replicating international cuisines, proper traditional food is still best prepared by someone from the culture itself, thanks to family recipes handed down from generation to generation, as well as years of experience.

Kitfo,_Ayib_and_Injera Rosa Guerrero from the Madrid Volunteer Group therefore set up an Ethiopian dinner at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant to enjoy this very different cuisine and to support the Mzungu Project over a shared dish of spicy stew and injera flatbread. The project, founded by InterNations member José Antonio Ruiz Díez, aims to provide education to children in need in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“People became very committed to the Mzungu Project when the volunteers met José at dinner and saw how passionate he is about his dream to help the underprivileged and to make a difference in the world.” Twenty-seven people from ten countries were inspired by José, who actively participated in organizing the dinner with Rosa and who will be using 100% of the funds raised to help build a new school for children in the DRC.

Former Consul Eleana Chatziri from the Barcelona Volunteer Group saw the start of spring as a wonderful opportunity to get together with the members of the InterNations Barcelona Volunteer Group for an international potluck picnic. All the attendees prepared and shared typical national specialties with each other.

Next to indulging in delicious dishes in an outdoor setting, Eleana considered the beginning of spring to be the perfect time for collecting clothing donations, since most of us clean out our closets for a new season. All attendees were encouraged to donate clothing to Arrels Fundació, an organization that helps homeless people in Barcelona to live a decent and dignified life. Barcelona spring volunteer´s brainstorm brunch picnic

The Human Rights Initiative, an organization that both advocates for justice and promotes international human rights, organized an annual holiday party to celebrate the season with the local refugee community.

The Dallas Volunteer Group was invited to join the party, donate goods to people in need, and make the refugees feel welcome and accepted. The event host, Consul Sanjeeb Samanta, and his former fellow Group Consuls came up with the great idea to contribute to the festivities by asking every volunteer to bring a side dish, which was ultimately shared with all the families and guests.

Providing Support to Those Looking for a New Home

Megan Hanna from the Luxembourg Volunteer Group organizes a monthly activity, where InterNations members join her on a four-day trip to the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, France. With her “Boots on the Ground” events, Megan and the volunteers support the refugees with various tasks, such as chopping carrots in the kitchen and sorting clothes, that make life at the camp just a little bit easier.

Temenuga Bakalska, Consul of the Munich Volunteer Group, does an incredible job at getting InterNations members together to help support the refugees living in Munich’s biggest shelter, the Bayernkaserne, a former army camp. Since the refugees can come to pick up much-needed toiletries and clothing on Saturday, help is essential. The volunteers assist in various tasks, such as sorting donations or handing out the items. Munich Regular Bayernkaserne support

“It’s always very motivating to see the efforts that volunteers put into supporting others and the gratitude from those you are helping. Despite the language barrier between volunteers and refugees, this doesn’t cause any issues: in the end, there’s nothing that a thumbs up or down can’t solve! I was very glad for the opportunity to help the many regular volunteers in their work — there’s nothing more rewarding than putting a smile on the face of a complete stranger.” — Blandine West, former volunteer at the Bayernkaserne.

A former Consul of the Barcelona Volunteer Group, Robert Stars, teamed up with Arrels Fundació, the organization that has been supporting homeless people in Barcelona for as nearly 30 years.

As many of those sleeping rough aren’t necessarily from Spain and don’t always speak Spanish, the language barrier is the main obstacle to doing efficient work. To address this issue, InterNations volunteers are providing assistance in translating leaflets about various important topics, giving homeless people more guidance and new opportunities.

Soothing Activities to Bond in Dallas, Brussels and Barcelona

Heart House is an organization that provides safety, education and opportunity to refugee and underprivileged children.

Together with the Dallas Volunteer Group, InterNations Consul Sanjeeb Samanta, as well as his former fellow Consuls Doaa and Shalah, organized an activity where each InterNations volunteer got to accompany a refugee kid to the Crow Museum. Dallas join a kid crow museumThe Volunteers accompanied the children on a guided tour, attended lunch together, and joined them for an arts and crafts session, which resulted in a big smile on everyone’s face — not only for the children, but for the volunteers as well.

The cultural center Omar Khayam in Brussels wishes to create a bond between individuals, build bridges between cultures and give visibility to the cultural and artistic wealth of Syria. Eija Hietala, former Consul of the Brussels Volunteer Group, noticed this organization and invited InterNations members to promote the message of peace, using music and poetry to connect. All funds at the activity were collected in order to benefit Syrian refugees.

Shanghai Big World Vision Halloween Mesmerizing children with new cultures is what happens in the Shanghai Volunteers Group thanks to Group Consul Elena Wang. Immigrant children aged from 10 to 14 get to find more about other countries through singing, dancing, and painting, making it a wonderful and eye-opening experience for them. Elena hosts the activity almost every month and assists the children, together with the volunteers, in playing games and guiding them throughout the afternoon.

“Cultural diversity makes the world a much more interesting place to live in. There’s a lot to learn about how other cultures approach life. Diversity shows us that we are all different, yet very similar; at the core of every human being is the need to feel safe, happy, and loved.” — Rosa Guerrero, Madrid Volunteer Group Consul

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

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

(Image credit: 1) Wikimedia Commons user Lelaw Wondimu 2)-5) InterNations)

Founder’s Diary: Doha

After my visit to the InterNations Manama Community, the capital of Qatar was but a half hour’s flight away. Mark, our long-term Doha Ambassador, was so kind as to pick me up at the airport.

A Very Active Ambassador

Mark — who is half Scottish, half Egyptian — has lived in an impressive twelve countries so far, moving from Dubai to Doha six years ago, where he now works as an advisor to two government offices. He got actively involved in the local InterNations Community more or less immediately and soon took on the position of Doha Ambassador.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 1 For half a dozen years, Mark has been investing a lot of time and energy into organizing local events for InterNations, connecting members in Qatar, answering their questions about life in Doha in general and our community in particular, and simply making life easier for expats in the Middle East.

Mark also acts as a Consul for several of the InterNations Groups in Doha, such as the Professional Networking Group and the InterNations Volunteer Program. For the former, he has organized a series of interesting events with guest speakers on various topics, like internet security or social media marketing.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 7

For the Volunteer Program, he motivated our volunteers in Doha to participate in one of the world’s largest “ice bucket challenges” to raise awareness — and funds — for the fight against ALS, a degenerative motor neuron disease, as well as the plight of children in Gaza. Moreover, the InterNations Doha Volunteer Group also supports a local migrant labor camp, for example, by organizing two donation drives with tons of food and essential household items, like fridges.

A Souq from the Arabian Nights

In Mark’s spacious white Hummer — one car in Doha’s airport parking lot really seemed to be bigger than the next — he took me to the Hilton Hotel on the waterfront, the venue for the upcoming InterNations Official Event. With a splendid view of Doha’s skyline as a backdrop, we discussed the growth of InterNations as a global network and especially of the Doha Community. Mark also showed me the videos he has produced himself of various local events, and soon we were talking strategic development of InterNations in Qatar. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 5

The next stop of our mini-tour of the Qatari capital was the port of Doha, which doesn’t only offer a lovely panorama of the skyline, but also houses the highly recommended Museum of Islamic Art. A little further inland, we took a stroll through the local Souq Waqif, which was rebuilt, after a devastating fire in 2003, in a deliberately old-fashioned style to attract more visitors and to appeal to tourists’ fantasies of the Arabian Nights.

Nevertheless, the souq is more than just a retro-style tourist trap: it’s very lively and its many market stalls, cafés, and restaurants are clearly popular among locals, particularly among families with kids. Mark was even to produce a short video of our sightseeing trip through Doha, which he’d show to me on the following day. He’s definitely a multimedia kind of guy!

The Perfect Venue for a Mellow Evening in Spring

After exploring some of Doha’s famous sights, it was already time for me to head back to the Hilton Hotel, where I had just enough time to squeeze in a shower and a change of clothes before the event started at 20:00. The InterNations Doha Community has as many as 20,000 members, and 180 of them had signed up for the get-together in the highly popular Society Lounge. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 2

The venue was simply amazing — a huge open-air lounge with a great vista of Doha’s cityscape and the ocean, a mild breeze from the sea providing the perfect temperatures for an outdoor event. InterNations had booked a large part of the venue exclusively, but the queue at the entrance — where the guests needed to register with an official ID, as is the legal requirement in Doha — was fairly long nonetheless.

While the attendees were still gathering, I used the “warm-up period” of the event for a meet-up with the local media, which Mark had also organized for me. So I gave an interview to SNAP TV, an online TV station, as well as another one to Gulf News, one of the major English-language newspapers in the Persian Gulf region.

Of course, I also got to meet plenty of members — from Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the UK, and many other countries — and several InterNations Group Consuls later that night. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 3

There’s Rafif, our Newcomers’ Ambassador from Montréal, who provides newly arrived expats and new members of the InterNations Doha Community, with a warm welcome; Rebecca, a US American expat and one of the Consuls running our Volunteer Group, who is keenly interested in animal welfare and therefore supports a rescue shelter for stray dogs with regular activities, and Ekene from Nigeria, who keeps the InterNations members in Doha on their toes by organizing the Corniche Jogging Group.

That night, though, we had a DJ to keep us moving. Most of the guests eventually started dancing along, clearly happy to enjoy themselves outside on such a mellow night. Soon, the rising temperatures won’t allow that anymore, and everyone will take refuge in air-conditioned rooms over the summer.

A Day Full of Stark Contrasts

On the following morning, I met up with Rafif and her boyfriend — whom she actually met thanks to InterNations — for breakfast. Rafif, who has worked as a pediatric dentist in Qatar since 2012, told me that she’d made many good friends via InterNations and wanted to “give back” to the Doha Community, which is why she enjoys welcoming new members into the community so much. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 8 We discussed some of the challenges inherent in establishing Newcomers’ Events in Qatar, particularly in making expat women feel comfortable and truly welcome at our events.

Later on, Mark stopped by to pick me up for the second part of my trip round Doha. That time, it was a day full of stark contrasts. First, we visited the Pearl — an affluent neighborhood with luxury apartments overlooking the sea and numerous yachts swaying gently in the harbor. Afterwards, however, he drove me to the camp for migrant laborers that is supported by the local InterNations Volunteer Group.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 6 Countless hired workers — mostly from India, Nepal, and Pakistan — have to live in a gated camp in the desert outside the capital, about an hour’s drive from Doha. Often, these people have left their homes for a better life in Doha, but were promised much more than they actually got upon arrival, where tough working and living conditions awaited them. Stories like theirs are the dark side of international mobility and globalization, and these laborers are separated from the glittering center of the capital by a distance far greater than the dirt road through the desert.

Eventually, we returned to Doha for a late lunch at the Hyatt Hotel, where Mark introduced me to his wife and his two little daughters. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Doha Community_Pic 4After another lively exchange of ideas concerning the future of the Doha Community, I briefly relaxed at my hotel room before my night flight back to Munich, via Kuwait City and Frankfurt, left shortly after midnight.

It was really great to see how well known InterNations is in Qatar — with over 20,000 members and more than 60 InterNations Groups, we have a very prominent status in the Gulf region!

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Places to Explore in Doha

Malte Zeeck, Founder and Co-CEO of InterNations, shares his top tips for what to see and do in Doha, Qatar.

Doha Corniche: Stunning Views at Every Time of Day

One of the first stops on my visit to Doha was the Doha Corniche, which I found to be a lovely place to relax and appreciate the beautiful surroundings. The atmosphere here is relatively calm, with many people going for long walks or bicycle rides along the promenade, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a pleasant way to spend some time away from the busy center of the city.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Five Things to Explore in Doha_Pic 3 I would also suggest starting your day early at the Corniche to take in the view of the Doha skyline at dawn and to avoid the hot midday sun, which can especially be a problem in the summer. The Corniche is close to many other sites in Doha, so it is an ideal place to begin your day of sightseeing. One such place of interest, which happens to be on the Corniche, is the Museum of Islamic Art.

Museum of Islamic Art: Impressive Building, Impressive Collection

I really enjoyed my visit to the Museum of Islamic Art. The architecture of the building inside and out is quite impressive to look at, and the museum has a large collection of Islamic art spanning 1,400 years and three different continents.

The collection includes ceramics, glasswork, manuscripts, metalwork, and textiles, with some incredible and well-preserved pieces such as the beautiful tilework cenotaph from Uzbekistan, decorated with poetic lamentations that mourn the departed, and The Book of Kings, which tells the history and myths of the Greater Persian Empire. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Five Things to Explore in Doha_Pic 2

The museum is located at one end of the Corniche and features a park on its premises, with some of the best views of the Doha skyline. There is also a museum café on the waterfront with a wide variety of food, late opening hours, and a great vista across the bay.

Had I been to the park in the evening, I imagine it would have been a lovely place to watch the sun set. I would recommend spending some time at the museum, and in the garden afterwards, if you are interested in culture and history.

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

From the Museum of Islamic Art, you can take the free shuttle bus to Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art), a trip of about half an hour. This museum has the largest collection of modern and contemporary Arab art in the region, and it is a must-see if you are a lover of modern art. It is said to be one of a kind, after all.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Five Things to Explore in Doha_Pic 5 The museum contains artwork covering all of the past century, both from the Arab world and other areas, such as Turkey and India, with quite a variety on offer here. Traditional paintings of people from the mid-twentieth century hang alongside paintings from just over ten years ago, which are much more modern and conceptual. Moving around the exhibit, you can see a clear progression through the history of the Arab world as the techniques of the artists changed and developed.

Souq Wakif: A Tourist Trap worth the Visit

The Souq Wakif is another place well worth a visit if you are interested in the history of Doha. Trading has taken place here for centuries, with nomads coming here to buy and sell livestock in times gone by.

After much of the site was destroyed by a fire in 2003, the decision was made to restore the souq and turn it into what it is today. Whilst the traditional Arabic style has been created for tourists to make them feel like they are on a movie set, there is still a nice, authentic atmosphere, with many locals shopping there as well. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Five Things to Explore in Doha_Pic 1This is one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region and if you are looking for spices, clothes or sweets, you will find it all here.

There is even a falcon souq next door, where you can hold a falcon if you’re lucky. There are many falcon shops in this souq and you will even come across a falcon hospital. It is really interesting to see one of the more traditional sides of society in Qatar and to learn a little about falconry from some of the English-speaking shopkeepers.

The hustle and bustle here, along with the sheer variety of goods on offer from the traders in Souq Wakif, will make you wonder if you have stepped back in time.

The Pearl: High-End Shops and Apartments Galore

If you would rather explore a more modern area with designer shops and high-end restaurants, then you should head to The Pearl. This artificial island, just off the coast of Doha’s West Bay, is an area created for the wealthy, with high-end apartments overlooking the sea and yachts waiting in the marina.

Promenade in Porto Arabia, Doha, Qatar Middle EastI didn’t spend that long here, but I noticed many different restaurants and bars, which would be nice to visit in the evening for a meal or a few drinks overlooking the Bay of Doha. Businesses on the island are still in the process of opening, but it already feels like a nice place to while away a few hours, and I imagine the apartments here have incredible views over the harbor.

I’d be interested to see what this neighborhood will be like after it is fully completed.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Not Just Foolin’ Around: Our Communities in April

April Fool’s is not the only day of note this month. It was also World Health Day on 7 April. Expats, maybe more than anybody else, understand how hard it can be to lead a healthy and fun life. Sometimes, they work too much and do not have enough time to take care of what they eat; sometimes, they are stressed out by life in another country, or sometimes, they just do not have the opportunity to meet new friends. But our communities have provided some great solutions to those everyday problems.

Healthy Does Not Mean Boring

Singapore event
Our members in Singapore took the message of World Health Day seriously and organized a rollerblading activity on the east coast of the city. This event didn’t only fulfill the goal of keeping the attendees in good shape, but it also provided the fun by finishing at a bar with a good beer (only consumed with moderation, of course!).

Prague event
A healthy way of life begins with a balanced diet, and our members in Prague were clearly inspired by this tenet. They went in great numbers (more than 270 people registered for the event!) to Etnosevet, one of Prague’s fancier vegetarian venues, which even provided our very own DJ for the evening. Sadly, this was also the occasion to say goodbye to our Prague Ambassador Lenka, who’s leaving us due to her busy (but hopefully nevertheless healthy!) lifestyle.

Sydney event
The second step to a healthy lifestyle is exercising. Our community in Sydney impressed us with their physical performance on a Sunday morning. In fact, they began their run at 7:30 AM! Surprisingly enough, no attendee thought that this hour must be an April Fool’s joke. A big bravo to our Sydney Sports & Leisure Group for keeping Sydney’s expats in form!

If Laughing Is Enough Physical Activity for You …

It is scientifically proven that laughing is good for your health, too, and we know that not all our members are that fond of an early Sunday morning run. For those who tend to prefer fun to fitness, our Ambassadors and Consuls also had plenty of other events in store:

Dallas event
April does not only represent the beginning of (hopefully) sunny weather for the Northern Hemisphere. In the United States, it also represents the end of the tax season, and for 175 of our members in Dallas, getting their dreaded tax return over and done with was certainly worth celebrating. The guests had a lovely evening at the Four Seasons Resort, and we are sure that filing your taxes and having a party afterwards can only make you feel happy. By the way, if you now feel guilty about the partying, the Four Seasons has even set up a special discount for InterNations members who want to join their sports club.

Barcelona event
In Barcelona, our community wanted to begin the month of April with a healthy dose of laughter, and we can confidently say “mission accomplished“. Nearly 400 members signed up to gather at an art gallery and exchange their best April Fool’s stories, a relaxing and fun way to spend the evening.

Who said you can’t have fun in Germany? In Munich, members of the local InterNations Community attended a stand-up comedy show by an international trio from Canada, Texas, and Scotland. No need to do crunches when you can train your abs by laughing!

Having Fun All Year Round with InterNations

You haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy April in a healthy and fun way? Don’t worry: there are still plenty of possibilities for you to get in some exercise or be the life of the party with the help of our InterNations Communities around the globe.

The members of our Miami Community will explore marine life and enjoy the sun and the sea at this kayak and snorkel activity. If you feel like you have been working (or partying) too hard this month, it’s now time to make up for it!

If you want to know what it feels like to be a star, our San Francisco Community is organising a Hollywood theme night that you will never forget! From smiling at the paparazzi at the entrance to walking the red carpet, you can be George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence for just a day.

Beijing future event
Sometimes, after so many days of eating and living healthy, you need to take a short break from your sensible lifestyle, as a sort of “cheat day”. Our Beijing Community had the excellent idea of combining great food with great art, so you can at least exercise your imagination. However, please be aware that the art on display is “food art” — you’d better try not to eat it too!

(Image credit: 1) Veronika Sakhno 2) Lenka Mazochova 3) Laura Ribeiro 4) Conrad Ornstein 5) Raquel Beque 6) Matthew Cuerdon)

Expats and the Five Stages of Loss

In Cologne, Germany, the part of the globe where I have been living for almost 16 years, winter has made room for spring. The long-awaited rays of sunlight warm our hearts and lift our spirits, as my husband and I move through the broad emotional spectrum of loss and grief.

Expats and the Five Stages of Grief_Pic 1 We said farewell to both our mother/mother-in-law and father/father-in-law in February and March of this year. Their deaths within three weeks of each other have created holes and voids we are slowly learning to nurture and heal.

A “Different” Christmas in 2015

Christmas 2015 was supposed to be a chance to spend some quality time with his parents. Their home is tucked between the vineyards of Baden, home to Germany’s classic grape varieties Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Gris.

On clear days, we can see as far as the Cathedral in Strasbourg and admire the Vosges Mountains from their expansive living room window. We usually emerged from the mini-apartment on the lower level of their house in our fluffy white bathrobes just as the warm rolls were placed in the bread basket. Expats and the Five Stages of Grief_Pic 2

The visits felt like vacation at a wellness spa. Our mornings were spent savoring breakfast-brunch complete with fresh fruit and muesli while chatting with our mother/mother-in-law in the Badish-Schwabian dialect, the official family language.

Just before Christmas, my husband had a minor dental procedure. Due to unexpected complications that followed, we decided to stay in Cologne over the holidays and spend the Easter break with them in the Black Forest.

At that time, we could not have even imagined that neither of them would experience Easter 2016.

Balancing Time and Distance: Part and Parcel of Family Life for Expats

My husband and I visited regularly, at least twice a year. From the start of our now 13-year relationship, we have maintained a healthy balance between spending quality time together and time with our families on both sides of the Atlantic.

Given our unique “work-life stage” and the distances between our global family clusters, we manage to carve out time and space to make the most of the eight-hour car trip southbound (to and fro) on the not always so fast-moving Autobahn. Expats and the Five Stages of Grief_Pic 3

Admittedly, the regular discussions about how we spend our vacation were indeed delicate balancing acts, comparable to advanced crash-courses in international negotiations. Yet, we all knew that scheduling challenges are part and parcel of expat family life.

During the course of our marriage, I had grown close to his parents. They made me feel truly loved and I viewed them more as a second set of parents, rather than as in-laws. Their kindness, openness, and generosity was tangible right from the start. Even as I write this post, my heart feels the void of their absence.

Moving Through the Stages of Loss and Grief

As expats, we have developed the resilience and skills to manage all sorts of change and loss. We have changed jobs, locations, cultures, and languages. The emotion that accompanies many of these changes and losses is grief.

Julie Axelrod’s “The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief” is a helpful reminder that bereavement is an individual process. We all work through the stages in different time frames and express each stage with varying intensity. Her article also dispels the myth that the five stages should occur in any specific order.

As my husband and I continue to move through our grieving process, here are a few things I keep in mind: Expats and the Five Stages of Grief_Pic 4

• There is no “right” or “wrong” way to move through this experience.
• I miss them because I love them.
• Although they have passed away, the love now occupies the space their departure created.

Their deaths also sparked deeper personal reflection and confrontation with my own mortality. With a heightened awareness of death as a part of life, I have clearer intentions and practice more presence with myself, within myself and those in my personal and professional spheres of influence. I have more courage and am more inspired to speak from my heart. I also make the conscious choice to forgive myself and others more quickly, rather than wasting precious time berating myself, being offended or resentful.

I have decided to embrace every opportunity to live in greater alignment and to love and give without fear.

Most importantly, I cherish every day I can spend with the most precious gift my parents-in-law have given to the world: their son, my husband and dear friend.

Monère Renoir Wanner is a global citizen in Cologne. She is an intercultural trainer/coach, image consultant, speaker and university lecturer. In her free time, Monère enjoys French films, Latin music, and Italian cuisine with her husband, Hans.

(Image credit: 1), 3), 4) StockSnap 2) iStock)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Impressions of Manama

Malte Zeeck, Founder & Co-CEO of InterNations, the world’s expat community, shares his most memorable impressions from his recent trip to the Persian Gulf.

Manama’s Beaches: Escape the Endless Winter

Bahrain is undoubtedly a hot country, and temperatures can reach more than 50°C during the summer. However, in the winter months (from November to March), the weather is mild and very pleasant. I met quite a few people coming to Manama with their family in winter when Bahrain turns into a perfect vacation spot. Fishing pier in Manama, Bahrain

If you, too, want to spend some time at the beach, I very much enjoyed my time at Coral Bay, one of the country’s most popular beach clubs: no matter if you are planning to snorkel, go jet-skiing, or just relax in the sun, the Manama Corniche is the place for you.

Bahrain Financial Harbour: A Symbol of Economic Resilience

Bahrain is one of the first countries in the Middle East that literally ran out of oil: though you can still visit the First Oil Well and read the plaque to commemorate this historical discovery, all of its petroleum reserves are now empty. InterNations Insider Tips_Five Impressions of Manama_Pic 1

The Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH) district, a new commercial neighborhood located on reclaimed land, is proof of how rapidly the local economy has adapted to this situation. Nowadays, Bahrain’s most important industry is finance, and Manama is home to more than 200 banks.

The BFH skyline is impressive, and its twin towers are now a landmark of Manama. I found out that one of the best spots to admire the skyline is from Juffair district, where you’ll also come across some expat haunts favored by personnel from the nearby US naval base.

Adliyah District: Where Tradition Meets Modernity

I spent several hours in the Adliyah district, and I was absolutely impressed by its mixture of authenticity and modernity, blending together in interesting ways. There are a lot of excellent restaurants in the area, both traditional and more modern venues. The available food ranges from Lebanese to Turkish and Filipino cuisines, all separated by just a few minutes’ walk.

Bab El-Bahrain Souk Gate in Manama, Bahrain, Muddle EastAdliyah features plenty of art galleries, too: however, though a Bahraini friend told me that they are well worth the visit, I unfortunately did not find the time. I did manage to stroll through the souks, though, where you can buy absolutely everything, from socks to Indian saris: do not miss out on paying a visit to this typical Middle Eastern market!

Reef Island: A Man-Made Paradise

The Gulf countries are famous for their man-made islands, and I had the privilege of seeing one of them first-hand: Reef Island. I thought it’s rather fascinating to see how Bahrain grows by reclaiming land from the sea and then eventually building entire new districts.

InterNations Insider Tips_Five Impressions of Manama_Pic 3 In this case, Reef Island is a luxury property development with its own marina and yacht club — close to the CBD, but still fairly quiet, meant to be a peaceful haven for the uber-wealthy in the center of a booming business capital, with a beautiful view of the city center and the Manama skyline. The island is also destined to become a nightlife hotspot, and you can already try out several new upscale restaurants on its waterfront.

The Bahrain National Museum: Tiny Country, Ancient History

If you are into history rather than luxury, then the Bahrain National Museum is a must see for you. Qal'At Al Bahrain Fort, Island of BahrainCharmingly enough, the collection also features the former car of the first King of Bahrain, which is in surprisingly good condition. I was already impressed by its ultra-minimalist architecture from the outside. Inside, visitors can learn all about the archaeology and the heritage of Bahrain, as well as the natural history of the region.

History geeks, however, might especially enjoy the tableau depicting a scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh: the 4000-year-old poem from ancient Mesopotamia mentions what is now Bahrain as the “paradise of Dilmun”. Perhaps the poets of the Neo-Sumerian Empire have indeed foreseen what Manama’s 21st-century property developers are dreaming of…?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Manama

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck provides a detailed portrait of our expat community in Manama, Bahrain, and the local event he attended recently.

To attend the spring event in Manama, Bahrain, I had to go on a lengthy journey: my trip from Munich to Manama, via Frankfurt and Dammam, took me about eleven hours. The time difference of another two hours on top meant that I started out at 10:00 and arrived at 23:00. Fortunately, the plane was half-empty, so I could first relax during the flight and then get in a good night’s sleep at the hotel. thumb_IMG_7459_1024

I was staying at the ART Rotana on Amwaj Island, a neighborhood fully reclaimed from the sea, like so many areas in tiny Bahrain. The InterNations Official Event was to take place at the ART’s Asian restaurant and bar the following evening, so I had plenty of time to arrange several meet-ups during the day.

An Entrepreneurial Personality

First, I finally got to know Burak, one of our InterNations Manama Ambassadors, in person. The Turkish expat was already an active member of our community when he still used to live in Moscow, about six years ago. In 2010, when he moved to Bahrain to enjoy a much warmer climate, he immediately checked out the InterNations Community there.

Back then, we only had around 400 members in Bahrain and the get-togethers were also smallish affairs. As we happened to be looking for a new Manama Ambassador at the time, he decided to accept a new challenge. Thanks to working for Ogilvy, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Burak clearly has lots of experience in spreading the word. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Manama_Pic 5

Today, there are over 7,500 InterNations members in Bahrain, and it’s generally a very active community with 20 InterNations groups as well. As most of the over 300,000 residents living in Bahrain’s capital are expats, Burak — a very entrepreneurial personality — still sees a huge untapped potential for our InterNations Community.

But, even more importantly, he also told me how the role of an InterNations Ambassador has had a positive impact on his own life. Burak has met several close friends through our network and gained valuable business contacts that even led to joint projects. Seeing how our community can directly change people’s lives for the better is the best feedback we as founders could get!

A High-End Club High above the City

For 10:30, Burak had kindly arranged the first of my press interviews in Bahrain: Gulf Daily News sent a reporter who’s an expat herself, and we extensively discussed InterNations in general, the development of the Manama Community, and particularly the InterNations Volunteer Program.

Afterwards, Burak took me on a tour of Manama, telling me all about the capital and its local community during our sightseeing trip. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Manama_Pic 4He showed me the great views of the city and the Persian Gulf from the panorama windows of the Capital Club, one of Bahrain’s premier business and social clubs, located on the top floor of a skyscraper in the Financial Harbour district.

The high-end club would also make a great venue for future events, Burak suggested before proceeding to introduce me to its general manager, too. The latter was a Lebanese expat, who told me that both her daughters — living in two completely different cities around the globe — had made good friends and even met their husbands through InterNations. It’s a very small world indeed!

A Passionate Advocate for Expatriates

The next stop after the ultra-modern buildings of the BFH neighborhood was an older part of town, full of little shops and restaurants, which had more of a typically Middle Eastern vibe. We’d chosen one of the cozy restaurants, a French-Lebanese place, to have lunch with Hanan, Burak’s fellow Manama Ambassador.

An expat from Amman, Jordan, Hanan came to Bahrain about three years ago to pursue an interesting job opportunity in the logistics sector. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Manama_Pic 2 At one of the local events, she met Burak and was fascinated by the concept of the InterNations Ambassador role. When the growing community became a bit too much for one person to handle, she stepped up to join the Manama Community Team.

Just like Burak, Hanan is a passionate advocate of our mission to make life easier for expats, devoting a lot of time to her position, but she also explained how she’s benefitted from InterNations herself. Getting involved in the community meant that she found new friends in an unknown city, took advantage of a new job offer from a German company, and — last but certainly not least — met her South African husband through our network.

A Wide Range of Press Coverage

In the afternoon, there was another interview plus photo shoot coming up. On the outdoor patio of Trader Vic’s, the restaurant and lounge of the Ritz-Carlton, a journalist from Ohlala Magazine was waiting for us. Ohlalala is the Vogue of the Middle East, focusing on fashion and lifestyle topics for a female audience from the region. Therefore, my interview partner was especially interested in women in the InterNations Community — Burak could tell her all about our Women Only Group and several women organizing successful activities for various InterNations Groups in Bahrain. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Manama_Pic 1

A little later, it was already time to return to the ART Rotana hotel and get ready for the event. Before the get-together officially started, I met up with Burak and Hanan to grab a bite to eat and give two more interviews — one of Bahrain Confidential, an English-language lifestyle magazine, and the other for Gulf Insider, a Bahrain-based publication covering business, finance, and current events, as well as travel, art, and lifestyle round the Persian Gulf.

Another big thank you to Burak, who’s really well connected in Bahrain and organized quite a lot of press coverage for my first visit!

A Fun Event with a Familial Ambience

The event itself took place at the WU bar, an Asian fusion lounge featuring an outdoor terrace with great beachside views, with the balmy 25°C being a nice change from the cool and even snowy spring weather in Munich. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Manama_Pic 3 Over 200 attendees from more than 50 countries came to enjoy the familial atmosphere — expats from Germany, the US, Spain, the UK, Kenya, South Africa, and even some regulars from Dammam, Kobhar, and other Saudi Arabian cities. They often spend their weekends in Manama to experience a richer social life than the restrictions faced by expats in Saudi Arabia will allow.

In a short speech, I got to thank the InterNations Ambassador Team officially for all their commitment and energy, and some of the Group Consuls — like Rebecca and Kevin, who are in the charge of the Manama Board Games Group — had the opportunity to present their activities. I also made a call for action for more InterNations members to get involved and share their passion and interests with other people in the community.

In the course of the evening, plenty of guests approached me with feedback on our official events and activities, as well as on the InterNations website. Everyone was really excited to hear that the first version of an InterNations native app would be coming soon! InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_InterNations Manama Community_Pic 1a

Later that night, a few of the members decided to continue the lively event unofficially next door, at the Cellar 59, a popular wine and tapas bar with its own DJ that doesn’t close before 2:00 in the morning. Though I really enjoyed the entire day, I basically dropped into bed and slept like a log as soon as I got back to my hotel room.

Fortunately, the car supposed to pick me up and bring me to the airport was only scheduled for noon. Next stop: Doha, Qatar!

(Image credit: InterNations/Malte Zeeck)

InterNations Members Help Provide Access to Education

23 April is all about World Book Day. Books are beneficial to us for many reasons, and although it might seem like they are widely available, not everyone enjoys the privilege of reading books.

InterNations members Rosario, Kalyan, Vanessa, and Lorna took action for a good cause and show us how they helped underprivileged children to get access to books.

Opening a Children’s Library in Santiago de Chile

InterNations members in Santiago have been supporting the non-profit initiative “Vision for Chile” for several years. The children living at the “House of Hope” come from a very poor background, and the initiative offers them a safe place to live, especially to girls.

Rosario Maza, InterNations Santiago Volunteer Group Consul, has noticed the importance of books for those children. She organized an InterNations Activity where books were donated in order to open a children’s library at Casa Esperanza’s Kids Zone. CM_NL_201604_blogpost3

“Books will always be a good friend for children, not only for the stories you can find in them, but also because you can take them wherever you go and they belong to you.”

And that’s exactly what it is like! Once the children learn how to read and get a feeling for what all those words mean, reading a book gives them the opportunity to step into another world.

Rosario adds: “I have always thought of reading a book as an honor because someone with more knowledge and experience gave their time to share it. There are many ways to gain wisdom and reading a book is one of them.”

Celebrating “Read Across America Day” in Washington, D.C.

CM_NL_201604_blogpost1 Read Across America is an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls on every child in every community to celebrate reading on 2 March, the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, born in 1904.

Kalyan Prasad from the Washington Volunteer Group decided to join the initiative and gathered InterNations members of the Washington Volunteer Group to acknowledge the bright personality of Dr. Seuss. The evening was filled with games and a raffle to win prizes, and every attendee donated to the charity initiative First Book.

With the entrance fee of ten USD, four new books for underprivileged children could be bought. So this event ended up being both a fun and generous evening!

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go…” — Dr. Seuss, children’s books author and illustrator

Fighting Poverty in Zurich and New York

“If every child received an education, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty” — that claim is made by the international organization Room to Read. Room to Read believes that changing the world starts with educating children.

CM_NL_201604_blogpost4 That was reason enough for Lorna Quinn (InterNations Zurich Volunteer Group) and Vanessa Pranzo (InterNations New York Volunteer Group) to support this wonderful cause and get more people involved. While 23 InterNations members came together for a fundraising dinner in New York, Lorna gathered people at an after-work yoga class in Zurich, where every attendee made it possible to provide one local language book to a child in need.

“To Hell with Death” — Raising Awareness for Sick Teenagers in Munich

On 19 April, Christina Williams and the Munich Volunteer Group Consuls will host the twelfth InterNations Social Impact Night, a new event format for all InterNations members interested in socially relevant topics.

This month’s event is dedicated to International Books Day. Kira Brück, a German author, will be the keynote speaker of the evening and share her experience about writing her book Der Tod kann mich mal (To Hell with Death) about twelve seriously ill teenagers who tell stories about their life, their hopes and fears. CM_NL_201604_blogpost2

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

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

(Image credit: InterNations)

Expat Lessons from My Five-Year-Old

Being an expat is a lot like being a five-year-old.

Spoiler alert: I have the most adorable trilingual five-year-old at home and I’m head over heels in love with him. Having said that, there are some solid lessons he can teach me and fellow expats around the world.

No, I’m not talking about the desire to take a nap regularly or the crying when you can’t find something you know you packed. That, too — but I’m talking about something much more specific and exciting.

InterNations Blog_Expat Lessons from My Five-Year-Old_Pic 3As children, we quite literally experience the world for the first time. Every single step, breath, and bite of food we take is an experience as foreign as possible to us too — but we do it, we get better at it, and soon, it’s easy as, well… walking.

Sound familiar? I thought it might. You get pretty much the same thing when you uproot your life and move to a foreign country.

Here’s the problem, though; being older than five and putting “expat” in your job title instead of “expert walker” takes things out of context. After a while, we forget how to be the best expats we can be because we forget how to be children.

Luckily, my five-year-old is here to give us a newsflash.

Trial and Error Are a Good Thing

When you arrive in a new country with a new language, the first thing on your mind is getting settled in and not screwing it up. Figuring out how to pay the rent with a brand-new bank account in a new currency is pretty top priority, but inevitably, we’ll make a random gesture that means something a lot more interesting than it does at home — and, boom, we’re in for it now.

What does that blaring sign above your head say? Oh, yeah — “failure”.

child little girl with glasses reading a booksBut that’s rubbish. When my five-year-old tries to say a bigger, more complex word and completely bastardizes it, I don’t look down my nose and think “failure”. I think “persistence”. Most of the time I’m just amazed at how much he can learn and how quickly he adapts. The same applied when the “oh, ovens are hot” experience came around.

Whether you’re five or fifty, trying something new and messing it up is normal — and can actually result in something new and fantastic. That person you accidentally insulted? They found the incident funny, you became friends, and they’re now giving you language lessons. Awesome!

New Customs and Rituals — You’ll Get It Eventually

Okay, it’s time to get real here: five-year-olds? Social manners? It’s a love-hate relationship. Even with all my best efforts, there are times where my children pick their nose in public or cough without covering their mouth. I, as an adult, go, “Really? Really? Isn’t it obvious?” But every expat has probably committed a similar social sin.

For example, I live in Paris, where each building has at least five trash bins. You should have seen me the first week of our arrival, manually going through our garbage bag to dig out the paper boxes for a separate bin, with the gardien d’immeuble checking over my shoulder. Little boy picking his nose

Here’s the best example, though: slippers are the footwear of choice throughout Japanese establishments and are generally worn at all times — except when they are not. At first, it seems endlessly confusing, but “normal” slippers are actually culturally forbidden in Japanese bathrooms! That’s what special “toilet slippers” are for.

As an expat, you’ve no doubt run into the same thing on your side of the globe, and it’s hard; really, it is. But the good news is one day my five-year-old will learn that coughing means covering your mouth and you’ll pick up the new cultural customs as well. The important part is to keep an open mind and be open to corrections from others.

Enjoy the Newness

When I take my five-year-old to a new playground, I can promise you there are no thoughts of “Should I even be here?” or “Oh, what if I don’t like this playground as much?” There is just sprinting for the nearest swing set. InterNations Blog_Expat Lessons from My Five-Year-Old_Pic 2

Hello, expats, this is for you and me. Often times it’s easy to get so caught up in the details of moving, adjusting, and working within a new environment that we forget the best part of living abroad — we’re somewhere new and exciting! Take the chance to do a little wide-eyed wandering and enjoy the actual perks of being an expat.

There’s No “Absolute Truth” — Get Curious

Ever talked to a little kid? Their sole and favorite retort is “why”. Expats should totally jump on the “why” train. A sense of curiosity is crucial when you explore the world and sail into uncharted waters, Young boy, playing with airplane because it encourages you to try something that’s never been tried before.

In brief: you can kick conventional wisdom to the curb by taking after a five-year-old and asking one simple question: “Why?”

In Conclusion

More importantly than anything, a five-year-old is still growing and learning — and so are you. Rather than going through the motions and just accepting things, without making an effort to change and adapt, you can embrace your inner child and get out there.

You’re an expat, for all the mystery, funny mistakes, and incredible experiences that this entails.

Rita Golstein-Galperin is a multicultural expat in Paris. On top of her love for exploring the world, learning new things and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, she is also an author, entrepreneur, speaker and career makeover strategist for expat women.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Cape Town

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck remembers his recent trip to our official event for the Cape Town Community — as well as the rather unusual way he arrived there.

The InterNations Official Event in Cape Town almost turned out to be a non-event for me — and then it turned into the one with the most extraordinary way of actually getting there. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Cape Town_Pic 4

After my visits to Johannesburg and Pretoria, I took the famous scenic train route southbound to the cape, with a stopover in the mining town of Kimberley. The train was scheduled to arrive in Cape Town in the early afternoon, and the event would start at 18:00, with plenty of time for me to get to the venue. Or so I thought.

To Cape Town by Train — And Plane

When I woke up and went to have breakfast in the dining car, I noticed that the train was by no means where it should be according to the timetable. Due to heavy thunderstorms that had affected the railroad tracks, we were stuck in the middle of the South African desert. The friendly conductor assured me that we’d arrive in Cape Town by 22:00 at the latest.

While I was still trying to explain that I had an appointment at 18:00, I was already thinking about potential alternatives for getting to Cape Town, from renting a car to booking a flight. What happened when I started asking about other passengers took me completely by surprise, though. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Cape Town_Pic 1

“There’s another gentleman who urgently needs to get to Cape Town,” the conductor explained, proceeding to introduce us. The gentleman in question was a Dutch businessman, who was seriously considering booking a private charter jet from Cape Town to come and pick up his wife and himself in the middle of the desert in Beaufort West. Which he then actually ended up doing — and generously invited me to just come along, spontaneously and for just a small contribution that he would then donate to a local charity in Cape Town.

So, due to this astonishing act of kindness from a complete stranger, I ended up flying into Cape Town on board a small eight-seat charter plane, with the most amazing view of the cityscape and the Table Mountain thanks to my seat in the cockpit next to the pilot. We even landed at the international airport right next to the big airplanes from Lufthansa, British Airways, etc.! From what I heard later on, the train didn’t arrive until the wee hours of the morning, long after midnight. Not only did I get to the Ritz before the party started, but I also had a great story to tell when asked about my trip from Pretoria.

The Cape Town Community Team

With around 7,000 members and 13 InterNations Groups, the Cape Town Community is the second-largest in the country, right after Johannesburg, and even makes it to the top five communities on the entire continent.

While I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to introduce myself to Teresa, a British financial consultant and the third member of the Cape Town Community Team, the other two InterNations Ambassadors hosted the event that night: sadly, it was to be a farewell for one of them. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Cape Town_Pic 2

Jess, a Dutch expat from Maastricht, had decided to step down from the Ambassador role, though she’ll be staying on as the Consul for our popular Cape Town Lunch & Brunch Group.

At least, I could thank her and her fellow Ambassador Marta, an Italian lawyer turned tour operator, for their success at organizing great events for the international community in town. A big “thank you” was also due to Nicole, a committed InterNations member and friend of Marta’s, who had lent them her support.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

All in all, the Cape Town event welcomed nearly 170 guests that night — 42 different nations were represented on our guest list. Expats from Germany, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands, from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and plenty of other countries, mingled with locals from the Cape Town area on the terrace of the Ritz, less than 300 m from the waterfront.

The cool breeze from the ocean helped with the rather hot mid-summer temperatures, but the wind also proved to be a bit of a hindrance when I wanted to hold my welcome speech — and realized there was no microphone. I hope the attendees still got the gist of what I wanted to say. Despite that slightly awkward moment, I think we all enjoyed ourselves greatly.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Cape Town_Pic 3 There was a special DJ just for our outdoor location, who provided us with catchy Salsa tunes, which gave the evening a very laidback, coastal vibe. Before the serious dancing started, I happened to meet several old friends of mine, who are now living in Cape Town or just stopped by while visiting the country.

As always, I was also happy to seize the opportunity and talk to our members in person. Some of them, like Brett, the Consul of our Cape Town Out and About Group, told me about their activities, while others just wanted to share their experience with InterNations and getting connected with global-minded people in Cape Town.

“InterNations really saved my life here,” someone said, describing the initial struggle with building up a circle of friends. It’s moments like this that are the best feedback which my team and I could ever wish for.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)