Homesickness: The Best 5 Tips for Beating the “Expat Blues”

Even expats get the blues: Moving abroad is a tremendously exciting opportunity, but sooner or later every expat has to grapple with some stressful issues.

Sometimes, you’ll cope pretty well with the dreaded culture shock – for example, because you’ve been to the country before or because it’s quite similar to your own in a number of ways. Even then, however, you may be surprised to find yourself missing home really badly at times.

Homesickness isn’t only for little kids or students during their first exchange year. It can affect everyone, no matter how old you are or whether or not you’ve lived abroad before.

Actually, getting homesick is a fairly obvious and understandable reaction. If you want to talk about it in fancy psychological terms, you could call it a slight “adjustment disorder”.

Even the most flexible and dynamic people are creatures of habit at heart. Once their routines and environment undergo a drastic change, they’ll notice – and it does take them some getting used to. Portrait of beautiful woman leaned on the bench.

Everyone craves some measure of security and affection, and moving to another country often disrupts your usual ways of meeting those emotional needs. Fortunately, there are some tried and true measures you can take to adjust more easily.

1) Make yourself comfortable. There’s no point in trying to recreate your old apartment on the far side of the world, but moving into new accommodation, let alone living in a hotel room or furnished lodgings, often lacks the personal touch.

For starters, just bring along some cherished belongings to help you feel more at ease: your comfiest pillow, a collection of family photographs, and those knick-knack that have been gathering dust on your bedside table for the last few years.

2) Keep in touch. When it comes to staying in touch with family and friends back home, you need to find just the right balance between “clingy” and “out of sight, out of mind”.

You definitely shouldn’t neglect those loved ones you’ve left behind. On the other hand, if you spend all your time glued to Skype or staring at your Facebook phone app, this won’t help you with your new life abroad.

So, try to schedule regular phone calls or video chats with the people you’re closest to, and set aside some pre-defined time slots for updating your blog, sending a mass email, or uploading some pictures to social media. This still leaves you plenty of time for other activities. InterNations Expat Blog_Tips against Homesickness Picture 3

If you’re struggling with a wonky Internet connection or still need to find a decent mobile plan, good old “snail mail” will do the trick: Everyone loves getting a colorful postcard, a hand-written letter, or a small gift!

3) Establish some routine. If you start a university course or take up a new job right away, this will structure your daily and weekly routines immediately. However, even the busiest “worker bees” need something to look forward to outside the office.

And if you have arrived early or come along as a traveling spouse, you may suddenly find yourself with lots of time on your hands. This can be both liberating and overwhelming.

It really helps to create a mini-schedule for yourself, including duties as well as pleasure. Once you have devoted a couple of hours to job hunting, grocery shopping, or household chores, don’t forget to reward yourself!

Keep up with one of your favorite hobbies, or occasionally indulge yourself with a TV show or radio program from back home.

4) Explore. There’s only one thing as important as routine – and that’s novelty and change. Starting a new life abroad is a prime opportunity to try new things. First of all, just play the tourist for a while and get to know the city and country where you now live.

In addition to that, now’s the time to shake things up a bit: Pick up a new hobby that you never got around to. Learn a new language – especially the local one. And don’t be shy to make new friends at your workplace, your children’s school, the gym, or the next expat event.

Speaking of expat events: When you meet new people abroad, it may help to avoid the so-called “expat bubble”, where you only socialize with other expatriates, especially those from your own home country.

Memory LaneOn the one hand, your expat friends easily understand your mixed feelings about moving, homesickness, and culture shock; on the other hand, mingling exclusively with expats may keep you from ever feeling truly at home abroad.

5) Take good care of yourself. Homesickness isn’t a “real” illness, but you should nonetheless be kind and patient with yourself. Admit to yourself that you are missing home and give yourself time to adjust – but don’t wallow in your negative feelings.

It may be tempting to stay up all night to phone friends in a different time zone, or to hide in bed when you’re feeling particularly down. However, avoiding the problem at hand seldom works. It’s usually best to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and make sure to take a brisk walk or do some exercise.

Self-care recharges your batteries, so to speak, and it’s easier to settle in if you’re well-fed, well-rested, and full of energy!

And what are your best tips for expats missing home?

Image credit: iStockphoto)

Flood Relief for the Balkan Region

Though it did make the international news, the recent disaster in Southeastern Europe may not yet have achieved the same kind of awareness as comparable catastrophes. Several Balkan states are suffering from the worst flooding in over a century, and more than 1.5 million people from the region are affected. InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 1

Where has the flood hit particularly hard?

While there is some flooding in parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia, the border region in Northeastern Bosnia and Western Serbia is worst off. The situation in Bosnia, though dire, is less critical by now as the heavy rains have stopped.

The residents of Belgrade, the Serbian capital, still have some cause to be anxious. The water from the River Sava, an important tributary of the Danube, is expected to reach the city by the end of the week.

Who is affected by the disaster?

All in all, an estimated 1.6 million residents, or more, have been struck by disaster, in some way or the other. Thankfully the official number of casualties remains fairly low, with 50 people confirmed dead and others still missing.InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 2

However, about 30,000 Serbians and over 100,000 of their Bosnian neighbors had to leave their homes behind. Others “just” have to deal with the fallout of ruined housing and damaged infrastructure (roads, power stations, water supplies).

Why are the consequences of the flooding so dire?

Bosnia & Herzegovina in particular is in a rather bad state. The floods have been called the worst thing to befall the country since the 1990s Balkan Wars.

In the short term, the many drowned farm animals and the lack of fresh water pose a serious risk of epidemic diseases, like typhoid fever. But the long-term effects shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

The destruction of numerous family farms in the countryside means the loss of their livelihood for the owners – as well as a serious damper on the national economy. Nearly 20% of Bosnian workers earn their living in agriculture.

Lastly, the waters and resulting landslides have dislodged countless landmines from the wars. Only one third of all landmines used between 1992 and 1995 have been found and destroyed so far. Up to 120,000 mines may still be buried in once disputed border territories.

InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 3This is a major danger: Post-flood recovery work will proceed more slowly; all helpers, volunteers, and returning families are at risk; the anti-landmine specialists often need to start their work all over again, as they no longer know where the explosives ended up.

What do the flood victims need right now?

Obviously, the governments responsible for the affected areas have to provide technical and military support for rescue and recovery operations, especially if landmines might be hidden (or have washed up) there.

But the displaced residents are also in urgent need of everyday items, such as food, medication, clean drinking water, toiletries, powdered milk, and baby clothes. In the not so distant future, many of them will have to rebuild their lives from scratch.

How can you help?

The following organizations are probably the most reliable recipients for international donations.

- The Serbian government has established an official flood relief fund to coordinate efforts.

- The Red Cross Society of Bosnia & Herzegovina is asking for financial support (site in Bosnian only, but there’s an online appeal, as well as English-language payment information on the homepage).

- The Novak Djokovic Foundation, established by the Serbian tennis star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is also collecting money to rebuild or renovate kindergartens and schools in affected regions.

Moreover, local and national aid organizations from your country may also be trying to help. To cite but one example: the German NPO action medeor is currently sending medical supplies to local clinics and hospitals in the Balkans.

And don’t forget to spread the news: Just share this post – thank you! Xвала! Hvala lijepo!

(Photo credit: 1) Bridge south of Banja Luka, Bosnia by Wikimedia Commons user Бојанић Тибор 2) Landslide in Krupanj, Serbia by Wikimedia Commons user Zoran Dobrin 3) Uprooted traffic sign in Sarani, Serbia by Wikimedia Commons user Михаило Јовановић)

Founder’s Diary: The UAE

Malte, InterNations founder and CEO, shares his fresh impressions of our expat communities in the United Arab Emirates.

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to visit several InterNations Communities during one single trip. Spending my vacation in the United Arab Emirates, I seized the chance to attend InterNations Events in three cities. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 7

In late April, a six-hour night flight took me from Munich to Dubai, where I arrived somewhat bleary-eyed at 6 am. The difference in temperature was a bit of a shock as well: I’d left behind a grey and cool city with April showers and 5°C outside, but I arrived in a desert climate with blinding sunshine and 30°C. I spent two weeks in the Emirates, and it didn’t rain once.

Ras-al-Khaimah

A one-hour taxi ride took me from Dubai to Ras-al-Khaimah (RAK), one of the smaller emirates, especially in terms of population. Only 170,000 people live there; on the way to RAK, we mostly drove through the vast desert and empty coastal plains. We even passed herds of free-roaming camels along the way.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 4 When arriving in RAK, I immediately noticed that the atmosphere is rather different from Dubai. It’s a far less crowded place with fewer tourists and a more relaxed ambience. I very much enjoyed having a few days of vacation to myself. The warm weather was ideal for lounging on the beach, swimming in the hotel pool, and playing some rounds of golf.

Still, I was definitely looking forward to the InterNations RAK Event on April 21. We have circa 1,000 members in Ras-al-Khaimah, but our gathering was a small, cozy affair. About 30 people from 15 different countries met up at Cove Rotana Resort, a lovely village-style hotel round a lagoon, with our bar directly on the beach.

Unfortunately, Celine, an expat from Mauritius and our RAK Ambassador, couldn’t make it, as she was traveling. However, she’d still managed to organize the event, and members like Cleo, Bruno, and Ali gave me a warm welcome in her stead. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1c

The tight-knit gathering gave me a great, familial feeling: It really was a bit like meeting an extended family of friendly, easy-going expatriates, where I actually managed to talk to everyone in person – something that’s obviously no longer possible at our larger events. They even presented me with two nice photography books about the UAE and Saudi Arabia as a welcome gift. Thanks again for the surprise!

Despite the smallish size of our get-together, I had the distinct impression that RAK is a pretty lively InterNations Community. Consuls such as Yvonne, from the Arabic Conversation group, Sebastian (RAK Outdoor Adventures), as well as Cleo and Karin – who run the InterNations Foodie Club – come up with plenty of fun activities for our members.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1dThanks to Celine, I also got to participate in a falconry show at the Hotel Banyan Tree Al Wadi, organized by Ryan, a local InterNations member. Daniel – another of our members in the UAE – then provided me with yet another fascinating opportunity: a visit to a real Swiss chocolate factory in the middle of the Arab desert. Thank you for all these fantastic activities!

Abu Dhabi

After one week of vacation, I was off to Dubai, where InterNations member Gay Mendoza kindly helped me find a comfortable hotel for my stay. Unlike RAK, Dubai is huge and very busy: Over 35% of the UAE’s entire population, nearly 2 million residents, live there.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 8 Therefore it’s no wonder that the drive took over two hours, as we got stuck in traffic a lot. From the car window, I spotted the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building: The glittering, needle-like structure is an unmistakable landmark in Dubai’s sprawling skyline.

However, I didn’t see much of Dubai at first. Together with Philipp, a German expatriate who has been our InterNations Ambassador in Dubai for several years, we drove another 1.5 hours to Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, where we met up with the local Ambassadors team.

Our booming Abu Dhabi Community (with over 14,000 members) is run by three hospitable expat women: Loretta from Canada, Farrah from the Philippines, and Maha, another Canadian expatriate. The three jokingly call themselves “Charlie’s Angels”, after the popular 1970s TV show with actress Farrah Fawcett. And they are just as full of charm and can-do spirit as their television heroines!

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 3 I invited the angelic Abu Dhabi Ambassadors team for dinner at the Imago Restaurant and Bar of the Royal Méridien Hotel, where our event was to take place later on. Over the delicious food, we avidly discussed the future of our growing expat community before the guests started arriving.

240 people had signed up for the get-together, and the three Ambassadors did a great job welcoming them and introducing our members to one another. Thus I also got around to talking to quite a few expats living in Abu Dhabi. I learned a lot about the structure of the Emirates (a federation of seven principalities ruled by sheikhs) and the differences between such places as the capital and Dubai, the principal business hub.

Dubai

A few days after the gathering in Abu Dhabi, it was finally time for the InterNations Dubai Event. Dubai isn’t only a major business hub in the Gulf region, but also one of the world’s top expat hotspots. In fact, most of the residents are foreign nationals rather than Emirati citizens.

It’s hardly surprising that InterNations has over 40,000 members in Dubai, our second largest Local Community, right after London. That night, nearly 680 people were on the guest list for our event.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1b The InterNations Event took place at the Pure Skylounge, located on the 35th floor of Hilton Dubai The Walk Hotel, a rooftop terrace with splendid views of the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island off the coast. Nina, our second Dubai Ambassador, was so kind as to organize the gathering while she was out of town.

Philipp and I were there to host the event, and I was introduced to a great many members from Dubai. I particularly remember our Group Consuls Waleed, Ibrahim, and Anas, all very committed to running various Activity Groups in Dubai.

Fortunately, I also had plenty of time to thank our volunteers for their time and energy: They are essential in creating such an active and busy expat life in Dubai. For instance, we have over 100 different InterNations Activity Groups, with nearly 100 Activities per month – there’s really something to choose from for everyone!

After the official event, I have a few more days left in Dubai. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1aSo I did a bit of sightseeing, visiting the Dubai Mall (an enormous “temple” of consumerism), the Fountains (an illuminated fountain system with special performances set to music), Deira and the Gold Souk, and the Madinat Jumeirah, a new souk with views of the Burj Al Arab. I also got to admire the “jet-flyers” on the waterfront – a new trendy kind of sport that everyone seemed to be crazy about.

It must be interesting to live in such a dynamic, fast-changing city: I’d been here before, 10 years ago, and it feels as if half the city hadn’t even existed back then.

Soon enough, it was time for my flight back to Munich, though, where I landed on another cold spring day. Another heart-felt to thank you to everybody who made my trip to the UAE such a success!

(Photo credit: 1), 2), 4), 7): Malte Zeeck/InterNations; 3) Celine Mambode, 5) Farrah Alenie Cañaliso, 6) Waqas Mohammed)

Labor or Leisure? Working Time around the Globe

This Thursday, May 1, is a welcome day off from work for millions of people across the globe. While the Anglophone world (e.g. Canada or the US) has established Labor Day as a national holiday in autumn, many other countries, for instance in Europe or Latin America, celebrate the same occasion on a different date.

Considering the origins of Labor Day, inextricably linked to the late 19th-century movements for improved working conditions, this is a great opportunity to talk about working time around the world.

Toil in Turkey, Chill in the Netherlands…

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re not laboring in some sweatshop or farmyard for 12 hours a day, like your forebears. But how much do people in highly industrialized nations actually work these days?

Which countries are the “busiest”? And where should you consider moving if you rather value your leisure time?

The statistical database maintained by the OECD may hold the answers to such questions. According to 2011 figures, the following OECD member states set the record for average working hours per week: InterNations Expat Blog_Working Hours around the World_Pic 3

• Turkey: 48.9 hours
• South Korea: 44.6 hours
• Mexico: 43.3 hours
• Greece: 42.1 hours
• Czech Republic: 41.1 hours

You can draw up a similar list for those lucky nations, where residents enjoy an unprecedented amount of time away from the workplace, rather than earning their living by the sweat of their brow.

• Netherlands: 30.5 hours (about 18 hours less than Turkey!)
• Denmark: 33.7 hours
• Norway: 33.9 hours
• Ireland: 34.9 hours
• Switzerland: 35.2 hours

Since I’m typing this in the InterNations head office in Germany, I’ll also add that Germany follows directly after Switzerland: The average German works 35.5 hours a week. Or so says the OECD. Judging from the frequent complaints of some rather overworked friends of mine, statistics and personal impressions don’t always match.

Behind the Stats

First of all, the data cited above doesn’t distinguish between self-employed professionals and 9-to-5 employees, or between full-time and part-time workers. Tired businesswoman sleeping in office

For example, Ireland’s figures may be low because the recession of 2008/09 forced quite a few people into casual part-time jobs. People in such positions are likely to earn less and have little money to spend in their spare time. Some German companies also switched to “Kurzarbeit” – reduced working hours, plus temporary wage cuts – to avoid mass lay-off in hard times. If you have two kids to raise and a mortgage to pay off, you may not be looking forward to that sort of change.

Moreover, the part-time employees who keep those statistics low frequently tend to be women. For instance, the average woman in Germany or Switzerland works 30.5 or 29.1 hours, respectively – about 10 hours less than their male compatriots.

In such cases, the difference is often accounted for by unpaid work within the home: Looking after young children or elderly relatives doesn’t equal a life of leisure. It can also add a financial burden decades after the fact, since pension plans and retirement provisions often depend on average life-time earnings.

Leisure Time and Loss of Productivity?

Despite the cautionary explanations described above, residents living and working in countries with shorter working weeks tend to fare better in other respects as well: They often have generous legal requirements for annual leave, as well as paid time off on public holidays – such as Labor Day.

InterNations Expat Blog_Working Hours around the World_Pic 2 While South Korea, for example, grants 15 days of annual leave, employees may still be reluctant to take all of these three weeks off. People working in Denmark, on the other hand, are entitled to at least five weeks of leave per year. Add this to the difference in weekly working hours, and you may safely state that the average Korean will spend far more time at the office than the average Dane!

However, this does not necessarily mean that Park-ssi or Lee-seonbae in Seoul will, in the long run, be more productive than Lars or Mette in Copenhagen. Indeed, average productivity, efficiency, or economic prosperity don’t seem to be strictly proportionate to average working time.

So, if you have May 1 off from work, you can enjoy your free day with a clear conscience!

In what kind of work culture do you prefer to live? Do you think that most people work too much or rather too little?

(Image credit: 1) Flickr user Daniel Novta 2) + 3) iStockphoto)

Insights into Expat Life: A Look at the InterNations Member Base

Have you ever wondered what makes the members of our InterNations network “tick”, so to speak? Are you curious about what they do for a living, how long they’ve been staying abroad, and what their future plans are? Now’s your chance to find out!

Over the last few months, our team has conducted a series of surveys to gather customer feedback in order to improve the InterNations experience for our members. Along the way, we have collected a variety of factoids about our member base, which we’d like to share with you.

Reasons for Relocating

The typical InterNations member is in his or her late thirties (the average age is 39), and Mr. or Ms. Expat is very much a highly qualified career guy or career woman. The vast majority of our members has at least a bachelor’s degree, and most of them moved abroad for the sake of their job (56%) or their education (37%).

However, there’s also a vast contingent of people with a definite case of “wanderlust”: Almost one third of survey participants decided to move because they enjoy living abroad. InterNations Expat Blog Member Survey Pic 1

(If you’re an attentive reader, you may have noticed that the three figures above add up to over 100%. Multiple answers were possible.)

On the Job

So, what do our career-minded expats actually do? While about a quarter of all respondents describe themselves as employees, 30% are in a management position of some kind – with a respectable 8% at the top of the corporate ladder.

16% of our members prefer being their very own boss, though: They are self-employed or successfully run a business.

Of course, we have also found out which sectors and industries are especially popular to work in. InterNations members have a strong affinity for IT and technology. With 12%, this was the most cited response to our question.

Runners up are finance and real estate, as well as education (with 10% and 9%, respectively). In comparison, the utilities sector and agriculture/mining were the two least frequent replies as far as occupation is concerned.

The Expat “Life Cycle”

But InterNations members don’t just live to work. They clearly like life abroad: Nearly 50% of all survey participants belong to the category of “long-term expatriates”. They left their home country two or more years ago; a great many have even been living abroad for five years or longer.

Our community has a significant percentage of local members, too: 18% are currently living in their native country, and 13% identify as “repatriates”, i.e. those who’ve recently come back from a stint abroad. InterNatons Expat Blog Member Survey Pic 2

The local members frequently dream of globe-trotting (again), and about one fifth has concrete plans to move to another country within a year.

All things considered, it hardly comes as a surprise that over 20% of InterNations expats would want to stay abroad forever.

Thanks and Congrats!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to fill in our questionnaire! We are very grateful for your feedback and will do our best to take all valuable input on board.

In particular, we’ve been told, over and over again, that our members are looking forward to seeing new Local Communities opening all across the world – particularly in emerging countries in Africa and Asia.

Last but not least, we’d like to congratulate the lucky winners of our prize draw. We raffled off five iPads among our respondents.

These prizes go to: Finnish expat Marina in Nice (France); Sophia from Belgium, who’s now living in Lisbon (Portugal); Marcus, a New Zealander in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia); US expatriate Craig Bailey in the Czech Republic, and Vicki, who has exchanged her native Greece for Belgium. Enjoy!

(Image credit: InterNations)

Going Home – Easier Said Than Done

Saying farewell is hardly ever easy. Our guest blogger Ben shares in the following his thoughts on the temporality of expat life and on going home again…

Hong Kong is such a transitory city. You have people from all over the world coming here to study, to work, or to live; but usually just temporarily. Sometimes they stay for a few years, and sometimes just for a few short months. It’s this ever changing environment that allows you to make friends so quickly, but on the flip side, it seems that there are always good-bye parties to attend. Recently, I had to bid farewell to a few friends in Hong Kong. It seemed like we had just gotten to know each other, and yet it was already time to say good-bye.

InterNations Expat Blog Saying GoodbyeI remember one good friend in particular. Her assignment at the Hong Kong office was up, and she was being called back to the head office. It was time for her to go home. During one of our last outings together, I asked her how she felt. She told me, “You really start to miss where you were because you forget all the disadvantages and only remember the good things.” She was understandably sad because this was her first time living abroad. She’d made some unforgettable memories and great friends. At the same time, she was nervous because going “home” would not be the same.

Having lived in a few different places and attended countless farewell parties for both friends and for myself, I understood what she was going through. I have often experienced short periods of depression when I returned home. The first thing I miss is the adrenaline rush of being in a foreign locale. When I am abroad, even mundane tasks can turn into an adventure – sometimes a very frustrating one. However, after returning home, I often forget the difficult moments and why they were so stressful. I just remember the excitement.

Secondly, everything at home seems to be the same: the people, the food, and my old stomping grounds. But for some strange reason they don’t feel the same. What I have soon come to realize is that it’s me who has changed. I am not the same person who left, perhaps, just one year ago. I have grown and been infused with new ideas and new perspectives. As journalist Pico Iyer so eloquently states it: “Once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home, become something different.”

Lastly, by being abroad, I usually have a wealth of interesting experiences and stories to share, but I often find that there are not too many people who I can share them with. Many people around me don’t seem to be that interested in hearing about them. I have learned over time it is not that they don’t care about me. They simply can’t relate very much to what I went through. When it is hard to relate to something, it is also hard to contribute to the conversation. And when it is hard to contribute to the conversation, it’s really best to change the topic.

InterNations Expat Blog Going HomeI am fully aware that my Hong Kong journey will probably come to an end eventually. There will be many parties to attend and farewells to say. I always hope that I will be able to stay in contact with the people I’ve met along the way. I do try my best, and all the new technological tools are definitely helpful, but everyone gets busier and it becomes harder to keep in touch.

When the adrenaline and excitement slowly subside, I am left with my thoughts and memories. I know that I will probably go through a period of melancholy while adjusting to my new-old surroundings. But after returning home, I always try to keep in mind what writer Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in seeing with new eyes.”

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations at the Expat-Expo Ticino

On Sunday, March 30th, our two Lugano Ambassadors Maria-José Horstkamp and Alon Goldreich, along with their team of helpers, spread the InterNations spirit at the local Expat-Expo in the Ticino region of Switzerland. In Lugano’s Palazzo dei Congressi, they distributed flyers, enrolled quite a few new members, and created a lot of visibility for our community.

InterNations Blog Expat Expo Ticino Pic 2 From the beginning, the booth was abuzz with conversation. Local InterNations members visited the booth and mingled with other expats. There were moments when a dozen people gathered around the stall, which attracted considerable attention. No other booth caused the same kind of interest, except for the food stalls maybe.

Some people came to our booth because they had heard about InterNations and wanted to know more. Others approached us out of curiosity, and some came because they were interested in the free raffle. All of them were welcomed by the Ambassadors and warmed up quickly to the concept of our network. Furthermore, they got to know some of our friendly and welcoming InterNations members and started chatting with them.

Our Ambassadors truly went the extra mile and organized everything themselves: They made the arrangements, they set up the physical location, and they used their social skills to get people involved. InterNations is about connecting expats and global minds, and the success of the Expat-Expo highlights the power of this idea.

InterNations Blog Expat Expo Ticino Pic 1 After the Ambassadors had arranged the logistics, everything else happened all on its own. Our members talked to non-members, shared some stories, and many people decided to sign up. And this is in no small part due to the genuine spirit of openness that each InterNations member demonstrated.

This event also offered an opportunity to network with other companies and even venues (i.e. restaurants, hotels, etc); accordingly, our Ambassadors proactively sought out new ideas for activities and ways to enhance their official events.

Our Ambassadors Maria and Alon used the banners and proceeds of previous events to help our network grow and get new members on board. We would like to thank them for their great commitment and for sharing the InterNations spirit so generously!

(Image credit: Jim Fok, Lugano Foto)

Visualizing International Communication Patterns

Can some graphics with lots of arrows, squiggly lines, and a couple of captions save your international business meetings? One man thinks they can.

Cross-Cultural Communication Charts

Richard D. Lewis is an author and a consultant for cross-cultural communication. In his approach to doing business around the globe, he has attempted to summarize the conversational attitudes of various nationalities in a series of diagrams.

An online article that depicts these “communication charts”, as Lewis calls them, went viral a while ago, and so we’ve decided to take a closer look.

Hand drawing chart in whiteboardAt first glance, his simplification of how different nationals will approach, for example, corporate negotiations verges on the stereotypical at times. According to Lewis, Italian business people are often “verbose”, the Australians tend to be informal and “matey”, and the Danish put great emphasis on “hygge”, their version of well-being and relaxed intimacy.

Orderly Germans

Being German myself, I did find myself nearly laughing out loud when I scrutinized the communication chart for business talks among Germans. That particular illustration is all distinct and direct steps, as well as orderly, straightforward lines.

According to the captions, German business meetings usually include such stages as “examining the facts”, “making a frank proposal”, and “offering a counter-proposal” if the original suggestion should meet with unexpected resistance. The participants are very evidence-based in their outlook and can rather labor their points during discussions.

While the unofficial German motto is, “just the facts, please”, the official one is definitely “follow the agenda” (no detours or sidetracks allowed). And whereas other cultures strive for “clarity” of outcome, or for reaching an agreement, that’s apparently not enough for us nit-picky Germans. A result isn’t merely a result, but “the truth is the truth”, end of story.

The reason why I almost burst out laughing at those descriptions is because I actually recognized my own behavior to a certain extent. Admittedly, I love having an agenda and sticking to its points. I’ve also been called “awfully German” in my frankness before, though that comment was meant in a jocular manner.

Understated Brits

The person who considered me the cliché of a blunt, outspoken German was my former English conversation teacher. I attended his classes for eight years, during my university days and beyond.

My teacher was a very British gentleman, who’d taught English as a foreign language around the world and then settled in Munich to work for the local branch of a multi-national company. I wonder what he’d make of Lewis’s charts. InterNations Expat Blog International Communication Patterns 2

I’d like to think that I also recognize some of my old language teacher’s “typically English” traits from the respective diagram. While I preferred cutting right to the chase in debates, he wanted to share his appreciation of small talk.

When the discussions among us students were gradually becoming heated or tedious, he’d remain calm and unflappable, relieving the tension with a dry joke or two. Even in the face of verbal resistance, he avoided open confrontation and went for vague compromises or understated humor instead. “Don’t rock the boat” could have been his motto, too.

Everything’s Always More Complicated?

However, other team members at the InterNations office disagree with Lewis’s assessments. One of my co-workers, somewhat familiar with Finland and its people, told me that she doesn’t share his impression of a very laconic and yet highly efficient Finnish work culture. However, Lewis himself has lived and worked in Finland for many years.

As usual, such differences in opinion show that, even for experienced expats, it can be difficult to summarize the business world and mindset of an entire country – be it in a few sentences or a few strokes. However, such simplified models of culture can be a great starting point for exploring how other people work and talk and think.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Book Review: Quiet New York

“Let silence take you to the core of life.”

This quote by the 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi could serve as the unofficial motto for author Siobhan Wall and her series of unusual travel guides. She is an artist, photographer, writer, and curator in search of tranquility, even in the very midst of urban life.

Motivated partly by her personal preference for a slower and quieter way of life, partly by an illness that caused some loss of hearing, this quest for silence has inspired four eclectic travel books so far.

After Quiet Amsterdam, Quiet London, and Quiet Paris, the latest volume, Quiet New York, is just fresh off the presses. It is a guide to a selection of peaceful places in the biggest US metropolis, oases of calm right in the City That Never Sleeps.

IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 1The vivid evocation of NYC’s soundtrack in the book’s introduction makes this sound like a rather elusive goal: New York is full of noises, from the early-morning clanging of the garbage trucks, over the constant honking of angry cab drivers, to the throbbing beats of party music from the city’s nightclubs. There are even some construction sites that are busy 24/7, at noon as well as midnight!

However, in the course of her seven-week research, the author did assemble an astounding variety of silent spots in all five boroughs of New York City, free of traffic noise and background music. Many of them are word-of-mouth recommendations by friendly locals.

The over 150 portraits all provide brief descriptions of the location, an illustrative photograph taken by the author herself, as well as practical information for visitors. Both tourists and residents who are new in town may now take a laidback, blessedly noise-free tour round the featured places from one of the following categories:

• Parks and gardens IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 3
• Museums and art galleries
• Cafés and restaurants
• Places to relax
• Shops and bookstores
• Places near water
• Libraries and cultural centers
• Places of worship
• Places to stay

Some are fairly well-known locations that even I have heard about. (Unfortunately, I’ve never been to NYC, though it’s definitely on my list of places to see before I die.) These include, for example, Central Park, the inter-faith chapel at the United Nations, or Katz’s Deli of When Harry met Sally fame.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of unassuming nooks and crannies off the beaten track: for instance, several community gardens created by local activists and lovingly maintained by neighborhood residents, or an old-fashioned millinery shop for hand-crafted headgear.

The selection of quiet places also reflects New York’s history and diversity: In the museums, you can explore, among other things, the city’s colonial era, 19th-century immigrant life on the Lower East Side, or contemporary gay and lesbian art.

Cultural centers are dedicated to the resident Korean, Japanese, and African-American communities, and St Peter’s Catholic Church is introduced alongside the beautiful Central Synagogue and a Quaker meeting house.

Obviously, you can sample diverse cuisines in New York City, too. In the proposed eateries, you can enjoy Chinese dumplings, organic food, or traditional Italian dishes in peace and quiet.IN Expat Blog Quiet New York Pic 2

If you are on a shoestring budget, you may be interested in free institutions such as public libraries and parks, but there’s something for the well-heeled as well: You can relax at an upscale spa or sleep in a luxury apartment suite with its own Zen garden.

For me, the concept of Quiet New York holds great personal appeal: I rather like exploring cosmopolitan cities, but I’m also a bit of an introvert who gets stressed out by too many crowds and too much noise. Travel guides like this one could be a nice solution for this dilemma. If or when I finally make my dream of going to NYC come true, Quiet New York could be a useful source of information and inspiration.

For example, I’d dearly like to see The Cloisters, a museum of medieval art designed in the style of a French monastery and situated in Fort Tyron Park, above the Hudson River. The author’s own favorite spot sounds like a great place for a picnic in spring: In Brooklyn Botanic Garden, you can admire the cherry blossom esplanade in April, or dine in a bluebell wood in May.

Perhaps this book will inspire you as well!

What are *your* favorite peaceful places round the globe?

PS: If you are an expat living in New York, feel free to come to a book signing at Word Brooklyn (126 Franklin St) on Sunday, April 6, at 4 pm.

Special thanks to Siobhan for the review copy of her book!

(Photo credit: 1) Japanese Pond in Brooklyn Botanic Garden, public domain 2) Red Coat / Red Stairs (Roosevelt Island, NYC, at Dusk) by Ludovic Bertron 3) Central Synagogue, NYC, public domain)

Make Your Choice: Voting Rights for Expats

Today, we’re exploring the issue of voting rights for expats, especially within the EU. Find more information on absentee voting below!

Outside the InterNations office in Munich, the cityscape is still cluttered with slightly faded posters for the most recent electoral campaign. About two weeks ago, eligible residents were invited to go to the polls and vote for the new city council. On Sunday, another run-off ballot will decide who is going to be Munich’s next mayor.

Voting Locally

For some members of the expat community in town, local elections may have a special status. Since 1992, expatriate EU nationals have been allowed to cast their vote or stand for candidate in their current country of residence, provided they live in another EU member state.

Some countries in the European Union also permit non-EU resident to participate in local elections. This is, for example, the case in Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden.

InterNations Blog Absentee Voting for Expats Pic 1Compared to the huge media response that usually accompanies national campaigns, voting on a local level seems somehow less exciting. However, decisions made in local politics often affect our day-to-day lives more than we might think.

In Munich, for instance, the municipal government is involved in issues as diverse as disposing of our household waste, maintaining the public transport network, running daycare centers for toddlers, or sponsoring cultural events.

Therefore, it’s a bit surprising that comparatively few EU citizens make use of their right to the local vote. About 8 million people living in other EU member states are eligible to vote, but only 10% of them go to the polls in municipal elections across various various member states.

Voting for the European Parliament

Voting for a new mayor or your town councilor of choice isn’t the only political decision that European expats may be entitled to. As soon as Munich’s posters for the mayoral elections are taken down, I suspect that others will soon appear in their place. After all, the EU-wide elections for the members of the European Parliament are scheduled for May 22, 2014.

Again, EU nationals can vote in any other member state where they reside. In this case, the voter turnout tends to be a lot higher. It normally ranges from 45% to over 90%, depending on the individual country.

And yet again, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of our decisions. The European Parliament can debate and pass laws applied from the Polar Circle to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. The institution is also responsible, together with the European Council, for discussing and adopting the EU budget. InterNations Blog Absentee Voting for Expats Pic 2

If you’d like to read up on the impending European elections, please check out European Citizens Abroad. The non-partisan NPO wants to raise awareness of EU issues, increase the voter turnout among EU expatriates, and help to standardize some aspects of voting legislation within the EU.

For example: nationals of some EU member states can participate in EU elections even while they live outside the EU, whereas other can’t. If you do decide to go the polls, the site’s voter registration deadlines for various EU countries are of interest as well.

Voting in National Elections

Last but not least: what about expats in general, EU nationals or not, and absentee voting in national elections? If you live abroad and still want to have some say in national politics back home, it’s best to get informed as early as possible.

Get in touch with your nearest embassy or consulate and ask them for further details on the absentee ballot. Often, there is some sort of application process to complete and that may take a while.

So, no matter where you are from and where you live now, find out in which elections you are able to vote and how to go about it. Regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to participate, at least you can make an informed decision.

(Image credit: 1) Vote icon: public domain 2) Flag of the European Union by flickr user rockcohen)