InterNations Insider Tips: Five Must-Sees and Dos in Cape Town

InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck talks about five favorite “must-sees” and “must-dos” in the city that has captured his heart.

My last stop in South Africa was Cape Town, the city that stole my heart with its beauty. I am not exaggerating if I say that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, only falling short of Rio de Janeiro for me. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Activities That Are a Must in Cape Town_Pic 1

Like other South African cities, Cape Town has that special mixture of breathtaking scenery, with some National Geographic-worthy sites, and historical landmarks related to the apartheid era, starting with Robben Island.

The Island of Courage

A forty-minute ferry ride departing from a stunning waterfront brought me to Robben Island. The island is known worldwide as a symbol of the repression under apartheid, but most importantly, of its defeat and the triumph of democracy. The boat ride offers the most amazing view of the coastline, and if you are lucky, you even have a chance of spotting dolphins. There couldn’t be a harsher contrast than the serene scenery and the tour of the former prison.

Here, we met our guide, who — like all the other tour guides on Robben Island — used to be an inmate himself. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Activities That Are a Must in Cape Town_Pic 3While he was speaking, everyone fell quiet and we were hanging on his every word: his stories truly showed the brutal conditions the prisoners suffered from.

For instance, they did not even have a bed to sleep on, were not allowed to wear long pants, got little food — and what little they received was often laced with health-damaging substances — and had to work under despicable conditions in the island’s quarries. The tour culminated with a visit of Nelson Mandela’s former cell —a depressing two-by-two chamber — where the political activist was imprisoned for 18 years.

A Car Tour round the Kaap

There are so many things to see around Cape Town that renting a car is the most convenient option. I started out by visiting Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the most famous in South Africa, due to its marvelous indigenous fauna. From there, I moved on to Kalk Bay harbor, which is not only a very picturesque fishing village, but also the best place to get fresh sea food.

InterNations Expat Blog_Five Activities That Are a Must in Cape Town_Pic 2 Close to Kalk Bay, the penguin colony at Simon’s Town made me feel as if I’d landed on the set of Happy Feet. Here, the endangered jackass penguins — yes, they are really called like this, due to the donkey-like braying sound they produce — have found a new home since the 1980s. The little chaps look very cute, but beware: apparently, they do deserve their name and have quite a mean bite!

Lastly, I decided to take the Chapman’s Peak Drive back, which runs along the mountain of the same name. The view is so spectacular that it’s almost dangerous to drive around here!

Downtown Rhymes with Cape Town

In order to explore the city of Cape Town itself, I had to abandon my car and take a walk downtown instead. There are plenty of historic landmarks to choose from. You can tour the Houses of Parliament, which hosted plenty of heated debates related to racial segregation back in the day, but the tour guide also gives you an insight into the political process of contemporary South Africa.

South African parliament buildings in Cape Town The Slave Lodge — a similarly emblematic landmark — is well worth a visit, too. This 17th-century building now a houses social history museum hosting exhibitions related to the cultural heritage of South Africa and to human rights in general.

If you are really into history, there are many more sites of interest close by, like the Bo-Kaap Museum, which highlights local Islamic culture, or the St. George’s Cathedral, which used to be a meeting point for various apartheid rallies led by the famous Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A Foodie’s Paradise

Sightseeing is fun, but a visit to any city is not quite complete without the food experience. Cape Town has an astounding variety of restaurants to offer. The city enjoys the perks of its location in close proximity to the ocean, and at Willoughby & Co on the waterfront, I had some incredible sushi fresh from the sea. From Japanese to Italian cuisine: 95 Keerom is located in a fascinating building with a stylish interior and a luxurious atmosphere, definitely a restaurant I’d recommend if you want to treat yourself.

InterNations Expat Blog_Five Activities That Are a Must in Cape Town_Pic 5 If you are rather looking for a more laidback place where locals love to eat, check out Black Sheep. Here the dishes change on a daily basis, and you can expect a new menu every time you visit. Last but not least, you can just pack a lunch bag on a lovely day, take the cable car up the Table Mountain, spread your picnic blanket, and open a bottle of South African wine while enjoying the best view ever.

The City of Students and Wine

Speaking of South African wine: as I was invited to a wedding in the area, I also had the chance to visit a delightful city, 50 kilometers east of Cape Town: Stellenbosch. It is mostly famous for its many prestigious wine estates and for its reputation as a cozy university town. You’ll spot plenty of students sitting in cafés and restaurants, giving the city its very relaxed flair. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Activities That Are a Must in Cape Town_Pic 6

Moreover, you can visit various local wine estates, for instance Spier, one of the oldest wineries in South Africa. Here, you can participate in wine tastings, join farm tours and dine in a high-quality restaurant on the estate. Alternatively, if one wine estate is not enough for you, you could also take a Stellenbosch wine tour to explore different highlights of the wine region.

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

Rain or Shine? Celebrate the Change of Seasons with InterNations

Ah, the change of the seasons! The time when resilient expats in the southern hemisphere dust off their wind-breakers and warm socks and prepare for the wind and rain autumn may bring. Those who live on the other side of the equator, though, are probably done with the cold by now and can’t wait for spring to come. In Munich, this is the time when the first ice cream places open their doors after the winter break, when the outdoor seating areas of local cafés are filled to the brim with business people, hipsters and tourists, soaking up the sun.

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Whether or not the weather allows you to enjoy the sun, our communities around the world are celebrating the change of the seasons in their own special way. Why don’t you join in?

Spring Has Sprung

Spring has sprung in our community in Bristol. Come around and meet expats and global minds at a lively and popular venue at the Harbourside on Friday, 18 March. Our Bristol Ambassadors have booked the top floor of the bar exclusively for this spring fling, so grab your favorite drink and mingle with the crowd.

Our community in Strasbourg will get an exclusive visit from the Easter Bunny on Friday, 18 March. Between welcome drinks and hidden chocolate eggs, you will have the opportunity to enjoy some great company. Please wear something colorful or Easter-themed for the occasion.

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Members in Sofia will welcome spring with a get-together at a traditional, yet modern, venue on Thursday, 24 March. We’ll enjoy the traditional Bulgarian cuisine and the unique interior, while getting to know each other and spending a nice, relaxed evening in great company.

InterNations members in Casablanca are invited to climb up to the sky for the coming of spring. On Friday, 25 March, you can enjoy the panoramic view of the city while getting to know other expats and global minds in your community. Bring your smile and a sense of humor!

Spring is nature’s way of saying “Let’s party with InterNations Vancouver!” Come meet other expats at a cool, chic venue in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, 26 March. It’s the perfect opportunity to welcome spring and party with our Ambassador team at their very last event.

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Mainz, the self-proclaimed wine capital of Germany, is the best place to celebrate spring with a glass of wine in hand. On Thursday, 31 March, the Wiesbaden-Mainz Community is meeting at a historical wine tavern in town. Make sure to be there early for a welcome drink and an exclusive presentation of the wines by the owner herself.

Golden Leaves and Frost

Are you on the other end of the world, waving summer goodbye and mentally preparing for slightly less comfortable weather? Never fear, we have something for you in store as well.

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Autumn in Canberra, for instance, comes with a lot of great local activities and experiences you should not miss, from the National Folk Festival, to the Canberra Balloon Spectacular and the Night Noodle Markets. There is so much to do, in fact, that our members will get together at the end of the month, on Wednesday, 30 March, to catch up, talk about their experiences, and share stories of how they spent this month. Make sure to join the crowd and tell your own story of welcoming autumn!

The motto in Johannesburg, on the other hand, is “Keep calm and welcome winter!” On Friday, 1 April, InterNations members in Johannesburg meet up in Sandton to celebrate in a stylish and warm atmosphere. Use this opportunity to meet expats, locals and global minds, enjoy a drink and dance the night away, all in the spirit of the season approaching.

A coffee in the sun or a cocktail by the fireplace? There are many ways to celebrate the change of seasons. Let us know how you are spending this time of the year!

Image credit: 1) Pexels , 2) StockUp, 3) StockUp, 4) Barn Images

Five Favorite Sorts of Street Food and Their Stories

Food is more than the sum of its ingredients, a mere source of nutrients — even more than the glorious experience of enjoying a delicious snack on the go. The smell and taste of our favorite dishes often trigger powerful memories. A whiff of a particular aroma takes us back to moments we thought all but forgotten.

Madeleine  cookiesIndeed, one of the most famous scenes in the history of literature focuses on the peculiar taste of Madeleine sponge cake dipped into linden tea. The very moment when the tea-soaked crumbs touch the narrator’s palate evoke strong memories of his childhood, starting off the 4,000-page masterpiece In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

Don’t worry! This article is just a tad shorter than nine volumes of stream-of-consciousness narration. We have asked five members of the multinational InterNations Team about their favorite street food from around the world, and what these yummy dishes mean to them.

Hmong Egg Roll from Laos

Different varieties of egg roll or spring roll are a staple of diverse Asian cuisines, from mainland China to Malaysia, but Victoria, a US expat, loves Hmong egg rolls in particular. For her, the taste of ground pork, mixed with shredded carrots and cabbage, seasoned with a touch of cilantro and oyster sauce, isn’t a reminder of a backpacking trip overseas: it’s a favorite memory of things to do back home, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Baked spring rolls with vegetables on a black plate Every Saturday, the local farmers market offers homegrown produce and homemade food to the 66,000 residents of the small, mid-western town. There are always several food trucks selling Hmong specialties among them.

There’s a large community of circa 50,000 Hmong from Laos and Vietnam living in Wisconsin, where they resettled as political refugees after the Vietnam War. In fact, they are the biggest group of Asian-Americans in the “Badger State”, with its predominantly German and Scandinavian heritage. The produce from their market gardens has become a staple at Wisconsin country fairs, adding to the ever popular cheeses and sausages.

“I should probably say something profound about how they have shared part of their culture with us,” Victoria says, “but now all I can think about is how much I wish I had egg rolls from home.”

Onde-Onde from Indonesia

Onde-onde is a typical dessert from Malaysia and Indonesia. The little dumplings literally burst into a sweet cloud of palm sugar as soon as you take the first bite: in addition to the sugary goodness, they consist of sticky rice flour, pandan juice with its distinctive flavor, and plenty of coconut gratings or sesame seeds.

“It’s the best sweet I’ve ever eaten!” Vera, a Swiss-American from the tiny mountain resort of Samedan near St. Moritz, is just as enthusiastic about the country of Indonesia in general. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Favorite Sorts of Street Food_Pic 2_Onde Onde “I traveled to Java for the first time in 2015, and I think I’ve fallen in love.”

“I’m planning to return next year to visit some of Indonesia’s less touristic parts, and now I’m busy learning the language and regularly cook kering tempe (fermented soy bean cakes with spicy rice) and pisang goreng (deep-fried bananas) at home.”

So far, Vera has found it difficult to buy onde-onde here in Germany, but she hopes her Indonesian friends will teach her how to make it herself one day and to recapture that special sweetness.

Pad Thai from Thailand

“Street food is an incredibly important part of Thai culture, especially in Bangkok,” Blandine remembers. A French-British third-culture kid born in Singapore, she lived in Thailand for 13 years and grew up there. She moved to the UK to attend university in Bath, but it’s Thailand she still considers home.

“It’s incredibly hard for me to choose my favorite Thai food,” she says. “I absolutely love som tum — spicy green papaya salad with sticky rice — but that’s very hard to find abroad. So my all-time favorite is now pad thai.”

Event Photography by FotoPlus HuaHin Pad thai, the traditional stir-fry dish of rice noodles with fresh seafood, served with juicy lime wedges and crunchy roasted peanuts, is a familiar feature on many a fast food menu. “You can find pad thai in any Thai restaurant, but it’s never quite the same,” Blandine insists.

She tells me all about how she found the most delicious pad thai in Bath, but still struggled with the lack of spice. “I actually spoke to one of the waitresses about it!” She laughs. “Apparently, their customers in the UK are so bad at handling hot dishes that they’ve given up on adding the proper spices.”

On a weekend trip to Amsterdam, she finally found her perfect pad thai. “I happened to walk past a small place run by a Thai couple, and they cooked it just like back home. Talking about Bangkok while I was eating there made it taste all the better.”

Strauben from South Tyrol

There are plenty of little street markets with various food stalls all over Munich, especially in the weeks before Christmas, and Lenore, another US expat, explains how happy she was to stumble upon one particular stall in her neighborhood.

“An American friend of mine happened to be visiting me,” she remembers. “That nice woman from Southern Tyrol said that she sold Strauben, but to us, it looked just like funnel cake.” Homemade Funnel Cake with Powdered Sugar

The two dishes are in fact very similar: both involve deep-frying a rich, buttery dough and serving the pastry piping hot, preferably with lots and lots of powdered sugar. Personally, I associate the traditional Strauben with the taste of cranberry jelly — another popular topping — and the festive atmosphere of the holiday season.

For Lenore, funnel cakes taste of “autumn and family togetherness”. In the US, funnel cake is a typical fairground food, and she specifically remembers eating it at the historic arts and crafts fair in nearby Waterford, Virginia.

“Funnel cakes were easy to eat with your hands and pick off little pieces of while you were watching the folk dancing or the candle-making demonstrations. They are just fried awesomeness.”

Leberkäse from Bavaria

As one of the team’s resident Bavarians, I probably should put in a word for our local street food specialty: the ubiquitous Leberkässemmel. The expression literally means “liver cheese bun”, but as I enjoy pointing out, it contains neither cheese nor liver.

A Leberkäsesemmel is a slice of meat loaf with a crunchy brown crust, served on a soft bread roll and liberally seasoned with sweet mustard. Yes, sweet mustard with kibbled seeds and brown sugar, not Dijon mustard or, God forbid, ketchup. Carved meatloaf

Leberkäse is hardly the stuff that healthy diets are made of. It’s greasier than the famous Broadway musical, which is why it makes excellent hangover food. To me, it doesn’t just taste of ground pork, fat, and mustard topping. It rather reminds me of finally turning old enough to go out and party till after midnight.

The local food stall Würschtl Toni (“Sausage Tony”, now run by a middle-aged lady called Erika), a veritable institution, was the only venue still open to (very) late-night party-goers. They probably owed their entire existence to inebriated students, as well as grumbling taxi drivers and paramedics working nightshifts.

As far as I know, they have now branched out into burgers, but that’s just not the same!

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

From Woman to Woman: How to Win at Life Abroad

Eight “best of” tips for 8 March: in honor of International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the adventurous spirit and achievements of all women who started a new life in another country. Our #ExpatChatLive team on our Twitter account has been asking women working abroad about their experiences all day long. InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 9
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And in a series of interviews, expat women from around the globe have shared their personal stories and advice for making the most of life and work abroad.

Be open to new experiences.

Life abroad requires flexibility first and foremost: deciding to make the big move often means re-inventing yourself. It’s not only about adding a new language to your skill set, adjusting to another culture, or learning to appreciate an unfamiliar destination: unless you’re a lucky lottery winner, you have to earn a living after all.

Woman backpacker traveling  with backpack and enjoying sunset vi The job market in your new location could be completely different; potential employers might look askance at someone with a temporary visa, or traveling spouses might be struggling with giving up their previous career.

As Simone, an expat spouse turned entrepreneur, puts it: “Be prepared to get involved in things you may not have considered before.” Little did she know that she’d go from working in finance to teaching English to raising two daughters to successfully running her own company overseas!

Build up an international network of business contacts.

Re-inventing yourself is a lot easier if you know the right people to nudge you into the right direction. Sometimes, women can be a little too reticent to put themselves “out there”. Modestly, we assume that excellent qualifications and hard work speak for themselves. Alas, that’s not necessarily the case — we need a community of working women and, more generally, of savvy professionals to support us.InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 1

Emily, a British expat now working as a manager at the Munich head office of InterNations, describes how she developed her professional network over time, using various channels: university, work, seminars, travels, trade fairs and exhibitions, different expat and business groups, etc. “My contacts live all across the globe,” she says, “but that’s the beauty of the world today, it’s so easy to stay in touch!”

Speak to women on the ground who have done what you (want to) do.

Female role models are important, but they don’t always have to be world leaders, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, or human rights activists. Inspiration works in smaller ways, too. Sometimes, it helps to talk to someone who’s already where you see yourself and find out how she did it. Group Of Mature Female Friends Enjoying Meal At Home

These women can tell you all about dream destinations and dream jobs: how they ensured a smooth transition, country-wise and career-wise; if they enjoy living there; what the working conditions are like, and if there are equal career opportunities for men and women. Perhaps you can find another expat woman willing to mentor you — until it’s time for you to be a mentor in turn. You might be surprised to find that you — yes, you — are someone’s role model.

Don’t hesitate to get expert advice.

“Understanding the vast differences in business cultures you discover abroad does give you a huge amount to offer when you return home”, Emily, the start-up manager, stresses.

Despite her German degree from the UK, it took her a while to acclimatize: she thinks there’s a significant difference between Germany and the UK in the workplace. InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 2

“Communication in Germany is a lot more direct. One says exactly what one means!” She laughs. “This can take a while to get used to, but it’s certainly efficient.”

It may take you a while, too, to master such little (or not so little) cultural differences, let alone the language barrier. Until you’ve become the expert, don’t hesitate to ask local experts — career coaches or recruiters — for advice, especially for writing up your CV and preparing for job interviews.

Know what you are worth.

No matter if you are an international student, an expat in between jobs, or a traveling spouse: volunteering abroad can be an immensely enriching experience. In practical terms, you continue to grow your global network, and activities like fundraising or event management expand your skill set and help you gain work experience. Above all, it’s very rewarding on a personal level. What could be more satisfying than working to help others rather than to add a profit margin to a corporate balance sheet? InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 3

However, volunteering isn’t for everyone, but women may have internalized the message to put others first. Simone — who used to volunteer, too — says: “I know plenty of women who refused to volunteer for organizations because they knew what their input and work ethic were worth. Stand up for what you believe in.”

Make sure your partner knows your expectations.

Love is one of the most common motivations for relocating, your spouse gets a great job offer abroad, or the love of your life happens to live overseas. While both men and women follow their heart across oceans and borders, it’s predominantly women taking this step.

Amongst the things we do for love, giving up your old life and home is definitely one of the grand gestures. InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 4While there’s nothing wrong with that, you should make sure your partner is onboard with you. “You need to agree upon how you can support each other,” Simone counsels.

Traveling spouses may fall into the trap of assuming the responsibility for everything to do with the domestic and the kids. And even the most hopeless romantics shouldn’t neglect their personal support network, isolating themselves socially in a strange country.

Treasure your friends.

Rebecca, a New Zealand expat who moved to Oman in order to start her own travel agency, calls being separated from her family by 13,000 kilometers her greatest struggle. Plenty of expat women probably sympathize with her plight. Just saying hi to your dad or asking after your auntie’s health suddenly involves juggling time zones or dealing with dodgy internet connections. InterNations Expat Blog_International Women's Day_Pic 6

That’s all the more reason to build a second (third, fourth, etc.) “Team You” to share interests with, celebrate successes together, and have a shoulder to cry on. The popularity of expat groups for women only proves how important female friendships are.

“The upside of life abroad is that your expat friends become instant family to help you through it,” Simone believes. “The friendships we have made along the way make all the downsides totally worthwhile.”

Believe in yourself.

A specialist for off-road travel and mountain safaris in the Arabian Desert, Rebecca is clearly the adventurous type. “Many people struggle with the idea of an independent women living and working abroad, especially in Oman, but I find it very liberating,” she says about moving to the Middle East and building a business from scratch. “Just don’t hesitate to accept new challenges.” Senior woman in glasses

While we needn’t all drive a SUV through sand dunes to enjoy our new-found independence, we should take Rebecca’s words to heart. All the women we’ve interviewed express similar sentiments in slightly different words, describing themselves as more self-confident than ever.

“It’s not always easy, but you have to jump right in,” says Carla, a digital designer from Portugal, who’s made the jump to the UK. Or, as Emily puts it very memorably: “Self-doubt stinks.”

(Image credit: 1), 3), 7), 8) iStockphoto 2), 4), 5), 6) Pexels)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Facets of Johannesburg

Malte Zeeck, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO, shares five sightseeing tips for Johannesburg that encapsulate the different facets of the “Rainbow Nation”‘s biggest city for him.

Before visiting the InterNations Community in Pretoria, I travelled to Johannesburg. The city’s turbulent history, especially the apartheid era, has left its mark on “Jo’burg”; however, it doesn’t only have its fair share of scars, but a strong local character as well.

South Africa grunge flag illustration of country with text Here, visitors can discover different facets of modern-day South Africa: a tour of Soweto and a visit to the Apartheid Museum form a stark contrast to the ultra-modern and economically flourishing Sandton neighborhood, which surprised me with its luxury hotels and shopping opportunities.

As the city is big and my time was unfortunately limited, I opted for the ever-popular hop-on and hop-off busses. Those sightseeing busses are the best way to see as much as of a new city possible.

The Carlton Centre: “The Top of Africa”

My first stop during the hop-on hop-off bus tour was the tallest building in Africa: the Carlton Centre. Even though the observation deck is slightly battered and the dirty windows are not exactly transparent, it is still worth a visit. The building is the tallest on the whole continent, and it does offer a hair-raising view of Johannesburg. Gandhi Square, the FNB stadium — one of the biggest stadiums in the world, which hosted the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup — and even the mining belt: that’s a panorama you wouldn’t want to miss! InterNations Expat Blog_Five Tips for Johannesburg_Pic 3

Another point in favor of the Carlton Centre is the entrance fee: a ticket for the elevator all the way to the top is only 15 ZAR (approximately 1 USD), so the price is no excuse for skipping this sight. I only regret that I didn’t go there later that day, at sunset: I’m sure the spectacular view would have been more romantic then.

Gold Reef City: A Family Attraction

Gold Reef City rises at the very center of “Jo’burg”. This theme park is a little peculiar, as it combines genuine historical attractions with period costumes and regular amusement park fun. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Tips for Johannesburg_Pic 1

As a matter of fact, the park is built around an authentic 19th-century gold mine, and it features a museum showcasing the living conditions of both managers and miners, underground mine tours, and such related activities as demonstrations of how to pour molten gold into bars.

Obviously, the park also offers plenty of rides, shows with African music and dance, and a 3D movie theater. It is probably the ideal place to go for visitors with kids.

The Apartheid Museum: A Place for Reflection

Coming to Johannesburg without visiting the Apartheid Museum would be a shameful omission. Established in remembrance of the horrible racial segregation that divided South African society from 1948 to 1994, it offers an emotional experience with the aim of making the museum visitors reflect upon the recent past. From the very beginning of the tour, the same spirit that reigned during apartheid is recreated; visitors are randomly assigned a ticket indicating whether they are “white” or “non-white”, and accordingly they also enter through separate entrances.

thumb_IMG_5992_1024The history of apartheid is presented through a series of exhibitions. Probably the one I found by far the most disturbing, the section called “Political Executions” has the visitors enter a room with many nooses hanging from the ceiling, symbolizing all the political activists executed or tortured to death under the apartheid regime.

However, not only do the exhibitions show the side of history related to racial oppression, but they also highlight the fight against it and the aftermath of apartheid. For instance, the exhibition “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission” is dedicated to the famous commission chaired by Desmond Tutu with the aim of encouraging re-conciliation among the perpetrators and the victims of apartheid.

Soweto: A Closer Look at Local Culture

A tour of Soweto township equals a dive into the South Africa not featured in travel agency ads. There are several different tours to choose from: some take a couple of hours, others are scheduled at night and may include dinner or a drink at a local bar.

InterNations Expat Blog_Five Tips for Johannesburg_Pic 2The neighborhood has a particular interesting history, as a symbol of the fight against the racial segregation of apartheid South Africa. Indeed, the tour will lead you to various places of commemoration, such as the monument and the museum dedicated to Hector Pieterson — a courageous twelve-year-old boy shot for protesting against the introduction of Afrikaans as an official language in schools — or the former house of President Mandela.

Last but not least, you can get a glimpse of everyday life in Soweto: just grab an Umqombothi (a local beer), taste the local street food, and chat with a local resident.

Sandton: Shopping in Style

thumb_IMG_5970_1024 If Soweto represents the less affluent side South Africa, Sandton would be Jo-burg’s Milan, the center of style and wealth. If you want to treat yourself, this is the right place: gigantic malls, like Sandton City — with more than 300 stores — are the venue where you can knock yourself out on a shopping spree. You can purchase whatever your heart desires, from antiques and art to jewelry and home décor.

You should definitely have a drink in one of the many five-star hotels, like Sandton Sun, known for its deck restaurant, where you can contemplate a South African sunset while sipping your chilled cocktail. Another must-see in Sandton is Nelson Mandela Square, featuring a six-meter-tall bronze statue of South Africa’s national hero.

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

What Makes InterNations Members Happy?

Each year, 20 March marks the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness. But what makes people happy? Aristotle once said that “happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. For some people, happiness comes from moving abroad, for others it’s their daily morning coffee, and for many of our InterNations members, it’s helping people in need.

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What Brings a Smile to InterNations Members?

On the International Day of Happiness 2015, InterNations members in Munich shared what makes them happy. After an inspiring speech on ‘The Moment of Happiness’, members were encouraged to reflect on their own lives and put into words what it is that makes them happy and what they could do to make someone else happy.

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What Have InterNations Members in New York and Doha Been Doing to Create Happiness?

Each month around 1,000 InterNations volunteers get involved in doing something for a good cause, bringing a smile to the faces of the people they are helping, as well as enriching their own lives.
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The Volunteer Group in New York has built a longstanding relationship with the non-profit organization Dare2B. Supporting children in poverty, volunteers have been involved in a career development program with young people. Not only have they had a lot of fun putting a smile on the children’s faces, they have also equipped them with skills to find happiness later in their lives.

Spreading happiness isn’t limited to just other people; volunteers in Doha have also shared that warm fuzzy feeling with some playful pooches! Venturing into the desert, volunteers helped to feed over 300 poor, neglected dogs. Many volunteers also brought much appreciated food donations to dogs that may not have otherwise had anything to eat.

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Five Top Tips for Becoming a Happier Person

On International Day of Happiness last year, we were very glad to welcome Thomas Zawadzki, expert on Positive Psychology at the Inntal Institute, to speak at our Social Impact Night in Munich. Here, he shares his five top tips for becoming a little happier in our everyday lives.

1. Enjoy relationships with family and friends; get in touch with other InterNations members and build up your network.
2. Actively express your gratitude; if someone has done something helpful for you, tell them!
3. Offer help and support to others, whether this is a favor for a colleague or friend, or a random act of kindness for a passerby!
4. Look ahead optimistically! Look for the possible positive outcomes and work on ways how they could come true.
5. Enjoy life, and live in the here and now rather than the past or future.

You can find more ways to get involved with the International Day of Happiness online. See what you can do to make your day a little happier!

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

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

(Image credit: InterNations)

The World’s Safest Places for Expats

When moving abroad, you definitely shouldn’t neglect the practical aspects amongst the general excitement — living expenses, housing, healthcare, and especially personal safety. In a 2014 study, over six in ten expats (62%) rated their safety as an “extremely important” factor of life abroad. No other aspect of everyday life in their destination was as essential.InterNations Expat Blog_The Safest Places for Expats_Pic 4

Thus, it’s hardly surprising that Mercer, the international HR consulting firm, has now published a Personal Safety ranking, in addition to their annual Quality of Living survey, for the first time. Just as unsurprising are the five global cities with the best quality of life worldwide. All of them have defended their exact rank for several years in a row: Vienna (1 out of 230), Zurich (2), Auckland (3), Munich (4), and Vancouver (5).

Are these most livable cities also the five safest expat destinations? Not quite. There’s indeed an overlap between the respective “winners”, but they are by no means identical.

All Snug and Safe — Luxembourg

Squeezed into a strategic location between Belgium, France, and Germany, the tiny country owes its very existence to its medieval origins as the strongest fortress in Europe. However, the last time the world’s safest expat destination saw any large-scale violence was over 70 years ago, during World War II.

Sunny view of Abbey de Neumunster in LuxembourgWhile military history buffs can find out all about the Ardennes Counteroffensive at the “Battle of the Bulge” museum in Diekirch, the world’s last Grand Duchy is now completely peaceful. Its constitutional sovereign, Grand Duke Henri, is the nominal commander-in-chief of around 800 troops, who sometimes serve in UN or NATO missions abroad.

But as far as crime is concerned, being a police officer in Luxembourg must be a less-than-stressful job: the biggest warnings issued by travel guides refer to panhandling in Luxembourg City and luggage theft on the train to and from Brussels. Let’s toast this with a Mirabelle plum schnapps!

A Swiss Tie on Second Place — Berne and Zurich

Switzerland seems to live up to its cultural stereotype of housing an extremely orderly and well-organized people. Both Berne, the capital city, and Zurich, its most populous metropolis, fulfill the criteria for the second-safest expat destination across the globe.

Less than 25 years ago, Zurich used to be infamous for its out-of-control drug scene, where a couple of thousand heroin and coke addicts would gather in Platzspitz Park and along the River Limmat. Doctors and paramedics would sometimes need to resuscitate 25 people per day. Swiss Flag on Berne Street Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past: the restored Platzspitz has become a family-friendly park, and the river quays harbor swimming pools, beach volleyball courts, and café-restaurants.

Considering Zurich’s population size (405,000 residents in the city proper), as compared to picturesque Berne’s (140,000), the crime rate is about equally low in both cities. Statistics register the highest absolute numbers in property crime, such as vandalism, pickpocketing, or purse-snatching. In 2014, the Zurich police received nearly 4,000 reports concerning vehicle theft — but 98% of cases involved stolen bicycles.

Expats in Switzerland mostly run the risk of fainting on the spot when they realize just how much everything costs. If I had to pay 42 CHF (42 USD) for one plate of Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (veal strips in cream sauce), I’d probably choke on my grated potatoes!

Far from Grim up North — Helsinki

While the Finnish capital only shares rank 30 out of 230 with another Nordic city — that is, Oslo — when it comes to the overall quality of life, it ranks among the global top five for safety. The German Foreign Office doesn’t issue any specific travel warning for the entire country, and Helsinki isn’t much of an exception.

Finland’s largest city merely has a population of 630,000 and a comparatively low population density of 2,930 residents per km/2. (By the way, it’s over 4,500 per km/2 in Munich and a staggering 14,070 in London.) This factor might contribute to a more relaxed and less conflict-ridden way of life.Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland. Summer Sunset Evening

Of course, Helsinki is not a (pretty icy) paradise. Travelers and expats should take heed of aggressive beggars, petty theft, and drunken party-goers looking for a fight. I guess the latter simply cannot hold their vodka. Additionally, the changing of the seasons is an actual risk for those unused to the climate.

In summer, the famous “white nights” with their long daylight hours are lots of fun, but never forget that winter is coming. And it’s usually very long and very cold. Even if you don’t suffer from seasonal depression or vitamin D deficiency, you might join some other winter “casualties” if you’re not careful. Helsinki’s slippery sidewalks and rooftop avalanches cause several accidents every year.

Austrian Gemütlichkeit — Vienna

As mentioned above, Vienna comes out on top of the Mercer Quality of Living ranking for the third year running. But it’s not just international managers and foreign assignees that enjoy the charms of the cozy capital: according to the most recent “Eurobarometer”, a 2015 study organized by the European Commission, 96% of local residents are satisfied or even very satisfied with their home town.

With regard to personal safety, the city is not far behind, on a very respectable fifth place. Again, this doesn’t mean that life is all beer and skittles (or Gewürztraminer wine and Sacher cake): as a solo female traveler, I preferred to avoid the public parks after dark, even parts of the celebrated Prater, and I’ve heard from friends who had trouble shaking off some very creepy panhandlers.

However, such issues don’t affect everyday life in Vienna very much. The most careful expats can always check out the online Vienna Crime Map before settling in a particular neighborhood. Just take care when you leave the city for a mini-break in the Alps. Accident-prone hikers and winter sports enthusiasts often underestimate the very real risks of mountaineering.

The following five cities round out the top ten of the safety ranking: Geneva (6), Stockholm (also on 6), Singapore (8), Auckland and Wellington (both tied on place 9).

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Speaking in Tongues: Language Diversity, Death and Revival

I’ve always been fascinated with language diversity, with people speaking two or more languages, as well as happily multilingual places — although (or maybe because) the environment I grew up in was pretty monolingual. Or so I thought, but more on that later.

InterNations Expat Blog_Language Diversity_Pic 2My current workplace couldn’t be any more different from my German-only childhood. A brief glance at our team statistics reveals that we are now speaking 28 languages at the InterNations office. As far as linguistic diversity goes, that’s pretty impressive, right?

Wrong. The mere two and a half dozen languages my colleagues and I can scrape together are peanuts, compared to the sheer endless variety of languages worldwide.

7,000 — Or “Only” 5,000? Languages around the Globe

How many languages are there even around the world? As usual, the answer depends on whom you ask. The UNESCO doesn’t give any numbers more precise than “definitely over 5,000”, perhaps up to 6,000. The Ethnologue database claims to identify 7,102 different languages, though the exact number is up to debate.

stack of booksBoth organizations also count regional varieties I’d probably just call “dialects”. Apparently, professional linguists are less strict about that. For Germany, their publications list, among others, the northern Low Saxon (Plattdüütsch) and the southern Austro-Bavarian. In retrospect, the UNESCO has transformed my small-town Bavarian childhood into a bilingual experience. Huh.

Still, even considering the lack of clear-cut boundaries between “dialect” and “language” — a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy — 28 pales in comparison to 5,000 and counting.

The (Linguistically) Most Diverse Place on Earth

Most of the languages you might hear at our office also feature among the global top 100 regarding their number of native speakers: English — 360 million; German — “merely” 89 million; Spanish — a whopping 405 million, etc.

A vast majority of languages are limited to small communities, though. Geographical isolation accounts for both a wide range of dialects and the co-existence of completely different languages.

Let’s take Norway, for instance: very long coastline, some very high mountains, and plenty of very deep fjords. It thus has a whole lot of local dialects, especially for a language with five million native speakers. At the very least, it’s got enough to drive unsuspecting language students to distraction. Trust me on this. Aerial photo of the  coast of New Guinea

However, the difference between Norway’s bergensk and trøndersk is small potatoes when we look at Papua New Guinea. It consists of 600 islands, and the biggest one — the eastern half of New Guinea — is characterized by rugged terrain and dense rainforests.

It’s hardly surprising that PNG is the country with the highest linguistic diversity worldwide: it has over 800 languages, many of them with barely 1,000 speakers. This linguistic diversity has something troublesome in common with the biodiversity of a tropical rainforest: both are increasingly fragile.

The Slow Death of Many Languages

Languages are dying every day. According to the UNESCO, 230 languages have become extinct since 1950. The Ethnologue database even puts that number at 367, around six per year.

Well, that probably sucks if you are a linguist interested in obscure syntax rules — or if you happen to be the last elderly native speaker of Ubykh (+1992), Eyak (+2008), or Livonian (+2013). But why should it matter to the rest of us?

InterNations Expat Blog_Language Diversity_Pic 4Anyway, it’s easier to communicate in the “big” languages, isn’t it? Google Translate proudly announced a couple of days ago that it now features 100 languages, covering 99% of all Internet users. There are also a lot more pressing problems — war, dire poverty, and ecological destruction, to name just a few.

In fact, the gradual death of many languages is often intertwined with other issues. On the most extreme end of the scale, languages die because the people who speak them die in bloody wars or natural disasters.

More often, languages are at risk because people from minority communities — often isolated, discriminated against, or poor — want to improve their lives. They struggle to get an education, move to a bigger town, and find a better job: this may force them to adapt a dominant language no longer their own. If their grandkids still want to speak a less “prestigious” language is anyone’s guess.

What Words Are Worth

There’s even a link between linguistic diversity and biodiversity: after a community and its language die, knowledge about traditional crops or folk remedies may be lost.

Ethnobotanists often rely on indigenous peoples for research, and the history of medicine and pharmaceutics yields some famous examples. The next time you take quinine for antimalarial treatment or just mix yourself a gin and tonic, thank the Kichwa.

Our cultural heritage, too, obviously depends on our languages. Many endangered languages don’t exist in writing. InterNations Expat Blog_Language Diversity_Pic 5 If the ancient Greeks hadn’t cribbed their script from the Phoenicians, nobody might have written down the story of the Trojan War — and we wouldn’t have had to sit through 162 on-screen minutes of Brad Pitt in a leather mini-skirt 3,000 years later.

Once a language dies, a specific way of looking at the world dies with it: the oft-repeated claim that “Eskimo” (Inuit-Yupik-Unangan) languages have 50 words for snow is just an urban legend, though.

But various languages do reveal various subtleties and nuances of expression. For instance, the Tuvan, a nomadic community in Russia, practice the popular Mongolian art of “throat singing”. Their word for it? It translates as “singing with the rhythms of a galloping horse”.

Lastly and simply, the worth of a language is connected to the self-worth of its speakers.

What Is Dead May Never Die

Does language endangerment mean that all fading languages will die? Or that an extinct language remains lost forever? Not necessarily.

The UNESCO stresses in the official statement for the 2016 International Mother Language Day (21 February) how important early language immersion and education are. So-called “nest movements” for minority languages have spread from the Maori of New Zealand to the Hawaiian islands to Native American communities, InterNations Expat Blog_Language Diversity_Pic 6and a similar approach is propagated by activists for endangered European languages like Occitan, Breton, or Cornish.

One of the most spectacular cases is that of Jessie Little Doe Baird, who single-handedly decided to revive the Wampanoag language — spoken in Massachusetts, USA, before the colonists arrived. It died out in the late 1800s, but is very well documented in writing.

Her efforts kick-started the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project — and her own daughter, little Mae Alice, is the first true native speaker in seven generations. Sometimes, the tides of history turn.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Love It or Hate It: How InterNations Members Celebrated Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is probably one of the most criticized holidays worldwide. While those with a particularly romantic streak look forward to it and make plans involving champagne, fancy dinners, and elaborate flower arrangements, others dread this day and maintain that it was invented by greeting card companies to maximize profits and torture unhappy single people.

All You Need Is Love

In any case, Valentine’s Day is hard to escape, especially if couples’ activities and love interests are the main topic of conversation among your friends. But, let’s face it, everyone — including single people and couples who don’t quite get the romantic urgency of this day — can have a good time on 14 February because Valentine’s Day is not just for those who are in love.

Pink Outfits and Ice Breaker Games

Many InterNations members got a head start on their Valentine’s Day celebrations this year. The community in Houston hosted a St. Valentine Rehearsal on Tuesday, 9 February, and gave expats and global minds the opportunity to test one of the best venues in town for future date nights. Thanks to holiday treats and the great company, no one could deny that love was in the air.

Valentines Rehearsal Houston

The Pre-Valentine’s Day Event in Grenoble on Wednesday, 10 February, was all about getting to know each other. The art gallery / restaurant was filled to the brim with expats ready to find their match or simply have a good time. The icebreaker games added to the fun as InterNations members and other global minds flocked to the venue.

Pre-Valentines Day Grenoble

The event in Algiers operated under the motto “Connecting Global Hearts”. On Thursday, 11 February, happy couples and single expats flocked to the Hotel Oasis to enjoy the sea view, live music, and finger food.

Valentines Day Algiers

For their Pre-Valentine’s Day Celebration on Saturday, 13 February, the community in Manila went all out. Women came dressed in their favorite pink outfit and had the chance to win a surprise gift. Those who preferred a different color pallete could still participate in a raffle for a chance to win. But the biggest highlight of the evening was the great company and the hearts that were won all around.

Pre-Valentines Day Manila Of course, we didn’t forget about all those single people on this year’s Valentine’s Day.
The Munich Singles Group invited all of their members to a Valentine’s Day Brunch with Live Music on Sunday, 14 February. It was the perfect opportunity for all those without a date (and those who were happy not to have to celebrate this day in the first place) to enjoy a nice, relaxed Sunday.

Global minds in St. Petersburg also got to have their own Singles’ Sunday. The St. Petersburg Singles Group met at a British pub to enjoy some fish and chips and the tunes of a blues band over a pint.

The Istanbul Party Zone Group went in a slightly different direction this year and hosted an Anti-Valentine’s Day Party. Everyone who felt like protesting Valentine’s Day, be it for moral or emotional reasons, was welcome to join.

A Time to Celebrate Friendships

Now that Valentine’s Day, the day of love and romance, is over and done with, we should all use this opportunity to celebrate friendship: the friendships we have and the ones that may still come to be. After all, we all know that real friends are hard to find and that the end of a friendship can be almost as painful as the end of a relationship. At some of our upcoming events, you can meet other global minds, celebrate your expat friendships, and make some new ones along the way.

Friendship

Global minds in Düsseldorf get to go out and celebrate on Friday, 19 February. So, dust off your party shoes and put on your favorite outfit to party in style! InterNations members will meet at Dr. Thompson’s, a former power station turned into a restaurant and club. The food there is delicious, so make sure to book a table if you want to have dinner before hitting the dance floor.

Our community in Toulouse invites expats and global minds to a very British evening on Thursday, 25 February. Enjoy the British atmosphere with delicious finger food and beer. If you come to an event for the first time, are new in Toulouse or simply want to meet some great people, make sure to stop by the Newcomer’s desk.

On Thursday, 25 February, you get to meet new people in Chicago at an event better than any Valentine’s Day party. We’ll have some fun playing golf at an indoor golf club and mingling with other global minds.

 

Whether you believe in celebrating love and romance once a year, or would rather spend the day with your friends, it is always important to set aside some time for your loved ones. Tell us how you celebrated Valentine’s Day this year or if you celebrated it at all!

Image credit: 1) Barn Images, 2-5) InterNations, 6) SplitShire

Getting Active for a Good Cause!

Many of us start the New Year with a positive attitude and the resolution to get active and be healthy. The Volunteer Groups have certainly taken this approach on board and have spent the beginning of 2016 getting active for a good cause. By raising money and exercising with people (or dogs!) in need, our valued volunteers have managed to make themselves feel healthy in their bodies and in their hearts!

Hong Kong Volunteer Group

The Peak Circle Walk is one of the most beautiful in the region and InterNations volunteers from Hong Kong have enjoyed this challenge to raise money for St. James’ Settlement. This organization responds to the needs of deprived families in the community by filling service gaps to serve more people in need. Volunteers did not only have the chance to raise money, but they were also able to meet and support service users and carers from St. James’.

Quito Volunteer Group

The Quito Volunteer Group kicked off 2016 with an “Exercise by dancing!” series. Through Zumba and other fun dance styles volunteers have found their rhythm and had great fun! Funds collected from the activities will be donated to “A mi me dieron el mar” (They gave me the sea), a worthy initiative taking low-income kids to visit the beach on the Ecuadorian coast.

Together with 2nd Chance Rescue Centre in Doha, InterNations volunteers have been walking rescued dogs on a weekly basis for some time now. Founded in 2009, the center provides much needed care to over 150 dogs and 50 cats. There are so many dogs that this weekly outing with Doha volunteers is the only guaranteed chance for them to get outside to walk and play. Seeing their happy feet and active noses makes it all worth it for the volunteers!

Doha Volunteer Group

The Run for Hope is an annual run in Singapore, which some members of our Volunteer Group bravely got involved in this year. Supporting the National Cancer Centre Singapore, runners helped to raise awareness as well as money as they embarked on either 3.5 km or 10 km runs. It was a great opportunity to show support for cancer patients and their families, as well as get fit and make a difference with friends, family members, and colleagues, while enjoying a scenic city view!

Our Bangkok Volunteer Group has been partnered with the Duang Prateep Foundation, a school for refugee children, for a considerable amount of time now. This month, they have found a new way to help them out. On Saturday, 27 February, members of the group will meet for “Yoga for Good”. By negotiating a deal with a local studio, they are able to donate a portion of each participant’s fee, which will go towards funding sports day, a highlight of the year for the students at Duang Prateep!
Bangkok Volunteer Program

Teaming up with refugee children, volunteers in Berlin have enjoyed playing soccer with underaged refugees who are living in Berlin without their parents. Not only a welcome break from their day-to-day lives, it’s a great opportunity for the young people to get active. InterNations members have also enjoyed some time out from their busy lives and the chance to boost their energy levels!

If you’d like to get involved in another city, please check if there is a Volunteer Group in your InterNations Community. Every InterNations member can join the group and take part in the activities!
Find out more on our About Page or write to volunteerprogram@internations.org.

(Image credit: 1-3) InterNations, 4) iStockphoto)