Let’s Create a Happier World Together!

What makes you happy? And what makes the world a happier place? Ideally, happiness is a chain that connects us all, with every one of us becoming an essential link in this chain.

One happy person has the power to make the people around them happy as well. How many of you have ever started laughing just because the people around you did? Or maybe you have simply returned their smile.

How InterNations Decided to Officially Celebrate Happiness

Happiness plays such an important role in our lives that the United Nations decided to dedicate 20 March to highlighting its positive impact.

When we at InterNations launched the Social Impact Night, a new kind of event to raise awareness of social issues and bring members together to take action for a good cause, this also happened in March. What better month to organize the first Social Impact Night than the one when the International Day of Happiness is celebrated?

The simplest way to increase happiness in your own life is to help someone else. Therefore, we dedicated our first Social Impact Night to helping refugees at Bayernkaserne, a local shelter in Munich. We asked our members to donate all kinds of items which would make both children and adults happy, such as toys, board games, materials for handicrafts, or even musical instruments.

Those members who didn’t bring along any articles showed their support by donating money instead. More than 200 Euros were collected on behalf of Caritas, the non-profit organization that runs several refugee shelters in Munich, while the goods donated to Bayernkaserne made more than 70 residents happy.

How InterNations Members Spread Some Happiness in Their Own Lives

During the first Social Impact Night, Thomas Zawadzki, an expert on positive psychology, presented an inspiring speech called “The Moment of Happiness” and shared his top five tips for a happier life:

1. Enjoy your relationships with family and friends; get in touch with other people — for example, InterNations members — and build a network for yourself.

2. Actively express your gratitude: if someone has done something to help you, make sure to tell them!

3. Offer help and support to others as well, whether this is a favor for a colleague or friend, or a random act of kindness for a passerby.

4. Try to be an optimist: look for the potential positive outcome and work on ways of making it come true.

5. Live in the here and now rather than hoping for the future or dwelling on the past.

After this speech, our guests were asked to write down what made them happy and what they would do to make someone else happy. The moment when everyone started answering these questions, we could see a smile appearing on everyone’s face. Deciding to share their own happiness already proved to be infectious.

Moreover, their answers demonstrated that the secret to happiness consists of seemingly small and trivial things. Curious to know what makes our members happy? We’d like to share some of their answers with you:

“To see happy people around me.” — Ricardo, Italy

“Going home and meeting old friends.” — Mara, Argentina

“Dancing.” — Annika, Germany

And what will they do to make others happy in turn?

“I will call my mother to tell her that I love her.” — Nella, Greece

“Bring some sweets for my students.” — Elena, Spain

“Making my friend Eva tea.” — Amelie, Germany

“Cook French food and make someone laugh. A lot.” — Astrid, France

How You Can Join Us in Making Others Happy

The secret of happiness lies within us, and you have the power to make the people around you happy as well. We’d like to invite you to celebrate the International Day of Happiness together with us.

In March we will try to make others happy and post about it (maybe even including a photo) on our social media channels. Just join us, and the chain of happiness won’t be broken!

(Image credit: 1) Stocksnap.io 2), 4), 5) InterNations 3) Pexels.com)

Why Your Long-Distance Relationship Might Be Better Than You Think

When I moved to Germany from the UK last July, I knew that leaving behind my long-term boyfriend would be one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Although I was to move back home after a year, saying goodbye to him was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had.

After living in Germany for seven months, however, I have realized that there are more advantages to a long-distance relationship than I initially thought.

1. You can benefit from additional travel opportunities.

If money and time permit, having a partner who lives overseas is a great opportunity to travel. My boyfriend, for example, gets the chance to visit Munich six times throughout the year — something he wouldn’t have had the chance to do if I had never moved abroad.

Your long-distance relationship might also give you the opportunity to travel more as a couple. If your new home is a convenient base for exploring new countries and cities, don’t miss out on these new places when your significant other comes to visit. Researching local sights can be a fun project to work on together and will keep you bonded despite the distance.

Whenever my boyfriend visits Munich, we try to take a day trip to another nearby city. In February, we spent the day strolling around Salzburg, eating Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Austrian pancakes) and exploring the city’s historical sites, such as Festung Hohensalzburg (a medieval fortress, which sits on the top of the Festungsberg — one of the city’s famous hills).

Not only was this a great chance to make new memories together, but planning the trip prior to his visit kept us both busy and distracted us from the distance.

2. You’re forced to discuss your issues.

When you live on the other side of an ocean from your partner, you can’t simply hug, make up and move on when you’ve had a disagreement. You need to deeply discuss any underlying or overwhelming issues, or you will run the risk of ruining your relationship.

One of the most common arguments among long-distance couples is caused by one partner not making enough time to talk to the other. The person who has moved abroad often wants to spend their time making friends, exploring new places, and trying to settle in — which means they have less time to check up on their other half.

The good news is that this disagreement is easily resolved! Over time, the partner living abroad will establish a routine. Moreover, the partner who is still at home will also adjust to the new methods and frequency of communication with their loved one and will feel less lonely and resentful.

The important thing is that you set common expectations. On the one hand, it’s not fair if your partner expects you to sit at home and wait for their call rather than explore your new country.

However, you need to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and cater to their needs a little more than you would if you were at home, as they’re probably feeling a little vulnerable. Discussing this problem, and any other issues that arise, will hopefully mean that the disagreement is fully resolved and won’t come back up in the future.

While communication is vital, don’t be afraid to give each other space. This can seem like a daunting thought when there are already hundreds or thousands of miles between you, but even stepping away from a video call for ten minutes can help you to have a more constructive conversation when you return. After a small break to collect your thoughts, you’re likely to feel calmer, more patient and more willing to find a solution.

3. You appreciate each other more.

The phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is clichéd but true!

While having less time to talk to your partner may be upsetting at first, you will quickly learn to appreciate the time your significant other can make for you. Those honeymoon-phase butterflies will make a sudden reappearance whenever you get to hear their voice. Be sure to express these feelings to your partner — they are bound to be thankful that you are sharing your gratitude instead of taking the relationship for granted.

Since you’ll get to see each other less, you will definitely appreciate time physically spent together more. Whether you go on a hike or cook a meal together, just being with your partner after weeks or months apart is bound to reignite that special spark.

Make the most of your time together by having new and exciting experiences; for example, my boyfriend and I always try out different restaurants, stroll around a park we have not yet explored or check out an interesting museum whenever he gets the chance to visit Munich.

Also, be sure to take plenty of photos and perhaps create a scrapbook to look at whenever you’re missing each other. My boyfriend and I have a joint photo album, and each time we see each other we swap ownership of it. This way, we both get the chance to reminisce when we’re feeling low.

4. You have time to work on yourself.

Spending less time with the person you may depend on the most might show you how to rely on yourself more instead. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be with your partner, but that you are responsible for your own happiness.

You’re likely to realize that spending time alone isn’t as daunting as you first thought and that having a little more space could help you to come to terms with any personal issues, such as your mental or physical health.

One of the biggest problems I faced when first living abroad, for example, was making friends. While I could rant to my boyfriend whenever I needed to, he couldn’t solve this issue for me. This forced me to be more proactive in socializing and leaving my comfort zone, and thanks to my own strength, I now have a great circle of friends in Munich!

Furthermore, spending more time alone might help you to (re-)discover a passion that you’ve been neglecting for a while. My boyfriend, for example, has picked up plenty of new hobbies since I moved to Munich. Spending less time together means he now has time to learn German, go to the gym and try out lots of new recipes he’s been collecting for a while.

5. You will see if the relationship is truly meant to be.

Only true love will survive long distance. Living in another country to your partner will prove whether your relationship is happy and functional, or whether it’s time to call it a day.

Nothing puts as much strain on a relationship as distance does — from only spending a few days a month together to only hearing each other’s voice once a week, there’s an endless list of challenges to overcome when you both live in different countries.

I won’t deny that it takes time to make a long-distance relationship work. From posting gifts to spending your evenings video calling each other, these relationships require effort from both sides, but when both people are committed, they’re totally worth it.

If your relationship can survive distance, it can survive anything!

Leah Martin is a German and History student from the University of Leeds, currently undertaking a year abroad in Munich and working as the Social Media Intern at InterNations. She loves exploring new areas of Munich and Bavaria and is an avid chef and baker.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Ten Wonderful Words without an English Equivalent

Traduttore, traditore. ‘The translator is a traitor.’ This oft-cited Italian pun wittily sums up the dilemma every translator faces.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to capture all the nuances of the original, and some words can only be explained rather than translated directly. Every expat may have made that experience when communicating in a foreign language. It can often be frustrating, but it can also give you a new-found appreciation of languages’ infinite variety.

Take the following words from ten different languages. Funny or odd or simply beautiful, they don’t have a precise equivalent in English. (Which is a pity, as they’d come in pretty handy at times.)

Fernweh (German)

Let’s start with a feeling all expats know only too well: Heimweh. The English translation ‘homesickness’ has been in use since the 18th century, but there’s no single word to capture its opposite: Fernweh.

Yes, in German, you can also be ‘distant-sick’! You are missing a place that’s not your home, or you are longing to go far, far away.

Pavonarse (Spanish)

Once you’ve succumbed to Fernweh and set out for another country, everything will seem fine and dandy at first. Perhaps you can’t even resist the temptation of pavonarse, as they say in Spain.

This Spanish word could be rendered in English as ‘showing off’, such as telling everyone on social media what a wonderful time you’re having abroad. If birds used social media, that is. Literally, pavonarse means ‘to peacock yourself’: strutting around and displaying your shiny feathers for all the world to see.

Yoko-Meshi (Japanese)

But alas, instead of having the time of your life in another country, you might encounter the sad reality of yoko-meshi. That Japanese phrase means something along the lines of ‘boiled rice eaten sideways’. Huh. Have we all been eating sushi the wrong way?

What this term is actually getting at is ‘the awkwardness of making yourself understood in a language not your own’. Table manners aside, that’s something we can all relate to, isn’t it?

Buitenbeentje (Dutch)

Due to the language barrier, you could even start feeling like a buitenbeentje (Dutch), no matter whether you are living in the Netherlands or somewhere else.

A misfit isn’t just a misfit there, but a ‘little outside leg’. Apparently, this expression originally referred to babies born outside of marriage, but nobody quite knows where the thing with the leg comes from.

Kalsarikánnit (Finnish)

If you are feeling a bit like an outsider, it’s no wonder if you are also feeling a bit blue. Perhaps you haven’t managed to build a new social circle yet, and the thought of another weekend on your own can be daunting.

Then it’s time to follow the Finns’ example and embrace kalsarikánnit: ‘drinking at home alone in your underwear on a Friday or Saturday night’. Could be that I’ve seen one Aki Kaurismäki movie too many, but somehow I’m not that surprised the Finnish language has a proper word for that.

Dor (Romanian)

During kalsarikánnit, the homesickness sets in. If your Heimweh gets really intense, the German word is no longer enough. Only the Romanian dor can express the full depth of your emotions.

Dor is what you feel when you want something you’ve had before, even if it’s unattainable; the strong desire to see someone you hold dear again, the almost agonizing feeling of missing them, missing home.

Chī Kŭ (Chinese)

After you have wallowed for a while, just think of the Chinese expression chī kŭ: ‘eating bitterness’. Just like yoko-meshi, this has got to do nothing with real food.

The closest translation is ‘to persevere’, but chī kŭ is about so much more: it’s all about bearing hardship, carrying on regardless, and hopefully moving forward. If you can master that, then goodbye to homesickness and welcome to hygge abroad!

Hygge (Danish)

The Danish concept of hygge has even sparked a recent trend. If you google the word, you won’t only find countless images of people wearing hand-knit sweaters and fluffy socks, relaxing in front of a brightly lit fireplace or gathering round a laden dinner table, but entire books telling you how to hygge.

Hygge is said to be more than mere ‘coziness’: it’s the warm and cordial atmosphere in which you enjoy the simple things in life and share them with your loved ones.

Utepils (Norwegian)

For the Norwegians, an utepils could be hygge. For the Brazilians, it might be a moment of cafuné. The former term literally means ‘outside beer’, but it encompasses more than simply having a drink in the open air. It also implies enjoying the moment and the sunny weather.

Considering both the average price of beer in Norway and the average local temperatures, it’s easy to see why this would be considered the epitome of happiness. (Utepils would also be a useful word to adopt in Bavaria, where beergarden culture is everywhere.)

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)

Cafuné, a word of uncertain origins, is a much more affectionate term than the casual utepils. It specifically describes the ‘act of tenderly running your fingers through the hair of a person you love’, a sweet gesture among family members, couples, or close friends. All together now: aww!

Are there any interesting words in your language that can’t really be translated into English? What do they mean?

(Image credit: 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) Pexels; 5), 7), 10) iStockphoto; 8), 9) StockSnap)

All You Need Is Love — Spending Valentine’s Day with InterNations

It’s February and love is in the air this month. Couples plan their romantic dinner dates and raid flower shops for their loved ones, while others celebrate “Galentine’s Day” with their best friends instead.

No matter if you believe Valentine’s Day was invented by the greeting card industry or that it goes back to the romantic, yet gruesome fate of its patron saint, there is space for everyone at our February events around the world!

From Pre-Valentine’s Parties to Red Parties

On Tuesday, 7 February, the Sydney Singles Group got together for a “Pre-Valentines Singles Mingles Get Together” at the Hilton’s prestigious bar. Our members used this occasion before the “big day” to spend a relaxed evening chatting over drinks.

Sydney Singles Group Barcelona

Our community in Nice also hosted a pre-Valentine’s Day Party on Friday, 10 February. The evening started out with some networking and mingling, followed by party music and an opportunity to hit the dance floor with your expat friends.

Nice Pre-Valentine's Party

InterNations Barcelona invited all expats to join them for a romantic evening at La Confitéria 1912. The venue, that still displays the same interior that is has done for about a hundred years, was the perfect location for a pre-Valentine’s event on Saturday, 11 February.

Pre-Valentine's Event Barcelona

For our Montréal Community, Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers. On Tuesday, 14 February, expats and other global minds met to celebrate with their friends (and maybe makes some new ones), and just enjoy the evening together.

Valentine's Day Montréal

Our members and global minds in Paris, on the other hand, spent this day at a Valentine’s dance party. Little heart-shaped cakes and great company made it a fun event even for those who did not want to hit the dance floor.

Valentine's Dance Party in Paris

Dubai DinnerNations met for a special Valentine’s Barbecue on Wednesday, 15 February. The buffet at the best barbecue place in town was complemented by live music and a chance to win a hotel stay or dinner gift voucher.

Dubai DinnerNations

InterNations Sydney got their members into the Valentine’s Day mood with a red party. On Thursday, 16 February, friendly expats donned their favorite red outfit in honor of Valentine’s week. A private bartender and a scenic view of the Sydney harbor made the evening complete.

Red Party in Sydney

On Friday, 17 February, InterNations Casablanca celebrated friendship at Barcelo Hotel. This was the perfect opportunity for members to get together and make new friends or maybe even meet their own Valentine. Between networking and partying, expats enjoyed the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

Valentine's Day Casablanca

The Valentine’s Month and Carnival All Around

Valentine’s Day may be over, but who says that you cannot celebrate friendship and love all month?

On Friday, 24 February, our community in Dar es Salaam will get together at a great venue and enjoy the breathtaking view of the city and the ocean. You will also have the chance to win exciting prizes, so come around and celebrate with other expats and global minds.

On the same day, the Amman Better Life Walking Group is meeting up for their Valentine’s Day party. Both singles and couples are welcome, of course. Try your luck at the raffle with a chance to win great prizes, mingle at the open buffet, or just enjoy this evening with friends.

Love Padlock

Love is in the air for the Strasbourg Photography Group! In order to enjoy Valentine’s Day just a little bit longer, group members will look for great motives illustrating the theme of love, be it people holding hands, a warm smile or a specific object. It’s a great opportunity to share your hobby and celebrate the beauty around us this February!

If you are looking for an alternative to all those lovey-dovey events, there are some fun Carnival events you should definitely not miss.

Our community in San Francisco will celebrate Mardi Gras on Saturday, 25 February, at one of the city’s retro-chic hotspots. All attendees are asked to wear green, purple, and gold, as well as beads and masks, for this occasion. Join us there, it will be an amazing party!

InterNations Tallinn is combining two reasons to celebrate in one event: Carnival and Estonian Independence Day! Dress up to brighten this long Estonian winter night and meet other expats and global minds at Art Café on Tuesday, 28 February.

Carnival Mask

If you are looking for a crowd to celebrate Carnival in the Netherlands, you should join the Out and About Group in Maastricht. On Sunday, 26 February, you can admire the most impressive costumes at the parades and the city is abuzz with people ready to celebrate this joyous time before the beginning of Lent.

The Abu Dhabi Nightlife Group, on the other hand, is ready to shake things up a bit with a Goan Carnival on Friday, 24 February. Get ready for live music and entertainment provided by Forefront and La Vida! Use this opportunity to enjoy the nightlife of this great expat hotspot and make some new friends.

 

How are you spending this Valentine’s month? Whether you had a romantic dinner with your big love, went to a singles party, or had a great time with your best friends, let us know how you celebrate in the comments.

Image credit: 1)–2) InterNations, 3) Raquel Begué, 4)–8) InterNations, 9) StockUp, 10) Pexels

Moving Abroad for Love: A Romance in Four Acts

There are plenty of excellent reasons for deciding to live abroad — that amazing career opportunity, your sense of adventure — but none so exciting as moving abroad for love. In fact, up to one in seven expats cites romance as one of their motivations for making the big move: just look at the Expat Insider survey results from the past three years!

In addition to the countless survey respondents who let us know about their wish to live in their partner’s home country, more than just a few of my colleagues know the same feeling only too well. It was love that brought them to Munich, too.

So I’ve talked to several members of the InterNations Team about how their very own international rom com played out. Life might not be a Hollywood movie, but it does write the best scripts.

Meet Cute

Sometimes, you have to travel thousands of kilometers to meet the right person: Evgenia, one of our International Relations Managers, set out from St Petersburg to attend a conference in London and drop in on a friend in Oxford — who introduced her to a German student, Michael.

True to the tropes of many a romantic comedy, there was even a fancy dress party involved. (Fortunately, no awkward screen moment when the heroine realizes that she’s mixed up the dates of her business networking meet-up and her friend’s costume party…)

Lisa from our Groups Team even embarked on a whirlwind summer romance on a vacation in Lebanon, about 12,000 kilometers from her native Australia: “lying on the beach, road tripping in the mountains, sleeping in treehouses in an eco-village outside Beirut, snacking on Zataar manoushe [Lebanese pizza],” and even smuggling her new boyfriend out of a “no male visitors allowed” apartment at 04:00 in the morning — that’s how she remembers the start of their relationship.

However, as many expats who’ve been part of an international couple know, romance often gives way to reality all too soon.

Evgenia and Michael were trying to establish a long-distance relationship via Skype and occasional meetings in Munich and St Petersburg, as well as Barcelona, Helsinki, Sardinia, Vienna, and probably a few other places across Europe.

In a movie, this time would be neatly summed up in a quick montage of a happy couple walking arm in arm through various cities, violins swelling in the background. In real life, it’s not only romantic, but also exhausting.

Running through the Airport

We all remember that scene from the pictures, don’t we? The protagonist realizes their True Feelings in a flash of inspiration, ditches both job and friends on the spot, hops into a taxi and rushes to the departure gate in pursuit of their One True Love. They are never late; the flight is never overbooked, and they can always afford a last-minute ticket to start a new life with the Man or Woman of Their Dreams.

The actual decision to move to your partner’s home country usually involves a great deal of pragmatic planning. By now, Lisa had moved to the UK, but her visa was running out, while Evgenia had considered getting a graduate degree in Germany before.

“My relationship with Michael motivated me to apply for a master’s program in Munich,” she says. “Once my application was accepted, it all became very real.”

After all, there are so many things to work out if you start from scratch in a different country. Will it be difficult to settle in? Will your relationship survive living together after the initial honeymoon phase? How will your family react? Fortunately, my colleagues all had understanding and encouraging relatives.

“I remember announcing my plan to move to Munich and live in my German boyfriend’s tiny apartment over dinner,” our Social Media Manager Erin remembers. “My family was surprisingly supportive. I did leave a stable job, but I didn’t have any long-term commitments, like a mortgage, holding me back. I just went for it.”

Fish out of Water

Moving to your partner’s home country has one very practical advantage: you have your own tour guide, interpreter, and intercultural consultant at your disposal. Other expats often have to fend for themselves in order to deal with local bureaucracy, overcome the language barrier, and generally figure out how to fit in. The lucky romantic, however, needn’t worry too much about those pesky details.

Erin, for instance, arrived in Munich knowing (in her own words) almost nothing about the city and even less about the language: “I’ve now been here for over three years and still can’t understand all the announcements on public transportation. Is the train just five minutes late or have aliens landed at the central station? Don’t ask me!”

Luckily, having a native speaker to sort out the logistics —such as the dreaded Kreisverwaltungsreferat, where every new arrival to Munich needs to get an official registration certificate — and to explain cultural rules — such as “don’t walk in the bike lane” — comes in very handy.

However, these unwritten cultural rules can also make for unexpected pitfalls in your relationship, in addition to the run-of-the-mill disagreements about whose turn it is this week to take out the trash.

As Lisa puts it: “It took me a while to understand the difference between being rude and German directness. I think we both compromise a little now. Tom has learned to compliment my new haircut regardless of his actual opinion; I have learned that blunt text messages without emoticons aren’t inherently angry.”

Happily Ever After

All three of my colleagues have found their happy ending, in different ways. Evgenia has been living in Germany for five years now and recently got married to Michael. “For now, I feel like Munich is my home,” she says.

Lisa isn’t quite that sure: “I don’t think I can be apart from Australia forever, but I’ve definitely become more German,” she adds with a laugh.

“I have recently found myself clearing my schedule to watch Tatort [Germany’s most popular police procedural], cursing my neighbors for vacuuming on a Sunday, and separating the plastic windows on envelopes from the paper so as not to contaminate my recycling!”

Though Erin’s relationship with her German boyfriend has ended, she has no plans of going back home. “I fell in love with Germany instead. After my break-up, I got very close to leaving, but I couldn’t quite imagine it. While I’ll always love North Carolina, life back there will never be the same. Living abroad has completely changed my perspective — it gives you a level of self-confidence that’s hard to replicate.”

Indeed, there is one thing that all of them agree on and that they’d pass on as advice to others who are planning to move abroad for love:

“Make sure you are also doing it for yourself,” Erin recommends. “I had always wanted to live somewhere in Europe, ever since an amazing summer abroad in Spain. Sometimes, love alone isn’t enough, and this can breed a lot of disappointment and resentment.”

Evgenia also emphasizes that it’s important to have another reason for moving and a back-up plan in case the relationship goes awry. “Thinking about your decision as moving for your partner’s sake puts too much pressure on your relationship,” Lisa says. “Just have fun, and enjoy the experience!”

Happy ending guaranteed.

Have you ever moved abroad for love? What kind of advice would you give to other people in that situation?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: London — Feat. Cigna Innovations in Health

Do you know what a smoothie bike is? InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck reports from the Innovations in Health and Wellbeing event in London — hosted by InterNations Global Partner Cigna — before exploring how the InterNations London Community welcomes new arrivals in the British capital.

When I recently visited the InterNations London Community, I had the amazing opportunity to attend two great networking events — our very own London Newcomers’ Event, as well as Innovations in Health and Wellbeing, the first event of that kind organized by our Global Partner Cigna.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have spotted my tweets about #CignaInnovationsinHealth. So here’s the full story!

The Event Space of My Dreams

Innovations in Health and Wellbeing was hosted at 30 Euston Square, a spacious conference venue just a few steps from Euston Station, right in the heart of the British capital. Fittingly enough for a health-focused event run by a global insurance company, the beautiful location started out as the headquarters of an early 20th-century assurance provider. Today it is owned by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Apart from the apt symbolism, the facilities couldn’t have been any better: the building features several meeting and dining rooms, boutique hotel rooms, a café, a few stores, and a large event space. A similar location catering to expats and international business travelers, ready to welcome our guests in large InterNations Communities like London, would be my personal dream for the future come true.

But back to the present! We had invited the London Community, and I was happy to see how many people had turned up to explore how technology can help you stay healthy while you’re living abroad.

Smoothie Bikes and Smartwatches

Arjan Toor, CEO of our Global Partner Cigna, gave a short speech to officially open the event, which was very much characterized by a hands-on approach. I seized the chance to try the innovations on display myself.

Did you know there’s such a thing as a “smoothie bike”? You simply ride a stationary fitness bike for a couple of minutes, and since it’s fitted with a special blender that spins while you pedal, you get a freshly made smoothie as a reward for working out.

There was even a ranking to compare your efforts with those of other participants. I must say this looked a lot easier than it actually turned out to be: you do have to pedal very fast without slowing down at the end to keep the blender going! With lots of cheering by the audience, it was a fun way to promote regular exercise and balanced nutrition, though.

Afterwards, I rewarded myself for that effort by giving the virtual relaxation pod a try. You put on a pair of virtual reality goggles and headset to simulate a soothing environment. While you’re sitting in a cozy chair, you are suddenly transported to a faraway beach, escaping the stress of real life for a few precious minutes. This kind of VR technology could, for example, be used in mindfulness therapy.

And not only were there quite a few Cigna Global staff members present to answer questions about international healthcare plans: Apple was also in attendance to introduce the fitness features of their Apple Watch 2, like its new level of water resistance. Don’t fear ruining your new smartwatch by jumping in at the deep end!

Inspiration for Healthy Living

Evidently, the other guests enjoyed networking over (healthy) fingerfood and checking out some innovative gadgets at least as much as I did: the event started at 18:30, but the last people didn’t leave until 23:00. It was very convenient that I could just stay at the venue, in one of their very comfortable bedrooms. After all, a good night’s sleep is another essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks again to our Global Partner Cigna for making Innovations in Health and Wellbeing possible! The event was a great motivation booster: the following morning, I was very much inspired to go for the healthy options from the delicious breakfast buffet.

From Bloomsbury to Westminster: The Newcomers’ Event

Now it was time for me to switch locations for the InterNations Newcomers’ Event: I moved from the academic atmosphere of Bloomsbury, with its many universities, museums, and research institutions, to the seat of political power. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel is located just across the river from Whitehall, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament. Its Primo Bar — where the event took place — offers iconic views of the Thames and Big Ben from its exclusive VIP area.

Speaking of VIPs: We’d invited all the Group Consuls of the InterNations London Community to stop by about an hour before the event and have a drink on the house. Alex, our polyglot British-Slovenian Newcomers Ambassador, took the time to explain the special event format, and the 40 attendees had plenty of other questions.

During our Q&A session, I thanked the volunteers and updated them on what we’re currently working on at the InterNations head office. InterNations Changemakers — our ever-expanding community outreach program — and the upcoming guest list app for our volunteers met with particular interest.

But we discussed other pressing issues as well, such as how to improve cooperation among our volunteers, and I received plenty of valuable feedback, both of the positive and the critical variety. Such input — especially the constructive criticism — helps us tremendously to figure out which concrete steps we need to take towards improving the InterNations experience for volunteers and regular members alike.

For example, the no-show rate is often a major concern for Groups Consuls: people spontaneously sign up to attend an activity and never cancel officially when they can’t make it. For smaller groups or activities that require a certain number of participants, this can be rather frustrating, and this issue very much needs addressing. But despite such valid concerns, our gathering was not all gloom and doom — quite on the contrary.

Motivation for Newcomers

With its 80,000 members, London is one of the three biggest InterNations Communities worldwide, and it has a considerable number of thriving groups, too. Our more than 80 groups in London are dedicated to a wide range of interests — from the London Entrepreneurs and Start-Up Group to the Book Club to the Salsa & Bachata Social Dancing Group.

All of the 40+ Consuls in attendance briefly introduced themselves and their group, sharing their motivation for organizing these activities in the first place. A few newcomers, who’d been early for the actual event, ended up listening to this introduction round. Two of them even found it so inspiring that it motivated them to jump in right away and become Group Consuls, too!

During the Newcomers’ Event, which started at 19:30, I had the chance to talk to quite a few of the consuls personally. The new InterNations members and new arrivals in London seemed to be enjoying the live music and the animated conversations — with nearly 190 guests altogether, the lounge was packed.

Officially, the event was supposed to end at 22:00, but it wasn’t before 23:30 that I made it back to my hotel room at the Plaza, so I’d definitely call the Newcomers’ Event a success.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

A School in the Congo: A Changemakers Success Story

There’s no better way of starting 2017 than sharing a success story with you. We have a great example from the Madrid Changemakers Group: this particular story began in April 2016 — almost one year ago — and reached its happy ending in January.

Back in 2016, Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group, decided to support the Mzungu Project, which aims to provide education to children in need in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Beginning of an InterNations Success Story

The Mzungu Project was founded by José Antonio Ruiz Díez, an active member of the Madrid Changemakers Group.

When José Antonio decided to contact Rosa regarding his education project, he had already built one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a matter of fact, the successful completion of this school building was the reason why he wanted to establish the Mzungu Project in the first place — to open more schools, create more jobs for local residents, and enable more children in rural areas to get an education.

“I found his personal story so inspiring, about how he’d reached a point in his life when he was quite successful professionally and just wanted to give back to society. So he decided to embark on an adventure and built a school in a remote area of the Congo. He had already done it once, with his own money, and then he wanted to raise the funds for another school.”
— Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group

The Challenge: How InterNations Contributed to a School in the Congo

The Consuls of the Madrid Changemakers Group decided to sign up for this challenge. They were planning to host an interactive and interesting fundraising event, so members could join an activity and hopefully learn more about the cause. Therefore, the Consuls opted for an African fundraising dinner, where José Antonio could present his project to the attendees and answer any questions they might have.

Unfortunately, the Consuls couldn’t find a Congolese restaurant, as they had originally planned. Thus they opted for an Ethiopian one, which ended up being a very popular choice!

The Successful Outcome

The members were so dedicated to supporting the Mzungu Project that every single one who’d accepted the invitation made sure to attend the fundraiser! Everything was perfectly organized, thanks to our wonderful Consuls, and the attendees who signed up managed to pay in advance for the fundraising dinner. More than 300 Euros were collected for helping to build another school in the DRC, money that benefited the project directly.

José’s dream of building a second school has now come true. The foundations were laid last May, and the construction was finished by the end of the year. Nowadays, over 200 children can attend primary school thanks to the Mzungu Project.

In order to commemorate all the donors that contributed to this cause, José Antonio dedicated a brick to each sponsor. Here’s the brick dedicated to InterNations, thanks to our fantastic Consuls from the Madrid Changemakers Group and our generous members. This brick is the proof that we can indeed change the world, one small step at a time.

If you’d like to know more about José and his project or get more information on the two schools it has helped to build, just check out the Mzungu Project.

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

(Image credit: 1), 4), 5): José Antonio Ruiz Díez / Mzungu Project 2), 3) InterNations)

Ten Things to Expect with an Expat in the Family

Deciding to pack up and head overseas doesn’t just change your own life: it affects your family and friends, too. How does life change for those who stay at home? From planning weekends around time-zone-friendly Skype calls to struggling with jet lag, we get a family member’s perspective on what to expect from having expat relatives.

Five years ago, my sister went on an international internship to gain some professional experience abroad. “It’s just for six months,” she said. She is still travelling the world today.

We might have grown up in the same place, at the same time, in the same family even, but my sister and I are very different. While I like the feeling of putting down roots and being part of a stable community, my sister constantly wants to be on a plane on the way to something new.

Here’s what to expect when someone you love decides to hit the road.

1) You only have a mental image of their new home … which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality. Pictures online and travel guides give a tourist’s perspective, but everyday life abroad looks very different from glossy photos of famous attractions.

2) Some people’s mental images might be hazier than others. One family member will remain slightly confused as to where exactly the expat is currently living. Grandad might have been sharing the weather forecast for Taipei with good intentions, but it’s not got much to do with Chengdu, a mere 1,800 kilometers away.

3) Airports and train stations are your new living room. When you finally get the chance to see each other, the logistics of when and where to meet up sometimes mean it comes down to a cup of coffee at an airport restaurant.

4) There is never enough time to catch up. Whether it’s that airport coffee or a weekend call, being apart means you always say goodbye wanting more — even if you have been chatting for hours. It also means you’re never quite up to date. Time zones add an extra challenge, but even if you are lucky enough to be close, the details get lost as you gossip about insignificant but amusing stories from your day.

5) Speaking of weekend calls: half your conversations are spent doing an Adele impression. Hello? Hello? Yes, hello? Though internet calling has made staying in touch with the family nomad much easier, sometimes Skype seems to have a mind of its own. When my sister was living in the US, the connection would drop out after exactly 21 minutes. Every. Single. Time.

6) At least your holiday plans are all set. Free accommodation and a personal tour guide at your beck and call — these are the perks of having family and friends abroad. Visiting my sister has taken me to places that were never on my horizon before, and knowing someone who actually lives there allowed me to experience them in a different way.

7) You know all the baggage allowances by heart, even when you are not packing your suitcase for the next family visit. For birthdays and holidays, you will start coordinating with family members — not on what to buy, but to make sure your gifts are all within the total weight and liquid allowances. Forget about perfume as a back-up present.

8) Jet lag becomes all too real. Whether you are over visiting or they’re finally home for the holidays, someone will be either asleep or eating at the wrong time. Three meals a day quickly blur into brunch, afternoon tea, and “I don’t even know what time it is” cereal snacks.

9) Your own life will automatically appear less exciting. “What did you get up to this weekend?” becomes a loaded question: don’t you dare mention the b-word — beach — while we are sitting at home and watching telly on yet another rainy day!

10) You stop saying “I miss you”. Not because you don’t, but because it’s a given. Though you are happy your family nomad is getting their adventure fix, it doesn’t stop you wishing you could simply pop round for a cup of tea on a bad day.

Ultimately, however, all that anyone wants for someone they love is to be happy. Being an expat makes my sister’s inner nomad smile, and that puts a smile on my face too.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Common Misconceptions about Bilingualism

Bilingualism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, parents have been raising bilingual kids for years. I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy and doesn’t happen automatically. It takes effort and a lot of patience, but it is worth it. There are many misconceptions about bilingualism, though, especially about raising bilingual kids, and I am sure you will have heard some of them.

You have to be “smart” to become bilingual.

Any child has the possibility to become bilingual if they have enough exposure to the languages in question. Children with learning disabilities and development disorders such as Downs syndrome and autism can also become bilingual.

Language acquisition has nothing to do with being “smart” — it is a natural process like learning any skill in life, be it learning an instrument or a sport. Naturally some children will pick up certain skills more easily, but this doesn’t mean that they are more intelligent.

A bilingual child will have speech delays.

This is probably one of the most common misconceptions. However, it has been proven time and time again that bilingualism and speech delays are not related. All children develop their language skills at different levels, whether they are learning one language or two.

Some bilingual children may take a little longer to become fluent in both languages. However, they are taking in double the amount of vocabulary, so sometimes they just need a little more time to process it all. Even this is not always the case: some bilingual children start talking fluently before their peers and there is no difference at all. It always depends on the child.

It is best to speak one language fluently before learning another.

Quite on the contrary: Children learning two languages at once usually learn more quickly than children who study a foreign language later in life. The best time for a child to learn a language is while they are young — the younger the better. The critical period is from birth up to six years old.

Some parents believe that their kids should wait until they are speaking their first language fluently and are attending school before starting another language. However, waiting only makes it harder for the child. Once they get older, they realize they are learning. When a child is young, learning is simply a natural process: a normal part of life and a lot of fun.

You need to speak the language of instruction when talking to your kids.

This belief is common in expat families: parents think that they need to speak the language of instruction to prepare their children for school, or the kids might fall behind. In those cases where the parents themselves don’t speak the language that well, especially not on a native speaker level, it will be best if they continue talking in their own language to their children, thus building their vocabulary.

Soon enough, the parents’ mother tongue will become the minority language once the children start school. Sure, they may need a little more time catching up with their peers, but most of them will be speaking fluently and have caught up well within the first year of school.

You will become bilingual automatically.

Many parents think that just because each parent speaks a different language when talking to their child, using the OPOL (“one parent one language”) approach, their kid will automatically become bilingual. Or that a child can become fluent in a language with just a few lessons per week. What these parents don’t realize is that it actually takes work to give children enough exposure to a language so they can become proficient.

In the case of bilingual parents, there is usually one language that the child receives less exposure to — the so-called minority language. The parent speaking the minority language will have to work that little bit harder to provide their child with enough language input. For working parents, this can sometimes be quite difficult, and at times, they need to introduce outside resources to compensate.

Watching TV is enough to learn a new language.

Human interaction is the best way to learn a language. Watching TV in a foreign language can help your children once they have a good grasp of the language; otherwise, it will only result in them becoming passive bilinguals. They may understand what is going on in front of them, but without any practice or interaction, they will probably not be able to respond.

Conversation is what actually helps your kids to learn another language. Constant talking, playing, and practicing their language skills is going to give them the best chance of becoming truly proficient.

If the parents don’t speak a second language, there are many other options, such as hiring a babysitter or nanny who speaks the target language, sending their child to a bilingual or international school, or hiring a language tutor. TV will not get your child far.

Bilingual speakers don’t have accents.

Many people believe that “true bilinguals” will not have an accent. Depending on where your kids grow up and where they have learned the language, they may not always have the “perfect accent” in both languages, but can still speak either of them like a native. What is a “perfect” accent anyway?

Raising bilingual kids is both the hardest and the easiest thing that parents can do. It comes with many challenges, but also so many rewards that outweigh all of those challenges. The best thing you can do for your child is to ignore any negative comments that you might hear and keep encouraging them. Bilingualism is not so rare: after all, half the world is bilingual!

Chontelle Bonfiglio is a certified ESL teacher, writer, and the creator of Bilingual Kidspot, an informative website offering practical advice for parents raising bilingual children. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

How to Become a Green Globetrotter

Not only is traveling great fun — it’s also big business: According to the World Tourism Organization, the annual number of international tourists rose to a staggering 1.186 billion in 2016; that’s one-sixth of the world population! The tourism industry creates 10% of the global GDP and supports one in eleven jobs worldwide.

In short: tourism has a lot of economic clout. And, to quote one of my favorite superhero comics, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s what the UN celebrations of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism aim to highlight.

Just imagine: on your next vacation, you will not only get some much-needed relaxation, but you might contribute towards saving the world. (At least a little.) The Green Globetrotter — an everyday superhero on the move!

No matter whether you are an expat ready to explore your new country of residence or simply passionate about travel, here are some tips on how to maximize the benefits of tourism and minimize any negative impact.

Travel responsibly.

In the age of cheap flights and no-frills airlines, it’s never been that easy to give in to wanderlust and set out for destinations unknown. As tempting and comfortable those possibilities are, slow and steady does sometimes win the race — at least when it comes to environmental impact.

One long-stay trip beats several mini-breaks per year while travel by train, boat, or bus is more environmentally friendly than hopping on board the next plane. Of course, it will not always be possible to honor such good intentions.

True story: a friend of mine once looked into organizing a business trip to Hong Kong by train. After plotting the route Munich — Warsaw — Grodno — Moscow — Novosibirsk — Beijing — Shanghai — Hong Kong, even the most die-hard environmentalist would have given up in despair.

Fortunately, you can look up carbon-efficient airlines instead, or donate to climate change mitigation projects. You don’t even have to plant a single tree yourself!

Buy local.

The most people will benefit from the spending power of international visitors if you opt for local companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, or family-owned businesses. Just by choosing a specific accommodation, tour guide, or souvenir, you’ll help someone feed their children or create more training and job opportunities. And you might discover some hidden gems and make some wonderful memories.

Take Luang Prabang Night Market in Laos, for example. Established about a dozen years ago, it has become one of the major tourist attractions in the country’s mountainous north.

Though it’s definitely geared towards visitors from abroad, it still focuses traditional handicrafts from local vendors to a certain extent. Just avoid the Luang Prabang t-shirts and look for some gorgeous silk scarves or Hmong quilts, and you could find the perfect giveaway for your loved ones back home.

Behave respectfully.

Enjoying your long-awaited vacation is the easiest thing in the world: you are far from home, feeling like you’re floating in a little bubble of your own, safe from the concerns and worries of everyday life. But what is one person’s vacation highlight is another person’s everyday life.

Most residents will be grateful if you make the effort to learn a few polite phrases in the local language or even try a bit of small talk. To avoid any cultural misunderstandings or embarrassing faux-pas, take a bit of time to find out more about the local culture, customs and traditions of your destination.

That’s especially important if you are planning to visit any heritage sites or places of worship — or if you love travel photography. Before you take that perfect snapshot for your Instagram account, remember to ask the people in the picture for permission. Your newly acquired language skills will definitely come in handy!

Think green.

It might not feel very heroic to lug around a stainless steel bottle, a cutlery kit, and a couple of plastic bags — but they are indispensable items in the Green Globetrotter’s luggage.

In regions where tap water is safe to drink, a reusable container avoids a lot of unnecessary waste from plastic bottles and canned soda. And when you go camping, hiking, or merely admiring an archaeological site, carrying your own trash bag is the simplest way to cut down on littering, especially if there’s no convenient garbage container for miles.

Animal lovers should also make sure that their tour organizers are knowledgeable about environmental protection and local wildlife. For instance, some areas might be off limits when certain birds are nesting, or there might be a cap on the number of visitors in nature reserves.

In ideal conditions, wildlife tourism can be a great asset: the popularity of animal-watching safaris in several African regions, for instance, has led to more employment for local residents and a crackdown on poaching.

Give wisely.

Perhaps you’d like to support your favorite destination — especially one in an impoverished region or a developing market — even further. The easiest way to do is to find a way of traveling that combines both: economic benefits and local non-profits. There are numerous such projects, and they cover all kinds of tourism.

An upmarket resort in Fiji might give its guests the option to donate to a healthcare facility for low-income residents; a small adventure tourism company in the Himalayas can empower Nepali women by training them as tour guides and assistants for female trekkers; former turtle hunters in Gambia find new jobs in an ecotourism project for protected species — there are thousands of similar stories all over the world.

A trustworthy non-profit will inform visitors clearly about its purpose, be transparent about its finances, and avoid aggressively soliciting for donations. That way, you can be sure your generosity won’t be in vain.

Have a safe journey and enjoy your next trip!

Is there anything you’d like to add to this list? Which tips would you like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)