My InterNations: Home is where the expats are

We have a special new year’s surprise for you: In 2015, we’d like to introduce you to various members around the world.

We want to explore how InterNations has changed their lives and how they are changing the lives of others in turn: by bringing people together, sharing knowledge, and offering support. They are creating their own InterNations, online and offline.

My InterNations “My InterNations” highlights inspiring stories from expat life to showcase the connections between our global minds and their fellow wanderers. We’re kicking off this series with an interview with Jennifer, originally from Woodbridge (Virginia), and currently living in Austin (Texas).

She’s been an InterNations Ambassador since 2008 and a Consul in several Activity Groups. Maybe you’ve already met her: Jennifer is a “serial expatriate” who has lived in four countries over the last seven years, as well as a recent “repatriate” who just returned to the country of her birth.

“I never feel at ‘home’ unless the room is full of expats”, she says. After all, she thrived overseas by getting involved in local community life. She’s even franchised her own Activity Group in three countries!

A Vagabond at Heart

Jennifer’s personal journey took her to the Czech Republic, to Mexico and Spain, and back to the US. It transformed her from a person “enjoying the comforts of her own borders” into a self-described “eternal traveler and vagabond at heart”.

Her key moment was the opportunity to study abroad in Italy. Suddenly, “the world completely changed”, she says, and there was no turning back. As soon as possible, she seized the chance to move overseas again. InterNations Expat Blog_Welcome Abroad_Post 1_Pic 3_Jennifer in Prague

After three and a half years in Prague, she then switched jobs to join AirBnB. “Work with a travel company,” she finds, “helps to fuel the search for the new and borderless”. This nomadic lifestyle has led her to Europe and Latin America, to Portland, Chicago, Miami – and finally to Texas.

Though Jennifer is no longer an expat, she describes herself as a global mind. Living abroad has taught her “the flexibility to handle new challenges, countries, and cultures”. She’ll be glad to start “building some roots in Austin” with her husband José, an expatriate from Portugal – and yet:

She still enjoys indulging other people’s “eternal curiosity for the world”.

Taking the Reins as Ambassador

Back in 2008, Jennifer had been living in Prague for eight months when a former co-worker recommended InterNations. She joined – and soon “took the reins” as the InterNations Ambassador for the fledgling expat community. She “found solace and community in organizing events and connecting with others in the same position”.

Unsurprisingly, she isn’t just a serial expat, but also a “serial Ambassador”. She didn’t only develop the InterNations Community in Prague, but was part of the Ambassador team in several other cities: four very different destinations and expat communities. Her InterNations experience spans the Atlantic Ocean – from Eastern Europe to Mexico and the US.

At the “crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe”, Prague is “a great ‘starter’ city for expats”, she thinks, with a good mixture of international long-term residents and a huge turnover among temporary expats. InterNations Expat Blog_Welcome Abroad_Post 1_Pic 1_Jennifer in Mexico City Coincidentally, it’s also here that InterNations changed her life: Jennifer met her husband via the Prague Community, first online and then at an event six years ago.

In Jennifer’s opinion, Mexico City, with its buzzing nightlife and active local residents, was the “largest and most diverse InterNations community” out of the four, whereas Cancún still had room for growth.

A smaller community often has very tight-knit expat circles, though, offering more chances to get to know people individually. That was a big part of what Jennifer enjoyed about Cancún, with its interesting “mix of older retirees and younger adventurers”.

A Growing, Youthful, and Eclectic City

Last but not least, Jennifer joined an established Ambassador team in her new home, Austin. Not quite among the ten most populous US cities, Austin isn’t the first place to come to mind when you think of expats in the States. But that impression easily changes once you take a closer look. InterNations Expat Blog_Welcome Abroad_Post 1_Pic 2_Jennifer in Prague

Jennifer is full of praise for Austin, “a growing, youthful, and eclectic city”. Within InterNations, it’s actually one of the smaller communities, with about 1,900 members. Still, it’s “one of the most diverse I have worked with”, she says, pointing out the “great representation of nationalities”. Her fellow Ambassadors, Lara and Rachita, for example, are from Italy and India, respectively.

Together, they’ll keep bringing our members in Austin together at monthly InterNations Events: They’re helping them to discover what Texas’ most dynamic and eccentric city has to offer, and they are giving InterNations their personal touch.

Seeing Strangers Become Friends

In addition to her role as one of the Austin Ambassadors, Jennifer greatly enjoys running a couple of Activity Groups. Ladies’ Night Out, a group for expat women, will hopefully support them to “forge meaningful female friendships” – something that was very important to her when she was living far away from home.

InterNations Expat Blog_Welcome Abroad_Post 1_Pic 4_Jennifer in Austin Together with her husband, she also organizes Austin Kitchen Crashers, a group for dinner events they’ve “franchised” to their third community. They used to run similar groups in Prague and Mexico City and adapted the concept whenever they moved. In a way, they carried “their” InterNations with them: Wherever they are, they have the chance to meet many other “foodies” at selected restaurants or even in their own kitchen.

Events and activities like the Thanksgiving dinner for orphans without any plans for the major US holiday are born out of Jennifer’s “love for seeing strangers become good friends”. Or sometimes more: she’s been a matchmaker for at least six international couples, she reckons.

If you ever come to Austin, look up our InterNations Community and be our guest. Or be inspired by Jennifer’s story and the stories yet to come:

Create your own InterNations.

If you would like to share something you love about your InterNations Community, send us (@InterNationsorg) a tweet using #MyInterNations! We will be happy to retweet.

(Image credit: Jennifer Fry; 1) Jennifer (ri.) at an event in Prague 2) Jennifer (ri.) and other members of the InterNations Community in Mexico City 3) Jennifer (ri.) at an event in Prague 4) Jennifer (second from left) and the Ladies’ Night Out Group in Austin)

Welcome 2015: Start your new year with InterNations!

Remember our previous blog post about the best New Year’s resolutions for expats? InterNations provides a fun way of actually sticking to some of them.

After we successfully organized a themed “Celebrate Your InterNations Community” month in summer 2014, we’ve decided to kick off 2015 with a similar series of events and activities: “Welcome 2015 – Start Your New Year with InterNations!”

InterNations Expat Blog_Welcome 2015 with InterNations_Pic 3Apart from welcoming a new year, we do have another good reason to celebrate: By now, we have over 1.4 million InterNations members in nearly 400 cities all over the globe. Our motto events and activities should offer you ample opportunity for keeping New Year’s resolution #3 from our list ─ meet new people!

What our InterNations Ambassadors and Group Consuls have planned for you, though, could also help you to stick to a few more of those pesky resolutions:

• Are you eager to improve your language skills? In Oslo, our Speak Norwegian group has organized a 24-hour fun cruise from Fredrikshavn, with plenty of time to brush up your Norwegian vocabulary offshore.

The Cairo Conversation Club, on the other hand, provides a somewhat more low-key setting for an Arabic-British cultural and language exchange.

• If you’d rather be more active and explore the great outdoors, our Toulouse Travel Club has a special treat in store. They are looking forward to their New Year’s ski trip to the French Pyrenees. Those who aren’t that fond of skiing can still enjoy a snowshoe tour, a bit of ice-skating, or a relaxing day at the spa.

yes you canOr, if you want to prove really tough, check out what the Helsinki City & Outdoors Group, as well as the InterNations RAK Outdoor Adventures Group, has scheduled: There’s nothing like a bit of ice swimming or a nice hike through the desert to get the blood pumping!

• All that outdoorsy athleticism isn’t quite your thing? Then join our bookworms in Cambridge or Brussels to cross “read more” off your to-do list for 2015. Our local book clubs will be discussing The Island by Victoria Hislop and Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup or Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, respectively.

• Our Zurich Art Lovers Group will also expand your cultural horizons and encourage you to take a broader view of the world. Together, they will visit the exhibition “Logical Emotion”, dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary art from Japan.

• Of course, our regular InterNations Events, too, offer you lots of opportunities to begin the New Year in style: The Sofia Community, for example, is going to explore a brand-new venue in town, while InterNations Augsburg is hosting a “Nerds in the New Year” party for 2015 fun times. And for a “make a wish for 2015″ prize draw, just join our InterNations Event in Manchester!

• Or maybe you’re among those people who stubbornly keep boycotting New Year’s resolutions? Exercise more? Stop drinking alcohol? Eat only healthy food? No, thank you!

Glasses with champagne against holiday lights In this case, one of our London Activity Groups has just the right kind of gathering for you: Welcome 2015 with Pizza. No fuss, no athletic feats, just one of the best authentic Neapolitan pizza places in London. Cheers!

For more themed events and activities, check the InterNations Event Calendar and keep your eyes open for the “Welcome 2015″ logo. Have a great start into the New Year!

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

The Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Expats

1. Eat healthy.

This one is a classic: After indulging during the festive season, lots of people are looking forward to plainer fare. How about giving your dietary changes a local twist?

Find out where to shop for fresh produce and explore some farmer’s markets, or try new recipes from the local cuisine! (Unless you happen to live in Bavaria: Our traditional dishes are excellent, if done right, but healthy they probably aren’t.) InterNations Expat Blog_New Year's Resolutions_Pic 3

2. Exercise more.

Another classic, and the resolution that’s broken soonest. If you have this on your list, don’t aim to go from Couch Potato to Iron Man in two weeks. Instead, look for a way of exercising that appeals to you and that’s easy to include in your schedule.

Do you live in a bike-friendly city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen? Start cycling to work. Have you settled in a peaceful neighborhood where it’s safe to venture outside round the clock? Go for a brisk walk in the morning and at night. Did you move to the mountains or the seaside? Take up hiking or swimming.

If you can’t stay motivated on your own, consider joining an InterNations Activity Group (e.g. running or yoga). It’s easier to get off the sofa if you have friends to motivate you.

3. Make new friends.

Expats tend to be busy people with international careers, crammed schedules, and address books full of friends and business contacts across the globe. It’s hardly surprising if you don’t have much time to socialize with strangers.

Give it a try, though! Of course, you shouldn’t give up on keeping in touch with old friends. But it’s never too late to make new ones: At the next expat event, strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before.

Maybe you can find a local friend as well – a friendly co-worker, a helpful neighbor, a language tandem partner – someone to help you feel at home abroad. 2015 Goals

4. Write more “snail mail”.

In the age of social media, we’ve all spent countless hours in videochats with family members on another continent, liking the Facebook photos of friends we left behind, or tweeting about our adventures abroad.

However, a good old-fashioned letter is a thoughtful gesture for your nearest and dearest. If you’re lazy, you could settle for sending a series of picture postcards to your loved ones back home.

But if you’re the overachieving type, why not put together a little surprise package with gifts from abroad? E-mails are fine and dandy, but you can’t unwrap pixels on a screen.

5. Volunteer.

If you want to give back to others beyond family and friends, volunteers are always needed – no matter where you are. Find a cause you’re passionate about and ask if they need some helping hands.

You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to support those in need. Everyone has a talent they can use to “pay it forward”. You’re an amazing salesperson? Look for fundraising opportunities. You’re a professional web designer? Perhaps an NPO needs a new homepage. You love teaching? Someone could profit from your mentoring skills.

Check out the InterNations Volunteer Program: Maybe there’s already a volunteer group nearby. InterNations Expat Blog_New Year's Resolutions_Pic 1

6. Read a good book.

According to a survey conducted by Stiftung Lesen, one in four Germans doesn’t read any books at all. On the other hand, 3% form a “hard core” of bookworms who finish at least 50 books per year.

Why not go on a journey of the mind without leaving your living-room? Travel-themed books are perfect for expat readers: classic travelogues such as John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie or Nellie Bly’s Around the World in 72 Days; modern bestsellers like Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent or Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, or rarities of the genre, for example, Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s An African in Greenland.

If you’re feeling bold, dip into your destination’s literary classics. Well, if you’ve moved to Russia or France, don’t start with War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past. That’s the literary equivalent to a marathon – and the surest way of never sticking to your resolution.

7. Broaden your horizons.

If reading isn’t your cup of tea, you can acquire new knowledge and skills in other ways. Perhaps your boss can be persuaded to pay for a seminar, or you could sign up for a long-distance learning course to rev up your CV.

Learning something new about your host country’s history or culture might be another fun way of expanding your mind. Are there any local lectures or evening classes to attend? Whether it’s called “adult education” (UK), Volkshochschule (Germany) or folkeoplysning (Denmark), this is a good place to start.

8. Learn a new language.

This resolution is pretty self-explanatory for expats. Even if you don’t need the local language at work or in school, your time abroad is the best opportunity for improving your skills.

good luck on blackboard And if it happens to be the same as your mother tongue, maybe you’ve always wanted to brush up your French or find out how Chinese writing works. After all, language is the key to any country and its culture.

9. Play the tourist.

Yes, an expat is rather different from the casual visitor. But while you are busy getting things done, from filing paperwork to furnishing your apartment, it’s tempting to fall into a mind-numbing routine.

Set aside some time to explore your new home, and don’t be afraid to start with the obvious sights. It’s still a fun break from your lengthy to-do list! Once you’ve settled in, you can start straying off the beaten path and smile at all the tourists who don’t know the town as well as you.

10. Move (again).

You’re suffering from wanderlust and an incurable case of boredom? Perhaps it’s time to move again.

If you aren’t an expat yet, you might want to give this some serious thought. Planning your new life abroad could be a true challenge for 2015 – and the best New Year’s resolution ever.

And what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2015?

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

Santa on a Surfboard? Christmas on the Other Side of the Globe

’tis the season! In the spirit of the holiday season, our new guest author Viara fondly remembers her first Christmas as an expat “Down Under”…

When it comes to Christmas, being born and raised in Europe means we grew up with the traditional imagery of Santa on a sleigh, flying through the winter clouds to bring presents to all kids around the globe. When we were spending our first Christmas as expats in Sydney, Australia showed us some completely different images.

There were Santas on surfboards, Santas on jet skis, Santas with snorkels and fins, Santas with koalas and kangaroos, and many other Santas. They were busy enjoying beach life rather than taming reindeers for their sleigh. These pictures always bring a smile to my face, odd and dear to me as they are – memories for life.

O Christmas Tree, O Plastic Tree

I clearly remember our first Christmas in Sydney: Our little family was a bit overwhelmed by the veritable explosion of all kinds of Christmas-related products. This commercial abundance, familiar from the United States, actually caused a counterbalance of defiant abstinence. sunbathing Santa Claus relaxing in bedstone on tropical sandy be

We refused to pay a hundred Australian dollars to become the proud owners of a fresh Christmas tree. Keeping in mind the 30 °C on Christmas in Sydney and the thought of the soon-to-die fresh tree, we ended up with a little plastic tree for DIY assembly.

Our 5-year-old son didn’t mind at all. To him it probably mattered more what was underneath the tree.

Christmas Market vs. Beach BBQ

There were only a few things we missed during Christmas in Australia – but to be honest, there aren´t many things one can miss in this blessed country. The local Christmas market was one of them, though.

There is something unique about the atmosphere at a German Christmas market, all illuminated with beautiful decorations. Visiting Munich´s biggest market on Marienplatz, sipping on a Glühwein (hot spiced wine), munching Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) and gebrannte Mandeln (sugar roasted almonds) – this is what Christmas used to feel like, a heart-warming experience for all senses.Christmas snowman in santa hat at sandy beach

Well, not this time! We had our first non-winter Christmas as expats in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons work the “other way round”. Instead of 0°C we got 30°C, a hot Sydney summer.

Traditionally, the 25th of December (Christmas Day) is famous for the so-called “morning swim”. All the Aussie families are well equipped for a picnic and BBQ (the no.1 sport in Australia, “footy” comes second).

With plenty of meat and beer in a fancy cooler, they populate the beach to jointly celebrate the festivities. Manly Beach, the place where we lived, turned into a buzzing crowd of local folks swimming, surfing, jumping, and singing: a big family celebrating fervently, many of them in Santa dress-up, Santa bikinis, or provided with Christmas trees. The self-assembly plastic ones, of course.

Surfin’ Santas

We walked by the beach, watching the crowds with some astonishment, a little bit of a culture shock experience. Not the painful kind, but the funny one – we felt a bit like in a movie, absorbing all these new ways of celebrating Christmas.

We realized that Australia’s deeply rooted surf and beach culture has left its imprint on Santa’s Aussie-style appearance. At the age of five or six, little kids in Australia, our son included, join the so-called “Nippers” run by the local Surf Life Saving club. There they acquire all the skills they need to navigate Australian beach culture.

So Santa is typically shown on the beach: on postcards, stamps, posters, and in TV ads. He might come on a surfboard, like in the first major ALDI Christmas campaign in Australia – a jolly race of fun-loving Surfin’ Santas who hit the waves with a yummy ham to celebrate the perfect Aussie Christmas. happy new year 2015 with smiley face in santa hat on sandy beach

Santa might also be walking barefoot on the beach or sitting on the sand, reading Christmas wish lists like in the Australia Post Santa Mail ad. Santas often arrive by jet ski, water ski, or boat: They do so at the Darling Harbour Santa Fest in Sydney, which my son loved. This event takes place every year, featuring a parade of hundreds of Santas, a water show, and breathtaking fireworks.

Our second Christmas in Sydney was much more Australian-like. We joined the crowds for the morning swim on the 25th, celebrated Christmas with friends, enjoyed the BBQ, and tried the honey-glazed ham.

We started finding comfort in the plentiful customs of Christmas in Oz. We even looked up the most sought after Christmas lights suburbs in Sydney and enjoyed strolling along entire streets full of Christmas lights that looked like something from a fairy tale.

I´ve made my peace with the do-it-yourself-assembly plastic Christmas tree, although it didn´t make it back to Europe when we left Australia after two amazing years.

Traditions, Traditions

This week we went for a fresh cut-it-yourself tree in the forest near Munich, Germany. Back home we savor the moments on the Christmas markets in and around town. We are grateful to have experienced both kinds of Christmas, European and Aussie-style.

There are many more thrilling questions to explore all around the globe: Does Santa in Egypt come on a camel? Is “Pere Noël” in France, “Sinter Klaas” in Denmark, and “Babbo Natale” in Italy really the same person? How come that “Ded Moroz” (Grandfather Frost) in Russia has a girl called “Snegurochka”(Snow Maiden), his granddaughter, with him?

Merry Christmas to everyone who’s celebrating!

Viara Richter is an independent consultant, intercultural trainer and coach supporting people and organisations to better manage and embrace cultural diversity.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

Book Review: Moving without Shaking

The subtitle of Moving without Shaking by Yelena Parker says it very succinctly: The book is a “guide to expat life success from women to women.” As the author states in the introduction, it’s supposed to be a handbook, or at least a starting point, for the ordinary “woman next door” who’d like to live and work abroad.

Moving without Shaking is based partly on the author’s own experience, as well as interviews with about a dozen women boasting an international résumé. Ms. Parker herself left her native Ukraine for a graduate MBA degree in California in the 1990s and has lived in the US, the UK, and Switzerland in the course of her career.

A Comprehensive Guide to a Successful Relocation?

The premise of the book is highly appealing: After all, plenty of intelligent and resourceful woman are dreaming of starting over in another country, of exploring different cultures, or boosting their CV.

Business deal But, to paraphrase the guide, they aren’t necessarily CEOs, entrepreneurs turned millionaires, renowned authors and artists, or celebrities of any sort – in short: the kind of lucky person who can take a global lifestyle for granted. This doesn’t mean that realizing their dream is impossible.

The fundamental structure promises to explore a successful relocation in depth. The respective chapters cover all the factors, both practical and psychological ones, which will impact your personal plans for a future abroad: education, fear of settling, languages, cultural adaptation, career changes, relationships, networking, and attitude.

Unfortunately, the content doesn’t always live up to a promising start. Sometimes, the chapters do provide insightful discussions and helpful advice.

For instance, the section on cultural adaptation offers all expatriates-to-be some food for thought. It distinguishes between four kinds of mindset that most people have while living in a foreign country (tourist, student, expat, transplant), and then goes on to explain which one will help you the most in adjusting to your move. College Student in a Library

Other chapters contain some excellent checklists that you might want to go through before starting a new job: For example, there’s an in-depth discussion of the benefits involved in expat compensation packages, as well as an extremely useful list of questions to ask regarding appropriate office behavior in various business cultures.

Practical Tips or Personal Stories?

I would have liked to see more sections like those mentioned above, or simply a more systematic approach to the topic in general.

At one point, the author says outright that she doesn’t believe in spoon-feeding people information. However, if you set out to write a guide for a particular group of people, spoon-feeding them some essential information is an intrinsic part of your task. Otherwise, your potential audience could just start googling without reading your book.

So, a few checklists more and some fewer personal anecdotes would probably benefit the book. Some of the stories about successful expat women vividly illustrate a point or showcase inspiring role models. At other times, though, they just obfuscate the main point of the chapter.

What Kind of Expat Women?

Lastly, I couldn’t help the impression that this isn’t a guide for expat women as such, but a guide for a clearly defined sub-group of expat women: those who move abroad for a degree course or for their first job in a corporate environment with competitive salaries.

But what happens if you’re 35, 40, 50, and are suddenly looking out for a life abroad? How do the conditions differ in academia or in the non-profit sector? What if you are in a long-term relationship or have children?Woman with daughter on kitchen

However, I appreciate that the author acknowledges the issue of having aging parents back home, as this is a question that even the footloose and fancy-free expat woman might have to grapple with.

All in all, Moving without Shaking makes some interesting points about the process of planning your move abroad. If it’s the book for you, though, depends rather heavily on your individual situation, as well as your personal preferences with regard to advice: If you’re the kind of person who loves crossing off items on to-do lists, rather than mulling over your problems in a chat with good friends, it might not be your cup of tea – or the other way round.

Thank you to Yelena Parker for the free review copy!

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Preparing for Your Move: What to Ask Yourself Before You Go (Part II)

Are you contemplating packing your bags, boarding the next plane, and starting a new life abroad? Splendid idea ─ but no so hasty! Our guest blogger Ben provides a handy checklist that all expats-to-be should consider.

A few weeks ago, I wrote Preparing for Your Move (Part I) about the mental preparedness required for moving abroad. Once you’ve thought about the psychological aspect of your move, it’s time to consider the practical aspect because this is just as important.

Here are some of the questions that came up during the conversation with my friend:

1) How long do you plan on staying?

Have in mind a time frame and game plan for what you will do. Are you going to just travel, enjoy yourself, and contemplate the meaning of life for a while?

InterNations Expat Blog_Preparing for Your Move_Part II_Pic 1 Or do you plan to stay for a longer period of time, which will require a larger financial commitment and probably some kind of income?

2) Do you know the travel visa rules and working visa regulations?

Getting in trouble with the authorities in a foreign country is the last thing you want. If you plan to travel and hang out, do you need any special paperwork, and how long can you stay? If you need to extend your visa, how can you go about it?

What if you need to work ─ what is the country’s legal framework for working as a foreigner? And what if you do get in trouble with the law ─ what are your rights and what kind of protection does your home country offer you?

3) How well do you know the country?

Knowing the country’s history and culture is incredibly important. This will give you some insight into how the people behave.

What gives them pride as a nation or people? How are their relationships with their neighbors? What are some potential lightening rod or taboo topics? What is the current political and/or economic situation like?

By demonstrating some knowledge about the country, you also show a certain level of respect, and it’s a great way to make friends. So do your homework before you go.

4) Will you be able to communicate in a language you know, and do you know enough of the local language to survive?

Going to a foreign country where you don’t know the language is daunting at first. While English does seem to be the universal travel language, it doesn’t always work.multilingual concept

What percentage of people can communicate in English or another language that you know? Do you know enough of the local language to get by at first?

5) What is the most likely worst-case scenario that could happen?

While I don’t believe in worrying needlessly and scaring yourself to death, I do believe in being realistic.

This is another area where your research will come in handy. Look at the recent history and current situation in the country.

What are the issues, moods, and problems affecting the people? Based on this, what’s the worst thing that might happen to you, and what would you do in that scenario?

6) How long will your finances last if things don’t go according to plan?

Your finances are a critical factor. InterNations Expat Blog_Preparing for Your Move_Part II_Pic 2 While most people calculate how much they need, most don’t budget a “cushion” for emergencies.

As I was advising my friend, I recommend having enough funds for six months to live the way you want, assuming you will have no other income. I also suggest buying a good travel/health insurance policy.

7) What is your exit strategy if you decide you want to return home?

Developing an exit plan is always a good idea for any endeavor, and moving abroad is no different. If you need or want to leave, how will do you it? What will you do about your finances and with all your stuff?

Of course, it’s impossible to know all the answers or predict the future, and your questions (and answers) will change as your experience takes hold, but these are a good start.

I believe that most people are in the best position to make important decisions about their own lives because they know themselves best. However, sometimes you have to ask some difficult questions before you even get started.

But once you have found some satisfactory answers, all that’s left is to pack your bags and hold on because it’s going to be a crazy ride!

If you want to know more about the psychological side of preparing for an international move, have a look at Ben’s first article on that topic.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

10 Gifts You Really Shouldn’t Get Your Expat Loved Ones

1. Anything with a plug
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I have two travel adapters. Well one, the other is broken and when I want to charge my phone and
laptop at the same time, I have to risk electrocution and twist a fork into the back of it. So, as much
as I appreciate the lava lamp and electrically bejeweled Eiffel Tower model, they’re staying in the
box.

Actually, now that I think of it, I got an Irish extension cord when I was living in Germany. Literally
could not be less help. Wore it as a belt the following Halloween.

2. Glass
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I like glass. Love it. If I could wear glass, I would but it’s cold and I’d look naked. But don’t send
me glass. When I move, I do so with one bag, and the last thing I need is to forget there’s glass in
my bag, sling it on my back and feel like I’ve been prison-style shanked.

3. Clothing
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A cardinal rule of shopping for an expat, never buy them clothing. A scarf is the perfect idea, until
you find out they are going to South East Africa. So do us all a favor and steer clear of the coats,
scarves, gloves, shorts and flip-flops. Unless we’re talking about Jimmy Choo’s – I’ll wear Jimmy
Choo’s in Antarctica and look good doing it.

4. Fanny pack/Bum bag

I’m not Batman. I don’t need a utility belt, or a reason for people not to talk to me. So rather than
have me excitedly opening a box at Christmas, only to silently mouth words I can’t exactly repeat
here, let’s leave this unique fashion accessory to the chain-smoking Grandmothers at the Vegas
slots.

5. A picture of your family in period costume
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Why? I mean what do you do with that? Frame it? I’m not framing it.

6. A book based in your home country
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‘Yes I liked the book… No, I’m not coming home…Yes the characters really popped… Because
I’m happy here…Yes she reminded me of Aunt Mary. I’m still not coming home’.

7. Christmas ornaments
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You’re right, I can’t get any in Jeddah and it’s a great gift. But only if you give it a few weeks early.
If not, then I’m sitting with a nativity scene the size of a small freezer with nothing to do with it.
You’ve pretty much just given me a box. A box I can’t use. You know, because there’s something
in it.

8. A book of German pickup lines
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Yep, that’s what I want for Christmas, a reminder I’m still single. Thanks Mom.

9. A giant glass mirror
It does make my apartment look twice as big, thanks! And then you woke up from what was
clearly a dream, because that is an awful gift.

10. A guide on how to become a positive person
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Ok, reading the list I just wrote, I might need this one.

Our guest writer Sam Malone is an Irishman living in Munich, Germany. As a masters graduate in continental American literature, he is qualified in two things: being a nerd and reading books.

Giving Tuesday

Even if you didn’t celebrate US-style Thanksgiving last Thursday, this popular holiday may still have affected you, regardless of where you live: My email inbox could definitely tell you a thing or two about it.

Shop Till You Drop?

German retailers have enthusiastically adopted the traditions of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”: In the US, the Friday following Thanksgiving, as well as the Monday after the long weekend, is the official start of the Christmas shopping season, both in brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Every online shop ever has been bombarding me with newsletters and special offers, exhorting me to buy buy buy for the festive season. It’s a good thing that my email program comes with a big fat “delete” button. It’s rampant consumerism at its most annoying – and I don’t even live in the US! Vintage gift box (package) with blank gift tag on old wooden bac

Obviously, I’m not the only person who is irritated by making the spirit of the holiday season all about money and materialism. In 2012, the New York City community center 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation started Giving Tuesday in response.

Their aim? To make the Tuesday after Thanksgiving all about generosity and giving instead. Though it began as a US-based movement, the idea has been adopted by several other countries to encourage Giving Tuesday initiatives around the world.

It’s not a thing here in Germany yet, but maybe we can take to it with the same enthusiasm as our retailers have taken up the sales offers. But no matter if you live in Germany, the US, or elsewhere, there’s always time for giving back to your community – and not only today.

The Spirit of the Season

Right now, InterNations members around the world are heavily involved in bringing some seasonal joy to those who need it most. Various volunteer groups have embraced the idea of “Christmas in a Shoe Box”:

They collect a selection of small Christmas gifts in a box, creatively decorate the packaging, and pass on the presents to children in need – particularly to those supported by the local non-profit organizations we are already cooperating with on a regular basis.

A heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has already participated in this campaign or will in the future! You’d like to make a difference with InterNations too? Then just check if your InterNations Community has a Volunteer Group and have a look at their upcoming activities in December.

Your local Activity Group hasn’t joined this campaign? Or you just prefer something different? No worries! As a glance at the past and planned activities for volunteers shows, we have plenty of other things in store. InterNations Expat Blog Giving Tuesday Blog 1a

For example, the local group in Singapore will be celebrating International Volunteer Day on Friday, December 5th, together with the Singapore Red Cross Society. And our Dubai Volunteer Group is contributing actively to organizing the Manzil Carnival – an annual fundraising fun event with and for local children with special needs.

If you have your own idea for an activity, feel free to address your Volunteer Group Consuls or write to volunteerprogram@internations.org. You can find out more about the InterNations Volunteer Program on our site.

So far, we have scheduled 40 Volunteer Activities for the month of December, and over 400 people have already signed up to offer their support. Thank you to our Group Consuls and, of course, to all the individual volunteers who make this possible!

After all, the best gifts don’t come from the store, but from the heart.

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto 2) InterNations)

Founder’s Diary: Hong Kong

Last stop Hong Kong: InterNations founder and co-CEO Malte Zeeck pays a visit to our local expat community before heading home to Germany once more.

Hong Kong has recently been all over the international media, because of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution”: Students and Hong Kong citizens have been protesting peacefully for free elections in Hong Kong, as promised in 1999.

So it was really exciting for me to go to Hong Kong – after I’d just visited Beijing and Shanghai – and see what was going on there.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Hong Kong_Picture 2

I stayed at Lan Kwai Fong Hotel, in the Lan Kwai Fong neighborhood, an area that’s highly popular among expatriates and partygoers alike. It’s full of bars, pubs, and restaurants, and the venue for the upcoming InterNations Event, the Magnum Club, wasn’t very far.

An Interview with the Epoch Times

Right after checking in and changing out of my travel clothes, I needed to leave for the club already: A reporter from the Epoch Times was waiting for an interview before the event started.

The Epoch Times is an international media organization that is publishing newspapers in 15 languages and over 60 local editions around the world. It started out as a Chinese language daily in NYC, and the Chinese edition remains its flagship.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Hong Kong_Picture 3

This interview was therefore a great opportunity to introduce InterNations to a worldwide audience. We talked a bit about the idea for our network and the platform in general, the booming Hong Kong Community with its 22,000 local members, and the results of the Expat Insider Survey.

In our overall country ranking, expat hub Hong Kong “only” made it to #13 (out of 61 countries altogether). However, when it comes to the overall quality of life, Hong Kong did rank among the global top 5.

Our survey respondents had a fairly positive impression of the local infrastructure and the many leisure activities. But expat residents seem to struggle with the high cost of living – families in particular rated the costs of childcare and education rather negatively.

The InterNations Hong Kong Event

After the interview, our Hong Kong Ambassadors Will (a true global mind from Hong Kong), Amai (a Chinese-Vietnamese business development manager who grew up in Spain), and Devi (a communications expert from Indonesia) gave me a very warm welcome to the InterNations Event. Unfortunately, Cyril, a French expat and the fourth member of the Ambassadors team, couldn’t make it to the get-together.

I was really impressed by everything they’d done for this InterNations Event: At the location, huge LED walls displayed a welcome sign and the InterNations logo. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Hong Kong_Picture 4

Will had also organized tapas-style canapés (sponsored by Just-a-Restaurant), and another sponsor called Ice Pop offered ice-cream samples made with liquid nitrogen. There was also to be a prize draw, where guests could win gift vouchers, bottles of champagnes, and other surprise treats.

I hope the big “thank you” to our Ambassadors in my brief welcome speech did them justice. The same goes for my thanks to our Group Consuls in Hong Kong, as well as our local volunteers. I also used the opportunity to talk a bit about the history of InterNations. After all, we celebrated our seventh birthday a couple of months ago.

By now, we have more than 22,000 members in Hong Kong and 40 Activity Groups (for hikers, squash players, jazz enthusiasts, etc.), including our InterNations Volunteer Program. The volunteer group is run by Kylie and Mavis, and they support several local NPOs for the elderly, children from low-income families, and refugees.

When the “official” part of the evening was over, I seized the chance to talk to the individual members – well, some of them: Over 250 people from 50 different countries were on the guest list.

Peak TramObviously, I could ask only a few to share their experience with InterNations, both in Hong Kong and other Local Communities around the world. I always appreciate getting personal feedback to find out how we can improve our website or our events and activities.

The event went on quite long – which was a very good sign, as it showed that all the guests were really enjoying themselves. But I tried (and succeeded) to make it out on time, so I could still have one last drink in one of the many busy bars around Lan Kwai Fong.

My Last Day in East Asia

The following day was to be my last in Asia: In the evening, a long-distance flight would take me home to Munich. So I was determined to make the most of it.

I boarded the tram up to Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Leaving behind a huge construction site for another shopping mall, I took the popular walking path on Lugard Road.

From Lugard Road, you have amazing views of the Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour. As the Peak is a major tourist attraction, there’s also a restaurant in one of the quaint heritage houses, where I stopped for a cup of coffee. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Hong Kong_Picture 1

Later that day, I was strolling through Central Hong Kong, where students had been protesting in thousands. But on that afternoon, nobody was actually to be seen. So I just proceeded unhindered to the Prince’s building, a fancy shopping center in Statue Square.

The square – a pedestrian area in the CBD – is dominated by numerous skyscrapers that house administrative offices and corporate HQs. For example, I imediately noticed the glass-fronted Hong Kong headquarters of HSBC, our Global Partner.

There I met up with friends currently living in Hong Kong: We wanted to have a snack together at Sevva, a bar and restaurant in one of the coolest locations in the city. The rooftop terrace was ideal in that kind of weather – a balmy 29°C, as compared to the 7°C that awaited me back home in Munich.

Joigin, Hong Kong! This is definitely a city where I could live for a few years, and I left with a slight tinge of envy for all the expats I’d met the night before.

(Image credit: 1) & 5) Malte Zeeck/InterNations 2) & 3) Tony Chen 5) iStockphoto)

InterNations Relaunch: New Messaging Feature Live!

If you’ve been an InterNations member for the past six months, or longer, you’ve probably noticed that quite a few things on our website have changed. Our major site relaunch is still ongoing.

We are gradually updating the entire website to provide you with the best possible experience across our online platform. Design, navigation, and usability are all going to receive a complete “makeover”.

InterNations Expat Blog_Relaunch_Messaging Feature_Pic2 We have just released the latest instalment of the InterNations relaunch. Socializing online is just as important as our regular offline events and activities around the world. So, we’re making networking and communication easier for you than ever.

After a successful beta testing phase (a big “thank you” to everyone who participated!), we can now share the new and improved messaging and search features with all of you.

What’s this part of the relaunch all about?

In line with our enhanced networking experience, the latest updates make finding other members and getting in touch with them as easy as possible.

As we believe that these are essential features of our platform and help to ensure an active and rich community life for everyone, all InterNations members now enjoy unrestricted access to our messaging and search functions.

What has changed?

MESSAGING: We have introduced a new way of organizing your inbox. Your messages are now grouped into ongoing conversations with other members. This will help you keep track of back-and-forth communication at a glance.

• You can also write group messages to your contacts and have a conversation with multiple members at once. Every message that’s part of a multi-way conversation is visible to all recipients.

• It is now simpler, too, to find past conversations in your inbox. You can simply search your messages by name (i.e. of the person you were talking to).

• Last but not least, your whole inbox now sports our sleek, brand-new design.

messaging for  blog

SEARCH: Our advanced member search is also available in our updated design! The tool now offers all members lots of powerful search criteria, such as nationality, city of residence, interests, and more. Find like-minded members and expand your network!

Just log in and try it out for yourself: Look for other members with the same interests and get connected. Get in touch with your InterNations friends, wherever they are in the world. Write as many messages as you want (within reason ;) ).

Get active in your InterNations Community and have fun! More than 1.4 million InterNations members across the globe are waiting for you to join them online or at one of our 3000 monthly events & activities worldwide.

(And watch this space for more news on our site relaunch.)