Culture Sharing for Children’s Day

InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 1On 20 November we celebrate the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day. Jacira Barros, Volunteer Group Consul in São Paulo, shares her experiences of organizing creative activities for children with a local non-profit organization.

What does the Universal Children’s Day mean to you in relation to your role as Volunteer Group Consul?

This is a month for uniting all our commitment to contributing to a better world, and it begins with children. If we can give them a seed, in the future they may have a tree.

What is the non-profit organization that you are supporting, and what do they do to benefit children?

I support the NPO Vivenda da Criança. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 2 In Brazil, schools are part time, so parents go to work and leave their children at the Vivenda da Criança. Here they have access to art classes, playrooms, psychologists, educational counseling, and drug prevention lectures. For teenagers in need, they also offer vocational courses, such as hairdressing, baking, and IT.

The charity institution Vivenda da Criança is a non-profit organization that helps more than 4,000 people in Parelheiros, São Paulo, every month. In 1989, they started their activities as a shelter for at-risk youth. Over time, the institution has been growing, and today it offers various opportunities for children, adolescents, and adults to develop as people, citizens, and future professionals.

Which activity has been the highlight of your work with Vivenda da Criança?

The activity “Your Culture, My Culture” was the one I loved best, but I really liked the “Creative Factory” activity, too. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 3These two activities were the most demanding with regard to time, organization, and financial investment, but they were also the most enjoyable. The InterNations members, as well as the children, had a great time — I could clearly see it in their faces.

“Your Culture, My Culture” was a creative activity organized by Jacira and supported by 23 amazing volunteers. They created a fictitious passport for each child, which they could use to visit eight booths, each representing a different country. In the booth, the kids had the chance to learn more about the culture of the respective country, and at the end they participated in a fun quiz about what they had just learned.

What was the impact of this activity on the kids and the InterNations volunteers?

These activities were a great educational exercise for the kids. We planted a seed in the hearts and minds of these children when we taught them how to say “hello” in Chinese or when the Spanish booth taught them about famous painters. InterNations Expat Blog_Culture Sharing for Children's Day_Pic 4

The children, who live in a poor, underprivileged neighborhood of São Paulo, were able to experience that the world is much larger than that. Our members worked really hard, donated their time and love, and felt genuine gratitude for participating and working together with these children.

Jacira continues to organize activities together with her Co-Consuls and with the help of many volunteers in São Paulo. Visit the São Paulo Volunteer Group page to get in touch with Jacira or to join one of the activities.

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

Find out more on our About page or write to

(Image credit: Jacira Barros/InterNations)

Seven Sure Signs You Are a Seasoned Expat

In how many countries — other than your country of origin — have you lived? Two, maybe three? As many as five foreign countries, or even more? According to the Expat Insider 2015 survey, one in ten expatriates has lived in at least five different destinations — a pretty impressive number!

While we didn’t ask these survey participants any further questions about their particular experience, this factoid made us think: we started wondering what seasoned expatriates have in common, and how life on the move has shaped them.

How do you know that you’re a true “veteran” of the expatriate lifestyle? Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in our tongue-in-cheek checklist!

1) You find yourself needing a new passport because you’ve run out of pages for entry and exit stamps.

Maybe you still remember how proud you felt when collecting the very first stamp in your passport — the first time you traveled to a different continent or planned a longer stay abroad. Travel background with different passport stamps and four types of transportNow, you are rather blasé about the procedure.

Your passport is a tattered, dog-eared bundle full of colorful stamps and visa stickers, and you aren’t looking forward to clearing your schedule for another personal appointment at the nearest consulate.

2) You know all about zen and the art of personal productivity in waiting areas.

Be it at the consulate or the airport, the immigration office or customs authorities — sometimes, you have the distinct impression that the alleged excitement of an international lifestyle mostly consists of waiting. And waiting. And — you get the idea.

InterNations Expat Blog_Seven Sure Signs You Are a Seasoned Expat_Pic 2It used to drive you crazy, but now you face bureaucracy with a serene smile on your face. You know how to make the most of your time: answering business emails, researching your new destination, or opting for a stimulating “nappuccino” (a power nap plus a cup of coffee).

3) You have embraced minimalism.

Owning more stylish shoes than Mariah Carey or that high-end home entertainment system might be a shopping addict’s ultimate dream — but certainly not that of a globe-trotter. Not only is it new experiences rather than new possessions that make us truly happy: modern-day nomads also avoid encumbering themselves with too many belongings.

Cardboard boxes in new houseInstead, you are an expert at efficiently packing things, and you store your personal keepsakes in a box. The truly organized expat also has a folder with two copies of essential documents stashed in a suitcase somewhere.

4) You keep mixing languages and accents.

Seasoned expats are frequently fluent in more than one language, but sometimes, it’s hard for your jetlagged brain to keep them straight. You are familiar with that awkward moment when a common word in your mother tongue escapes you and you can only think of the equivalent in your second (or third, or fourth…) language.

Female high school student learns foreign languageEven monolingual expatriates who confine themselves mostly to the Anglophone world occasionally have to translate from one global variety of English to the other: after all, as author Bernard Shaw once quipped, countries like the UK and the US are separated by a common language.

5) You have a pretty relaxed attitude with regard to eating habits and personal hygiene.

We certainly wouldn’t want to imply that you always stuff your face with fast food and have never heard of deodorant. However, when you move travel from country to country a lot, you will quickly learn not to be too fastidious: you need to be flexible, even regarding the most personal routines.

InterNations Expat Blog_Seven Sure Signs You Are a Seasoned Expat_Pic 1There is no point in avoiding unfamiliar dishes when you’re hungry right now, and eating your way around the globe in street food makes even the most finicky palate more adventurous. Conversely, you may also be staying in places where you stuff used toilet paper into the trash rather than flushing it down the drain (or vice versa), or in areas where strict water-saving measures are in place.

Don’t sweat it! If you can cope with stomach bugs and literal toilet humor, you can cope with anything.

6) Maintaining friendships and family ties is really complicated.

Granted, it’s difficult even for the most sedentary of adults to give all friends and relatives the time and attention they deserve. Career, spouse, and kids usually take up most of your day, and keeping in touch with old friends or more extended family members requires a conscious effort.

For expats, the upkeep and maintenance of their personal network is even trickier. If your nearest and dearest are spread over half a dozen different time zones, I foresee a lot of late-night and early-morning Skype calls — possibly in a somewhat tense atmosphere caused by sleep deprivation.

Young Couple Making Video Call Using Digital TabletMoreover, both you and your loved ones back home might grapple with negative feelings: when you talk excitedly about exploring yet another city, they might think you don’t appreciate their more mundane news. When you miss your grandma’s 90th birthday or can’t make it to your best childhood friend’s wedding, that’s going to hurt everyone involved, too.

There’s no easy solution to such emotional entanglements. However, feel free to send those “friends” packing who only remember you when looking for a courchsurfing opportunity abroad.

7)You no longer have a clear cut answer to that simple question: “Where is home?”

Unless you are a “third culture kid” (someone who grew up in a culture neither parent identified with), you may at least have a ready response when someone asks you where you originally come from. Home sweet home emblem in old wooden frame
But once you’re asked about your home, you are stumped.

Are they talking about your country of origin? Or the one you’ve been living in for the past two years? That place, two or three destinations ago, you grew attached to and still miss?
On bad days, the nomadic lifestyle of the seasonal expat can make you all nostalgic for a safe haven — even cause an existential crisis. If nowhere is your home, who are you then? Nobody? On a good day, though, you’re bursting with optimism, ready to take on the whole world. You are at home anywhere and everywhere.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Celebrating German Culture at Home and Abroad

Germany is famous for a lot of things, but only few cultural traditions have spread across the globe as ferociously as the Oktoberfest. It is the largest and probably most widely celebrated Volksfest (folk festival) in the world, and whenever someone somewhere talks about Germany, they automatically evoke mental images of dirndl and lederhosen, hearty German food, and German folk music. This year, Munich celebrated its 182th Oktoberfest and welcomed around 6 million international visitors.

Hard to believe that it started off as the wedding celebration of Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810! The festivities were completed with horse races in the presence of the royal family, an event that was so popular that it was repeated in subsequent years. The first carousels were soon added, and by the 1870s, the event was dominated by beer tents and a large fairground.
Der Höhepunkt des Oktoberfestes auf der Theresienwiese in München! Die Riesen-Gebirgsbahn, die grösste der Welt, auf der Festwiese.

Although the horse races are no longer held today, the Oktoberfest (or “Wiesn” as the locals call it) is well worth a visit. Bavarian culture is very much alive there and you can observe the traditional garments (or variations thereof) all over the city. If you are lucky, you might even see a horse-drawn carriage of one of the breweries with a few barrels of the traditional Bavarian beer drive by.


It goes without saying that our expat community in Munich makes the most of this opportunity to get a taste of their host city’s heritage and traditions – and we’re not just talking about beer and pretzels here. Like every year, the Munich Community visited the Wiesn on several occasions, most notably perhaps the annual InterNations Official Oktoberfest Event: More than 300 members from all over the world got together to enjoy some food, drinks and sing along to the band performing a wild mix of traditional German songs and international hits.

InterNations Munich Official Oktoberfest Event

Of course, we didn’t want to deprive our members around the world of an opportunity to celebrate this German festivity as well.

German “Gemütlichkeit” around the Globe

Aside from the Munich community, our community in Wiesbaden-Mainz celebrated Oktoberfest as well. They met at Eisgrub in Mainz, a venue that is loved by people of all ages for its great German cuisine. Newsletter_20151015_LuxembourgActivity
Expats in Athens also met at an authentic German restaurant run by an expat from the Black Forest. Aside from original Oktoberfest beer, our members got to eat their way through a typical Bavarian buffet.

InterNations members in Rotterdam gave the traditional German event a bit of an elegant twist, as they celebrated at The Hilton, where they were served free welcome drinks and German delights in the Upper Lobby.

Our Sydney Craft Beer and Live Music Group celebrated Oktoberfest Aussie style. A small, local brewery had specifically created a beer for this occasion. The fact that the group met on German Unity Day was just the icing on the cake.

The Taipei European Group brought extra German flair to their activity. In celebration of Oktoberfest they enjoyed the music of a German band called “Die Praktikanten”. The lead vocalist of the band has performed in Munich since the early 90s and was ready to play some popular German songs for his audience.

Luxembourg DinnerNations enjoyed the culinary side of German culture. The Alzenger Oktoberfest was the perfect opportunity to get together and enjoy some German food. In the evening, a Bavarian band played, getting everyone to dance the night away.

October Is for Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest actually has a rather misleading name: the original festival in Munich takes place during the last two weeks of September. Still, our communities have been celebrating this German festivity way into the month of October and some still have their own Oktoberfest coming up. Newsletter_20151015_SydneyActivity

On Friday, 16 October, InterNations members in Chicago are meeting up to celebrate German style. But this event is about more than just beer and pretzels. The live music will make you want to wear your dancing shoes that night and, of course, the company is priceless.

InterNations members in Lviv will get the chance to meet at Beer Theatre Pravda and learn more about the art of brewing beer, including the technology and skills behind it. This event is also for non-beer drinkers, of course. Come around to mix and mingle in a great international atmosphere.

The community in Luxembourg is also going to host an Official Oktoberfest Event on Wednesday, 21 October, complete with crispy chicken, knotted pretzels, and Bavarian decorations. The guests with the best outfits will be declared Mr. and Miss InterNations Oktoberfest. So dust off your dirndls and lederhosen!

The London New Friends Group will celebrate Oktoberfest on Wednesday, 21 October, as well. The activity will be all about enjoying Bavarian hospitality. Charming waitresses and waiters, wearing traditional German clothes, will serve various original delicacies. To guarantee the original taste, the meat is directly imported from Germany.

(Image credit: 1) & 2) Wikimedia Commons, 3), 4), 5), 6) InterNations)

Expats vs. Tourists: Living in the Global Top 10 Travel Destinations

What do Marrakech and Hanoi have in common with Prague and Buenos Aires? According to the results of the 2015 Travelers’ Choice Awards by Trip Advisor, these places all belong to the most popular destinations worldwide. In fact, their ten best-rated cities for global travelers are, in this very order:

• Marrakech, MoroccoInterNations Expat Blog_Living in the Global Top Ten Travel Destinations_Pic 2
• Siam Reap, Cambodia
• Istanbul, Turkey
• Hanoi, Vietnam
• Prague, Czech Republic
• London, UK
• Rome, Italy
• Buenos Aires, Argentina
• Paris, France
• Cape Town, South Africa

Dreaming of exploring the overgrown temple ruins of Angkor Wat, of sipping a cappuccino on the Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, or of tasting local vintages on the Western Cape is all well and good — but how does it feel to live where other people merely like to travel? How do expats who have moved to one of the countries above view their adopted home?

To dig a little deeper into this topic, we’ve taken a closer look at the Expat Insider 2015 results. In particular, we have examined what our survey respondents say about selected aspects of everyday life in their host country: for instance, leisure options, general friendliness, transport infrastructure, personal safety, climate and weather, natural environment, and more.

Southeast Asia on a Budget

The first two destinations from the Travelers’ Choice Awards list were mostly conspicuous by their very absence from the Expat Insider 2015 rankings. Both Morocco and Cambodia aren’t exactly typical expatriate destinations. We unfortunately didn’t even get the required number of respondents currently living in these countries: a pity, as they would surely have some fascinating details to share!

Cambodia might make the list in 2016, though: it missed the mark by a very narrow margin. Maybe it will be as successful as another Southeast Asian destination next year: Myanmar, which had too few participants in the 2014 edition of the survey, was added to the results in 2015.One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam

Of course, Cambodia’s neighbor Vietnam has been featured in the Expat Insider rankings for the second year in a row. While its place in the general league table is a rather mediocre #35 out of 64, the destination is a haven for the penny-pinching expat — or the cost-conscious backpacker.

In the Expat Insider 2015, it’s the fourth-cheapest destination worldwide. About three out of eight expats living in Vietnam are very satisfied with their general living expenses, as opposed to 13% of the total survey population. If you’re jetting round the globe on a shoestring budget, Hanoi would indeed be the place to go.

You just have to cope with what the CIA Factbook calls a “rapidly degrading environment” in Vietnam’s expanding cities. More than 50% of the Expat Insider 2015 respondents gave the local environment a negative rating.

Raining on Your Parade: High Costs in the UK

If you are keen on keeping your travel budget as small as possible, you’d better stay away from the UK, though. With regard to the overall cost of living, it didn’t make the ten most expensive expat destinations across the globe — but rank #51 out of 64 in the reverse Cost of Living Index comes pretty close.

InterNations Expat Blog_Living in the Global Top Ten Travel Destinations_Pic 1This complaint also includes affordable housing: nearly one in four expats in the UK is not satisfied at all with its affordability. While tourists obviously don’t have to face London’s frankly insane property market, decent accommodation in the vibrant capital can be pricey enough.

Lastly, the weather does seem to be as bad as its reputation: for this factor, the UK ranks 58th out of 64 countries worldwide. So don’t forget to pack your “brolly”!

Temperate Weather, Tense Security Situation: Argentina and South Africa

When it comes to climate and weather, it’s probably not that much of a surprise that Mediterranean countries like Italy and Turkey do really well in this respect. However, their fairly positive ratings are even surpassed by South Africa and Argentina. The former is widely known for its sunny, subtropical climes, with a quasi-Mediterranean ambience in the cape region: only 2% of the Expat Insider respondents rated this aspect of life in South Africa negatively.Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Argentina, due to its sheer size, has an exceptional diversity of climate types and geographical zones, so it could be of interest to anyone who wants to experience the tropical humidity of the Iguazu National Park, the verdant flatlands of the temperate Pampas, and the tempest-tossed islands of Tierra del Fuego in one single trip.

In both countries, however, personal safety is sadly a major concern. Argentina still fares somewhat better than South Africa. Nonetheless, 38% of the expats living there rate this factor less than favorably. This pales in comparison to Cape Town & Co, though: two-thirds of the survey respondents living in South Africa give their personal safety a negative rating — the second-worst result worldwide, after Nigeria.

Paris or Prague? The Perfect City Trip

So, if you tend to get easily nervous and don’t want to spend your next vacation in a state of hypervigilance, you might go for someplace less tense instead. How about a short city break?

Paris, the City of Lights (and City of Love) offers a wealth of culture and entertainment beyond the Mona Lisa and the Moulin Rouge: 41% of the survey participants in France are very satisfied with the available leisure options, and the country ranks among the Expat Insider top 20 for this factor.

Two kids, standing on a stairs, view of Prague behind them, snow The even better travel destination in the category “European capital city” might be Prague, though. The average satisfaction with the available leisure activities among expats is actually a tad higher in the Czech Republic than in France.

Moreover, the Central European country scores with a Travel & Transport ranking in the global top five, as well as with great ratings concerning leisure options for children: 56% of expat parents in the Czech Republic consider those excellent.

You may just have to deal with a few grumpy Czechs: the worst-rated factor here is the general friendliness of the population. Still, Prague is beautiful enough to put a smile on everyone’s face!

Chime in in the comments: have you both lived in and traveled to any of these countries? Did you like these destinations better as a tourist or as a resident? Why?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Sides of Sarajevo

Malte Zeeck, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO, has some travel tips to offer after his recent trip to the Bosnian capital.

The purpose of my trip to Bosnia was to reunite with my friends from the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, something we do regularly for our annual business retreat. One member of our group was able to host us in Sarajevo.

What made this trip truly special was the guided tour of the city that our host’s cousin Amir gave us. As all experienced travelers know, there’s nothing quite like the insights of a local when you arrive in a new place. In this case we even had the privilege of being shown round by a professor of the University of Sarajevo.

The Tunnel of Hope — Taking You Back to the 1990s

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 7While the Lonely Planet describes present-day Sarajevo as “a photogenic, friendly city”, it was a war-torn capital under siege just a few decades ago. The Siege of Sarajevo, lasting for three-and-a-half years, gave rise to an 800-meter tunnel which supplied the city with essentials and even provided a way out for a lucky few.

Much like the Sarajevo of the early 90s, only little remains of the Tunnel of Hope — about 20 meters. Visiting the cellar of the Kolar family home which (still) hides the entrance of the tunnel takes you back to the tumultuous times the city has been through, with historical videos, photos, and, of course, a walk through what little of the tunnel is left.

The Old Town — Food and Franz Ferdinand

After the somewhat depressing visit to the Tunnel of Sarajevo, a bit of time for reflection and relaxation might be a good idea. Visit the Old Town — Baščaršija — and take your pick of the many cafés in the area. The charm of this neighborhood doesn’t end with the coffeehouses, though. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 6

Reminiscent of the Ottoman era, Sarajevo’s old market is divided into a variety of sections, with stalls showcasing different skills (such as woodworking) and products (like local specialties). This is the perfect opportunity to admire traditional arts and crafts, and, more importantly, taste some of the Bosnian cuisine. ćevapi (sausages), burek (pastry made with filo dough), and, to satisfy any potential burger cravings, pljeskavica (a patty made of a mix of ground meats).

Finally, the history buffs should not miss this opportunity to visit the site where the infamous assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie took place — two fatal gunshots that plunged the whole world into war.

Sarajevo’s Religious Diversity — the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”

Mosque tower In the same neighborhood, namely that of Stari Grad, you’ll find a large variety of sacred buildings belonging to different faiths. The legacy of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled in Bosnia until the late 19th century, is clearly visible judging from the number of mosques and even hamams in the city center.

However, you can divide your time equally amongst the different religions: the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Sarajevo’s medieval Orthodox Church, and a 16th-century Sephardic synagogue are actually located in the very same street.

When Darkness Falls over Sarajevo…

… it’s time to eat, drink, and be merry! Dinner-time soon approached, and Kibe Mahala, a top-class restaurant on one of Sarajevo’s many hillsides, provided the stunning view of the city I was looking for, not to mention some more typical Bosnian treats. This is a great time to combine some of the local food you might have seen at the market earlier on, combined with a glass of fine wine from southern Bosnia. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 5

If you’re looking for a place to burn off all those calories on the dancefloor, City Pub, right in the heart of Sarajevo, is a great choice that tends to attract an international crowd. Live performances are frequent and they really set the tone for the rest of the evening. After a couple of rounds at the pub, the lounge bar at Hacienda was our Sarajevo destination for the night and the DJ did not disappoint.

Quadding through Mountains — and Minefields

The Olympic Village built for the 1984 Winter Olympics is quite a sight to see. It is no longer in use and even though it retains a certain flair, it is sad to see such infrastructure just wasting away. thumb_IMG_5413_1024However, I definitely recommend visiting the village, if only to peer down from the top of the ski-jump ramp.

Our host lived nearby and, after taking us to the village, he evidently thought it was time for some exercise of our own: so he suggested driving quad bikes through the Bosnian mountains and, wait for it, not far from some minefields. On any other trip this turn of events might have surprised me, but having seen how diverse Sarajevo is, from the Tunnel of Hope to the vibrant nightlife, it seemed like a fitting way to end my trip.

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

Founder’s Diary: Sarajevo

Birthday party in the Balkans: InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte celebrated the company anniversary at the InterNations Official Event in Sarajevo.

After my previous visit to Dublin, the next 90-minute flight to an InterNations Community took me into exactly the opposite direction: heading southeast, instead of northwest, I made my way to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 4

Historically, the city used to be called the “Jerusalem of Europe”, as it’s home to the biggest mosque in the Balkans, a metropolitan bishop of the Serbian-Orthodox Church, a Catholic archdiocese, and a functioning synagogue. However, most of us probably associate it with the more recent history of the Yugoslav Wars when the socialist republic broke up in a series of violent conflicts.

Today, the ambience in Sarajevo is vibrant, cosmopolitan, and relaxed. However, as I was to find out at the InterNations Official Event, a lot of the international residents in town — including quite a few members of our 2000-odd community — still work for NGOs, IGOs, military institutions, or the diplomatic service. Even 20 years after the Bosnian War of Independence ended, its legacy can still be seen — among other things — in the make-up of local expat circles to a certain extent.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 3

Contemporary Sarajevo is also a very tourist-friendly city: the Marriott hotel chain opened a brand-new business hotel about a month ago, and that’s where the event in honor of the 8th InterNations anniversary was taking place. Before our birthday party started, I was waiting in the lobby for an interview with the Novo Vrijeme weekly, which wanted to publish a short portrait of InterNations Sarajevo in the paper’s English-language section.

Afterwards, I joined the event in the Marriott’s S One Sky Bar, whose rooftop terrace provided us with a lovely view of the moonlit city center, the Miljacka River, and the surrounding hills. Luckily, it was also the perfect weather for this kind of venue, with a balmy 25°C in the evening. About 60 people from 20 countries didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to enjoy some fingerfood, a glass of Sarajevsko Pivo (Bosnia’s most famous beer), and a friendly chat with guests from all over the world.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 2 All three of the InterNations Ambassadors were there to welcome the Sarajevo Community: Monika, a Bulgarian expat who has been living in Bosnia for the last two years, also doubles as one of the Consuls running our Sarajevo Dance Group for all lovers of Latin dancing. Haris, a native of Sarajevo, works as a journalist, editor, and radio and TV presenter for BHRT, Bosnia’s national broadcasting company.

Last but certainly not least, Kristi from Houston, Texas, is a project development officer at the US Agency for International Development, who also lived and worked in Ghana and Malawi. Unfortunately, she will be leaving Sarajevo soon, and the Ambassador Team is now looking for someone to step into her shoes.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Sarajevo Pic 1Like Kristi, several members I met during the event were employees of organizations like US AID, the US American Embassy, EU-affiliated institutions, or the UN. However, the gathering was definitely not a somber affair where everyone engaged in serious “shop talk” and earnestly discussed international relations all the time. As in so many of our smaller communities, it struck me how warm and familial the atmosphere felt — the perfect start for an exploratory weekend in Sarajevo.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Ending Hunger with the InterNations Volunteer Groups

Chronic hunger affects around 805 million people worldwide. InterNations Volunteer Group Consuls Elisabeth, Jacken, Alejandra, Dianka and Susanna are doing their part in working towards the goal of World Food Day, which takes place on 16 October, to make food available for everyone.

Distributing Food and Helping Children Grow Up

Jacken Zheng, Beijing, Guangai School
“If you want to help the underprivileged, you should have a clear goal and focus and have a long-term vision.”

Beijing-Feeding Orphaned Children
Jacken Zheng is one of the Consuls of the Beijing Volunteer Group. Together with the members, he works to provide monthly food support to orphaned children. Volunteers have the opportunity to bring food to the school or help prepare meals there. That way, they don’t only make sure the children don’t go hungry, they also get to interact with them. “We cook together. We play together. We try to understand their stories, their thoughts about the future, their gift,” Jacken says.
Already, many more people have joined their efforts and they hope to help the children grow up, too. So far, 16 students have received funding to attend junior middle school.

Elisabeth Grimsø, Bangkok, Duang Prateep Foundation
“I think the best thing is to see happy children but also happy volunteers!”

Bangkok-Lunch With Children
InterNations members in Bangkok also support their local community. With the help of their Consul, Elisabeth Grimsø, they prepare and eat lunch with children at the Duang Prateep Foundation. “Together with the volunteers, we help serve the food and prepare the table. And obviously a big job is the ice-cream scooping after lunch! The children absolutely love this special little treat.”
But the group’s activities go far beyond ice-cream scooping. “We help finding sponsors for the children, so that they can stay in school after they ‘graduate’ from the Duang Prateep kindergarten.”

Eating Is a Basic Thing

Susanna Kukaj Rossi, Rome, Street Feeding
“To eat is a basic thing. It is difficult to do anything on an empty belly.”

Rome-Feeding the Homeless

Together with other members of her Volunteer Group and the help of an organization called Sant Egidio, Susanna started to take food for homeless people out onto the streets of Rome. The best thing for her, though, is not just the opportunity to feed the homeless but to offer them the opportunity to interact with the volunteers. “They are not just waiting for food but also have a chat,” Susanna explains. “The chat is just as important to them as the food.”

Dianka Elodie Songo, Brussels, Les Samaritains
„The feeling I get by helping others, and by seeing all those who want to join me and help too, makes me feel that I have achieved something.”

Brussels-Feeding The Homeless

The Volunteer Group in Brussels, led by their Consul Dianka Elodie Songo, is also serving food to the homeless. For her, it’s about drawing attention to those who are often overlooked and to give something back to the community. “I chose food distribution because it gives us volunteers the chance to get in contact with homeless people, listen and hear their stories,” Dianka says. “It is important to talk to them and understand the fact that they are first human, and then homeless.” The Brussels Volunteer Group supports the local organization Les Samaritains, which is often short on volunteers to help with the food distribution.

Alejandra Müller, Berlin, Berliner Tafel
“When I think about all the people that will enjoy a warm meal due to our work, it is a nice feeling that compensates for the hard work.“

Berlin-Sorting Food Donations

The Berlin Volunteer Group, on the other hand, works with the Berliner Tafel to collect unused food from local supermarkets and give it to people in need. Group Consul Alejandra Müller was impressed with the organization’s work from the beginning and was happy to support them. “For me this concept of collecting leftovers from supermarkets to repackage them was totally new and a very good idea!” The hard work of the InterNations volunteers seems to pay off. Not only do the group members enjoy the activity and are happy to lend a helping hand, but the thought of all the people who get to enjoy a warm meal because of them makes it worthwhile.
At the same time, they have developed a great relationship with the Berliner Tafel. The organization is happy to get in touch with Alejandra whenever they are short on volunteers.

Helping and Learning

Throughout their volunteer work in their communities, all Consuls have learned a thing or two about how to approach volunteer projects aimed at fighting chronic hunger. Jacken realized early on that “if you want to help the underprivileged, you should have a clear goal and focus, as well as a long-term vision.”

Elisabeth found out that it makes a lot of sense to involve the community and the foundation that the Bangkok Volunteer Group is partnered with directly. “They get a much better deal on food than we would, so we let them order the food and we pay for it. This also allows them to go to local vendors, which in turn helps the community.”

For our Brussels Consul Dianka, it is important to be well prepared from regular meetings, but all preparations aside, the most important thing is to “continue to enjoy it and know your limits.”
Susanna realized that it doesn’t need a big charity event to give something back. “I have learned that people can make a difference on a small scale. We don’t need 350 people or more to do something good.”

Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) Elisabeth Grimsø, 3) iStockphoto, 4) Dianka Elodie Songo, 5) Alejandra Müller

My InterNations: Off the Map

Moving abroad is often a hassle. Now imagine you’re settling in a city you have barely heard of or an unstable country. Sept Off the Map BlogPerhaps you’ve chosen a place with a tiny expat community and few people to ask for advice. How do you cope?

We have talked to InterNations members who’ve relocated to unusual destinations and are now building a community there by organizing events or activities. What would they tell other expats?

Zagreb — the Green Place

Though Croatia’s capital is its most populous city, it’s not particularly international. Most foreign residents come from other ex-Yugoslavian states or Germany. Zagreb cathedral panoramic aerial view It’s not necessarily where you’d except to run into an Egyptian film-maker from Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Theresa — the InterNations Consul of our Zagreb Cooking Group — got her first taste of expat life spending eight years in Saudi Arabia as a child. After discovering film-making in her thirties, she embarked on a joint Master’s degree for documentary film-makers in Europe.

It wasn’t this new passion, though, that brought her to Croatia, a country she vaguely associated with the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was love. She’s now been married to a Croatian for a year.

She finds life in Zagreb very peaceful, a green and quiet place; her biggest complaints concern unpaved bike lanes and the difficulties of buying okra.InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations_Off the Map_Pic 6

However, settling down is hard once you hit the language barrier. She’s been studying Croatian as English isn’t always useful: “The older generation frequently speaks Russian or German. Maybe Zagreb will become more international now, with Croatia joining the EU.”

Theresa has made a virtue of necessity: she runs an English website to keep expats informed about events, for which only Croatian info was available.

Libreville — the Francophone Tropics

Where the River Komo joins the Gulf of Guinea, Libreville, the Gabonese capital, sits on the estuary, south of vast mangrove forests. The cosmopolitan port forms a stark contrast to the sparsely populated hinterland.

InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations_Off the Map_Pic 1Kira — Group Consul for Dinner Nations Libreville — has spent the past two years here. A self-described “stereotypical third-culture kid” born in Flanders, she grew up in Botswana and Kenya.

“I’m no longer connected to one country,” Kira says. “My nationality couldn’t define me any less.”

It’s hardly surprising that, after obtaining an education degree in Belgium, she was longing to move to another African country — and found a teaching job in Gabon.

“I knew very little about Libreville,” she admits, “just about where it was. There wasn’t even an English guidebook!” Fortunately, her employer sorted out practical aspects like visas and housing.

Gabon seems an easy place to live at first: comparatively affluent, safe, politically stable. “You have all the basics,” Kira adds, “clean water, reliable electricity, and Internet access.”

InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations_Off the Map_Pic 2Issues such as unpredictable banking fees or bribe-hungry police officers are minor irritations. It’s the lack of fluent French and the make-up of Libreville’s expat circles which make life difficult for Kira.

“It isn’t easy to meet people outside work. Especially for singles.” Most long-term expats are couples and families, and culture and entertainment activities are limited: “Apart from eating and drinking, dancing and the beach, there’s nothing to do,” she says.

But Kira waxes enthusiastic about Gabon’s natural beauty: “There’s more untouched rainforest here than you can imagine — it’s amazing!”

Erbil — the Frontier Experience

From equatorial rainforests to rugged mountains: Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, is a far cry from Waltham Abbey, the English town where Dean — the InterNations Erbil Ambassador — grew up. His career in insurance “frontier markets” has taken him to Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Dean now works in Erbil as the country director for a French insurance broker.

“It has its challenges. Memorable experiences tend to be on the negative side,” he says with wry understatement. “Last year saw the advance of IS: quite a tense time.” Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq: main square, Shar Park

Dean temporarily left the country for the Costa Blanca, where his Kyrgyz wife and their two children live. They never considered joining him. The lack of international schools and the restrictions for women put a lot of pressure on family. He isn’t the only one to work on a rotational schedule and travel home frequently.

Those who do come have obvious reasons. “Oil,” Dean emphasizes, “makes up over 90% of the Iraqi economy.” Nowadays, employees in the oil industry are often placed on short-term assignments and confined to production sites. “They only come to town on the way in and out.”

It’s mostly by organizing events that Dean brings the international community together and gets to know those working in education, NGOs, or the Foreign Service.

However, the image some people may have of Erbil isn’t true: “It’s not some awful place with only rocks and sand.” Indeed, the city is situated in a fertile region and, due to its rich history, recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

San Salvador — Surprisingly “Tranquilo”

Nicole made the move from Germany to San Salvador because she loves a good challenge. When her job in the sportswear industry took her to Central America, she admits she first had to google the country.

“If you search for El Salvador, the worst things ever pop up.” Central America’s smallest state sees a fair bit of violent crime: extortion, mugging, highway assault, and gang activity. Even public shootouts aren’t uncommon.san salvador

“I moved there with no expectations,” Nicole says. “I thought I needed to see it for myself. So I went and haven’t regretted it.”

Nicole loves El Salvador’s mountains and beaches, and she’s adapted to a more “tranquilo” pace of life compared to Germany. What about the security situation? “You do need to be careful where to go and with whom. But honestly, you need to do that everywhere. After six years, the country has become my home.”

Any Advice?

What would these four like to pass on from their own experience?

In his specific circumstances, Dean is the sober voice of reason: “Be realistic about what it’s like. Life here revolves around work, and the social scene isn’t that packed. Get out on occasion and stay sane.”

Theresa and Kira agree on the essentials — reach out to others and be proactive. “With my website,” Theresa says, “I just made what I needed myself.” As Kira points out: “Bring your own hobby, find your own friends, and make your own fun.”

“Don´t believe everything you read online,” Nicole stresses, “just be careful and gain some experience for yourself. Don’t come as a foreigner and think you can change the country — go with the flow.”

Would you move to a smaller city or unusual destination? Why (not)?

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2), 5), 6), 7), iStockphoto 3) Theresa Khalil 4) Kira van Otten)

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Essentials to Explore in Dublin

Malte Zeeck, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO, talks about the things to see and do that you shouldn’t miss out on your next trip to Dublin.

This was actually the first time ever I’d travelled to Dublin, though the Irish capital is less than two hours by plane from Germany. I’d always had a very positive image of Ireland and the Irish, though, associating them with the hospitality of Irish pubs and an easy-going, friendly attitude. In that respect, I certainly wasn’t disappointed during my brief stint in Dublin.

The Water of Life

Ireland and whiskey is a somewhat stereotypical pair that goes together as well as Ireland and Guinness. In spite of the touristy touch, a guided tour of either the Old Jameson Distillery or the Guinness Storehouse is a must for all visitors to Dublin — even for teetotalers.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin_Pic 3aI opted for the distillery since I didn’t want to betray my attachment to the breweries in Munich, my adopted home. Though the building in Bow Street is a visitors center rather than an operating distillery (today, Jameson Irish Whiskey is produced in County Cork — and owned by French-based conglomerate Pernot Ricard), I got some interesting glimpses into whiskey-making and its importance for the Irish economy.

During the final tasting round, we were served an Irish whiskey, a Scottish whisky (the one without the ‘e’) and an American brand. I now have an “Irish Whiskey Taster” certificate to hang above my desk. Sláinte!

The Head of Brass

The time for a glass of Guinness came a little later: when in Ireland, do as the Irish do! This means that a visit to the nearest pub is mandatory. Thus, I grabbed a bite (and a pint) at the Brazen Head in Lower Bridge Street, about halfway from both medieval Christ Church Cathedral and the quays of the River Liffey.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin_Pic 2aThe Brazen Head claims to be Ireland’s oldest pub and is therefore a major tourist attraction. It serves a nice traditional Irish stew, as I discovered, and they offer a folksy live music session each night as well.

For the more literary-minded amongst you — it is briefly mentioned in chapter 16 of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The book probably starts making more sense, too, after a few pints.

The Book of Kells

Lest you start thinking that Dublin is all about the drinking: if there is one cultural landmark you shouldn’t miss out on, it’s Trinity College, the oldest university in Ireland and one of the oldest in the British Isles. The main college grounds cover an extensive area in the city center, and they have the same quaint and peaceful atmosphere as the Oxbridge colleges upon which they were modelled.

The Long Room at Trinity College, DublinAfter looking at the list of alumni, you get the impression that nearly every Irish person of distinction attended Trinity College, including Oscar Wilde, Chris de Burgh, and the CEO of Ryanair. My personal favorite is Bishop James Ussher, though – a 17th-century clergyman and scholar who went down in history for trying to establish the date of the Creation. In case you’re wondering: it all happened on the 22rd of October in 4004 BC, at around 9 pm.

Of course, a guided tour of Trinity College doesn’t only include anecdotes about their colorful alumni: the highlight is the famous Trinity College Library. Its venerable Long Room, an imposing hall full of wood paneling and marble busts, houses thousands of old tomes in oak cases — but the Treasury is even more impressive.

Trinity’s treasury displays the Book of Kells, one of the world’s most beautiful medieval manuscripts and Ireland’s most important national treasure. It’s so famous it even has its own iTunes app for bibliophiles!

The Harbor of Howth

Even Ireland is known to enjoy grand summer weather on occasion. Hey, the average temperature in August is a scorching 19°C! On a clear and dry day, just hop onto the next DART north and don’t get off the train before the terminal in Howth.

Once a fishing village on the shores of Dublin Bay, Howth is now a bustling suburb and a popular destination for cyclists, runners, hikers, and anglers. The peninsula is the perfect place for a stroll along the pier, and there’s a local market, as well as a lighthouse, close to the train station.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin_Pic 1aUnsurprisingly, there’s quite a few seafood restaurants in the area, especially near Claremont Beach and the West Pier. Howth Harbour still features an active fishing industry rather than only recreational beaches.

Speaking of beaches: if you’re really, really brave, you could take a swim. From what I heard, there’s even an annual race from the tiny island called Ireland’s Eye back to Howth Harbour.

I must admit that I didn’t dare dip my toes into the water: even the Baltic Sea, where I was born and which isn’t exactly known for being a tropical paradise, is warmer by an average three degrees than the Irish Sea. As the inhabitants of Howth are said to be descended from Celts and Vikings, they’re probably tough as nails, though.

The Sports of Ireland

You also have to be tough as nails if you want to become a rugby player, I suppose — especially for rugby league, the hardest contact sport in the world. Actually, it took me a while to figure out that there’s two kinds of rugby in Ireland, rubgy league and rugby union, and that most folks simply talk about “league” and “union” instead.

Please excuse my ignorance — neither sort of rugby is anything but a minor sport in Germany, where football (the “soccer” variety, not American football, of course) is the general favorite. To add to my confusion, when you hear “football” in Ireland, it might refer to, well, what I define as football, or to Gaelic football, which is actually more popular in Ireland than football-football. Rugby match.Perfectly obvious, to be sure.

Anyway, the brand-new Aviva Stadium is one of Dublin’s more recent sights. It serves as home base for both the national team of the Irish Rugby Union and the Football Association of Ireland.

If there’s no match on — neither of the rugby nor the football variety — you can just take a guided tour of the stadium instead. Unfortunately, there were two important matches when I was in town, so I didn’t have the chance to visit it myself. But every pub in Dublin broadcast the games, so I caught at least a glimpse of the arena.

The stadium also used as a concert arena for 50,000 spectators. So, if you prefer Rihanna or AC/DC to the Shamrock or the Boys in Green, see if there’s an international star on tour.

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

Founder’s Diary: Dublin

From the Baltic to the Irish Sea – after recent visits to Helsinki and Stockholm, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte dropped in at the InterNations Official Event in Dublin.

My recent trip to Dublin wasn’t just the first time I visited Ireland: it was also the first time the InterNations Dublin Community tried a new event location, which turned out to be quite a success. The event I attended took place at The Mint Bar, the city’s self-proclaimed best hotel bar, part of the historic (and rather fancy) Westin Dublin Hotel, directly opposite Trinity College. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin 2015_Pic 1

It was also the first time that over 200 people from more than 60 countries signed up for a local InterNations Official Event. Breaking their own record was a particular point of pride for Verena, one of our three InterNations Ambassadors for the Dublin Community, as this was also her official farewell.

Verena, a German expat from Cologne, had been living in Dublin for the past three years, working for the Europe & Middle East head office of Twitter. Her career in a global social networking company would take her to the Bay Area in a few weeks’ time, so I was there to wish her all the best for her upcoming move across the Pond. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin 2015_Pic 4

Unfortunately, her fellow InterNations Ambassador Gabriela, a Romanian expat and lecturer in finance and accounting at Dublin Business School, was also stepping down from her position, as her private and professional life had simply become too busy for her to continue in the role.

Thus I found myself saying goodbye to two Dublin Ambassadors at once, seizing the occasion to thank them both for their great commitment in a brief speech. However, the InterNations members in Dublin needn’t be afraid: our community is in safe hands and our regular events will, of course, go on.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin 2015_Pic 3

Emil, an expat from Athens who’s now an architect in Drogheda, will be staying as the third member of the InterNations Dublin Ambassador team, though he’s still looking for a new fellow Ambassador to host the events with. That night, his wife Arzu — another expatriate, albeit from Turkey — was supporting him with welcoming the guests and taking pictures.

The crowd at the Mint Bar was a truly international bunch: I talked to people from Germany, Italy, and the US, from Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Cameroon, as well as quite a few Irish folks, too, and I also ran into an Austrian expat, Ivan, who’s one of the Group Consuls running the popular activities for DinnerNations Dublin. If you ever want to know what Dublin’s culinary scene has to offer — apart from shellfish and Irish stew — they are the right guys to ask!

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin 2015_Pic 5The evening was a great mixture of networking and socializing, followed by a live band. “Velvet Lounge” played a repertoire of classic swing hits rather than the obligatory Irish folk, and they soon managed to get everyone up and moving.

When the event drew to a close around 23:00, I wasn’t the only one who thought we were just getting started. Therefore I joined several InterNations members for a pint at a traditional Irish pub before we explored the vast premises of a combined restaurant, bar, and nightclub nearby: simply called “House” with considerable understatement, as it occupies two Georgian mansions in central Dublin.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Dublin 2015_Pic 6The following day, Verena, Emil, and Arzu invited me for a short trip to the Howth peninsula, about a 25-minute ride from the city center, where we took a walk along the rugged coastline, spotted seals frolicking in the waves, and watched the sailing boats (as well as a few showers of rain) come and go. Over a hearty lunch at one of Howth’s many seafood restaurants, we discussed the recent development of the InterNations Dublin Community, the highlights and challenges.

On the way back, we also passed by at Malahide, an affluent suburb with a large marina and a well-maintained 12-th century castle. Back in the city, Verena kindly offered to show me more of Dublin’s nightlife — I am sure that she will love San Francisco and get to know our InterNations Community in the Bay Area soon.

(Image credit: Emil Marcossian/InterNations)