Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites for Your Next Vacation

It’s that time of year again; the time when many people jet off abroad to warmer climates in the search of relaxation and discovery. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently released an updated list of World Heritage sites, highlighted for their cultural and natural significance.

Here are seven, new and long-standing, world heritage sites to consider visiting on your next adventure abroad.

Hubei Shennongjia, China

One of the newest World Heritage sites, introduced in July 2016, this area in central-eastern China is well worth a visit if you’re on the hunt for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Not yet widely known among international visitors, this mountainous area has been popular among Chinese tourists for a while. Shennongjia Forest Zone It will offer you the chance to glimpse a variety of local flora as well as many rare animals, for example the clouded leopard, the golden monkey, and the Chinese giant salamander.

Given that you may also see bears around here, this forest is definitely for the more adventurous, but it will be a truly enriching experience. The region is one of three areas of biodiversity in China and also features noticeably in botanical research.

Prague, Czech Republic

Currently a hotspot for tourists, Prague is a must-see when you are touring the European continent. Described by UNESCO as “one of the most beautiful cities in Europe”, this city has roots dating back to the 11th century. In fact, it has not changed dramatically from its origins in the Early Middle Ages. The gradual additions and lack of demolitions have turned Prague’s architecture into a mixture of Gothic, High Baroque, and 20th-century modernism.prague charles bridge

Not only does the city have architecture worthy of a thousand photos, it also has a history to marvel at. Prague is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1348, and due to its political and intellectual significance across the ages, it has been linked to names such as Kafka, Mozart, and even Einstein. Indeed, the city is known as the intellectual and cultural center of Central and Eastern Europe — the ideal destination for any culture buff.

Olympia, Greece

If you know your Pandora from your Medusa, and your discus from your javelin, Olympia might be the perfect place for your next summer holiday. Set in the so-called Valley of the Gods in the western Peloponnese, Olympia is not only the ancient site of the worship of Zeus, but also the original location for the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. Ancient site of Olympia, Greece A “natural setting of beauty and serenity”, as UNESCO describes it, Olympia is also culturally significant due to the architectural standards set here.

Easy to reach from other cities in Greece such as Patras or Athens, there is much to see here other than just the ruins. In the museum, you will find the sculpted decoration of the temple of Zeus — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There is even a spa and beach just 18 km away for when you need a break from ancient history.

Medina of Marrakesh, Morocco

Founded in 1070, the Moroccan city of Marrakesh is important culturally and economically. The long-standing original elements of this medina (i.e. Old Town) — which have earned Marrakesh its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list — make it feel like living history as you explore.Souk (bazaar) in the Moroccan old town - Medina

While there, be sure to visit the Koutoubiya Mosque, the symbol of the city and an important monument for Muslim architecture. The Place Jamaa El Fna is also well worth a visit. The main square of Marrakesh houses a market by day, but transforms into an open-air theater at night with performers of all kinds wowing the crowds. This is also where you should head for delicious, traditional Moroccan food.

Gaudí’s Oeuvre, Barcelona, Spain

If Mediterranean culture has taken your fancy for your upcoming summer getaway, then Barcelona should be top of your list. This host of the World Heritage-listed architecture by Antoni Gaudí has much more on offer than just his seven impressive properties, which represent a crossover between modern and traditional Catalan design. Wander through the streets and watch as history passes in front of your eyes — from the Gothic quarter to the ancient city walls, to Catalan modernisme and Park Güell, architecture in this city spans the ages.Colorful mosaic benches at the Gaudi-designed Park Guell

Catalonia’s capital has something for every type of tourist. Take you time to discover the works of Dali and Picasso in the city’s museums and to enjoy the stunning landscape, with the beach on one side and the forest-covered hills behind the city. If art and architecture are not your thing, you can be sure to enjoy relaxing on the beach, before heading to a tapas bar followed by a night out among the locals. Barcelona has a varied and vibrant nightlife, offering any type of music in its countless bars and clubs.

Rocky Mountain Parks, Canada

For those who would rather prefer to be surrounded by nature than a cityscape, the Rocky Mountains in Canada are an excellent option. Whether you are a geology enthusiast or simply enjoy a good hike, you will find that the Canadian Rockies are the perfect place to spend a summer vacation. Just make sure to take your time to really discover everything from mountain ranges and limestone caves to lakes and waterfalls down below. But take care you don’t get eaten by a grizzly or black bear!Morning rays at Rocky Mountains

You will also find the Burgess Shale fossil site here, one of the most significant in the world, containing well-preserved fossils of marine animals. Here you can witness the evolution of many animal groups that still exist today. Of course, you may not want to spend too long looking at fossilsized cephalopods and bristle worms, but rather conquer one of many peaks and take outstanding photos of the surrounding vistas, before enjoying a well-deserved night cap at the end of the day.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

A walk through the streets of Split is definitely a journey through time. Recognized as a World Heritage site in the late 1970s, the Historical Complex of Split is a must-see. Built in the early fourth century, the ruins of the famous Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace are scattered throughout the historical complex and stand among buildings from the Middle Ages, such as the Cathedral of St Domnius (the town’s patron saint, who was actually martyred under Diocletian’s reign), as well as 15th-century Renaissance style buildings. Split bay aerial view through stone window

The city has also hosted the film crews of the popular Game of Thrones TV series. If you are a fan, a novel way to discover the sites of Split would be to take a guided tour with a local, focusing on places used as settings. One such set was Diocletian’s palace itself — what better way to explore the city’s eventful history than to also visit Daenerys’ throne room at the same time (dragons unfortunately not included)! And there’s certainly no lack of bars and restaurants for you to while away the evening after a long day of sightseeing.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Red, White, Blue & a Big BBQ — Celebrate Your Community

There are many ways to celebrate your new home abroad: you can join in national holiday celebrations and traditions or you can knock it out of the park with something unique and different. In any case, local and national holidays are the perfect opportunity to get to know your community, meet other expats and locals, and learn a thing or two about their traditions. On the other hand, this is also your chance to celebrate your favorite holiday abroad and share your own traditions with your community.

The Fourth of July

The most “iconic” (and thanks to pop culture the best-known) national holiday is Independence Day or Fourth of July. On this day, people in the USA get together to celebrate with large barbecues, parades, and, of course, fireworks.FourthofJuly

However, Fourth of July was also celebrated by our members in other countries. On Saturday, 2 July, our community in Goiania hosted an American Independence Day party on a ranch just outside the city. The typical American BBQ was just as much of a highlight as the great company.

Goiania1

The community in Houston, on the other hand, met on Monday, 11 July, for a post 4th of July party. At a local steakhouse, they mixed and mingled, and enjoyed great wine and delicious American food.

Houston3

If you have missed this year’s Fourth of July party, don’t worry, the fun isn’t over yet. The community in Orange County has declared July “Independence Month.” On Friday, 29 July, the motto is “red, white, and blue” as our members and their friends put on their dancing shoes and get ready to hit the dance floor for a belated Independence Day party.

Bastille Day

The French, as you may already know, celebrate their own version of Independence Day. On 14 July, they commemorate the storming of the bastille during the French Revolution. The Fête Nationale (or Bastille Day as it is called in English-speaking countries) is celebrated all throughout France.

BastilleDay2

As many expats use that extra day off to leave town and travel, the community in Lille hosted a pre-holiday mingle on Wednesday, 13 July. Members got together for a few drinks and a relaxed evening before everyone went off to enjoy the extended weekend.

Lille1

Our community in Bordeaux, on the other hand, met on Thursday, 14 July, at Palais de la Truffe. Expats and global minds enjoyed wine and tapas, taking the opportunity to chat before heading outside to enjoy the fireworks together.

We are very saddened by the recent events in Nice and would like to express our sincere condolences to everybody affected by the attack.

Christmas in July

While many expats in the northern hemisphere enjoy the long days, things look a little different down under. In an attempt to make the best of the winter months and to give a traditional December holiday a wintery feel, some of our Australian communities are celebrating Christmas in July.

ChristmasinJuly

On Wednesday, 13 July, our community in Sydney met at the Bear Bar for a kitschy, cozy winter night, complete with Christmas trees, Glühwein, and even snow. Our members were happy to get out of the cold and spend a nice evening in great company celebrating a very early Christmas.

Sydney1

For InterNations members in Brisbane, the Christmas in July celebrations have yet to take place. On Tuesday, 26 July, we will head to a classy, stylish lounge with a 19th century Eastern European ambiance. Aside from great company, there will be live jazz music throughout the evening. So throw on your favorite Christmas outfit and celebrate Christmas in July with us!

Celebrate Your Community… the Quirky Way

Of course, there are lots of great, fun, and quirky ways to celebrate national holidays, explore your community and get to know the place where you live.

The Vienna Burgers & More Group, for instance, met on Friday, 15 July, to watch the new Independence Day movie and enjoy American barbecue and burgers, for a perfect, belated Fourth of July celebration.

Vienna3

On Friday, 22 July, the community in Heidelberg is hosting “Rock am River”, a unique summer party right at the Neckar. This is the perfect opportunity to let your hair down and kick back with a cocktail in hand. Feel free to bring your colleagues and friends.

InterNations Miami is celebrating National Tequila Day on Saturday, 23 July, at an antiques-filled spot inspired by Incan culture. We will participate in a mezcal vs. tequila showdown to find out which of the beverages is the favorite. To add to the fun, you should come wearing your funniest hat!

Are you celebrating a national holiday with a traditional barbecue or are you setting up a Christmas tree in July? Tell us how you celebrate your community this month!

 

Image credit: 1) Pexels, 2 + 3) InterNations, 4) iStockphoto, 5) InterNations, 6) StockUp, 7 + 8) InterNations.

Founder’s Diary: Zurich

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck gives an account of the time he recently spent attending an expat event hosted by the Zurich Community.

Landing in Neat and Clean Zurich

Founder's Diary_Zurich Event 2016_Pic 1 A birthday celebration brought me back to Zurich — only a one-hour flight from Munich — and so this was the perfect occasion to attend the InterNations Official Event of the Zurich Community as well. After leaving rainy Munich, I was welcomed by lovely Swiss sunshine. Compared to the 45-minute journey from the city center to Munich’s international airport, the convenient ten-minute train ride from Zurich’s airport to its central station was a welcome change, too.

Since I stayed at a hotel that was located near both the central station and the event location, everything was within walking distance for me. As I was strolling down Bahnhofstrasse — the street leading to the station — I thought how neat and clean everything was — Switzerland was definitely living up to its reputation. Based on the top-end stores around, you could instantly see that Zurich is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, too.

A Large and Active InterNations Community

The event was organized by our three InterNations Ambassadors in Zurich, Lena, Viera, and Monica. I arrived right on time at 20:00 for the start of the event and was greeted warmly by the Ambassadors Team.

Founder's Diary_Zurich Event 2016_Pic 4 Lena, who was born in Ukraine, attended university in Scotland, and then moved to Switzerland, is now a Program Manager responsible for connecting teams in seven countries and four continents. Also, I think she is the first person I’ve ever met whose hobbies include skydiving. Austrian expat Viera, on the other hand, is an avid traveler and photographer, and she contributes her nature photography and wildlife paintings to fundraising events for endangered species.

The third team member, Monica from Poland, works as a Business Development and Marketing Manager in an online language school, where she can follow her passion for foreign languages. Not only does she speak English, German, and Spanish, but she also considers Greece her second home. Unfortunately, Vanessa — the fourth Zurich Ambassador — was absent that night, but like the other three, the expat from Porto turned entrepreneur has an interesting biography that perfectly captures the InterNations spirit.

Founder's Diary_Zurich Event 2016_Pic 6The event took place at Aura Bar and Lounge in Zurich’s center. The location is quite fascinating from the inside, with a huge square room and high walls. On each wall, the InterNations logo was projected several meters high; this sort of thing makes every founder feel a little proud!

Fortunately, Aura can also accommodate quite a large number of people, which was rather necessary as we had a guest list featuring 511 attendees from 85 countries. Since the Zurich Community is indeed among our bigger ones, with over 30,000 members from all over the world, our events always have huge turnouts. It is also a really active community to boot, with 55 groups organizing numerous activities — from burger tasting to women’s professional networking to hiking trips in the mountains — for our members every month.

From Football to Dancing

Later on, the Spain vs. Turkey game of the UEFA EURO 2016 was projected on these same walls; it was such an enjoyable way to watch the game together with other football fans from across the globe!

Gradually, our members started pouring in, and I took the opportunity to chat with many and listen to their interesting stories about their life abroad and their experiences as expatriates. Afterwards, Lena introduced me, so I could briefly take the stage to address the community.Founder's Diary_Zurich Event 2016_Pic 2

I could not thank our volunteers enough for all their passion and enthusiasm, from asking our members to invite their friends around the world to join InterNations or to create a group themselves and organize activities, to giving me their valuable feedback on what we can do to improve the InterNations experience for all our members.

In the course of the evening, the music got louder and louder, and our members took to the dancefloor to show off their moves. It was really fun to be celebrating with the Zurich Community again after more than five years!

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Views of Zurich

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck gives his personal recommendations for the top attractions in Switzerland’s largest city.

Sailing through the Ages

To see the city from a different perspective, I opted for a cruise on the River Limmat first. Climbing into “Felix” — the boats are named after patron saints — was definitely interesting. The boats are low down, and there’s not a lot of headroom inside, so, when you’re as tall as I am, banging your head is almost a given. Don’t let that put you off, though! When you’re sat down and settled, the glass-roofed boats provide an amazing view of the city. Historic city of Zurich with river Limmat, Switzerland

For me, the cruise was a bit of a journey through the ages. You start at the National Museum of Zurich, which is housed in a medieval-looking castle-style building, before sailing under a few (very low) bridges towards traditional Swiss houses with lots of colorfully framed windows.

For me, however, the highlight was by far the Altstadt (Old Town). From the boat, you can see one of the most famous cathedrals in Switzerland, the Grossmünster (literally: large minster), affectionately known among English speakers as the “gross monster”.

As the boat is a hop-on, hop-off tour, it’s very easy to get off and just explore the Old Town a bit more.

Traditional Beauty in Zurich’s Historical Center

My first stop in the Old Town was the cathedral that I’d seen from the boat — the Grossmünster. Although it may leave you slightly out of breath, the 187-step climb to the top of the two towers does not disappoint.

From here, you get a panoramic view over the entire Old Town and some great photo opportunities. Even if you aren’t much of a photographer, some of the shots you can take from Grossmünster would give the professionals a run for their money! The tower of the Grossmunster (great minster) Church.  Zurich

After climbing all of those steps, everyone will work up quite an appetite. I found a charming little café that looked like it had been taken straight out of a television drama set in the Middle Ages (just with a modern espresso machine and 21-st century furniture, of course).

You can easily lose yourself in the Old Town — the medieval architecture and breathtaking Renaissance buildings certainly held my attention as I was strolling through the cobbled streets.

Zurich’s Modern Side: Kreis 5

If you don’t want to feel like you are stuck in the past, just go and visit a more modern part of town. After the cubic houses in Rotterdam had whetted my appetite for innovative architecture, I decided to take a look at Kreis 5. Earth Day Challenge This unusual area might not be what you expect from the cliché of a quaint Swiss city.

All of the buildings are renovated warehouses from Zurich’s machine-industry days. The architects who transformed Kreis 5 took run-down, abandoned storehouses and turned them into a modern, refreshing social hub that attracts thousands of tourists and locals alike every month.

While you are in the neighborhood, don’t miss out on the famous Gerold Chuchi umbrellas. Hidden away in an alleyway, the palanquin of colorful umbrellas “floating ” high above the street is a sight to behold! And the Gerold Chuchi restaurant hidden underneath serves up a great burger.

A Felsenegg Adventure

If you are never one to pass up an opportunity to do something different, you can go on a bit of an adventure in Zurich, too. I’d heard that Felsenegg was one of the nicest lookout points in town.

Overlook to the nature from mountain Uetliberg
The easiest way up to Felsenegg is by cable car — the climb was as breathtaking as the views from up there. On a clear day, you can see the whole of Zurich, over the Old Town, all the way to the Alps, and get a great view of the famous lake, too.

After taking in the view and grabbing a bite to eat, I followed the panorama to Uetliberg. The path is quite steep and the journey can be a challenging hike, but again, the views are really it worth it.

Kunsthaus: An Art-Lover’s Haven

Are your legs aching from the hike to Uetliberg? Are you in the mood for something more cultural? The Kunsthaus is home to many famous Swiss and international artists and, compared to some other art collections I have visited, the museum has a very contemporary feel.

Kunstmuseum in Zurich by night. Switzerland.While I was in town, it hosted a somewhat controversial exhibition to mark the centenary of the Dada movement. I don’t know a lot about art history, and so I wasn’t aware that the movement had originally begun at Zurich’s very own Cabaret Voltaire. Their manifesto was to shock “common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.”

In short, this exhibition was a very different end to my stay in Zurich, which had started with picture-postcard impressions of its charming Old Town.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Five Foolproof Tips for Planning an International Move

Preparing for your upcoming summer vacation is plenty of fun as long as you don’t start packing three hours before your plane takes off; preparing for your upcoming move, especially an international one, just makes you long for a summer vacation to put up your feet.

Right now, I’m sympathizing intensely with all expats-to-be, as well as those heading for their next destination. Granted, my own plans for moving allow me to stay in the same country — the same city, even. According to Google Maps, merely twelve kilometers separate my old apartment and my new. Woman throwing paper airplane

Still, the to-do lists seem never-ending, and the past few weeks have taught me a lot about organizing a move smoothly. Some lessons I have learned the hard way are easy to apply to moving not just to another neighborhood, but to another country. Perhaps those facing a distance of 1,200 kilometers from their old home can learn a little from my mistakes.

Don’t do what I did, expats on the move, and save yourself plenty of hassle with these five foolproof tips!

Don’t be afraid of paperwork, “legalese”, and the “fine print”!

If you are planning to relocate to another country, you need more even more in-depth knowledge than a crash course in tenancy law, brokerage agreements, or mortgage redemption.

Your amazing adventures abroad usually start with some good old-fashioned bureaucracy. Word visa created with passport stamps on textured background Is your passport or travel document still valid? Can you use the driving license from your home country to rent a car in your new destination?

Does that destination require a visa? Which one? What kind of documentation do you need for the application process? And what on earth is an apostille? I’m afraid that there is no way around doing your homework and researching the legal framework for your move.

Never ever underestimate how much stuff you own.

If I were to move internationally next month, instead of locally, I would have started a yard sale sooner rather than later. Even so, the fate of my well-stocked bookshelves has already kept me awake at night.

If you are preparing to relocate to another continent, your nightmares might as well be worse. Moving house Just be honest with yourself: could you afford shipping even part of your belongings? Or are you fortunate enough to have an employer who funds your relocation costs? If your answer to both questions is no, be merciless.

Just keep those things with sentimental value or that can easily go into low-cost self-storage. Most of the rest needs to go.

Maybe you can raise some money for your moving budget by selling your best furniture, newish dishwasher, or designer handbags. When time starts running out, the magic words “just stop by and pick it up for free” never fail to work wonders. Remember: it’s not only shipping that’s expensive; so are professional removal companies.

(And don’t forget about the basement. It probably contains a hidden parallel dimension for all your broken desk chairs, defunct appliances, and worn mattresses.)

You will also be surprised by how many people have your contact information — and who needs to be notified.

In some countries, like Germany, you have to officially inform the local authorities upon moving abroad. Most people remember to take this into consideration, just like notifying your utility company and internet provider. Insurance firms also come to mind.

She is devoted to her careerOnce you sit down, however, and draw up a list of everyone who keeps sending you mail and charging you money, there will probably be many more than just the usual suspects. Do you subscribe to the local paper? Do you have a gym membership? Have you recently bought anything online or via mail order catalog? Can you even use Netflix where you’re moving to?

It may take you some time to contact all these places and cancel your subscriptions. The local registry office might want you to come by, too, so don’t wait till the last minute. Believe me: you’ll have better things to do when you actually relocate.

The tax office is always going to be involved somehow.

Lucky me: as I’m just moving from one end of Munich to the other, I will at least be spared from dealing with fiscal matters. I just need to notify the revenue service of my change of address, and that’s that.

However, as soon as you cross a national border or two, things are about to get more complicated. Steak coins instead of growing on a green background

Do you know where your new fiscal residency is? How will this impact the administrative or financial burden of doing your taxes?

Even if you might shy away from the expense of hiring a good tax advisor, this could be a reasonable investment to add to your relocation costs. Not only should a tax accountant keep you from getting in trouble with the tax authorities, but they might also help you minimize the effects of international taxation.

Take good care of your health.

Unless the stress of organizing a move all on my own gives me a stomach ulcer, relocating domestically will save me a lot of hassle in that regard, too. I’m not looking forward to finding a more conveniently located replacement for my amazing family doctor and my fantastic dentist, though.

Food on heart plate with stethoscope If you move abroad, you might be lucky to even find a doctor you can talk to without the language barrier causing trouble. Thus, you should seize the opportunity to make appointments for various health check-ups and address all medical issues before leaving.

Moreover, make sure to take out health insurance coverage for your destination. For short-term stays, a travel insurance policy might suffice; for long-term stays, you have to read up on the local healthcare system and potential alternatives offered by private insurance companies. Which probably brings us right back to point one: don’t be afraid of the paperwork…

If you start planning ahead, everything will work out just fine and you will be able to focus on settling in in your destination. Best of luck for your move!

Which tips would you like to share with someone planning an international move? Did you ever encounter any particular pitfalls to avoid?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Volunteer Groups: Building Meaningful Friendships

The InterNations Volunteer Groups are all about supporting one another and extending a hand to those in need. Celebrating the International Day of Friendship, held on 30 July, is therefore something that comes natural to our Volunteer Groups.

We have interviewed the InterNations Volunteer Group Consuls about their experience with building friendships through the InterNations Community, and we are excited to share their stories with you. We’d also like to highlight some amazing activities that will make you want to jump straight into showing your appreciation for those who need it the most.

What We Can Learn about Friendship from the Volunteer Group Consuls

Aline Moura, Brazil:

“I´ve definitely made friends through my InterNations Volunteer Group; they are not only dedicated volunteers, but now they have also become important people in my life. It brings happiness and adds a lot of color and interest to my world,” says Aline, Consul of the São Paulo Volunteer Group.

InterNations Volunteer Groups Building Meaningful Friendships Pic 1 Aline supports the non-profit organization Cidadão Pró-Mundo, which promotes equal opportunities and social integration through teaching English to nearly 1,500 low-income students. “I usually ask the InterNations Volunteers to talk with the students — not only to introduce themselves, but also to share their lives and their experience.”

“I can see the importance of friendship for the students as well,” she stresses. “They are always super-friendly and ready to help each other.”

Caroline Kemunto, Kenya:

InterNations Volunteer Groups Building Meaningful Friendships Pic 2 “The key to friendship is kindness. It doesn´t have to be a grand gesture — a simple action already shows how much you appreciate someone. Kindness also includes being the first one to make a move in extending a helping hand. If someone sees you making an effort to get to know them, they in turn will be more willing to get to know you, too.”

And what can we do to build a bridge of friendship between different cultures? Caroline, Consul of the Geneva Volunteer Group, thinks that “we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone. To truly relate to those who are from different cultures, we cannot aim to change them to be like us. We have to create a space of coexistence, where we learn more about one another and accept one another.”

Barcelona and Brussels Strive to Make People Feel Acknowledged

Irina Akelyeva from the Barcelona Volunteer Group invited the members of the Group to join the Best Buddies Friendship Walk. Best Buddies is a non-profit organization, for volunteers to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

InterNations Volunteer Groups Building Meaningful Friendships Pic 5

The activity in question allows volunteers to be paired up with a buddy with a disability in order to be their friend or mentor during the walk.

This creates an atmosphere for new friendships to prosper and to promote inclusion for all. Moreover, the volunteers were asked to donate ten euros, which will be used to support future “Best Buddies” activities.

In Brussels, the InterNations Volunteer Group, which currently counts over 900 members, is determined to make people who are ignored all too often feel seen and appreciated as well. Katy Sanderson and various group members went to join the “Food4Friends” soup kitchen.

Food4Friends serves food and drinks to homeless people three times a week all year round. “Hundreds of people live on the streets in and around Brussels-North, one of the three major railway stations in town. All of them have fallen on hard times, and we want to support them with food and friendship.” That’s how the organization itself describes its mission. InterNations Volunteer Groups Building Meaningful Friendships Pic 4

Volunteers are also asked to bring along sandwiches, soup, tea, or even clothing. However, it’s not just about serving food and donating goods — it’s about creating relationships with homeless people, about hearing their stories, listening to what they need, and leaving lasting impressions on one another.

The Doha Volunteers Continue to Be Friends to Those in Need

For Mark Thomson, Consul of the Doha Volunteer Group, building friendships and being a friend to others is an important aspect of his life. Last month, he proved once again how devoted he is to humanitarian causes: he brought together 300 InterNations Volunteers to donate food and household items to a local camp of migrant workers in Qatar. “Each of these thousands of workers needed friends to support them, someone that cares about the marginalized and disenfranchised.”

InterNations Volunteer Groups Building Meaningful Friendships Pic 6 In total, the group delivered more than four tons of necessary goods to the workers. “There´s nothing more beautiful than seeing people of all races, colors, and creeds come together for a good cause, to help those people who need it the most; total strangers, yes, but also fellow human beings who deserve our care and our compassion.”

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)

Expensive, More Expensive, East Asia?

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

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

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

Actual Price Changes vs. Currency Fluctuations

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

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

Import Goods and Expat Housing Come at a Cost

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

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

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

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

Local Cost of Living in the Expat Insider 2015 Survey

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

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

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

Expat Incomes vs. Living Expenses

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

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

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

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

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Attractions in Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

Overblaak Development (Kubus Houses): Innovative Architecture

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

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

Delfshaven: A Pilgrimage Back In Time

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

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

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

Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim: Drinking and Dining Like a Local

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

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

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen: An Artistic Adventure

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

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

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

Euromast: Reaching New Heights

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

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

Rotterdam, I’ll be back.

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

Founder’s Diary: Rotterdam

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

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

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

A New Kind of Get-Together

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

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

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

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

The Backbone of Every InterNations Community

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

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

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

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

A Productive Exchange of Ideas

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

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

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

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Let the Sunshine In — The Best Ways to Celebrate Summer

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

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

Summer in the City

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

Rotterdam1

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

Cologne1

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

Summer_MexicoCity

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

Paris1

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

Istanbul2

Let’s Go Outside!

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

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

Summer_Stockholm

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

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

Summer_Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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