Read his story and find out how the challenges involved in organizing InterNations Events changed when he left the megalopolis Bangkok for the smaller and more relaxed capital of Cambodia. Something remained the same, though: InterNations is a stable and important factor in his life as an expat, and there is one thing he can always count on – find out more for yourself below.
From Helvetia to Cambodia
The decision to move to Southeast Asia came about during a six-month sabbatical from Daniel´s work in finance and banking. It was his first opportunity to travel extensively outside of Europe, through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia.
His fresh impressions of new cultures and pleasant climates “triggered the desire to settle in this region and embark on a new adventure there”. Like many a future expat, Daniel has a multinational background by birth: Born in Italy to a Greek father and a Swiss mother, he grew up in cosmopolitan Geneva, where he also graduated from university with an MBA.
He successfully managed to uproot his life in Switzerland and relocate to Thailand, where he lived for about three years, and then onwards to Cambodia, the “Kingdom of Wonder”. He knows expat life in these two countries well, and he was an InterNations Ambassador in both. Today, he organizes InterNations Events and helps grow our community in Phnom Penh.
Krong Chaktomok vs. Krung Thep
Bangkok (aka Krung Thep) and Phnom Penh (or Krong Chaktomok) – two capitals of neighboring Southeast Asian countries, separated by 540 kilometers (or 333 miles) and just one hour by plane. The cities couldn’t be more different, though, Daniel emphasizes.
Bangkok is a megalopolis with more than 10 million inhabitants, with roughly 15 million people in the metropolitan region. All of Cambodia, on the other hand, has a population of circa 14 million.
It’s hardly a surprise that Daniel appreciates the “more human size” of Phnom Penh so much. Compared to Bangkok, it almost feels like a “small village”, he says, and everything is within walking distance. He can get to his office in five minutes and go around the city in half an hour. In Bangkok’s traffic chaos, it wasn’t unusual to be trapped in a taxi for two hours for a two-kilometer ride.
Due to Phnom Penh’s location, where the Tonle Sap River flows into the majestic Mekong, the Cambodian capital is also a greener city than Bangkok. All those advantages notwithstanding, Daniel sometimes misses the abundance of delicious Thai street food – something he hasn’t yet found a replacement for in his new home.
International Aid and Foreign Investment
The local expat communities in Bangkok and Phnom Penh are just as different as the cities themselves. The tragic history of Cambodia, after it finally gained its independence from French Indochina, is widely known: modern Cambodia only saw an end to decades of strife, suffering, and instability in the 1990s.
Today, Cambodia is an LDC, a “Least Developed Country”, among the poorest nations worldwide. For this reason, Phnom Penh is home to many expats working for NGOs and NPOs, who support the country’s road to rebuilding and recovery.
“Everything has to be restructured and redeveloped,” Daniel says, which obviously impacts Cambodia’s steadily-growing economy. The country has started attracting more and more foreign direct investment, especially from the Asia-Pacific region, as well as many young entrepreneurs from all over the world.
In addition to the lingering presence of French and US American expatriates, who used to dominate the expat circles in Phnom Penh, “the ASEAN community is also well represented nowadays, with people from South Korea, China, Malaysia, and Singapore”.
From Member to Ambassador
Daniel spends a lot of time with the local expat community, investing plenty of energy and enthusiasm in his role as the InterNations Ambassador in Phnom Penh. He originally joined InterNations a few weeks after arriving Bangkok.
Suddenly, he found himself in an unfamiliar megacity and had to rebuild his personal network of friends and professional contacts from scratch. “InterNations was just what I needed,” he says.
He attended several events, got to know the InterNations Ambassador, and eventually supported her in organizing a few gatherings. From there, it was only a tiny step to officially joining the Ambassadors team in Bangkok himself.
Now he is in charge of community life in Phnom Penh, a smaller and less busy InterNations Community with fewer than 3,000 members, than Bangkok’s bustling 17,000 expats and global minds. “The community here is just starting out, and I think my previous experience in Bangkok is a good asset,” Daniel explains.
A Truly Global Spirit
At the InterNations Events in Bangkok, he’d meet lots of regulars and see quite a few familiar faces, whereas the get-togethers in Cambodia seem to attract more newcomers. They need someone to help them get their bearings in Phnom Penh, a community of people who “help each other to feel at home abroad”, as Daniel puts it.
Most importantly, he enjoys what he is doing: “There’s nothing more rewarding,” he says, “than receiving compliments after a successful event that you spent so much of your time organizing!”
So far, Daniel can look back at an amazing variety of get-togethers and event highlights in two countries. In addition to cocktail events and dinners, he fondly remembers some memorable moments during cruises on the Andaman See, the Chao Phraya River, and the Tonle Sap, as well as a live concert by soul, gospel, and jazz singer Keith Tynes.
The key, however, is the omnipresent sense of connection: “The InterNations spirit remains the same, no matter where you are on earth.” Daniel emphasizes that this definitely applies to all the enthusiastic volunteers: they help to make InterNations Events what they are and he can always count on them.
(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) Daniel at a rooftop bar and InterNations event venue in Bangkok: Daniel Santantoniou 3) Street scene in Phnom Penh: iStockphoto 4) Angkor Wat after sunrise: iStockphoto 5) Food stall at a Cambodian street market: iStockphoto 5) Daniel, his Bangkok Co-Ambassador Pamela, special guest Keith Tynes, and two InterNations members: Daniel Santantoniou)]]>
But did you know that February 20 also marks a special occasion? It is the annual World Day of Social Justice, as introduced by the United Nations in 2009.
According to the UN, the World Day of Social Justice is supposed to “highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all”, to ensure equality and fair outcomes for all people across the globe.
We’d like to use this opportunity to put some of our Volunteer Groups around the world into the spotlight.
The InterNations Volunteer Program cooperates with various local non-profit organizations and non-government initiatives: it’s well worth seeing how they address issues related to social justice in their respective countries and communities.
Help for the Homeless: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia has undergone an impressive economic transformation since it became an independent state in the 1960s. It has turned from a largely agricultural country and an exporter of raw materials into a multi-sector economy and one of Southeast Asia’s most important emerging markets. Its GDP growth in 2013 was at least an estimated 4.7%.
On the one hand, Malaysia has successfully eradicated extreme poverty and starvation, and the living standards for most of the population have risen steadily over the last few decades.
But still, its newly acquired wealth is distributed rather unequally. Debates would often contrast urban affluence with rural deprivation – but the issue’s actually more complex.
The rapid population growth and the rising cost of living in cities like “KL” have also led to an increase in urban poverty: some of those affected are among the so-called “working poor”, struggling to make ends meet, while others have neither work not shelter. In late 2014, the mayor’s office started a government initiative to provide more resources for Kuala Lumpur’s homeless population.
Our InterNations Volunteer Group in “KL” supports Kechara Soup Kitchen. As the name suggests, the NGO distributes food to those in need – over 100 packets a day, and frequently more on the weekend.
But they have also managed to find shelter for homeless people and help them with their job search, to get addicts into rehab programs and offer medical services to those who can’t afford healthcare.
Encouraging Inclusive Education: Lusaka, Zambia
Zambia is home to more than 14.5 million people – and its population skews fairly young. Over 46% of Zambian residents are younger than 15, and about four million children are old enough to attend primary education (aged 7 to 14).
But not all Zambian kids manage a smooth transition from gap-toothed abecedarian to literate teen. Almost half of all students will drop out of primary school sooner or later, and as many as 250,000 children will never go to school at all.
The lack of basic education affects some children disproportionately: kids from rural regions, children from poorer families, and girls in general are all more likely to leave school early.
Another disadvantaged group includes children with disabilities. Schools may not have the resources to address students with special needs, or kids might still suffer from social stigma associated with disability.
Zambia hasn’t just been working to provide better education to disabled children. The government also started an inclusive schooling program in 2011.
Our InterNations Volunteer Group in Lusaka supports Malaikha, a private NPO dedicated to establishing and running a school for blind and visually impaired students.
Support for Street Children: Quito, Ecuador
There’s a banana on my desk right now. I bought it this morning at the smoothie/fruit bar round the corner, and I was planning to make it my healthy afternoon snack. However, researching this blog post has somewhat spoiled my first-world appetite.
Ecuador is one of the world’s largest exporter of bananas, and it’s all too possible that “my” banana was picked by some ten-year-old kid, working for a pittance in unsafe conditions. The cut flower industry is another vital part of the country’s agricultural sector, and it is suffering from similar issues.
That dreamy bouquet for Valentine’s Day? Another likely candidate for child labor, sadly enough.
Child labor is still common in Ecuador, though the current government is making a serious effort to tackle the problem. For instance, they have introduced more labor inspections to plantations, factories, and other workplaces, and more families in need will receive financial benefits.
However, about 3% of all Ecuadorian kids under the age of 14 might still be working without getting any education at all. Many others combine school and work, since their families often depend on the additional income.
In addition to agriculture and domestic service, street work is rather widespread. This includes children shining shoes, selling newspapers, hawking food, or simply begging in Ecuador’s cities.
“It is hard to fully eradicate child labor,” Jonathan, our Group Consul from Quito, says. “Parents don’t always understand because they grew up in the same way, working in the countryside or helping their mothers on the market. And they didn’t go to school, either.” It will take some time to change all that.
Our InterNations Volunteer Group in Quito supports CENIT, an organization addressing working children and their families. They provide free education, as well as medical assistance, and they have an outreach program to reach street children and to cooperate closely with the parents of kids in need.
If you’d like to find out more about the InterNations Volunteer Program worldwide, please have a look at our website!
(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) & 3) iStockphoto 4) CENIT Ecuador)]]>
Find out below why she feels at home about anywhere in the world, or why she sometimes messes up the kitchen of fellow InterNations members.
We have interviewed Gabriela and discovered that the InterNations Events in Amman usually end only after all the cameras are turned off…
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, I’m from a family with a German mother and an Austrian father. My sister travelled the world with them from an early age, and she lived in several countries as a child.
It was when I was born that my family decided to settle in Austria and run a business there. I helped out in our family business and saw what it means to be self-employed. As I followed my passion for the hospitality industry, I ran several hotels in Austria and Germany.
After a visit to Amman, Jordan, I made the decision to start my own business, too – and promptly opened a traditional Austrian bakery in the Middle East. Now we provide expats and Jordanians with typical European-style bread, like German Krustenbrot, wheat rolls, sourdough loaves, French baguette, and of course, famous pastries like Apfelstrudel and Stollen.
Being a global mind? Well, I don’t think I know the feeling of being homesick. Actually, I feel at home about anywhere in the world, as long as I can find a decent “café”, as this is my favorite kind of place to spend my leisure time.
I meet so many different nationalities on a daily basis. My friends come from all over the world and are scattered across the globe. My family still lives in Austria and Germany, a good friend lives in Sri Lanka, and others are based in Singapore, Russia, Egypt, South Africa, the UAE, and so on. So my list of countries for travelling and seeing my friends is really long!
How did you come up with your idea for running a business abroad?
As I visited Jordan, I heard about the difficulties in finding dark, “German-style” bread. And what I saw on the market was just not what I was used to get.
Pita bread is great, especially with Hummus, or Mezze, all those delicious kinds of starters that you eat with flat bread. But a hearty sourdough or rye bread wasn’t available.
After testing the waters, I opened my Boutique Bakery. By now we don’t only cater to private customers but also to hotels, restaurants and the Royal Court of Jordan!
Our customers are a mix of expats and Jordanians, who lived abroad and acquired a taste for the kind of bread we offer. I was surprised to see how many people know and love Austria.
Unfortunately, opening a business in Amman is a bit of a hassle, especially if you are an ajnabi, a foreigner. For example, it took us about six months just to get three-phase electricity. Without a Jordanian business partner, this endeavor would not have been possible.
The language barrier and the intercultural differences make it a challenge. You need a lot of patience and stamina, something I learned a lot about in this country. But we keep doing well and even have plans for expanding the business.
What makes me really happy, though, is the look that our customers get once they enter the bakery and notice the wonderful smell of our freshly baked goodies. I think these specialties are really something new and original in Jordan.
How did you join InterNations and become active in your community?
During one of my trips to Jordan, a friend took me along and introduced me to the local community. Back then it was a small group of about 20 members attending the gathering. I really liked the idea: In some Middle Eastern countries, it’s hard to just go out and get to know new people, and this network helped me to socialize more easily.
As everybody loves food, I came up with the idea of a “cooking party”, which I started around three years ago. The participants were invited either to prepare a dish or to serve the drinks, and the meals were prepared at somebody’s place, who wasn’t bothered that we’d probably mess up their kitchen.
It was an immediate success, and we’ve organized a lot of fun cooking sessions, introducing diverse cuisines from all over the world. So far, we haven’t had any really unusual dishes yet, though – like grilled snake or fermented shark.
What makes your InterNations Community special?
Amman is a very small, intimate community, and there aren’t that many places for going out. That’s why I work with any potential idea for an event or activity,
So far we’ve had: visiting a farm, having a BBQ in the rare green and leafy area (don’t forget that we live in a desert country!), horseback riding, tango lessons, visiting an animal shelter, a Bingo night, as well as two monthly InterNations Events, happy hour drinks, walking groups, brunches, and dinners, but also trips to several places in Jordan, like the Dead Sea, Ajloun with its famous medieval fortress, or the Roman ruins of Jerash.
What have you learned from your role as InterNations Ambassador?
I just love to see the community growing and providing expats with a haven to meet other people who understand that it’s mostly exciting, but not always easy to settle in a new country. You have to sort out plenty of issues in the beginning. There’s often a language barrier, and it requires a lot of organizational effort to find housing and get settled.
Seeing happy faces when a newcomer meets someone who’s been through the same struggles and can help, is really special to me. The gatherings start as networking events, and we sometimes end up turning the venue into a club.
Some parties last until the wee small hours – by 2am the whole crowd is dancing, and by then the camera is usually turned off! The next morning we have brunch and some kind soul will share a painkiller for the hangover.
(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2)-4) Gabriela Roschinsky 5) iStockphoto: Roman ruins at Jerash)]]>
However, the hardest time for expats is often Valentine’s Day. Separated from your love by what the Irish poet John Montague identified as “all legendary obstacles”, an expat Valentine’s Day can be a heart-wrenching experience. While the distance between you is consciously real on any regular day, it stretches much further in the mind when in the company of heart-shaped chocolates and velvet teddy bears decorated with myriad expressions of ‘I love you’.
And yet, a long-distance Valentine’s Day holds the capacity for a greater romance than any other. Although apart, you follow in the tradition of star-crossed lovers like Abelard and Heloise. For romance is heightened by the trials of difficulty and pain. Let’s be honest, would Romeo and Juliet be an epic tale if their parents were best mates and paid for the wedding reception? Well, it’s by Shakespeare, so he’d probably figure it out, but you get my point. Below, you’ll find some ideas on how to spend your Valentine’s Day with or without your partner.
A Local Street Sign
A stolen piece of geography, a street sign is a promise. A vow that every time you walk down this street, and every time they see this sign, you will think of each other. And that one day, be it soon or in a distant future, you will walk it together and remember in happiness the lonely Valentine’s Day you shared apart.
Disclaimer: InterNations does not excuse or promote any form of theft for any reason, even for those of an epic romance.
A Love Letter
There is nothing more perfect than a handwritten letter. I remember, and still have, the first one I ever received. At fifteen I memorized the neat lines scrawled on the back of a No Doubt concert leaflet, and read it over and over again, knowing the words but following the small curves and large gashes of letters written in the hand of a careful, but passionate, teenager.
One piece of advice would be to keep it short and to the point. We aren’t in the American Civil War, so formalities like “Dear Mabel, I hope all is well. It is cold on the front, and though I would write that we are in the heart of winter, as any man on the lines can attest, it is clear that winter has no heart” aren’t exactly required. It was romantic then, but I’d say you’re better of leaving out the whole “How are you? I am good!” thing.
A Skype Meal
A romantic dinner stands at the very center of Valentine’s Day tradition. I must admit that I stole this idea from the life of a fellow expat I briefly knew. A Brazilian living in Germany, he celebrated his first birthday away from home. So his mother cooked all his favourite foods, and while it was night time in Munich, and as they spoke on the phone, he could live vicariously through his sisters while they ate the meals of his childhood. For him, it was a moment of surreal togetherness which he swore he would never forget.
A Bottle of your Perfume or Aftershave
As anyone in the fragrance industry can tell you, we all have different body chemistries that react in subtly different ways to cologne. Scent holds memory, and there are very few things more individual than the way in which a person smells. A garment with your signature scent, is in a sense, a piece of you, and is a gift that can help your partner weather the lonely nights apart.
And rather importantly, it’s a tad more romantic than the piece of himself that Van Gogh decided to cut off and give to his lover (his ear).
A poem in the language of your country of residence
Love, in all its confusion, is a foreign language. An alloy of emotion, thoughts, ideas, and physical reactions, it evades articulation. One can never really put into words the exact feelings for the love of one’s life. Great artists have tried, but there is a reason poets publish books of love poems rather than a simple and singular piece.
Thus, I think a love poem written in a foreign tongue is more apt. In the inescapable romance of another language, with its delicate trills and soft lulls, a basic meaning can be understood but to grasp its true essence is ultimately impossible.
The Kelly Kapowski
Fans of the hit teen television show Saved by the Bell will remember Zack Morris’s life-size cardboard cut-out of his love interest Kelly Kapowski. Although verging on the creepy in the hit sitcom, sending a lifesize cut-out of yourself to your partner will definitely draw a smile. Well, until they begin to realize that there is literally nowhere to put it … the prospect of going to sleep with a gigantic cardboard person looking over your bed is not-so-oddly terrifying.
Carol Ann Duffy wrote a poem called Valentine, a marvellous piece of work that transforms an onion, an everyday vegetable, into the perfect metaphor for the beauty and pain of love.
For copyright reasons we probably can’t reprint the text here, but we would urge you to buy a collection of Carol Ann Duffy’s work and read this magnificent poem alone or with your significant other.
Sam Malone is an Irishman and Masters graduate in continental American literature. He is qualified in two things: being a nerd and reading books.
(Image credit: pixabay.com)]]>
What’s up with the map?
We already provided a sneak preview of the updated profile last year. Now you can log in and take a look at the finished version. The fresh design focuses on what makes our InterNations members special – their international experience and global lifestyle.
Therefore, the new profile features a detailed timeline where you can share all the past, present, and future destinations on your journey as an expatriate and global mind. These places will be highlighted on an interactive world map right at the top of your profile page.
What else has changed about your InterNations profile?
But the timeline and map aren’t the only changes we’d like to introduce: Your profile will also help you to network and socialize in your local InterNations Community.
• Firstly, make sure that you have joined the right community. If you need to switch to another InterNations Community – for example, if you’re moving again – you can do so directly in your profile.
• When you scroll down the profile page, you’ll get easy access to all your InterNations Groups and to the events you have attended.
• Also use this opportunity to add more interests to your profile page! That way, you’ll receive relevant recommendations for upcoming InterNations Activities in town – from A like arts exhibitions to Z like Zumba lessons.
• Lastly, you can filter your contacts faster by using new search options.
Has anything else changed on the InterNations website?
While the new profile is certainly the central part of this release, we have included enhancements to other features of the InterNations website, too:
• Check out our redesigned Members section: You can easily find new people to connect with via the “Members who match your profile” tool. It will show you a list of potential contacts based on mutual interests and other things you have in common. However, we’re still fine tuning this feature – don’t forget to check back while we are working on making the recommendations even smarter.
• Have a look at your new account settings as well, and discover their up-to-date design and improved usability.
• The InterNations Event Calendar is currently being released in a step-by-step process. We will be working on its features and functionalities over the next few weeks.
As always, a heartfelt thank you to our beta testers, who have given us valuable feedback on the “remodeling” process. Thanks to their support, you can just go ahead, sign in and share your expat journey. Enjoy!
Please click on the picture to see a full-size version!
(Image credit: InterNations)]]>
Still, to be frank, the results rather surprised us. We hadn’t considered the potential advantages of Ecuador as a destination for expats, and we realized how much we didn’t know about this small, but proud Andean nation. So, where to learn more about the “Republic of the Equator”?
Ecuador in a Nutshell?
Culture Smart! Ecuador: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture, a recent book by Russell Maddicks, would probably be a great place to start. The stated aim of the Culture Smart! series is to ensure that “you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues.”
Can this slim volume, a paperback with about 165 pages, live up to this promise?
The publishers seem to have found an author who is an excellent fit for this task. Russell Maddicks has extensive experience with traveling, working and everyday life in Latin America.
He has already written several travel guides about Venezuela and the Caribbean. A fluent Spanish speaker, the British journalist brings both the perspective of a European expat and a certain familiarity with local languages and cultures to the table.
All writers for this series have to work within a fairly strict framework, though. I am familiar with older Culture Smart! guides for other destinations, and the basic structure remains the same for every volume.
Each book normally includes the following topics, in this order:
• Land and People
• Values and Attitudes
• Customs and Traditions
• Making Friends
• At Home
• Time Out
• Travel, Health and Safety
• Doing Business
The Weakest Link
In my opinion, the sections about “Land and People” and “Travel, Health and Safety” tend to be the weakest and least interesting chapters, and the Ecuador guide is unfortunately no exception to this rule. The explanation is simple: encyclopedias and run-of-the-mill travel guides cover more or less the same ground, but at greater length.
For example, if you condense Ecuador’s history from the splendors of the pre-Incan La Tolita culture to the current presidency of Rafael Correa, you end up with 15 pages for three millennia. A fairly superficial summary will be the obvious consequence.
And the chapter on travel provides, for instance, an overview of city buses and the intercity coach network in Ecuador, but this doesn’t really help you to actually get from Quito to Guayaquil. For this purpose, the latest Lonely Planet might be the smarter choice.
The strength of Culture Smart! Ecuador lies in its approach to “soft topics”, such as details about family life, morals and manners, or business etiquette – more difficult to look up than practical information.
You’ll find out who Ecuador’s national heroes are (e.g. Inca general Rumiñahui or Olympic gold medal winner Jefferson Pérez), what a pilapo is (a particular sort of pick-up line), and what kinds of sports your new Ecuadorian friends are into (football is always a safe bet, but try to get into ecuavoley, too).
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend Culture Smart! Ecuador as your only source of information for backpacking, business trips, or planning your future life in the Andes. However, it’s an excellent starting point for a pretty reasonable price.
Short and succinct, the quick-and-easy read engages with a breezy style and entertaining trivia. Okay, everyone has heard of Darwin’s famous finches in the Galapagos Islands, but did you know, for examples, that the erroneously named Panama hat is actually an Ecuadorian invention?
Some Further Suggestions
The book leaves you with a decent first impression of what to expect in Ecuador, and you’ll also know which topics you want or need to explore in more depth. Culture Smart! Ecuador lists a few suggestions for further reading at the very end, but the series could overall improve upon this concept.
I’d find it more helpful to include some books, as well as online resources, at the end of each chapter instead: readers will know immediately where to find more about, say, environmental issues or office etiquette. This would probably bolster each volume by a few more pages, but it could be worth it.
(Image credit: 1) Kuperard Publishing 2)-4) iStockphoto)]]>
We want to explore how InterNations has changed their lives and how they are changing the lives of others in turn: by bringing people together, sharing knowledge, and offering support. They are creating their own InterNations, online and offline.
“My InterNations” highlights inspiring stories from expat life to showcase the connections between our global minds and their fellow wanderers. We’re kicking off this series with an interview with Jennifer, originally from Woodbridge (Virginia), and currently living in Austin (Texas).
She’s been an InterNations Ambassador since 2008 and a Consul in several Activity Groups. Maybe you’ve already met her: Jennifer is a “serial expatriate” who has lived in four countries over the last seven years, as well as a recent “repatriate” who just returned to the country of her birth.
“I never feel at ‘home’ unless the room is full of expats”, she says. After all, she thrived overseas by getting involved in local community life. She’s even franchised her own Activity Group in three countries!
A Vagabond at Heart
Jennifer’s personal journey took her to the Czech Republic, to Mexico and Spain, and back to the US. It transformed her from a person “enjoying the comforts of her own borders” into a self-described “eternal traveler and vagabond at heart”.
Her key moment was the opportunity to study abroad in Italy. Suddenly, “the world completely changed”, she says, and there was no turning back. As soon as possible, she seized the chance to move overseas again.
After three and a half years in Prague, she then switched jobs to join AirBnB. “Work with a travel company,” she finds, “helps to fuel the search for the new and borderless”. This nomadic lifestyle has led her to Europe and Latin America, to Portland, Chicago, Miami – and finally to Texas.
Though Jennifer is no longer an expat, she describes herself as a global mind. Living abroad has taught her “the flexibility to handle new challenges, countries, and cultures”. She’ll be glad to start “building some roots in Austin” with her husband José, an expatriate from Portugal – and yet:
She still enjoys indulging other people’s “eternal curiosity for the world”.
Taking the Reins as Ambassador
Back in 2008, Jennifer had been living in Prague for eight months when a former co-worker recommended InterNations. She joined – and soon “took the reins” as the InterNations Ambassador for the fledgling expat community. She “found solace and community in organizing events and connecting with others in the same position”.
Unsurprisingly, she isn’t just a serial expat, but also a “serial Ambassador”. She didn’t only develop the InterNations Community in Prague, but was part of the Ambassador team in several other cities: four very different destinations and expat communities. Her InterNations experience spans the Atlantic Ocean – from Eastern Europe to Mexico and the US.
At the “crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe”, Prague is “a great ‘starter’ city for expats”, she thinks, with a good mixture of international long-term residents and a huge turnover among temporary expats. Coincidentally, it’s also here that InterNations changed her life: Jennifer met her husband via the Prague Community, first online and then at an event six years ago.
In Jennifer’s opinion, Mexico City, with its buzzing nightlife and active local residents, was the “largest and most diverse InterNations community” out of the four, whereas Cancún still had room for growth.
A smaller community often has very tight-knit expat circles, though, offering more chances to get to know people individually. That was a big part of what Jennifer enjoyed about Cancún, with its interesting “mix of older retirees and younger adventurers”.
A Growing, Youthful, and Eclectic City
Last but not least, Jennifer joined an established Ambassador team in her new home, Austin. Not quite among the ten most populous US cities, Austin isn’t the first place to come to mind when you think of expats in the States. But that impression easily changes once you take a closer look.
Jennifer is full of praise for Austin, “a growing, youthful, and eclectic city”. Within InterNations, it’s actually one of the smaller communities, with about 1,900 members. Still, it’s “one of the most diverse I have worked with”, she says, pointing out the “great representation of nationalities”. Her fellow Ambassadors, Lara and Rachita, for example, are from Italy and India, respectively.
Together, they’ll keep bringing our members in Austin together at monthly InterNations Events: They’re helping them to discover what Texas’ most dynamic and eccentric city has to offer, and they are giving InterNations their personal touch.
Seeing Strangers Become Friends
In addition to her role as one of the Austin Ambassadors, Jennifer greatly enjoys running a couple of Activity Groups. Ladies’ Night Out, a group for expat women, will hopefully support them to “forge meaningful female friendships” – something that was very important to her when she was living far away from home.
Together with her husband, she also organizes Austin Kitchen Crashers, a group for dinner events they’ve “franchised” to their third community. They used to run similar groups in Prague and Mexico City and adapted the concept whenever they moved. In a way, they carried “their” InterNations with them: Wherever they are, they have the chance to meet many other “foodies” at selected restaurants or even in their own kitchen.
Events and activities like the Thanksgiving dinner for orphans without any plans for the major US holiday are born out of Jennifer’s “love for seeing strangers become good friends”. Or sometimes more: she’s been a matchmaker for at least six international couples, she reckons.
If you ever come to Austin, look up our InterNations Community and be our guest. Or be inspired by Jennifer’s story and the stories yet to come:
Create your own InterNations.
If you would like to share something you love about your InterNations Community, send us (@InterNationsorg) a tweet using #MyInterNations! We will be happy to retweet.
(Image credit: Jennifer Fry; 1) Jennifer (ri.) at an event in Prague 2) Jennifer (ri.) and other members of the InterNations Community in Mexico City 3) Jennifer (ri.) at an event in Prague 4) Jennifer (second from left) and the Ladies’ Night Out Group in Austin)]]>
After we successfully organized a themed “Celebrate Your InterNations Community” month in summer 2014, we’ve decided to kick off 2015 with a similar series of events and activities: “Welcome 2015 – Start Your New Year with InterNations!”
Apart from welcoming a new year, we do have another good reason to celebrate: By now, we have over 1.4 million InterNations members in nearly 400 cities all over the globe. Our motto events and activities should offer you ample opportunity for keeping New Year’s resolution #3 from our list ─ meet new people!
What our InterNations Ambassadors and Group Consuls have planned for you, though, could also help you to stick to a few more of those pesky resolutions:
• Are you eager to improve your language skills? In Oslo, our Speak Norwegian group has organized a 24-hour fun cruise from Fredrikshavn, with plenty of time to brush up your Norwegian vocabulary offshore.
The Cairo Conversation Club, on the other hand, provides a somewhat more low-key setting for an Arabic-British cultural and language exchange.
• If you’d rather be more active and explore the great outdoors, our Toulouse Travel Club has a special treat in store. They are looking forward to their New Year’s ski trip to the French Pyrenees. Those who aren’t that fond of skiing can still enjoy a snowshoe tour, a bit of ice-skating, or a relaxing day at the spa.
Or, if you want to prove really tough, check out what the Helsinki City & Outdoors Group, as well as the InterNations RAK Outdoor Adventures Group, has scheduled: There’s nothing like a bit of ice swimming or a nice hike through the desert to get the blood pumping!
• All that outdoorsy athleticism isn’t quite your thing? Then join our bookworms in Cambridge or Brussels to cross “read more” off your to-do list for 2015. Our local book clubs will be discussing The Island by Victoria Hislop and Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup or Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, respectively.
• Our Zurich Art Lovers Group will also expand your cultural horizons and encourage you to take a broader view of the world. Together, they will visit the exhibition “Logical Emotion”, dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary art from Japan.
• Of course, our regular InterNations Events, too, offer you lots of opportunities to begin the New Year in style: The Sofia Community, for example, is going to explore a brand-new venue in town, while InterNations Augsburg is hosting a “Nerds in the New Year” party for 2015 fun times. And for a “make a wish for 2015″ prize draw, just join our InterNations Event in Manchester!
• Or maybe you’re among those people who stubbornly keep boycotting New Year’s resolutions? Exercise more? Stop drinking alcohol? Eat only healthy food? No, thank you!
In this case, one of our London Activity Groups has just the right kind of gathering for you: Welcome 2015 with Pizza. No fuss, no athletic feats, just one of the best authentic Neapolitan pizza places in London. Cheers!
For more themed events and activities, check the InterNations Event Calendar and keep your eyes open for the “Welcome 2015″ logo. Have a great start into the New Year!
(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)]]>
This one is a classic: After indulging during the festive season, lots of people are looking forward to plainer fare. How about giving your dietary changes a local twist?
Find out where to shop for fresh produce and explore some farmer’s markets, or try new recipes from the local cuisine! (Unless you happen to live in Bavaria: Our traditional dishes are excellent, if done right, but healthy they probably aren’t.)
2. Exercise more.
Another classic, and the resolution that’s broken soonest. If you have this on your list, don’t aim to go from Couch Potato to Iron Man in two weeks. Instead, look for a way of exercising that appeals to you and that’s easy to include in your schedule.
Do you live in a bike-friendly city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen? Start cycling to work. Have you settled in a peaceful neighborhood where it’s safe to venture outside round the clock? Go for a brisk walk in the morning and at night. Did you move to the mountains or the seaside? Take up hiking or swimming.
If you can’t stay motivated on your own, consider joining an InterNations Activity Group (e.g. running or yoga). It’s easier to get off the sofa if you have friends to motivate you.
3. Make new friends.
Expats tend to be busy people with international careers, crammed schedules, and address books full of friends and business contacts across the globe. It’s hardly surprising if you don’t have much time to socialize with strangers.
Give it a try, though! Of course, you shouldn’t give up on keeping in touch with old friends. But it’s never too late to make new ones: At the next expat event, strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before.
Maybe you can find a local friend as well – a friendly co-worker, a helpful neighbor, a language tandem partner – someone to help you feel at home abroad.
4. Write more “snail mail”.
In the age of social media, we’ve all spent countless hours in videochats with family members on another continent, liking the Facebook photos of friends we left behind, or tweeting about our adventures abroad.
However, a good old-fashioned letter is a thoughtful gesture for your nearest and dearest. If you’re lazy, you could settle for sending a series of picture postcards to your loved ones back home.
But if you’re the overachieving type, why not put together a little surprise package with gifts from abroad? E-mails are fine and dandy, but you can’t unwrap pixels on a screen.
If you want to give back to others beyond family and friends, volunteers are always needed – no matter where you are. Find a cause you’re passionate about and ask if they need some helping hands.
You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to support those in need. Everyone has a talent they can use to “pay it forward”. You’re an amazing salesperson? Look for fundraising opportunities. You’re a professional web designer? Perhaps an NPO needs a new homepage. You love teaching? Someone could profit from your mentoring skills.
Check out the InterNations Volunteer Program: Maybe there’s already a volunteer group nearby.
6. Read a good book.
According to a survey conducted by Stiftung Lesen, one in four Germans doesn’t read any books at all. On the other hand, 3% form a “hard core” of bookworms who finish at least 50 books per year.
Why not go on a journey of the mind without leaving your living-room? Travel-themed books are perfect for expat readers: classic travelogues such as John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie or Nellie Bly’s Around the World in 72 Days; modern bestsellers like Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent or Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, or rarities of the genre, for example, Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s An African in Greenland.
If you’re feeling bold, dip into your destination’s literary classics. Well, if you’ve moved to Russia or France, don’t start with War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past. That’s the literary equivalent to a marathon – and the surest way of never sticking to your resolution.
7. Broaden your horizons.
If reading isn’t your cup of tea, you can acquire new knowledge and skills in other ways. Perhaps your boss can be persuaded to pay for a seminar, or you could sign up for a long-distance learning course to rev up your CV.
Learning something new about your host country’s history or culture might be another fun way of expanding your mind. Are there any local lectures or evening classes to attend? Whether it’s called “adult education” (UK), Volkshochschule (Germany) or folkeoplysning (Denmark), this is a good place to start.
8. Learn a new language.
This resolution is pretty self-explanatory for expats. Even if you don’t need the local language at work or in school, your time abroad is the best opportunity for improving your skills.
And if it happens to be the same as your mother tongue, maybe you’ve always wanted to brush up your French or find out how Chinese writing works. After all, language is the key to any country and its culture.
9. Play the tourist.
Yes, an expat is rather different from the casual visitor. But while you are busy getting things done, from filing paperwork to furnishing your apartment, it’s tempting to fall into a mind-numbing routine.
Set aside some time to explore your new home, and don’t be afraid to start with the obvious sights. It’s still a fun break from your lengthy to-do list! Once you’ve settled in, you can start straying off the beaten path and smile at all the tourists who don’t know the town as well as you.
10. Move (again).
You’re suffering from wanderlust and an incurable case of boredom? Perhaps it’s time to move again.
If you aren’t an expat yet, you might want to give this some serious thought. Planning your new life abroad could be a true challenge for 2015 – and the best New Year’s resolution ever.
And what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2015?
(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)]]>
When it comes to Christmas, being born and raised in Europe means we grew up with the traditional imagery of Santa on a sleigh, flying through the winter clouds to bring presents to all kids around the globe. When we were spending our first Christmas as expats in Sydney, Australia showed us some completely different images.
There were Santas on surfboards, Santas on jet skis, Santas with snorkels and fins, Santas with koalas and kangaroos, and many other Santas. They were busy enjoying beach life rather than taming reindeers for their sleigh. These pictures always bring a smile to my face, odd and dear to me as they are – memories for life.
O Christmas Tree, O Plastic Tree
I clearly remember our first Christmas in Sydney: Our little family was a bit overwhelmed by the veritable explosion of all kinds of Christmas-related products. This commercial abundance, familiar from the United States, actually caused a counterbalance of defiant abstinence.
We refused to pay a hundred Australian dollars to become the proud owners of a fresh Christmas tree. Keeping in mind the 30 °C on Christmas in Sydney and the thought of the soon-to-die fresh tree, we ended up with a little plastic tree for DIY assembly.
Our 5-year-old son didn’t mind at all. To him it probably mattered more what was underneath the tree.
Christmas Market vs. Beach BBQ
There were only a few things we missed during Christmas in Australia – but to be honest, there aren´t many things one can miss in this blessed country. The local Christmas market was one of them, though.
There is something unique about the atmosphere at a German Christmas market, all illuminated with beautiful decorations. Visiting Munich´s biggest market on Marienplatz, sipping on a Glühwein (hot spiced wine), munching Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) and gebrannte Mandeln (sugar roasted almonds) – this is what Christmas used to feel like, a heart-warming experience for all senses.
Well, not this time! We had our first non-winter Christmas as expats in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons work the “other way round”. Instead of 0°C we got 30°C, a hot Sydney summer.
Traditionally, the 25th of December (Christmas Day) is famous for the so-called “morning swim”. All the Aussie families are well equipped for a picnic and BBQ (the no.1 sport in Australia, “footy” comes second).
With plenty of meat and beer in a fancy cooler, they populate the beach to jointly celebrate the festivities. Manly Beach, the place where we lived, turned into a buzzing crowd of local folks swimming, surfing, jumping, and singing: a big family celebrating fervently, many of them in Santa dress-up, Santa bikinis, or provided with Christmas trees. The self-assembly plastic ones, of course.
We walked by the beach, watching the crowds with some astonishment, a little bit of a culture shock experience. Not the painful kind, but the funny one – we felt a bit like in a movie, absorbing all these new ways of celebrating Christmas.
We realized that Australia’s deeply rooted surf and beach culture has left its imprint on Santa’s Aussie-style appearance. At the age of five or six, little kids in Australia, our son included, join the so-called “Nippers” run by the local Surf Life Saving club. There they acquire all the skills they need to navigate Australian beach culture.
So Santa is typically shown on the beach: on postcards, stamps, posters, and in TV ads. He might come on a surfboard, like in the first major ALDI Christmas campaign in Australia – a jolly race of fun-loving Surfin’ Santas who hit the waves with a yummy ham to celebrate the perfect Aussie Christmas.
Santa might also be walking barefoot on the beach or sitting on the sand, reading Christmas wish lists like in the Australia Post Santa Mail ad. Santas often arrive by jet ski, water ski, or boat: They do so at the Darling Harbour Santa Fest in Sydney, which my son loved. This event takes place every year, featuring a parade of hundreds of Santas, a water show, and breathtaking fireworks.
Our second Christmas in Sydney was much more Australian-like. We joined the crowds for the morning swim on the 25th, celebrated Christmas with friends, enjoyed the BBQ, and tried the honey-glazed ham.
We started finding comfort in the plentiful customs of Christmas in Oz. We even looked up the most sought after Christmas lights suburbs in Sydney and enjoyed strolling along entire streets full of Christmas lights that looked like something from a fairy tale.
I´ve made my peace with the do-it-yourself-assembly plastic Christmas tree, although it didn´t make it back to Europe when we left Australia after two amazing years.
This week we went for a fresh cut-it-yourself tree in the forest near Munich, Germany. Back home we savor the moments on the Christmas markets in and around town. We are grateful to have experienced both kinds of Christmas, European and Aussie-style.
There are many more thrilling questions to explore all around the globe: Does Santa in Egypt come on a camel? Is “Pere Noël” in France, “Sinter Klaas” in Denmark, and “Babbo Natale” in Italy really the same person? How come that “Ded Moroz” (Grandfather Frost) in Russia has a girl called “Snegurochka”(Snow Maiden), his granddaughter, with him?
Merry Christmas to everyone who’s celebrating!
Viara Richter is an independent consultant, intercultural trainer and coach supporting people and organisations to better manage and embrace cultural diversity.
(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)]]>