Millions of Reasons

How many reasons are there for moving abroad? Perhaps as many as 57,000,000! That astounding eight-digit figure is the estimated number of expatriates in the world. Their specific backgrounds and reasons for making the big move are just as multifaceted as the globe itself.

Thanks to our Expat Insider study, based on over 14,000 respondents from around the world, we have identified a variety of “expat types”: each has their particular reasons for relocating. Some were simply practical and others were profoundly emotional.

Unsurprisingly, the prospect of great employment opportunities motivates a large percentage of expatriates. Other reasons for moving abroad include the desire for a better quality of life, a comfortable salary, promising career options, as well as an international education.

Which Type of Expat Do You Identify With?

The foreign assignee is the “classic” expat — a corporate employee, often in a senior or management position, who was sent abroad by their company. There are also those who go abroad on their own initiative, to study and gain some intercultural experience — and simply stay on after getting their degree. Others are headhunted by a foreign employer for their professional skills, or their entrepreneurial spirit prompts them to open their own business in another country.

Of course, expat life isn’t all about new and exciting career opportunities or a top-notch degree. For one in four expatriates, it’s actually about love or family.

The romantics tend to follow their heart across oceans and borders to build a new life with the person they love. Similarly, traveling spouses choose to relocate for the sake of their partner’s career, while some expats simply long to be closer to other family members, like adult children or aging parents.

Last but not least, it’s an incurable case of wanderlust that drives the adventurous type to leave hearth and home behind. They see moving abroad as a personal challenge, a journey of self-discovery: along the way, they explore other countries and cultures, travel the world, or even settle in their dream destination.

What’s Your Story?

But there’s much more to expat living than abstract types and statistics! To celebrate reaching 1 million likes on Facebook— sadly, we haven’t reached 57 million quite yet — we asked our followers why exactly they packed their suitcase and set out for the unknown. You can hear some of their individual stories in our video, from running Dubai’s very first ice-cream van to meeting the love of their life on vacation in Mexico. A heart-felt thank you to everyone who shared their personal expat story with us!

And what’s yours? Can you identify with their motivations from our video, or would you like to add your unique reason? 1 million and counting…!

(Video credit: InterNations; image credit: iStockphoto)

Cultural Diversity: Business as Usual at InterNations

Cultural Diversity Day — or rather World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, as the UN calls it — takes place annually on 21 May. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between cultures to work towards peace, stability, and development. Overcoming cultural differences and connecting global minds is one of the most important motivators for us as well. In fact, the diversity of our communities is precisely what makes them so great.

This month, we would like to shed some light on the many ways in which our communities around the world celebrate cultural diversity and bring people from all over the world together.

Cinco de Mayo

Although Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken for Mexico’s national holiday, it is not. Instead, it commemorates the Battle of Puebla and the unlikely victory of the Mexican over the French troops. That being said, Cinco de Mayo is still a very popular holiday, which is mostly celebrated far beyond the Mexican borders.

Some of our communities also got together this month to celebrate this holiday InterNations style. On Friday, 5 May, our community in Jakarta met at an authentic Mexican restaurant to enjoy some cool drinks, participate in a lucky draw, and just have fun all around. The highlight of the evening was the live band and the chance to get on stage and perform a song.

Somewhat late to the party, members in Goiania have the chance to celebrate Cinco the Mayo on Friday, 19 May. Aside from great food and cool cervezas, there is the great company of other global minds and the chance to learn a thing or two about Mexican culture.

The Historic Old Market District with its cobblestone streets and little taverns is the destination of our Omaha Community’s next event. On Wednesday, 25 May, they will celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as well as Mexican culture and heritage, at a great local restaurant.

Celebrating Culture at Home and Abroad

Our groups don’t just wait around for Cultural Diversity Day. They always have a reason to celebrate different cultures, traditions, and languages from around the world. In Istanbul, for instance, our French Language & Culture Group is dedicated to everything French. On Friday, 12 May, group members met at a charming bistro for an apéro dinatoire. They chatted in French over a glass of wine and enjoyed the evening together.

The Gateway of Culture Group in Rome met on Saturday, 13 May, to explore the culinary foundations of Italian culture: grapes and olives. There were a lot of smaller events and conferences that took place at the Etruscan National Museum Villa Giulia that day, including a seminar on wine and olive oil, and a tasting banquet that allowed the group members to get to know more about Italian cuisine.

Those looking for a more active approach, should join the Zurich Indomania Group on Sunday, 28 May, for a Bollywood Dance work-out. All group members are invited to celebrate the spirit of Bollywood together, but keep in mind that a basic fitness level is required for this activity.

The Vienna Painting and Drawing Group is going to take a more theoretical approach to culture and cultural diversity. On Thursday, 1 June, the group will make a cultural map to explore their cultural experiences. This creative activity comes with a small wine tasting.

Our Classical Concerts Group in Hong Kong will gather on Friday, 2 June, to enjoy a performance by the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France. With classic tunes from Debussy to Ravel, the performance will bring France to Hong Kong.

And now for a little bit of history: the Paris Italian Culture Group will attend the exposition “Ciao Italia!” on Italian immigrants in France and learn about a century of cultural contribution. Afterwards, they will go out for a drink and exchange their own stories of arriving in France as a foreigner.

A Bit Out of the Ordinary

One thing that makes us proud is that all our communities celebrate the cultures that influence them in their own special way. InterNations Munich, our home base, hosted a Latin party on Thursday, 20 April. “La vida es una fiesta” was the motto, as expats and global minds met at a hot new club and danced all night to Latin tunes.

The community in Cincinnati dedicates each month to another holiday, country, or culture. Their event in May focused on the culture and heritage of Japan. Event attendees got together for a relaxed dinner at a sushi restaurant and got to know each other better.

Our community on the Canary Islands is getting ready to celebrate Canarian Day on Saturday, 27 May. The purpose of this holiday is to honor the culture and diversity of the whole archipelago. Members will meet at a traditional restaurant in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to enjoy delicious local food, talk about their life on the islands, and simply enjoy each other’s company.

 

No matter if you have celebrated the national holiday of your home abroad or simply spent time with your international friends, let us know how you celebrate cultural diversity this May.

Image credits: 1-3) InterNations, 4) Pexels, 5 + 6) InterNations.

Changing the World One Day at a Time

In May, we get the chance to celebrate one of our favorite holidays — the International Day of Cultural Diversity! One could say that this is a holiday based on a philosophy that our wonderful Changemakers Consuls practice every day — global minds and charitable souls, these volunteers bring different cultures, nationalities, and people together for a good cause every month.

From Washington to Beijing, and from Doha to Rome, Changemakers across the planet have posted some truly marvelous activities this month. So, in the spirit of charity and cultural friendship, please don’t hesitate to get involved!

‘V is for Victory of Love and Compassion!’

In Moscow, 14 InterNations members joined Consul Elena Urbanovich at a retirement home in the Tver Region. The pictures from this activity are nothing if not heartwarming! The members got to know the inhabitants of the retirement home, discussed their lives and stories, and also brought some brilliant gifts to celebrate the day and help the people. The activity was not only diverse in terms of age, though, as five different nationalities were represented.

 

Volunteer Power

The Berlin Changemakers Group hosted an amazingly inventive activity, bringing together members who have always wanted to volunteer and NGOs who need volunteers. Organized by Alejandra Müller, it was a wonderful night: our members did not only get to learn more about the many benefits of volunteering, but also how easy it is to get involved. A whole host of NGOs and charitable organizations attended the event, including Vostel, Berliner Tafel, UNICEF, Visioneers, Pflege Engagement, and Helpling. This was a truly marvelous idea, and we are sure it will prove to be inspiring for our members in Berlin, but also for other Changemakers around the world.

 

Football for Peace

This month, Mirawati Piliang in Jakarta posted a wonderful activity that captures the very essence of what the International Day of Cultural Diversity is all about — Football for Peace. The activity invites people to take part in an event organized by the Uni Papau, which aims to help the younger generation of Jakarta to stay away from violence and drugs through football. The activity takes place on Friday, 19 May, and runs for two days. Members from three different countries have already signed up. We can’t wait to see their wonderful pictures!

Thanks again to everyone who got involved with the InterNations Changemakers this month. If we make each day a little bit better, then someday there hopefully won’t be any bad ones left!

Next month is World Environnment Day, and we are excited to see what you have planned for this occassion.

 

(Image credits: InterNations, Pixabay)

Breaking Out of the Expat Bubble: 5 Steps to Connecting with the Local Culture

Any expat knows how tempting it is to stick around with your fellow newcomers, but if you want to fully connect with the local culture, it can be difficult to break out of the so-called “expat bubble”.

Making friends with other expats is perfectly understandable. Arriving in a new place can be daunting, so it is natural to gravitate towards people who are going through a similar adjustment process. But if you have moved abroad for the culture or the language, or to meet people from your current country of residence, you may be looking to expand beyond the expat circle.

Here are a few tips to help you go from newbie to native!

Learn the Language

Maybe the local residents speak your language, or at least a lingua franca such as English, but nothing beats communicating with people in their mother tongue. There are endless benefits to being able to speak the local language, starting with the day-to-day uses.

No price can be placed on understanding the names of products in the supermarket or reading a menu without cracking out a dictionary. Even picking up the basics will help you stand out from the tourists.

If you already speak the language with some degree of fluency, you can still make efforts to understand the local lexicon better. Try listening out for any dialect or accent commonly used in your new home. Even if you cannot speak it yourself, recognizing the accent of your area can help you spot locals. Noticing the linguistic particularities — and peculiarities — of your area will also win you real brownie points with your new neighbors.

As Nelson Mandela so quotably said, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Join In with Local Festivals

A lot of major customs have become fairly international, but every area has its own individual celebrations to brush up on.

While the festivities might be normal for local people, observing these celebrations can be fascinating for recent arrivals. Whether it’s the sinister-looking Austrian Krampuslauf, the dark history behind the UK’s Guy Fawkes Night, or Japan’s hanami (cherry blossom celebrations), these kinds of events are definitely worth checking out.

There is always the risk of looking like a tourist, turning up without the correct traditional outfit, or being the only one silently mouthing along to the songs that everyone else has known since childhood. But don’t worry about that!

On the whole people will be friendly and enthusiastic that you are trying to find out more about their culture. Besides, you can always play the “confused foreigner” card to get a bit of leeway and an explanation of what exactly is going on.

Take Off Your Headphones

On your morning commute, you might want to shield yourself off from the world, drowning out the unfamiliar environment with a few songs from home or a podcast in a language you can actually understand. But it’s worth unplugging your MP3 player once in a while.

Overhearing conversations, or even just the local equivalent to “mind the gap”, will make you feel much more familiar with your new city. Listen out for the announcement of each station. It’s a quick and easy way to perfect your pronunciation of local place names on your way to work.

Entering into a bit of harmless people-watching can also teach you a lot about the culture of your new country or city. The way other passengers talk to each other or the etiquette of giving up your seat can tell you a lot about how people interact.

You never know, you might even end up talking to some of your fellow commuters and enjoying a bit of small talk along the way!

Keep Up to Date with Local News

Your trusty news source from home might still be the best place to stay informed on current affairs, but taking an interest in the local paper or radio station is invaluable. If you want to blend in with the locals, you are better off knowing about the controversy surrounding the ongoing roadworks in town or the increase in daycare fees, rather than being well versed in the ebb and flow of international politics.

Try to follow local politics and read up on the issues affecting your area, too. You will easily find someone to talk to about these topics. If it’s about where they live, it will matter to them, and they will be only too willing to discuss it with an outsider.

Watch the TV Shows Everyone is Talking About

Even if you think it’s rubbish, local television is worth tuning in to. Whether it is a terrible reality TV show or a dodgy weekly talent contest — if people are talking about it, start watching it.

In Germany, the format for compulsory viewing is a crime series called Tatort, with a different city playing host to a murder investigation nearly every Sunday night. If you know the difference between the Tatort teams from Munster and Munich, you will fit right in, even if you would really rather be watching your own trashy TV shows from home.

It is great to bond with your fellow expats, but it is always worth trying to get to know the culture of your new country a little better. Most people are welcoming to newcomers, so just dive in and see what you can learn about your new home!

Katie Costello is a German and politics student at the University of Exeter, currently working for InterNations as an intern in the Editorial Office. She likes speaking German and is enjoying the laid-back Bavarian lifestyle in Munich.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Words, Words, Words: World Book Day (Not Only) for Expats

Bibliophiles worldwide will probably know that 23 April — the highly symbolic date that both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died back in 1616 — marks World Book Day, a global celebration of literacy and literature.

Though readers aren’t necessarily known to be particularly raucous revelers, we have some ideas for everyone who’d like to join that party: expats, here’s how you can observe the occasion with an international twist!

1) Read a book from your current country of residence.

Let’s start with the obvious: the next time you are looking for some entertainment to spice up your commute, read a book from your adopted country. In the age of free reading apps, owning a smartphone means you have no excuse, as long as you ignore the lure of Tetris, The Sims, or Super Mario Run for a while.

The first level of this challenge consists of picking up any book by a local author — for example, in your favorite genre. For me, historical romances with feisty heroines or gory crime novels involving serial killers usually do the trick. You can work up all your way to “boss level” — reading a famous classic from your destination’s literary canon.

Expats living in China, good luck with the Four Great Classical Novels! The Romance of the Three Kingdoms alone features a word count of 800,000: your next few years of commuting should be covered…

2) Join an expat book club.

If you don’t want to be a solitary bookworm anymore, joining a local book club is the easiest way of enjoying a good book and making new friends abroad. In expat communities worldwide, book clubs are plentiful, including on InterNations.

A brief look at InterNations Groups in various cities reveals the wide range of works that our members are currently discussing: from best-selling page-turners like Gone Girl to popular non-fiction like Sapiens, a “bracingly unsentimental history of humankind” (quoth the New Yorker); from German authors like Hans Fallada (Alone in Berlin) to Kenyan writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Petals of Blood), there’s bound to be something for every taste!

If there’s no book club in your neighborhood yet — or if you don’t like their reading list — you could also set up your own. Reaching out to fellow expatriates and organizing a joint activity yourself will help you get in touch with even more people. Time to spread the word!

3) Put some travel writing on your reading list.

The most suitable choice for an expat book club is surely a book written by another expat or avid traveler. Travel writing is a literary genre of its own, appealing to our insatiable curiosity for the unknown, the blank spaces on imaginary maps. (“Here be dragons”, they usually say.)

Though Herodotus set out to write a history of the ancient world, becoming the “Father of History” as well as anthropology, his nine-volume Histories is also a fanciful bit of travel writing: translator Tom Holland affectionately calls it a “great shaggy-dog story”. Among other colorful anecdotes, the Greek’s detailed account of the gold-digging giant ants of India might be a case in point.

Fancy something slightly more modern to explore other countries and cultures from your comfy armchair? There are entire bookshops dedicated to travel guides and literature, such as the aptly named Stanley & Livingstone in The Hague or Stanford’s, a veritable London institution.

4) Support local booksellers in your adopted home.

Speaking of bookstores: every now and then, get out and about to purchase the next item on your reading list! Online shopping is awfully convenient, and I do consider e-readers one of the greatest contributions to civilization. However, browsing the shelves is a fun pastime that supports independent booksellers in the bargain.

Even if you don’t speak the local language (yet), don’t panic! Quite a few independent brick-and-mortar shops specialize in foreign language publications and vie with the online competition for customers: they often serve as venues for literary events and meeting points for the expat community.

The most famous example is arguably Shakespeare & Company on the Left Bank of the Seine, right across from Notre-Dame de Paris. Apart from, well, selling books, it runs a non-commercial reading library, organizes creative writing workshops, supports literacy programs in developing countries, and hosts readings by such high-profile authors as Jeanette Winterson, Zadie Smith, or Siri Hustvedt.

5) Go on a literary pilgrimage.

In case that shopping doesn’t match your idea of “getting out and about”, there are other great ways of getting to know your new home through books. Instead of taking a run-of-the-mill guided tour of the city, how about going on a walk with a literary theme?

Here in Munich, some guides conjure up the bohemian life of Schwabing’s writers and artists around 1900, while other places focus on their most famous works or authors: you can follow in the footsteps of Thomas Mann’s German merchant dynasty from Buddenbrooks in the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, or stroll through the streets of Bath alongside Jane Austen.

Planning a “literary pilgrimage” could also be an inspiration for your next day trip or vacation. I must confess that Prince Edward Island, Canada, is mostly on my “bucket list” because it’s home to my beloved childhood heroine, Anne Shirley. Bring on Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, I say.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Easter Treats, Flowers, and the Outdoors — April with InterNations

With World Health Day taking place on 7 April, health and happiness have been big topics this month. The good news is that there are countless opportunities in our communities to get out, and be active and adventurous. If you would rather relax, why not meet other global minds for a picnic instead? In many of our communities, spring is finally here, and there are plenty of opportunities to get out and smell the flowers.

And then, of course, there was Easter! Our members enjoyed this holiday weekend together, between Easter treats and treasure hunts.

Hiking Trails, Biking Lanes, and Big Adventures

Staying happy and healthy is an important part of expat life and it is something best achieved together. Many of our groups focus on physical activities like hiking or cycling but other groups also like to explore the outdoors and be active every now and then.

On Monday, 10 April, the Edinburgh City Trotters got out of bed early for an energizing morning walk up Arthur’s Seat. The fresh air and the breathtaking view got everyone in the mood to start off the day on the right foot.

The New York Fitness and Recreation Group got out of the city on Saturday, 15 April, for a spring walk in Westchester. The quaint towns along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail were well worth a visit and, although the sun hid behind the clouds, the trees were already blooming.

On Sunday, 23 April, the Bordeaux City Explorers took their vélos out for a spin. They cycled from the center of town to Lignan de Bordeaux, about 20 km east, where they stopped for a relaxed lunch and explored the area.

Are you feeling adventurous? Then you should join the Lisbon Outdoor and Sports Group as they head to an adventure park on Saturday, 29 April. Together you will do the Mega Circuit, which ends with a 200 m zip line.

Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket

InterNations Berlin started the Easter holidays early this year by celebrating with an Easter Treasure Hunt. On Saturday, 8 April, members gathered for the usual monthly event that came with a little twist: little treasures hidden all over the venue.

On Thursday, 13 April, global minds in Lyon celebrated pre-Easter with XL drinks, extended happy-hour prices and a magnificent view of the opera. Everyone left refreshed and in the right mood for the upcoming long weekend.

The Montpellier City Trotters enjoyed a nice Easter picnic on Saturday, April 15. The sun came out just in time for everyone to spread their picnic blankets and share some Easter treats.

Easter treats were also the main focus for the Rotterdam Coffee Group. On Saturday, 15 April, group members gathered at Olala Chocola to make some delicious chocolate eggs and learn more about the art of chocolate making during a two-hour workshop.

All the Pretty Flowers

As the seasons are changing all around the world, many of our communities can delight in the fact that the temperatures are rising, blue skies are becoming more common, and flowers are blooming everywhere.

The Istanbul La Dolce Vita Group attended the Tulip Festival together on Sunday, 16 April. This time each year, the city turns into a beautiful splash of color. But for a real tulip treat, this group headed to Emirgan Park to explore the gardens and enjoy brunch at the local restaurant.

Flowers are also the theme for our Strasbourg Photography Group. On Sunday, 23 April, group members will head out to capture the magic of this season in detail. Macro photography is the focus of this flower power activity.

On Friday, 28 April, InterNations Cairo will welcome the season in the traditional way: with a big spring party. The great view of the city and the Nile are just a bonus because what better way is there to celebrate than to hit the dance floor and make some new friends.

In Brussels, global minds are also dancing to celebrate the beginning of spring. The official spring party on Friday, 28 April, starts with a nice dinner at the venue, immediately followed by the actual party.

 

How are you enjoying your free time this month? Whether you are exploring hiking trails, meeting friends for a picnic, or eating remaining Easter eggs, let us know about it in the comments.

 

Image credits: InterNations

How Moving Abroad Will Change Your Perspective on Life

When I moved from the Netherlands to France last year, my life was about to change: I was about to see if I could actually live on my own in a foreign city. While moving abroad goes hand-in-hand with learning a lot of new things, it also changes your perspective on life — even if you don’t notice it at first!

1. You can start over (whether you like it or not).

Moving to a foreign city can be unsettling, particularly the thought of leaving your family and friends behind. Especially when you don’t know anyone, starting over is inevitable.

However, you can make the most of this. You can try out new things you normally wouldn’t do back home. For example, find exciting ways to familiarize yourself with your new city. Go out, try new restaurants, rent a bike, and learn to speak the local language. That way, you will quickly learn that moving alone to a new place isn’t as bad as you might think.

The idea of completely starting over terrified me at first, but being open to new experiences has given me the opportunity to leave my comfort zone. I lived in an alpine town in the French Alps, where paragliding was a popular sport. I’d always dreamed about doing that, but there had never been an opportunity. (A special sort of paragliding called “dune soaring” has been gaining in popularity in the Netherlands, but for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t be launching myself from a mountaintop back home…)

When I decided to just go for it, it wasn’t as frightening as I’d thought. It was actually a great experience — apart from my feeling so sick I had to tell my instructor I wanted to be on the ground as soon as possible. But I was still very proud of myself for daring to give it a try.

2. Home is where your suitcase is.

I used to find it hard to relate to the quote “the best things in life aren’t things”, but after I moved abroad with two suitcases in tow, it started making much more sense. You only pack your essentials, as anything else simply doesn’t fit into your luggage.

I, for one, found it hard to leave the first room I had lovingly furnished and decorated all on my own. But I soon realized that I didn’t actually need my beloved vintage armchair or poster collection to thrive in another country. You can make your home practically everywhere, and having fewer possessions allows you to appreciate what you have as well as what you have done.

The various city trips I took while I lived in France were way more valuable than I could have ever imagined. These non-material aspects of life abroad are the most important, and they could never be replaced by any item you can fit into your suitcase.

3. No challenge is too big.

While the process of moving abroad is already a big challenge in itself — the paperwork can be extremely daunting — you’ll eventually master the skill of dealing with little challenges that come with living in a foreign city. Whereas you used to get nervous when getting from point A to point B without speaking the local language, you can now effortlessly find your way around on public transportation.

I recently moved to Munich and I found it quite overwhelming to get accustomed to another new place I had to call home for the next six months; I didn’t know where to start! What if I ended up hating this big, busy city — so different from the cozy small town in Zeeland where I grew up and the picturesque French resort where I’d stayed before? What if nobody understood my German?

I had no idea I would end up loving German (and Bavarian) culture that much. Meeting local people to practice my German proved to be a great way to discover Munich in a much more authentic way. I felt that having successfully settled in and set up my life in a new city, I could take on everything!

4. It teaches you to appreciate your relationships more.

Your main motivation for moving abroad could be to get out of your hometown: you’re tired of the same old routine and you are looking for a new adventure. But living in another country than your friends and family can be hard, and many people think that it will harm your relationships.

You don’t get to see your loved ones as often as you’d like and missing out on family gatherings comes with a little bit of guilt. When you get a break from work and you have time to visit them, it’s often not more than a long weekend. But this makes the time you spend with them special.

I don’t talk to my family every day, but when I do, I appreciate the time that all of us take for our regular Skype call. I like sharing anything important that’s going on in my life much more now that we are no longer living in each other’s pockets. Surprisingly, moving abroad has even strengthened the relationships I have with the people close to me.

5. You can benefit from an unexpected creativity boost.

Moving abroad can even boost your creative thinking skills. While the ancients claimed that “those who travel across the sea only change their skies, but not their souls”, modern studies show the exact opposite: people who live abroad are indeed better at engaging with other cultures.

I found that a change of scenery helped me to be more flexible regarding the way I think. Trying to blend into a different environment, you’ll learn to take a different approach towards problem-solving, and you will become aware of certain issues you hadn’t seen that way before.

Living in France, for example, has made me realize how proud some people my age are of their heritage — an attitude I’d mainly associated with older generations. But they were more than happy to explain which aspects of French culture they think worth preserving, which inspired a few thought-provoking discussions.

So, moving abroad did change my perspective on life quite a lot, and I think it was the best decision I’ve made so far. I am sure that there are a million other reasons why you can benefit from the special knowledge and insights gained — what are yours?

Lena Waterman works for InterNations as an Editorial Office Intern while studying international business and languages in the Netherlands. She loves cats, discovering new cultures, and finding the best food places in and around Munich.

How to Beat the “Expat Blues”: Expatriates and Mental Health

Taking good care of your health and well-being is essential for making life abroad an enjoyable experience. When preparing for their move, expats-to-be usually remember to cross most health-related points off their to-do list.

Have you taken out the right medical insurance for your destination? Do you need any additional immunizations? Are there any particular health risks to be aware of? Such practical aspects are rarely neglected — but what about the thorny issue of expatriates’ mental health?

Let’s Talk Mental Health

Every year, the World Health Organization launches a global awareness campaign for World Health Day (7 April). For 2017, the WHO has chosen to focus on depression, which might affect as many as 300 million people around the globe. This staggering number shows that the impact of mental health problems shouldn’t be underestimated.

Fortunately, the majority of expats won’t have to deal with such a serious illness. In the Expat Insider 2016 survey, only one in eight respondents thought that moving abroad had been bad for their mental health.

However, psychological strain is frequently an unpleasant aspect of expat living. After all, you are uprooting your entire life!

What can you do to keep the normal stress of an international move — such as culture shock — from turning into something rather more worrying? And who can you turn to if you are among those unfortunate 12% who find it hard to cope?

Do Everything in Moderation

The best advice is often the simplest and the oldest: all things in moderation, as the ancient Greek philosophers used to say. When you adapt to a new environment and lifestyle, though, it’s tempting to take your new routines to extremes.

For example, if you have moved because of a great career opportunity, you might be carried away by exciting tasks and added responsibilities. After moving alone to a place where you don’t know anyone yet, you might spend every other night partying in order to get out and socialize, and so on.

Or you could be tempted to do the exact opposite: escape from a stressful day at the office and a niggling sense of loneliness by retreating into your bedroom, a modern-day hermit with a Netflix account.

Neither behavior is a healthy coping strategy: at best, you’ll be overworked and sleep-deprived, or remain isolated; in the rare worst-case scenario, you could increase the risk of burnout, substance abuse, or downward mood spirals.

The trick is to establish a well-balanced routine that works for you. Make sure to get enough rest and healthy food, and to take the time for some exercise and leisure activities you enjoy.

Emphasis on the words ‘you’ and ‘enjoy’: don’t add even more things to your plate just because you feel you should do them. If exploring the local sights in your new home is fun for you, go ahead! If you’d rather sit in a café with a good book for an afternoon, don’t feel guilty for not making the most of your time abroad.

You’re Not to Blame for Feeling Blue

In case your mental health should indeed get worse for a while, don’t blame yourself. There’s still considerable stigma attached to admitting to this kind of problems.

How such illnesses are perceived is dependent on cultural context, too. This can make it more difficult for expats to open up, as they may not know how to talk about their issues.

Moreover, some expatriates might be ashamed of not enjoying the perks of life abroad “properly”: why aren’t they simply grateful for the opportunity to explore another culture, earn a higher salary than back home, or live in a popular tourist destination?

In such situations, try to remind yourself of two salient facts: struggling with a psychological disorder isn’t anyone’s fault; nor is it all “just in your head”. Well, strictly speaking, it is, but that doesn’t mean you are imagining your distress or that its effects aren’t real.

We also don’t know exactly why some people are more susceptible to mental health problems than others, and why some folks are more resilient and bounce back even after intense stress. Just see it as a random predisposition, like some people are horribly prone to hay fever in spring while others have never had an allergic reaction in their entire life.

You wouldn’t blame the hay fever patients for sneezing and wheezing, would you? Then don’t be hard on yourself for suddenly feeling anxious or depressed after moving abroad!

It Takes a Strong Person to Admit to Weakness

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Finding a trustworthy and sympathetic person to talk to can be hard, especially if you aren’t fluent in the local language yet. It’s bad enough to opt for mime when trying to describe the symptoms of gastric flu to a doctor — how on Earth should you ask for help with psychological issues?

Now it’s time to make use of all resources aimed at the expat community. If you don’t think you need professional help, you could start looking for mindfulness activities, self-help groups, or crisis hotlines organized by volunteers. For the spiritually minded, religious congregations could be another starting point since they frequently offer pastoral care.

Furthermore, your home country’s consulate may provide a list of local doctors proficient in your mother tongue, including psychologists and counseling services. If you live in a remote location, or a destination without much of a foreign community, online counseling might be worth a try, too.

Don’t give up yet: the hardest thing is to admit that you are in need of support and to ask for it. Afterwards, it gets a lot easier, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy life abroad just like you always imagined.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Expats Raise Funds for a Healthier World

What will you be doing for your health this month?

Since 1950, the United Nations World Health Organization has celebrated World Health Day on 7 April. To raise awareness of global health topics and inspire you to get started on improving your own health, we have selected different volunteering activities from around the world.

In March, InterNations members from several communities focused on the five aspects of health: mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual health.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Natalia Aballay, an InterNations Changemakers Consul in Buenos Aires, decided to get together with other members and spend the day doing yoga with their furry friends. Participants could choose to bring their cat or dog along — a little yoga could do a world of good for the animals and their human companions alike. Moreover, the participants also included a fundraising round to support the organization Bicho Feliz, an animal shelter for stray dogs and cats in Buenos Aires.

Nairobi, Kenya

It’s always a challenge to keep the emotional and social dimensions of health in mind and make sure that not only the purely physical aspects get their due. With their “play date” activities, the InterNations Nairobi Changemakers Group helps to improve the emotional health of the Hope House Babies Home.

During this activity organized by InterNations member Ruhsen Sevketoglu, attendees could play with babies and toddlers who have been abandoned by their families. After all, these children don’t just need donations for food, milk, and nappies to survive, but they are also in dire need of care and affection to thrive.

Singapore

Lead by Group Consul Rosco Vasquez, InterNations Changemakers in Singapore got active for a good cause. To support the organization Break the Silence, who helps deaf women and children in the Philippines, they decided to participate in a solidarity run.

Thus, they couldn’t just put their own athletic abilities to the test, but their registration fees would also benefit women and kids with disabilities — a vulnerable population, who often become victims of all kinds of abuse.

Whether it is joining a 5k race, doing the downward dog pose with your dog, or chasing after children on a playground, there are many different ways you can improve all the different aspects of your health.

As our examples have shown, getting active is often a fun way to bridge the gap between creating a better life for yourself and a better world for other people. Maybe the question isn’t just what you will be doing for your own health this month — can you also think of ways to improve the health of others?

(Image credit: InterNations)

The One Thing You Must Do to Thrive as an Expat

When you first become an expatriate, you’re sure to experience a roller coaster of emotions.

On the one hand, there is a part of you that is excited about all the changes. Everything is different from what you have grown accustomed to in your country of origin — the environment and the weather, the language, the food, the customs and traditions, the fashion and style, the kind of daily routine you build.

On the other hand, you have a primal urge to cling to all that is familiar and comforting — and when you realize that this is no longer accessible, your levels of stress and anxiety will rise. Embracing your new way of life becomes a challenge.

A Crucial Mistake to Avoid

In this situation, it can be easier to curl up in a ball, constantly compare your life abroad to the life you had before, and torture yourself with the idea that you could never be as happy, content, comfortable, or confident here as you were in your previous home.

Succumbing to this temptation, however, will only cause you to miss out on all the opportunities for building a happy and meaningful life. Rather than remaining fixated on the life that you left behind, why not look forward — and discover how those very changes you dread can ultimately make you a well-adjusted individual?

A Vital Solution

Perhaps the only thing you must accomplish is learning how to ask. Instead of keeping to yourself and struggling to find your way around a new place on your own, take the first (and biggest) step towards a bright future by asking other people for help.

It’s one of the simplest forms of communication there is — trying politely to draw someone’s attention, asking for the time or the nearest bus stop or the word for ‘market’ in the local language. You initiate contact. It doesn’t even have to be a full conversation: when you reach out to other people — strangers as they may be — you open yourself up to further communication and more complex interactions.

From there, you can learn any number of new things that can help you thrive in your new environment.

What You Will Learn by Asking for Help

There are different ways of getting things done.

Forget about your tried-and-true methods for getting chores done, running errands, or even doing your job. They may no longer apply here, so you need to relearn the whole thing in this new environment.

You’ll soon discover that while you stubbornly clung to the old ways, there are much more effective methods that could have solved your problems easily. So you become more flexible, understanding that there’s can always another technique to try.

There are alternatives you can work with.

There’s no use trying to recreate something that would simply fail to fit in where you are now. Your favorite dish, for example, won’t taste exactly the same since some of the crucial ingredients are missing.

Your new acquaintances or friends will tell you about a similar recipe they can teach you, or an entirely unfamiliar one that makes use of the best local ingredients you have yet to sample. In the end, you can choose to welcome a new experience or blend it with what you know, thus creating another path to explore.

There are many different circumstances to thrive in.

Once you accept that asking for help allows you to accomplish new things, you will find out just how capable you are of thriving in unfamiliar circumstances. You will realize it’s possible to change your habits and accommodate new perspectives that ultimately enable you to succeed.

There are countless stories to be heard.

A major factor that causes expatriates to become hesitant about connecting with new people is the language barrier. They fear that their lack of fluency in the new language will cause them to fail at any activity they might attempt, or to be ridiculed, or to remain hopelessly misunderstood.

However, language is something best learned on your feet, so to speak — you pick it up as you go along. It may take you several tries to make yourself understood, but you will always have plenty of chances to practice. Plenty of native speakers will be willing to help you find the right word or to explain something to you. And as you become better at speaking the language, you can immerse yourself in everyone else’s stories — they will enrich your mind and spirit.

Asking for help and reaching out to others in a strange environment gives you a chance to test your mettle. Your instinct may be to stick to your own tribe, but imagine how much bigger your tribe will be if you embrace the culture of your new home. You may be an expatriate, but you can make a home in any corner of the world — all it takes to start is a slight nod, a smile, or a somewhat embarrassed, haltingly worded question about where to buy a good cup of coffee around here.

Bevan Berning is an immigration professional and the owner of Pathway Visas, an immigration agency dealing mostly with skilled immigration to Canada and Australia. He is South African by birth and has been residing in Dubai for the past eight years. You can connect with Bevan and Pathway Visas on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

(Image credit: 1), 2) & 4) Pexels 3) iStock)