Survey Spotlight: See the World Through Expat Eyes

InterNations has grown tremendously in these past seven years, from a small start-up to the biggest expat network in the world.

With around 1.4 million members, we decided that it was time to find out what moves expats around the world: Why do they relocate? What makes them happy? And what is life abroad like for them?

We believe that this information may be of potential use to both our members and a wider audience interested in other countries and cultures, in living and working abroad. Thus the idea for Expat Insider – The InterNations Survey was born! Survey

With the help of close to 14,000 respondents, we have managed to conduct one of the largest expat surveys worldwide. The questions focused on the personal satisfaction of our members with all aspects of living abroad.

The results served as the basis for an overall ranking of 61 countries and five topical indices, as well as detailed reports for 20 destinations and 15 nationalities.

We got an insight on the career prospects for expats in various countries, on where families and couples are the happiest, and where the cost of living is most satisfying, at times with surprising results:

Ecuadorian Flag old, isolated on white background. Ecuador, with its low cost of living and the welcoming attitude of its people, is the most popular destination, according to our general country ranking. It’s closely followed by Luxembourg, the clear winner among career-minded expats, and Mexico, which ranks highly for personal happiness and friendliness.

• When it comes to the quality of life, Switzerland makes it to the top. Clearly, the top-notch infrastructure of this small alpine country played a huge part in this positive rating. Nigeria finds itself at the bottom of the scale.

• Sunny and welcoming Mexico is number one in our Ease of Settling In Index, closely followed by Spain and New Zealand, which both received great ratings as well.

Norway impresses with its great work-life balance and its booming economy and deservedly ranks in first place of our Working Abroad Index.Norwegian Flag old, isolated on white background.

• Scandinavian countries also received glowing ratings in our Family Life Index, with Sweden and Denmark coming out on top. On the other hand, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are rather unpopular among expat families and find themselves on the bottom of the scale.

• On our Personal Finance and Cost of Living Index, Ecuador is again the clear winner. Italy and Greece, both of which are still struggling with the effects of the economic crisis, drop to the bottom of the ranking.

But we didn’t stop there! Several topics are covered in greater detail. For instance, did you know that the phenomenon of the expat bubble is most noticeable in the Middle East?

Moreover, most expat kids (86% to be precise) grow up bi- or multilingual. Vietnam and the Philippines are top-notch destinations for money-savvy expats and, while Greece and Argentina occupy the last places in many rankings, they are still very popular destinations for lovebirds.

We also take an in-depth look at various expat destinations and nationalities:Business Capitals signpost 20 country reports offer profiles on destinations around the world from an expat perspective, from Australia, over Singapore, to the USA. A series of charts visualizes how expat residents see their local neighbors and their new home.

Finally, we examined the different types of expats roaming the world – assignees, globetrotters, and romantics to name just a few – and took a closer look at their reasons for moving abroad.

15 nationality reports conclude the analysis. Did you know that Belgians are the most polyglot expats? Or that Brits are more likely to stay abroad forever than any other nationality?

The first edition of our annual Expat Insider survey gives you the opportunity to see the world through expat eyes, and it would have never been possible without all of our members who participated in our survey.

We want to thank everybody who took the time to respond to our survey and helped us gain such interesting insights into expat life around the world.

Last but not least, we would like to congratulate the winners of our raffle:

Anna, now living in the UK, won a Virgin flight voucher, Sigurdur, who lives in the USA, won an iPad Air, and Abdulrahman, now at home in Dubai, who won a Kindle Paperwhite.

You are invited to see the world anew through expat eyes. Explore and enjoy!

We will also talk about some of the results in detail here in our blog, so watch this space for more.

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2)-4) iStockphoto)

Oktoberfest in Munich and Around the World

It’s that time of the year again when Munich’s residents dust off their Lederhosen and Dirndl to join millions of tourists for the biggest event of the year: the Oktoberfest! InterNations team member Gregor shares his own take on this Bavarian festival and its exports.

I’ve been living in Munich for just over four years now. In fact, I arrived on the 21st of September 2010, three days into the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest. I got my one-year visa in the morning, bought a pair of Lederhosen in the afternoon, and I was at Oktoberfest the next day in the Hacker-Festzelt (Hacker Beer Tent) with my German friends. In the picture below, I’m second from the left: the young man with a Maßkrug – pronounced muss kroog – of beer in his hand, and a big, cheesy grin on his face.

Munich Oktoberfest Germany Hacker Festzelt

Oktoberfest 2010 in the Hacker-Festzelt, Munich, Germany

The Bier was flowing, the Humpta (“oompah”) music was playing, people were singing, and everybody was meeting and talking to strangers in a variety of languages; most importantly, it was gemütlich, a word almost without translation in English, but it means something like a jovial, cozy, friendly atmosphere. I fell in love with the Oktoberfest, colloquially called the Wiesn (meadow) by locals, after the location’s formal name, Theresienwiese, which means Therese’s Meadow.

The Theresienwiese got its name, and the Oktoberfest its origin, from Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810 – he was later to become King Ludwig I. In a grand romantic gesture, he named the meadow after her and threw a Volksfest (people’s festival) to celebrate their marriage, though it’s unlikely these affectionate acts made up for his philandering later on! All the people of Munich, including the commoners, were permitted to attend the festival. It culminated in a horse race at the end and was so popular that the people of Bavaria insisted on another one the following year. Thus, the Oktoberfest was born!

Horse Race at the Okotberfest , Munich, in 1823

Horse-Racing at the Oktoberfest in 1823

Being Australian, I’ve always had a love for beer. A cheeky drink with friends and colleagues after work rounds off the day nicely, in my opinion. I particularly enjoyed it back in Oz in September and October when Sydney’s own Löwenbräu Keller pays homage to the original Oktoberfest by throwing a mini one just near Sydney Harbour (picture below). Of course, it doesn’t quite compare to Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it is a nice little slice of Bavaria in the middle of Australia’s largest city.

Oktoberfest in the Löwenbräu Keller, Sydney, AustraliaAfter living in Munich for several years and enjoying many a Wiesn, I was surprised to find out that there are many more towns and cities around the world that celebrate Oktoberfest. Some of them, like the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Canada, first began over forty years ago. I find it fascinating that an icon of Bavarian culture and tradition has spread to all the corners of the globe, so I decided to take a closer look at some of the weird and wonderful “Oktoberfests” around the world.

Qingdao International Beer Festival, Qingdao, China

The Chinese have a talent for imitating and reproducing technology; since 1991, they’ve also been recreating the Oktoberfest – kind of. Eight-hundred kilometers south of Beijing, the city of Qingdao celebrates the Bavarian Oktoberfest, with a Chinese twist.

Qingdao International Beer Festival

A clash of cultures at the Qingdao International Beer Festival.

What started out as the city’s beer-themed 100th birthday celebration has now become an Oktoberfest-influenced, internationally-renowned beer festival. You’ll find Bavarian Bier here, among many other things, but instead of eating Brez’n (pretzels) or Schweinshax’n (pork-knuckle), you are likely to have a plate of skewered prawns, pickled peanuts, or grilled squid! So, while the interpretation of Oktoberfest is rather loose – especially considering the karaoke competitions – the festival, nevertheless, attracts two to three million visitors per year.

Blumenau Oktoberfest, Brazil_smallOktoberfest, Blumenau, Brazil

When people think of Brazil, it’s not usually Lederhosen, Bier, and Wurst (sausages) that come to mind; but, in the city of Blumenau, that’s exactly what you’ll find! The majority of Blumenau’s 300,000 citizens have German heritage, their ancestors having migrated from Germany to Brazil as far back as 1850 when it was founded as an agricultural colony.

Today, it seems tradition is alive and well: Every year Blumenau hosts its very own Oktoberfest over eighteen days in the middle of October, featuring an official parade (picture), bands, and folk music groups. The festival attracts around half a million people, and is considered South America’s largest German festival, as well as one of the largest Oktoberfests in the world!

Oktoberfest Zinzinatti, Cincinnati, USA

Wiener dog racing

Cincinnatians have been celebrating Oktoberfest since 1976. Last year, around 650,000 visitors indulged in Bavarian music, food, and Bier over three days. The festival also features some rather unique events, including “wiener dog” races and – allegedly – the world’s largest group Chicken Dance.

Oktoberfest, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai OktoberfestIt seems the Oktoberfest has even made it to the Middle East in the last few years. Among others, venues such as the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Dubai Sports City, and the Dubai International Marine Club celebrate in Bavarian style throughout the month of October. In an effort to make the experience as authentic as possible, beer tents are set up, Bavarian cuisine and Bier are served, and Bavarian bands, such as Die Kirchdorfer and Die Derby, are flown in to entertain the crowds. Unlike the Wiesn in Munich, though, events are ticketed and participants must be over twenty-one years of age.

Oktoberfest, Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest

The Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, enjoys a Bier at the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest.

The second-largest Oktoberfest outside Bavaria is held in the twin towns of Kitchener and Waterloo. Over 750,000 visitors each year take their pick from nineteen Festhallen (festival halls) and forty family and cultural events. In its program, the festival even features a 5km fun-run and a 50km or 100km cycling race. What’s more, you can drink and eat guilt-free because much of the money spent goes back into local community organizations. According to its organizers, hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised each year from the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. The Fest even has its own mascot; Onkel Hans is an oddly orange-colored, green-lederhosen-wearing character with an enormous moustache and a red hat that says Prosit (cheers!) on it. If you look closely at the photo above, you may spot Onkel Hans winking at you.

Where do you celebrate Oktoberfest?

The Wiesn-Season is upon us and I’d like to know more about Oktoberfests around the world. Where are you celebrating Oktoberfest? What’s the funniest or strangest Oktoberfest you’ve been to? What’s the best one? Leave a comment on this post and tell the other readers and me about your experiences.

chicken dance oktoberfest cincinatti

Doing the world’s largest group Chicken Dance at the Oktoberfest in Cincinatti

Image credits & sources:

(Picture 1 & 7 – private; Picture 2 – PD; Picture 3 – Löwenbräu Keller, Sydney, Australia; Picture 4 – That’s Qingdao; Picture 5 – Vitor Pamplona on Flickr; Picture 6 & 9 – Oktoberfest Zinzinatti; Picture 8 – Premier of Ontario Photography on Flickr)

Founder’s Diary: Thessaloniki

After my last two visits to InterNations Communities took me to Northern Europe, this time I’m heading in the opposite direction – on a two-hour flight to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city and the most important in the country’s north. In stark contrast to Munich’s rather rainy summer, 30°C and Mediterranean sunshine await me.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 7 My accommodation, the Bristol Hotel, turns out to be an excellent choice: It’s located on a quaint little square with plenty of restaurant, bars, and cafés in the neighborhood. Even better, the hotel is just a short walk from Thessaloniki’s waterfront promenade, as well as the picturesque upper town (ano poli), a little further inland.

Before our get-together starts, I still have a bit of leisure time left to explore the ano poli, with its historical houses, magnificent churches from the Byzantine era, and the old fortress (kastra) that provides a splendid view of the cityscape, the port, and the gulf opening into the Aegean Sea.

The Thessaloniki InterNations Community

The InterNations Event then takes place at Kitchen Bar, a popular venue right on the seafront promenade. The amazing view alone is worth it!

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 1 Unfortunately, Daniel, a Spanish expat and one of our InterNations Ambassadors, as well as the Group Consul for the Thessaloniki City Trotters, can’t make it tonight, but Tatiana from Russia, his fellow Ambassador, has brought back-up: Her cute little daughter greets the guests together with her mommy – together, the two make a wonderful welcome committee.

About 35 InterNations members show up to enjoy the mellow August night and to refresh themselves with a cool beer from the Greek Alpha brewery. There’s plenty of time to chat, mix and mingle, and many a member has an interesting biography to share:

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 6 One spends half of the year in Australia and the other half in Greece; another is an artist who has come to Thessaloniki from the UK to paint. I meet a writer from Liverpool, a law student from Kiev, and various other people whose path in life has led them to this bustling city, “the bride of the bay”.

At the moment, our Thessaloniki Community is still fairly small, with about 800 members, but that could change soon: The city of Thessaloniki has over 800,000 residents – even more if you count the entire metropolitan area – and a sizable expat population.

Thessaloniki by Day

The guests at our event also give me a great selection of sightseeing tips for the next day: Unfortunately, the famous beaches on the Chalkidiki peninsula are somewhat too far for my tight schedule. However, I just follow another suggestion and rent a bike at the hotel to ride down the long seaside promenade.

I make a brief stop when passing the White Tower, the landmark of Thessaloniki. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 2Today, it looks rather romantic – a strong and squat fortification surrounded, somewhat incongruously, by well-tended flower-beds.

The White Tower’s notorious past is more the stuff of horror movies than the stuff of romance, though: It used to be an Ottoman fort, military garrison, prison, and execution site, once nicknamed “the Red Tower” or “Tower of Blood”. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it just serves as the local history museum.

And onward I go, riding along the waterfront, till I get to take a break at Omilos, another one of Thessaloniki’s many cafés and bars with a truly spectacular view of the Aegean. On my way back to the city center, I encounter plenty of young people, teenagers and families with kids, all coming out in droves to relax in the sea breeze and soak in the fine summer weather.

…and by Night

At the Plaza restaurant in the vibrant Ladidaka district, I get to enjoy an authentic Greek dinner before I set out in search of some typical Greek entertainment. Again, plenty of people have suggested going to one of the local bouzoukias.

Bouzoukias are a fixture of nightlife in Greece, live-music venues for popular performers, where shows go on till the early hours of the morning. The bouzoukias of Thessaloniki are mostly located somewhat outside the city, close to the airport, about a 30-minute taxi ride from Ladidaka. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 4

So I finally enter a bouzoukia long after midnight, not quite knowing what to expect. It’s actually a concert hall packed with elegantly dressed people, where a live concert of Thessaloniki’s pop/folk idol Nikos Vertis is in full swing.

Unlike the shows I’m used to, there’s not much dancing going on in the audience, but the people seem to be quite the devoted fans: Standing at their tables and all around the stage, they keep throwing flowers – especially carnations – at him and are beside themselves when they catch one that he throws back into the crowd.

It’s a really electrifying atmosphere, and I almost forget that it’s nearly 3 am and that I won’t get much, if any, sleep before I have a plane to catch…

The beaches of Chalkidiki will just have to wait until next time.

Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

The Lucky Number: Happy 7th Birthday, InterNations!

Seven is a lucky number, and this is a lucky occasion for us: It’s the seventh birthday of InterNations. Seven years ago, in 2007, our website went online, launching what is today the world’s largest expatriate network.

Last year’s anniversary neatly coincided with us celebrating our 100,000th Facebook fan and member #1 million of our expat community. This time, we don’t have a round number of similar elegance to announce, but a lot has happened for InterNations in the last 12 months, especially this summer.

In June, we kicked off a major site relaunch. The complete overhaul of the InterNations website, starting with our brand-new networking feature, is our most important project right now. Most of the relaunch so far has been going on behind the scenes of Product Development & IT, but the next year in the life of InterNations will put the results of their hard work into the spotlight.

In the summer months, we also introduced the Expat Insights Survey, a look at the daily life of thousands of expats around the world. While we are still busy with giving our official survey report the finishing touches, we are looking forward to presenting you with the results very soon. We’ll keep you updated!

InterNations Expat Blog Happy Birthday Pic 2Last but certainly not least, this summer featured the very first InterNations World Games – a series of football matches to support the InterNations Volunteer Program. Here it is indeed taking part that counts, and everyone’s a winner in support of a good cause. The World Games were great fun for everyone involved, and we hope for a repeat performance next year.

Today, we are proud of what we have achieved in our seventh year and excited about what year #8 will bring. Therefore we’d like to invite all of our members to celebrate with us: Birthday events in our Local Communities around the world are spread out over the entire month of September.

If you haven’t been to an InterNations birthday party yet, just check our event calendar and watch out for our special 7th Anniversary Events. Enjoy!

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto 2) Sergej Kovalenko)

Founder’s Diary: Gothenburg

Gothenburg is one of our up-and-coming InterNations Communities in Sweden, with as many as 2500 members.

If you know a little about the city, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise: After Stockholm, Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest city with over 500,000 inhabitants, a historical university town located about 400 km from the capital. It has a sizable immigrant population as well – about 20% of residents are foreign-born.

Only a two-hour flight from Munich, the city is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the summer of the century in Sweden. By now the weather is back to normal – meaning some sunshine, interrupted by a few clouds and a light shower of rain once in a while.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 8

As I’m on a tight schedule, I can’t explore the city upon arrival. I just manage to quickly check in at my hotel, which is luckily not very far from tonight’s venue for the Gothenburg InterNations event. The Trädgår’n is an award-winning restaurant and nightclub in one of Gothenburg’s lovely parks – definitely an ideal location to meet up.

Trädgår’n, I’m told, is short for Trädgårdsföreningen, the Garden Society of Gothenburg, who founded this horticultural park over 150 years ago. It’s now one of the best-preserved 19th-century parks in Sweden, featuring a vintage palm house and a world-famous rose garden.

Networking Bingo

We have booked the whole venue for InterNations, and Lucia, our InterNations Ambassador in Gothenburg, welcomes our members. Lucia is a Romanian expat, with Swedish now being her second nationality. An economist and human geographer with an MBA, she has worked in the financial industry and is also interested in related research. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 1

As the event host, Lucia has come up with an original way of greeting her guests: She hands them a networking bingo card. You then have to collect the names, home countries, and occupations of up to nine other InterNations members. It’s a wonderful ice-breaker – everyone starts immediately to talk to various attendees, to mingle and circulate. With about 90 people from more than 30 different countries present, it shouldn’t be hard to fill that bingo card!

However, the winner will be drawn later on. First, it’s time for me to address the Gothenburg Community and say a few words of welcome. It’s a great opportunity to thank Lucia and the Consuls of our five local Activity Groups, as well as to say goodbye and thank you to Alexandra, an Austrian expat and our former Local Ambassador.

After my speech, we get to the second part of the bingo game: We now get to pick from the bowl full of business cards that were collected at the entrance from all arriving members for the game. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 2 Once we have started calling out people’s names, it takes a bit of patience, but we finally get our lucky winner.

The winner is Karin, a Swedish “repat” and passionate researcher who has just returned from a long stay in the US. There she worked on a postgraduate project at Columbia University’s Medical Center to study motor neurone biology and disease, a very impressive resumé. It is her first InterNations Event, and I hope she really enjoyed it – and not only because she got a nice book about cocktails out of it when winning first prize in the Bingo game.

Well, everyone seems to have a good time. As the official part of evening is winding down, a few members suggest moving on to another venue called Lounge(s). The nightclub located in a three-story building with a restaurant and three different dance floors seems to be very popular amongst the local crowd.

Exploring Gothenburg

The next day I meet Lucia, our Ambassador, together with her husband Andrei, another Romanian expat, at the Sjömagasinet Restaurant, a picturesque venue a little outside of Gothenburg, right by the seacoast. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 5 It is a great restaurant (boasting one star in the Guide Michelin), owned by Swedish entrepreneur and celebrity chef Ulf Wagner. He created a gemytlig Swedish atmosphere and serves mouth-watering food based on fresh local produce and traditional cuisine, like all sorts of herring or fish ravioli.

No wonder that the two have taken me here: Andrei is Consul of DinnerNations Gothenburg, our local foodies group, and they both share a passion for gourmet food from all over the globe. They frequently take out our InterNations members for really cool activities, like an Afro-Caribbean dinner or a local shellfish buffet.

After a delicious lunch, we take the ferry back to the city center. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Gothenburg_Pic 3 The boat ride provides an excellent view of Gothenburg, its docks and waterfront, some of the university buildings, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no time to visit one of the many islands in the Gothenburg archipelago – so, no romantic scenery and outdoor fun in the Kattegat for me. There’s definitely less nature than in Iceland on this trip…

In the evening, I have dinner at one of the restaurants around Andra Långgatan, a popular street for vintage shopping and dining among artsy and creative types. Before jetting back to Germany, I also get to discover Haga, a charming district with well-preserved wooden houses and lots of cozy cafés, and from the top of Skansen Kronan, a 17th-century fortress, I take a long last look of the cityscape. Hej då, Göteborg!

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Gothenburg_Pic 4

(Image credit: 1) Göteborg, Street Sign: public domain 2) Lana Vidmar 3)-5) Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

Founder’s Diary: Reykjavik

It’s cool, up north: Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, lately paid a visit to one of our northernmost Local Communities in the Icelandic capital.

“I wanted to go to the end of the world, but not quite so far away.” That’s what a German InterNations member from Cologne told me at our recent Reykjavik Event.

This pithy sentence actually describes my own impressions of the place pretty well. Reykjavik is only a four-hour flight from Munich, but landing in Iceland felt a bit like landing on another planet.

The country’s rugged nature and volcanic scenery are well known for attracting thousands of visitors every year: In 2013, over 800,000 international tourists came to the sparsely populated island just below the Arctic Circle. Rainbow Over Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

During my trip, I didn’t only meet plenty of adventurous visitors, but also plenty of expatriates in search of adventure:

They moved to Iceland to do scientific research on geothermal energy, to work in the fishing industry (the economy’s single most important sector), or to get creative in the contemporary art scene. Some even decided to leave everything behind and settle down in Iceland for good.

The InterNations Reykjavik Event

Together with a few traveling companions from EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs), I got to spend a few days in Iceland last month. Through Air BnB, we rented a typical Icelandic house to enjoy the local lifestyle in the capital.

Organized by our Reykjavik Ambassador Vishnu, a Ph.D. student from South India, the InterNations Event took place at Sky Bar, a venue with an amazing view of Reykjavik’s seashore.

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND - JUNY 9: Twilight scene of Harpa Concert Hal From the location’s panorama windows, we spotted Harpa, the waterfront concert hall and conference center – one of the capital’s newest landmarks.

About 25 members from over a dozen different countries – Canada, Germany, India, the US, and many more – came to mix and mingle, sharing their unique perspectives and individual backgrounds.

In addition to the above-mentioned geologists, I encountered a US actor and another member who organizes a large conference for the incumbent President of Iceland.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending a relatively low-key InterNations Event for once: Compared to our big parties and huge networking meet-ups in other cities, the gatherings in smaller Local Communities just give you more time to get to know and talk to everyone in person.

InterNations Expat Blog_Iceland_Pic 2 Despite the less numerous guest list, the event still lasted from around 7pm till midnight. When I left the location, the sky was still bright as daylight under the Arctic midnight sun. And the city didn’t sleep yet.

After the official get-together, we went for a last round of drinks at Rex Bar, one of Reykjavik’s most stylish clubs. The nation’s young and vibrant design culture has definitely made an impact visible in many of the capital’s sleek bars and elegant restaurants.

From Capital to Countryside: the “Golden Circle”

Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, may not be very big (population: less than 125,000), but it’s definitely a lovely city.

From the signature tower of Hallgrímskirkja, we took in the splendid view of the cityscape, from the surrounding mountains down to the sea. Some members of our little group even went on a whale-watching trip right off the local shore – all in a day’s work, so to speak.

But you can’t just go to Iceland and see nothing but the capital. Nature’s really the thing here, and so I set out to explore the Icelandic countryside.

Renting a huge and robust 4×4 monster jeep, especially adapted to local road conditions, we ventured on the so-called “Golden Circle” tour, a popular route in southern Iceland.

Arguably the country’s most beloved tourist route, the “Golden Circle” includes the valley of Haukaladur, where famous geysers blow their scalding fountains over 20 meters high, and the valley of þingvellir. Pingvellir National Park The latter isn’t only the erstwhile site of the world’s oldest parliament, but also a geological hotspot where you can observe two major tectonic plates drifting apart.

We also visited the breath-taking Gullfoss, Icelandic for “golden waterfall”, as well as the Langjökull glacier, where we even had the chance to drive a snowmobile over the eternal ice.

Lunar Landscapes, Thermal Spas, and Local Food

On yet another trip from the capital, we went for a hike on the slopes of one of the many volcanoes, and we participated in a quad “moon” tour as well: from volcanic lunar landscape to coastal dunes and black beaches, Iceland’s scenery is ever changing and ever fascinating.

InterNations Expat Blog_Iceland_Pic 3Trees are about the only thing missing from this truly amazing landscape! Most native birches and junipers, if there are any, just don’t grow very tall. (The locals joke: “What do you do when you get lost in an Icelandic forest? –Just stand up and have a look around.”)

After so much action, it was high time to relax and to gorge on some great food. For the relaxing part, we obviously stopped at the Blue Lagoon, a natural swimming-pool fed by hot springs. I thought that floating in 37°C mineral water was a worthwhile experience, though a bit overpriced.

However, most tourists didn’t seem to mind: There was a veritable throng of visitors crowding the spa’s skincare shop, where you could buy natural cosmetics at prices as steep as Iceland’s mountainsides.

Blue Lagoon For the marvelous food, we opted for Fishmarkaðurinn, an oft-recommended restaurant in downtown Reykjavik. Rumor has it that Icelandic cuisine solely consists of curious delicacies like sheep’s testicles and half-rotten shark, but fortunately, those stories turned out to be merely rumors indeed.

Instead, we got to try an opulent nine-course meal intended for tasting the restaurant’s typical specialty: Icelandic-Asian fusion seafood. Verði þér að góðu! – Enjoy your meal!

But Reykjavik doesn’t only boast great eateries. After dinner, we then discovered Loftið, yet another great place for Iceland’s nightowls. The posh lounge soon transformed into a dance-floor full of cheerful Icelanders and tourists alike.

At Loftið, I even ran into a couple of InterNations members again: It’s a small country, after all. Almost the end of the world.

(Image credit: 1), 2), 4) 6) iStockphoto 3), 5) Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

Urban Travel with a Twist: 5 European Cities in the Spotlight

August is arguably the most popular vacation season all year round. While it might be a bit too late to book this year’s trip, this travel-themed post will hopefully serve as inspiration for 2015.

According to the UN World Tourism Organization, Europe is still the most popular tourist destination worldwide. With a share of 52% in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2013, it beats all other continents by far.

European landmarks, collage Within Europe, in turn, the following five countries emerge as clear winners when it comes to counting heads: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK.

They are the holiday destinations par excellence; coincidentally, all five are listed among the UN WTO’s global top ten as well.

Of course, the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean might just have something to with that. However, the ITB World Travel Trade Fair states that the volume of city trips has been continuously growing for the past few years.

We’ve therefore decided to put five European metropolises in the spotlight.

Are you looking for urban travel with a twist? Then check out our suggestions!

Paris: Underground

Don’t bother with the sheer endless queues for ascending the Eiffel Tower. A look at the famous City of Lights from down below provides a different perspective.

For tourists, becoming a true cataphile might not quite be recommended. Those (in)famous urban explorers enter forbidden parts of the Paris catacombs, as well as some of the city’s sewage tunnels, illegally.

Parisian metro sign Obviously, you needn’t break the law or run the risk of getting trapped in an abandoned passage in order to share a bit of that thrill. Les catacombes are partially open to the public, being a well-known visitor attraction in their own right.

However, few tourists know that you, too, can book guided tours through the métro (including a visit to a disused “ghost station”) and explore the history of les égouts – the city’s sewers.

Not only is there an official sewage museum, but you can also follow the waste-water tunnels on metal walkways. Having a strong cold could come in handy, though…

Barcelona: Quirky

When you start a shopping spree in Catalonia’s capital, you’d better ignore the typical chain stores close to the Porta de l’Angel or even the so-called “Quadrat d’Or” near the Plaça Catalunya. Unless you have a platinum credit card – then knock yourself out in the designer boutiques of the “Golden Square”.

For visitors with a less flexible budget, Barcelona rather impresses by virtue of its quirky or old-fashioned stores. While the traditional Mercat de la Boqueria has become a veritable tourist magnet, the covered market is still very much worth a visit. InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 2

And don’t forget to check out the somewhat shabby Carrer de le Riera Baixa: It’s one of BCN’s top addresses for vintage clothes and second-hand bargains.

If you enjoy rummaging through small stores in search of something less than ordinary, this is the place for you. Also stop by at the Els Encants Nous flea market and the curiosity shops in the neighborhood.

Last but not least, bibliophiles shouldn’t miss out on La Central. Generally considered to be Barcelona’s best bookshop for Spanish and Catalan titles, it also offers a (somewhat limited) selection of foreign language books. The big Raval branch houses a nice café as well.

Rome: Tasty

Yes, we’ve all seen Eat Pray Love and are well aware that culinary explorations of the Eternal City’s earthly delights have long gone mainstream.

And yet – Rome just overwhelms you with its embarrassment of artistic riches and religious sites. If you are looking for something a little less cerebral and spiritual, what better option is there than Italian food?

Various agencies offer guided walking tours around the city’s markets, specialty shops, and traditional eateries. However, if you prefer doing your own thing, you can probably cram this foodie program into one day.

Tiramisu Start out at the National Museum of Pasta, lovingly dedicated to nine centuries of noodles. Then you can spend the afternoon admiring (and tasting!) the world’s most famous tiramisu at Bar Pompi and/or eating your way through assorted gelaterias.

If you still have the stomach for it, you can unwind over an early evening aperitivo. In many bars, you’ll even get free fingerfood to go with your cocktail.

Munich: Sporty

When you think of Munich, the first thing to come to mind is probably beer. But let’s just forget about the awful “beer mobile” – a strange, bike-like contraption for sightseeing-cum-drinking tours, as well as an obvious tourist trap for soon-to-be tipsy backpackers.

In fact, Munich isn’t merely home to various breweries and beergardens. If you rather want to see Munich’s more active and sporty side for yourself, there are plenty of ways to do so.

The local surfing community (yes, you’ve read that correctly) that frequents the Englischer Garten is a must-see for curious visitors. But you can easily get a bit of exercise yourself!

InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 4For instance, you could go for a swim or just a couple of hours in the steam room of Müllersches Volksbad, Munich’s oldest public pool, with its elegant art déco interior from the early 1900s.

Unsurprisingly, the city boasts several indoor climbing locations, where you can practice your abseiling skills before you head out to the Alps.

If you don’t have the time for a detour to the mountains, there are also guided tours for climbing the tented roof of the large stadium from the 1972 Summer Olympics. Not quite the Zugspitze, but still fun!

London: Outdoors

A quasi-rural atmosphere with plenty of leafy greenery and a flourishing wildlife isn’t exactly what buzzing London is internationally famous for. But if you should ever stay in the city during the summer months, just join the locals on Hampstead Heath.

The 320-hectares public park in northern London was used as common land on the outskirts of Victorian London until the late 19th century. Today, it’s a great spot for urban ecologists interested in its amazing biodiversity, for long-distance runners looking for a suitable practice ground, and even for fearless swimmers.

Its erstwhile water reservoirs have all been turned into ponds, three of which serve as natural outdoor pools. Take note, though: The water temperature in summer usually ranges from 18°C to 20°C – but you can even use two of the ponds all year round. Brrr…InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 5

In case you’re more the arty than the outdoorsy type, Hampstead Heath is home to the freshly refurbished Kenwood House: The stately 18th-century villa boasts a small but select art collection.

It is also the setting of a recent costume drama. The biopic Belle (2014), starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, focuses on the unusual story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race member of Kenwood’s aristocratic family.

Aficionados of English literature may know that Keats House, the erstwhile home of Romantic poet John Keats, is close to the Heath as well.

While Keats is buried on the Protestant Cemetary in Rome, other famous writers have been laid to rest on nearby Highgate Cemetery – such as Victorian novelist George Eliot and German exile Karl Marx.

The lush and verdant graveyard is truly peaceful, rather than morbid – urban legends about ghosts and the mysterious Highgate Vampire notwithstanding.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

From Trailing Spouse to Trailblazing Spouse!

Today I am going to spill three “dirty secrets” of trailing spouses, and I suspect that many of you will be glad I did. I am talking about things that you or your fellow trailing spouse likely wouldn’t admit in public, but chances are, you can relate.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 1 Don’t worry: After the cat is out of the bag, I will share three proven steps to do less trailing and more living. This insight is based upon years of experience training and coaching trailing spouses from six continents – complimented by my own expatriate experiences in Switzerland and West Africa. Three “dirty secrets” most trailing spouses won’t admit in public:

1. “I am a bit lost.”

You would never guess it by talking to them at the school’s drop-off spot or over a cold drink on a Friday night. However, there are a significant number of women who, while confident on the outside, feel stuck. Self-doubt sits like a small but irritating weight on an otherwise happy heart.

Don´t get me wrong — these are strong, productive women. At the same time there is a part of them that feels lost, in doubt or simply down. Ironically, most are slow to even admit this to themselves. This somewhat subtle yet uncomfortable reality is a signal of an inner desire for change.

2. “It is not enough just to be with the kids.”

What mother in her right mind would admit this in public? We all agree children are a gift. Children can add depth and joy to our lives that is unparalleled. Yet, all too often there is an undertone of shame when women do anything but put their children’s wishes ahead of all else.

One of my workshop participants said it beautifully: It is like negotiating at a street market when you propose a price and the seller responds: C’est bon, mais n’est pas arrivé. It is good, but it’s not enough.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 3 The women who feel this way are amazing mothers. They are dedicated, available, measured in their discipline and generous with their love. They love being a mom. It is meaningful to them.

At the same time, these women are hungry for a purpose outside of motherhood and beyond supporting their partner. They are talented and eager to make a contribution to the world. They have underutilized skills and talents that are bursting at the seams to be shared.

3. “I want control.”

No, they don’t want to control others. They want some sense of control over their time and things that are meaningful for them.

A trailing spouse can easily have her day filled up for her with school and home obligations – especially in some countries where “getting things done” can be far more complex.

Ok, the truth is out. You can see these are actually not dirty secrets but pure realities for women who are hugely supportive of their children as well as their partners.

Business woman with the globeFor those of you who feel like I have just spoken to your soul – I invite you to begin the journey of going from trailing spouse to Trailblazing Spouse™.

By my definition, a Trailblazing Spouse™ comes clean of these “dirty secrets” by taking charge of her own life. Here is how she does it:

* She has projects that are fulfilling and in alignment with her future goals.

* She is happy – and when she is not, she can recognize it and has solid strategies to make things better.

* She has a community of like-minded individuals whom she can call upon for personal and professional support.

* She has resolved the identity dilemmas from the relocation.

* She has found balance between the needs of her family and her own.

A Trailblazing Spouse™ has found joy in her life abroad and is committed to making the best of it.

Here are three steps that will help you get there: up, back and forward.

1. What brings you up?

Get crystal clear on what lights you up. Name two things you know you´ve always wanted to do or experience. Make a commitment to get started on one of these within the next three weeks.

2. What holds you back?

Make a list of the excuses you tell yourself. Name what scares you most about doing the things that bring you joy. Lonely girl with suitcase at country road.

3. What is so appealing that it will move you forward?

Identify one small step forward on your trail. Bribe yourself with something so amazing that it is irresistible to take the first step. Celebrate this accomplishment and repeat liberally.

Just get started today. Your adventure is waiting.

The author, Sundae Schneider-Bean, is an experienced coach and intercultural specialist who helps trailing spouses transform their lives. She offers programs and coaching for trailing spouses to live in better alignment with their passions and skills.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

Playing for a Change: The InterNations World Games 2014

By now, the FIFA World Cup counts as old news, and even the euphoria in the wake of the German victory has died down.

However, at the InterNations office in Munich, we now have another soccer-related reason to celebrate: The first InterNations World Games series has just finished!

What are the InterNations World Games? – The local soccer tournaments in several InterNations Communities are part of our Volunteer Program.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 2“Why not give our members a strong sense of purpose in their Local Community?” InterNations founder Malte Zeeck describes the motivation for introducing the Volunteer Program in the first place.
“We can leverage our huge member base to make a difference on a global scale.”

Where and when did the InterNations World Games take place? – Our volunteers organized these fun activities in seven cities around the globe: Dallas, Dubai, Madrid, Moscow, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich.

The kick-off happened in Munich, as early as mid-June, just in time for the grand opening of the “official” World Cup. The finale, so to speak, took place in Moscow last weekend, on July 27.

Why did we come up with this idea? – With the InterNations World Games, we hoped to accomplish three goals that really matter to us:

– We wanted to increase awareness of the InterNations Volunteer Program in general.

– We intended to show a positive example of multicultural team spirit. We didn’t just want to do something for people in need; what’s also very important is to be inclusive and do it with them.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 1The refugees supported by the Volunteer Program in Munich and Vienna, for example, were invited to form their own teams and join in the competition. The Vienna World Games thus ended in a well-deserved triumph for the Caritas mixed squad from Nigeria and Afghanistan.

– Last but not least, we also planned to raise some funds on behalf of the local NPOs that our various Volunteer Groups cooperate with.

“The World Games activity was perfectly timed. It served as a great platform for promoting our recently formed Volunteer Program in Dallas and the fund-raising efforts underway.” Looks like our three Group Consuls from the Dallas area, Sanjeeb, Shalah, and Doaa, scored a hit with their tournament!

Who benefits from the InterNations World Games? – As mentioned above, every Volunteer Group works together with a local non-profit which they provide with regular and sustainable support.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 3In the seven World Games cities, the respective NPOs include household names like Caritas or the Red Cross; they aid refugees, orphans, or homeless families, as well as impoverished children or kids with special needs.

On behalf of these people and the entire InterNations team, we’d like to thank everyone who made this victory possible.

A special thank you goes to our local sponsors in Madrid (Schindler Group), Munich (Sat 1 / Club Padel München / Sony Music & Entertainment), and Vienna (Sportanlage KSV Siemens Grossfeld), who provided us with t-shirts for our youngest participants, great prizes for our winners, and the gracious offer of a free venue for the day!

Of course, heartfelt thanks go to our Group Consuls in all the InterNations Communities who got involved, to the volunteers who helped to organize the tournaments and made sure they ran smoothly, and to the over 300 attendees who came to participate, cheer on the players, and have fun for a good cause.

And unlike the FIFA World Cup, the InterNations World Games will hopefully return next year. Here’s to 2015!

You haven’t been there? Just have a look for yourself!

InterNations World Games 2014 from InterNations on Vimeo.

(Image credit: 1) Arun Amirtham 2) InterNations 3) Franz Schnedl; video credit: InterNations)

What Not to Bring: The 3 Most Random Items for a Desert Island

What would you take with you to a desert island? When we posed this question in the InterNations office, answers were predictably diverse, but not always serious. Here’s a look at some of the funnier suggestions on what (not) to take with you.

Prompted by the changeable summer weather, quite a few InterNations staffers have found themselves dreaming of crystal clear waters, sandy shores, and calm island life instead of working in a busy city.

Which got us wondering: What would we take with us to a desert island? You may have already had a read through our more serious list of suggestions.

However, among knives, sunscreen, and building equipment, there were also some less serious answers to be found. Here are the InterNation team’s top 3 things (not) to bring to a desert island.

Your Whole LibraryInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 1

True, bringing a book with you for entertainment and survival purposes is generally not a bad idea. Even if you get tired of reading the same old text, paper can at least be used to make a fire.

The range of reads suggested by the InterNations staff, however, surprised even the bookish members of the Editorial Office. From books on reincarnation (to feed the imagination) to Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe (“He managed somehow!”), there seems to have been something for every taste.

But let’s be honest, would you really schlep The Complete Works of William Shakespeare with you to a remote island? Our alternative suggestion: someone develop a solar-powered eBook reader, please!

A Monkey

InterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 2 Life on a desert island is bound to get lonely at one point or another. Having company, even if only in the form of a pet, is not such a bad idea.

One of our colleagues even had a very particular species in mind: a monkey! Her reasoning? “It can not only entertain me, but also get the bananas and coconuts off the trees for me.”

Thinking about it, this really does sound like a good idea. And who knows, if you are already proficient with training animals, you may be able to get any native monkeys to do the same. King or Queen of the Monkeys has a nice ring to it.

BatmanInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 3

Looking at the various answers, you could usually tell very quickly how serious a person took the task.

Mini-bar, ice-cream machine, and an X-Box are realistically not going to help you much after a shipwreck. Better bring a knife, medication, and a rescue flare!

Or go all out and take Batman along with you, as one InterNations staffer suggested:

“Batman is always good at getting out of situations. I figure he’ll help me.”

DC Comics may disagree, though.

(Image credit: 1) 1623 Shakespeare First Folio edition, public domain 2) Bali: The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary by flickr user William Cho 3) Batman Artwork by Wikimedia Media Commons user Nicholas Gemini)