5 Tips for Thriving in a Culturally Diverse Environment

The InterNations Team Shares Some Insights from Their Daily (Work) Life

Over 2 million members — 101 employees — 32 nationalities — 29 languages — and 5 essential tips for benefiting from a culturally diverse environment: these numbers sum up perfectly what 21 May is all about and what the InterNations Team is living every day.

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In 2002, the United Nations introduced the annual World Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, or Cultural Diversity Day, for short. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, this date — 21 May — was a reminder “to reject outright the theory of the inevitable clash of cultures and civilizations” and “to raise awareness worldwide about the importance of intercultural dialogue”.

It’s easy to think that such lofty goals as helping to promote world peace, or finding the perfect balance between the particularities of various cultures and the universalism of human rights, have little or nothing to do with our everyday lives. But the UN actually lists ten simple things you can do to celebrate this goal, and most of our 2.2 million members around the globe do things like sharing a meal with people from a different culture or watching a movie from another country on a daily basis.

In a way, every single person working here at the InterNations HQ becomes part of a culturally diverse environment simply by showing up at the office. About five years ago, when the InterNations Team used to be a lot less numerous, over 60% of our staff was German. Now that we have hit the magical mark of more than 100 team members, we are a curious mix of nearly three dozen nationalities.

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We have therefore asked several team members across different departments — all of whom are now living as expats in Germany — what they have learned from working in a multinational environment and what sort of advice they’d like to share. Their best tips don’t only apply to an international workplace, but to the international lifestyle in general.

• “Stop taking your own culture and language for granted.”

That’s usually the first thing to happen to you once you leave your cultural comfort zone. It can be something as simple as considering whether or not to address a business contact with their full name and title, or something as complex as learning the local language from scratch.

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It’s not only words that fail you, but your entire way of communicating, from familiar gestures to popular jokes: “Whenever you find yourself in the middle of a conversation where the people around you have a different sense of humor, different social references, and different views about every aspect of life, things can get a bit awkward,” says Phillipe, an International Relations Manager in our Community Management Department.

• “Think before you speak — and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Again, your newly-acquired tendency towards reflection isn’t just due to being at a loss for words. You suddenly realize that “something that is and has always been obvious to you might not make sense to other people”.

This realization can lead to increased insecurity. How can I make myself easily understood? How can I avoid inadvertently offending my new co-workers? Have I interpreted their reaction correctly?

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Just remember: most people are happy to share information about their country, language, and culture, as long as you ask politely and with genuine curiosity. And you might then become an “ambassador” for your own culture in return.

• “See things through a different lens — the good and the bad alike.”

After a while, you’ve made it through the initial confusion. As soon as you understand other cultures better, though, it’s also more tempting to start judging them. That phase can be a challenge in its own right, especially if you are frustrated with your job or are feeling homesick.

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You are now able to walk that figurative mile in other people’s shoes, but you might not be always willing to. “Things can be done in a lot of different ways. You can take that personally and get upset, or you can try to see the good sides along with the downsides.”

• “Remember that you are dealing with individuals.”

To quote those classic British philosophers from the 1970s (i.e. Monty Python), “yes, we are all individuals! Yes, we are all different!”

Woman legs in different shoes Keeping that in mind, you shouldn’t kick off a relationship with someone from another culture by loudly voicing your stereotypes about them: “Although there is often a grain of truth in many stereotypes,” Lenore, a US expat and one of our Content & Communications Managers, points out, “that person probably doesn’t appreciate being characterized by the most obvious cliché that pops into your head.”

Moreover, people everywhere are … people. Not everything they say or do can be explained by their respective culture. Not only is each culture multi-layered and multi-faceted, but some behavior is simply due to personality and circumstance.

• “Try to come up with a compromise.”

The more diverse a group is, the greater the likelihood of a “clash of cultures” en miniature. Something as basic as what exactly punctuality means can wreak havoc with both a carefully planned meeting schedule and everybody’s mood. Then it’s time to sit down and play at international diplomacy in order to smooth ruffled feathers and to avoid a repeat performance.

“It’s all about finding a middle ground, about showing you respect each other’s opinion, whether you disagree or not, and trying to come to an understanding.” On the plus side, “international teams can be more productive and creative. Everybody brings new ideas and perspectives to the table.”

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We all know that dealing with different cultures and adapting to culturally diverse environments isn’t always easy. It can be challenging to the point of frustration; plenty of people are understandably afraid of stepping outside their comfort zone. Nonetheless, everybody we’ve asked would do it again.

“I’ve developed new ways to express myself, as well as more of an ease being in an unfamiliar situation,” Katie, our Groups Manager from Charleston, South Carolina, stresses, and Nadim, our French-Lebanese Content & Communications Intern, agrees:

“You learn resilience and adaptation. The hard part is to leave your family, friends, and home behind. But your reward is that feeling of adventure, the feeling of living your life to the fullest, of opening your mind.”

And which advice on living and working in another culture, or a culturally diverse environment, would you like to share?

(Thanks to Anastasiya, Anthony, Blandine, Katie, Lenore, Nadim, and Phillipe for their American-Brazilian-British-French-Lebanese-Ukrainian view of what working at our not-quite-typically German company feels like, and a special thank you to Katie and Lenore for “modeling” for the first two pictures.)

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4) InterNations 3), 5), 6), 7) iStockphoto)

The Three Biggest Mistakes Expats Make in Career Change

You’re going to do it. You’re going to completely change your career.

Whether you’re doing it because of your desire to break free and move abroad no matter what or because all you’ve learned through the experience has made you seek out new horizons, changing your career is a big but brave step. InterNations Expat Blog_The Three Biggest Mistakes Expats Make in Career Change_Pic 5 And while the outcome of a more fulfilling and exciting career is great, the road there might be rather bumpy at times.

Let me save you some trouble. There are three mistakes you’re probably making, will make, or haven’t even thought about it. Don’t worry: they happen to the best of us — but you can avoid them.

1. Not Knowing Where You Want to Go

You’ve had it with your job; and here’s where the first mistake crops up to trip you up. You want something different, but do you know exactly what you want? Many expats take a break from their jobs only to find nowhere to go, or worse yet, they make a bad choice in choosing their next career.

Maybe you’re a nurse and have decided nursing doesn’t do it for you anymore, or you cannot practice it abroad; then being a home-care assistant would be the right solution for you, right? Well … maybe.

The reasons why you wanted change to begin with could also have you longing for Fridays at your new job. Not to mention that, if you don’t do enough research on the working environment and culture in your host country, it could be even worse.

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Rather than letting your mind punk you, get your career change right the first time by doing some solid outlining. Jot down what you truly enjoy about your work. Even if you’re looking to change your career, there are still some things that drew you to your former position originally and certain things about you that complement it.

Do you like helping others? Do you like the structure? Great. Now what else do you want from a job? Would you prefer a flexible schedule? How about more time at home? Perfect. Now you can narrow down what kind of jobs would suit these needs without falling into the same inflexible, at-work-too-much hole that drove you away in the first place. Perhaps becoming a counselor would be a better option?

2. Not Having a Roadmap

Mistake number two: let’s say you jump clear over mistake number one and set your sights on a job that was practically built for you. Great!

… now what?

Where do you even begin? If you want to run a company specializing in interior design (hey, why wouldn’t you?) and you have the skills, that’s fantastic, but no one is going to let you take the position without some official qualifications, previous professional experience and a strong network. For that matter, getting the position at your dream company will be impossible if they don’t know who you are.

InterNations Expat Blog_The Three Biggest Mistakes Expats Make in Career Change_Pic 4 Fix:

Now it’s time to lay the groundwork and chart out your course. Pull out the pen and paper again, and start reverse-engineering your career change.

You want to run your own shop in interior design, right? Perhaps the first thing is to get in contact with the higher-ups of this sector in your new country. How do you get in contact with them? Through LinkedIn. Do you have a profile? Create one. Will they pay attention to you? No, so build a popular following and more connections before contacting them.

Do you have the qualifications they’re looking for? No, so back to school. Do you have the experience they need? No, so look for a smaller position as a manager in a similar field, or work pro bono, or start writing a blog on this subject.

By having this roadmap in place, you can follow each individual step to take you to your goal — and it’s encouraging to look at what you have already achieved along the way!

3. Not Reaching Out to Others

You might have guessed from the last solution that I’m in favor of networking — and trust me, you have to be. If you have your roadmap and the complete profile of your dream job, you could run into mistake number three like a truck into a brick wall.

If you’re introverted like me, or just extremely busy, it’s easy to isolate yourself and forget to reach out to others. This leaves all your efforts high and dry, because no matter how experienced you are, how can you get that ideal position if no one knows you, recommends you, or introduces you to a new opportunity?

Better yet, reaching out to others may mean sometimes asking for help working out your goals and roadmap from mistakes #1 and #2 above. Meeting new people, talking through your dilemmas, or even seeking professional help are all important elements of your success overseas. InterNations Expat Blog_The Three Biggest Mistakes Expats Make in Career Change_Pic 3

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It can be hard to break out of your comfort zone, but get a crowbar (and some comfort food) and get to work. By taking a few minutes every day to engage on social media with people in your desired field, or just inspirational people in general, you can make connections that will springboard you to greater opportunities. Better yet, these people can offer you a hand up when the going gets tough, offer advice to improve your situation, and make those vital recommendations that will get you your dream position.

Rita Golstein-Galperin is a Career Makeover Strategist® for expat women and the founder of Expat Renaissance. She is an author, entrepreneur, public speaker, as well as a career and business coach for expats. Rita helps expat women rediscover, redefine and reinvent themselves while thriving overseas!

(Image credit: 1) StockSnap 2) iStockphoto 3) & 4) Pexels)

Founder’s Diary: Malta

InterNations Founder and Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares his impressions of his trip to Malta and the local event that he attended there.

Malte Visits Malta

I was really excited to finally visit Malta for the first time. It took me just a two-hour flight from Munich, and while getting out of the plane, I could already feel the positive change in temperature. I had left a rainy and cold Munich with barely 7°C to be welcomed by a balmy 22°C.

It’s hardly a surprise that Malta received exceptional ratings in our Expat Insider 2015 survey. InterNations Founder's Diary_Malta_Event_Pic 4 Malta was placed third in last year’s global ranking of the world’s best expat destinations, and the lovely weather might have had something to do with that: more than two-thirds of the survey participants absolutely love the Maltese climate, and not a single respondent actually dislikes it.

On my trip to this sunny Mediterranean island, I was accompanied by my comrades from the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), a global, peer-to-peer network of more than 11,000 influential business owners with 157 chapters in 48 countries, including one in Munich. It wasn’t the first time that we traveled together: last year, for example, we went on a retreat to Sarajevo, where I also got to visit the InterNations Community in Bosnia.

A Relaxing Start and an Enthusiastic Ambassador

We stayed in Palazzo Villa Rosa in the heart of St. Julian’s — around nine kilometers from the capital, Valletta — and it was a brilliant choice of accommodation: the beautiful old mansion with spacious rooms and its own swimming pool was overlooking the scenic St. George’s bay, and it was also located within walking distance of the buzzing nightlife district of Paceville.InterNations Founder's Diary_Malta_Event_Pic 2

Before heading off to the event location to meet Maria, our InterNations Ambassador, I had a bit of time to relax at the Intercontinental Beach Club — just a few steps away from the villa — and sip a cold beer in the sun, with a gorgeous view of the beach. Afterwards, I headed off to Tiffany Champagne and Wine Bar in Portomaso, where our event was taking place. It’s an old-school type of bar, whose terrace offers a very nice view of the yachting marina.

Maria, who became our InterNations Malta Ambassador in 2014, has been running our local community ever since. She has reliably organized our monthly InterNations Official Events and hasn’t missed a single one since she assumed the Ambassador role. Before stepping up to that position, she had been an active InterNations member for seven years, practically since the InterNations Community in Malta was set up. So she’s been there from the start!

Maria teaches and researches at the University of Malta in the area of language education, and she enjoys traveling and socializing with people from all over the world, which makes her a perfect fit for our community.

A Fun Event by the Waterfront

In Malta, the dominating sectors seem to be the banking and the online gaming industries. The 425,000-strong population on the island also relies heavily on tourism, including an abundance of language schools for international students, with English being spoken by the majority of the Maltese. All these factors explain why Malta is an attractive destination with a fairly large foreign community for so small an island nation: in 2013, for example, the number of foreign residents grew by over 3,000.

InterNations Founder's Diary_Malta_Event_Pic 1The InterNations Malta Community is flourishing, too: more than 120 members from 34 nations had signed up for the upcoming event and were looking forward to another entertaining evening full of socializing with expats from all over the globe.

At the event, I also met Elaine, an expat from Ireland who used to live in London for 16 years before moving to Malta in 2012. Elaine is not only an avid traveler and an entrepreneur who runs her own business in Malta — she is also an InterNations Group Consul for the Malta Sports & Social Group, as well as the Malta Arts & Culture Group. She was clearly very enthusiastic about the InterNations Community, and we talked about the groups and their activities in Malta. We now have around 20 groups that are very active, such as the ever-popular Malta Dinner Nations Group.

Apart from our Group Consuls, I also had the pleasure of talking to various members from different countries, like Iceland, Ireland, the UK, Australia, Malta, Germany, and Denmark. I was surprised and delighted to run into someone whom I’d previously met at an event in Stockholm last year. It’s a really small world indeed!

InterNations Founder's Diary_Malta_Event_Pic 3I officially opened the event with a short speech, in which I thanked Maria, Elaine, and all the other volunteers who help the InterNations Malta Community to grow by regularly organizing great events and activities, and who give our members the opportunity to meet up and socialize. I was also happy to announce that our InterNations mobile app was soon to be launched, and I encouraged the members to share their feedback.

Later that night, after the event, Maria took me and a few other members to Hugo’s Lounge, a popular Asian dining place and nightclub near the event location as well as my accommodation — a great end to an eventful day.

Travelling Back in Time in Malta’s Streets

The following morning, we met up with Maria for breakfast in Sliema — the town right next to St. Julian’s — in Fortizza Bar and Restaurant by the waterfront. The restaurant is located in a very original venue, a former artillery battery from the 19th century. After enjoying a delicious meal, Maria took us on a tour around Valletta and Mdina, the current capital and the former one, two cities full of history.

Valletta goes back to the times of the Order of the Knights of St. John from the 16th century, and the city and its buildings still retain their Baroque character. Mdina — whose name comes from the Arabic word for “city” — was Malta’s former capital, first fortified around 700 BC. I noticed how peaceful and picturesque the city was — today it houses fewer than 300 inhabitants. InterNations Founder's Diary_Malta_Event_Pic 5

Along the way, we had the chance to talk about the development of the InterNations Community and how it could grow even further, as well as the challenges she faces when she organizes official events.

After our sightseeing tour, we stopped for dinner at La Dolce Vita, a popular seafood restaurant overlooking Spinola Bay back in St. Julian’s. When darkness fell over the sea, we headed over to Floriana to check out the local fireworks festival, which takes place there in April every year. The amazing displays briefly lighting up the night sky were a fitting end to a brief short visit full of highlights.

The following morning I would go back to the airport and return to a cold and unfriendly Munich, but I was resolved to come back to Malta one day. After all, I had only seen a fraction of everything this tiny country has to offer.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: Make the Most of Malta

Malte Zeeck, Founder and Co-CEO of InterNations, gives his personal recommendations for the top places to see in Malta.

Valletta’s Old Town: A Walk through History

I found the old town of the capital, Valletta, built by the Order of St. John, a very charming place. Walking uphill and downhill through narrow cobblestone streets full of historical buildings that are hundreds of years old really made me feel as though I’d traveled back in time to the era of the Knights of St. John.

Malta - Valletta The old town features many significant sights associated with the knights of yore, including the Grandmaster’s Palace — or simply Il-Palazz, the Palace — with its famous collection of historical weapons, St. John’s Co-Cathedral (more on that slightly strange-sounding name below), and Our Lady of Victories Church.

Fun fact: the area was designed on a grid system, a great example of urban planning in the 16th century, so modern-day tourists still find it easy to navigate and make their way to the most important sights.

The Incredible St. John’s Co-Cathedral

If you, too, have been wondering what a co-cathedral is, here’s your answer: located right in the center of Valletta, in St John’s Square, St John’s is actually the second seat of Malta’s archbishop, in addition to St Paul’s in Mdina. Built by — you’ve guessed it — the Order of St. John as a church for the Knights of Malta and completed in 1577, the cathedral is definitely a sight to behold.

As I was making my way around the cathedral among the gathering crowds, finding out more about the history of Malta thanks to the audio guide, I couldn’t help but stop and gaze at the revamped interior, St John’s Co-Cathedral interioran impressive example of Maltese Baroque art and architecture, with its marble floors, gold-decorated pillars, and ornate walls.

The cathedral’s Oratory is especially famous for housing two works by Caravaggio, particularly the somber painting of The Beheading of St John the Baptist. Rumor has it that the artist created his masterpiece when he fled to Malta after murdering a man in Rome — looking at the painting, which is indeed a bit gory and vaguely disturbing, I could well believe that!

But even without the artwork by Caravaggio, the cathedral would be a truly amazing must-see when you visit Valletta.

Sky-Lights: Malta’s Fireworks Tradition

My visit to Malta happened to coincide with the annual fireworks festival in Floriana. This event — now organized by the Ministry for Tourism in its 15th edition — is a yearly spectacle taking place from mid-April to the end of the month, and it’s also part of the anniversary celebrations of Malta’s accession to the EU.

InterNations Insider Tips_Malta_Pic 3Since the days of the Order of St John, fireworks have become a Maltese tradition. Over the centuries, gun salutes and other forms of explosives were used to celebrate such major events as the election of a Grand Master of the Knights of St John or that of a new Pope. Now this tradition has turned into an international event that attracts pyrotechnic companies from various countries as well as numerous visitors.

The superb fireworks show surely appeals to everyone’s inner child — lots of flashing lights and things that go boom!

Mdina: Malta’s Former Capital

This timeless city, surrounded by fortified walls, is another place in Malta where I could travel back into time. Known as the “Noble City”, as it was home to numerous noble families over the centuries, it is a city steeped in history — it even used to be Malta’s capital before the Knights Hospitaller settled on the island in the 1500s.

InterNations Insider Tips_Malta_Pic 4When you go to Mdina, you shouldn’t miss out on St. Paul’s Cathedral, the archdiocese’s original seat. Destroyed by an earthquake in the 17th century and rebuilt shortly after in the period-typical, sumptuous style, the cathedral impressed me with its extraordinary interior. If Baroque architecture shouldn’t be to your taste (it does somewhat resemble a white-and-gold wedding cake, doesn’t it?), you could simply take a stroll through Mdina’s winding streets to admire the city that is frozen in time.

During my walk it struck me how quiet and tranquil the atmosphere was. It’s no wonder Mdina is also nicknamed the “Silent City”.

St. Julian’s: Bustling Nightlife

St. Julian’s, a coastal town just a 15 minutes’ drive north of Valletta, is among Malta’s most popular tourist destinations, due to its numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, and nightclubs. The so-called Paceville district is one of the busiest and most bustling nightlife hubs in Malta, but it mostly caters to party tourists and language students. InterNations Insider Tips_Malta_Pic 5

If you are looking for a slightly less raucous crowd, check out the area round the Portomaso Marina, where the venues tend to have a more glamorous flair: I really enjoyed the InterNations Official Event at Tiffany Wine & Champagne Bar in the neighborhood!

(Image credit: 1)-4) iStockphoto 5) Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

InterNations Volunteers Strive to Close the Gap between Cultures

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

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

Embracing Cultural Diversity through Traditional Food

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

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

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

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

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

Barcelona spring volunteer´s brainstorm brunch picnic

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

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

Providing Support to Those Looking for a New Home

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

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

Munich Regular Bayernkaserne support

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

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

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

Soothing Activities to Bond in Dallas, Brussels, and Barcelona

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

Dallas join a kid crow museum

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

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

Shanghai Big World Vision Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

Founder’s Diary: Doha

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

A Very Active Ambassador

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

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

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

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

A Souq from the Arabian Nights

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

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

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

The Perfect Venue for a Mellow Evening in Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day Full of Stark Contrasts

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

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

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

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

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

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Places to Explore in Doha

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

Doha Corniche: Stunning Views at Every Time of Day

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

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

Museum of Islamic Art: Impressive Building, Impressive Collection

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

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

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

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

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

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

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

Souq Wakif: A Tourist Trap worth the Visit

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

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

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

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

The Pearl: High-End Shops and Apartments Galore

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

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

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

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Not Just Foolin’ Around: Our Communities in April

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

Healthy Does Not Mean Boring

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

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

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

If Laughing Is Enough Physical Activity for You …

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

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

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

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

Having Fun All Year Round with InterNations

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

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

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

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

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

Expats and the Five Stages of Loss

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

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

A “Different” Christmas in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Through the Stages of Loss and Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Impressions of Manama

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

Manama’s Beaches: Escape the Endless Winter

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

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

Bahrain Financial Harbour: A Symbol of Economic Resilience

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

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

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

Adliyah District: Where Tradition Meets Modernity

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

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

Reef Island: A Man-Made Paradise

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

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

The Bahrain National Museum: Tiny Country, Ancient History

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

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

(Image credit: iStockphoto)