Founder’s Diary: Helsinki

The founder and co-CEO of InterNations, Malte Zeeck, enjoyed Helsinki’s famous “white nights” and attended a summer event in the Finnish capital. Here are some impressions from his trip:

In summer 2013, I’d already been to an event hosted by the InterNations Helsinki Community and met the then Ambassador team, two expats from Russia and Venezuela, as well as a Finn working for the International Organization for Migration.

Funnily enough, the recent get-together I attended in the Finnish capital took place at the exact same venue where I’d already spent a night out on town two years ago — Maxine, a trendy bar and restaurant on the uppermost floor of the Kamppi shopping center complex, high above the rooftops of Helsinki. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Helsinki 2015_Pic 2

At the event, I also saw two other former InterNations Ambassadors again — Jonathan from New Zealand and Steven from the UK — and, of course, I had the chance to get to know our current Ambassadors for the Helsinki Community team in person: Polina from Saint Petersburg is a PhD student and researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Biotechnology, while Isabella from Austria runs her own company for “upcycling” and sustainable design in Finland.

InterNations Events in Helsinki tend to begin rather early, especially when compared to my recent visits to Spain, and we also welcomed some special guests right at the start: We had scheduled an interview with Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, who wanted to do a short portrait of the InterNations Helsinki Community (link in Finnish only – sorry!).

I was especially impressed by the great job that Isabella did during the interview. She has been living in Finland for quite a while now and has become fluent in Finnish.

Personally, I must admit that the language baffles me and is a bit beyond me: I only know that it is infamous for having fifteen different noun cases; it apparently features more umlaute than German, and even the sentence “En ymmärrä suomea” (‘I don’t understand Finnish’) seems kind of hard. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Helsinki 2015_Pic 4 Therefore I stand in awe of anyone who has mastered Finnish grammar and remain very grateful for the Finns’ excellent English language skills.

The InterNations members at the event were indeed a very international group of people: about 90 guests from several dozen countries attended the get-together, and I even recognized some familiar faces from two years ago. Polina and Isabella had the splendid idea to treat us all to a round of prosecco, so we could all toast the new InterNations logo and our ongoing website relaunch together.

Then it was my turn for the official thank-yous and celebrations: it was my pleasure to thank the InterNations Ambassadors for organizing this event, as well as our Group Consuls for offering such a variety of fun activities in Helsinki; our photographer Olli for taking all these great event pictures, the staff at Maxine’s for making us feel welcome and providing drinks at half the usual price, and, last but not least, our members for keeping Helsinki such an active and friendly InterNations Community.

A couple of Group Consuls seized the opportunity to introduce their InterNations Groups: Luis from Peru talked briefly about upcoming activities in the City & Outdoors Group, as well as the Helsinki Singles Group, and Austrian expat Karin invited everyone to a “coffeeklatch” with the Coffee & Cake Group. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Helsinki 2015_Pic 3

During the long, bright Nordic summer night, the guests really seemed to enjoy themselves, and the TV crew — who were still filming at the event — didn’t disturb the relaxed and easy-going mood.

Now that we have over 5,800 InterNations members in the Helsinki Community, a few people approached me to ask about us opening another community in Finland, in the southwestern university town and seaport of Turku.

Let’s see if Turku will make it on the list for the next wave of new InterNations Communities around the globe!

(Image credit: Olli Huhtala)

Survey Spotlight: Expat Insider 2015 Release

Last year, we launched our first Expat Insider survey, with great success. Not only was it one of the biggest expat surveys worldwide, the results also received a lot of attention.

With publications in various international media outlets we managed to inform the whole world about how expats experience their life abroad. Most of all, the information we collected has benefitted all InterNations members around the globe, as well as a wider audience planning on moving, living, and working abroad.infographics_top_expat_destinations

Just like last year’s survey, we conducted the Expat Insider 2015 to see the world through expat eyes and answer the most pressing questions about expatriates: Why do they move? What makes them happy? What are their biggest concerns?

A Few Facts

The Expat Insider 2015 is the second edition of our expat survey, and the responses were collected at the beginning of March this year.

Altogether, 14,400 expatriates representing 170 nationalities responded to the survey, willing to let us take a peek into expat life. With their help, we managed to gather data on moving, living and working abroad in 64 countries around the world.Expat Insider Main Visual

This year, the results were also broken down by gender. The general situation of expat spouses and typical expat problems are addressed as well.

All in all, the complete report includes analyses concerning five topical indices (e.g. the Working Abroad Index or the Family Life Index), over 20 country and 15 nationality reports, as well as a closer look at different expat types.

This Year’s Top Countries

Ecuador: Everybody’s Darling

Ecuador is still the expat favorite and occupies first place in the overall country ranking, just as it did in 2014. The South American country also makes it to the top of our Personal Finance and Cost of Living Indices.

But respondents are particularly satisfied with the quality of life, as well as the ease of settling in. Although expats living in Ecuador are quite happy in most respects, the country yields only mediocre results for job security. Many are also not satisfied with their personal safety.

Viva Mexico!

Mexico climbs from third place in last year’s country ranking to second place this year. Survey respondents praise the country for how easy it is to settle down and find friends there. Most of all, expats value the friendliness of the Mexican people.

While 76% of our respondents are generally satisfied with their financial situation, many of them are unhappy with their personal safety. Moreover, Mexico only ranks 22nd for its quality of life.

Malta: Small in Size, Big in Popularity

Malta is a newcomer in this year’s survey and makes it right to the winners’ podium in our overall country ranking. The small state owes its third place mostly to the high job satisfaction among survey respondents.

Malta also makes it to fourth place in the Ease of Settling In Index and impresses with its leisure options, the quality of its healthcare, as well as the local climate and weather. On the other hand, the transport infrastructure still leaves a lot to be desired, and on the Personal Finance Index, Malta only ranks 42nd out of 64 destinations.

The Topical Indices

  • * Singapore climbs from sixth place in 2014 to first place on this year’s Quality of Life Index, mostly for its travel and transport infrastructure, as well as personal safety, political stability and peacefulness.
  • * The Ease of Settling In Index is topped by Mexico for the second year in a row. An impressive 94% are generally happy with the overall friendliness in the country.
  • * Malta ranks highest on the Working Abroad Index. Many value the country for its career opportunities (67%) and work-life balance (67%).
  • * Survey participants appreciate Austria particularly for reasons related to childcare and education, voting it to first place of the Family Life Index. The country’s ranking improved most in terms of the quality of education and family well-being.

With the second edition of our annual Expat Insider survey, we let you see the world through expat eyes and we couldn’t have done it without the help of everybody who participated.

We would like to thank everyone who responded to the InterNations Expat Insider 2015 survey and helped us learn more about expat life around the world.

Finally, we want to congratulate the winners of our raffle: Lucia in Mannheim won a Lufthansa travel voucher, James in Beijing can look forward to a relaxed vacation with a Four Seasons hotel voucher, Lisa in Barcelona received an iPad Air, and Octavio in Perth can save space on his bookshelves with a Kindle e-book reader.

Please take a closer look at our Expat Insider 2015 results and learn more about individual country rankings.

Explore and enjoy!

(Image credit: InterNations)

Expats on the Red Carpet

The summer months are always a special time for the movies: a few selected films, usually with a feel-good touch, are released and Hollywood stars are spotted lounging on beautiful beaches and enjoying the sun. Outdoor cinemas and drive-in movie theaters are opening their doors all around big cities and offer the perfect opportunity to watch the latest blockbuster or favorite movie classics on a picnic blanket with a cold beer in hand. InterNations-Expat-Blog_Movie-Star-Events-and-Activities_Pic-1

But even if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, a good movie, whether you watch it at home alone or in a theater with your best friends, can really lighten the mood during those long winter nights.

And let’s not forget about the film festivals, big and small, with their indie films and their movie stars, who are not shy to make a red-carpet appearance or chat with their fans.

Who hasn’t wanted to feel like a movie star, we wondered, and decided to give our members the opportunity to do just that. After all, you shouldn’t have to live in Hollywood to experience some of its glitz and glamour.

Gatsby_SofiaWith the help of our Ambassadors and Consuls, we introduced a new motto for our events and activities in July and August: InterNations Movie Stars.

A lot of communities, including Kampala, Tirana, Bratislava, Luxembourg, and Panama City, hosted James Bond 007 events. Our Ambassadors in Manila, for instance, organized a beautiful “Casino Royale” event, where our members enjoyed a truly luxurious night.

The style of the 1920s was rather popular as well: members in Sofia dressed in their best retro clothes and put on their dancing shoes, our community in Seoul celebrated the Roaring Twenties on a rooftop, and Prague partied Gatsby-style.

But most common were probably the Hollywood events which captured the glamour of the movie world. Expats in Vancouver got to dress up in their finest Hollywood attire. Global minds in Almaty got to feel like a movie star and our members in Lugano were asked to dress up like their favorite screen idolr.

Our consuls also organized a lot of activities celebrating that movie star feeling. The São Paulo Women Only Group, for instance, chose Chocolat, Jaws_Atlanta that wonderfully romantic flick starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, as their topic and visited a shop specialized in harmonizing Belgian chocolate and good wine, for a tasting.

The Vienna Burgers & More Group attempted a “Mission (Im)Possible” with a Tom Cruise movie and burgers to follow.

Members of the Austin Movies & More Group had to be really brave as they entered the murky water of the Texas Ski Ranch on inner tubes, ready to fight off sharks, for a special viewing of the Spielberg classic Jaws.

All in all, this theme was a great success, with around 32 InterNations Activities and almost 40 InterNations Official Events so far. We want to thank all Ambassadors and Consuls for their great efforts and for putting our members in the spotlight and making them feel like movie stars.

(Image credit: InterNations)

InterNations Insider Tips: Five Touristy Things to Do in Salzburg

Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, as well as a former expat himself, shares his personal tips for the five most famous sights in neighboring Salzburg.

While a bachelor party recently took me to Barcelona, I had the chance to attend a wedding in Salzburg some time later. The reception took place at the Gwandhaus, a popular location for festive events situated at the headquarters of a well-known Austrian manufacturer of Trachten (traditional garments).

The statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Salzburg, AustriaThough I was born in the far north of Germany, on the Baltic Sea, I very much enjoyed this opportunity to don my Tyrolese-style woolen jacket and set out across the border to one of Austria’s most beautiful cities.

In addition to celebrating a wedding and getting to know the InterNations Salzburg Community, I also took the time for a tour of Salzburg’s most important sights. (No, this doesn’t include the Sound of Music special, whose popularity continues to baffle the locals.)

1) The Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle), the town’s landmark, sits on a hill high above the cityscape — the ideal location for a fortress originally conceived to serve as a refuge for Salzburg’s princely archbishops of yore.

Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg. AustriaDon’t worry, though: if you don’t fancy the twenty-minute walk, a cable car will bring up right to the doorstep of the castle, where you’ll probably be joining a teeming crowd of visitors.

As the fortress is among the biggest and best-maintained medieval castles in Central Europe, looking like an illustration from a book of fairy-tales, it’s a veritable tourist magnet, even in less than perfect weather.

Despite the bustle, I found the fortifications indeed pretty impressive and well worth the visit. However, if you’re looking for a quiet tour round the premises, you’d better take a pair of sturdy shoes, a waterproof coat, and an umbrella, and go and explore the Hohensalzburg on a rainy weekday in the off-season.

2) The Festungsberg, the hill dominated by Hohensalzburg Castle, is adjacent to the Mönchsberg (literally: “Monks’ Mountain”), a mountainous ridge stretching for about half a kilometer along the River Salzach. Monchsberg Fortifications in Salzburg, Austria.

It’s a popular destination for daytrips among locals and tourists alike: it features a number of historic fortifications, mansions, and villas along the way. The quaint buildings aren’t all open to the public, though: a couple of them now house university institutes, research centers, archives, and even student accommodation (those must be the most picturesque dorms I’ve ever seen).

If you want to max out your credit card, Schloss Mönchstein is home to a luxury hotel, gourmet restaurant, and day spa. For the less flush rest of us, there’s always the possibility of taking a lunch box and an old blanket and enjoying a picnic with a fantastic view of the old town for free.

3) Perhaps your picnic basket for the trip to the Mönchsberg also contained the famous Mozartkugeln — small, round chocolates made of dark chocolate, nougat, pistachio, and marzipan. They are produced by various confectioners nowadays — but beware: only those by the local Konditorei Fürst are the original “Mozart bonbons”.

In addition to Mozart-themed sweets, there are also Mozart busts, Mozart keychains, Mozart snowglobes, Mozart perfume, and what-have-you. InterNations Expat Blog_Five Things to Do in Salzburg_Pic 3This list only scratches the surface of the Salzburg souvenir industry.

On the one hand, this commercialization feels oddly fitting for a composer marketed by his family as a wunderkind at the tender age of six. On the other hand, the throngs at Mozart’s birthplace in Getreidegasse 9 can be a bit of a nuisance.

The small museum does offer a handy overview of his life and his oeuvre as an opera composer, though. And if you’re a little sick of all the touristy kitsch, just load up your mp3-player, look for some quiet corner, and let his works remind you why he got so famous in the first place.

4) The Getreidegasse is one of Salzburg’s most famous streets, full of listed buildings, once the townhouses of Salzburg’s well-to-do burghers and artisans: former apothecary shops, bakeries, merchants’ quarters, the official mint, and several historic inns — one of the latter now houses a Mc Donald’s restaurant.

InterNations Expat Blog_Five Things to Do in Salzburg_Pic 4The latter should be enough to tell you that it’s pretty much tourist central around here: sometimes, it’s just too much, the exceedingly photogenic buildings notwithstanding. Before you end up hating the town, as one of its other famous sons did — the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard once infamously described it as a “fatal disease” — it’s probably best to retreat to the other side of the river.

There’s another slew of popular sights on the right riverbank, including the Mozart Residence, the lavish Mirabell Palace with its baroque gardens, and Hotel Sacher, but it’s still easier to avoid the crowds.

In the cafés along the Salzach, as well as in the narrow back alleys, you’ll spot more locals enjoying their Mélange (coffee with lots of milk) or Verlängertern (strong mocca diluted with water). And with a bit of luck, you might even find a traditional Austrian Beisl (rustic inn).

5) If you’re not tired of tourist attractions and sightseeing by now, you can return to the left-hand part of the historic city center — to be more precise, to Salzburg’s Cathedral Square and the palatial residence of the town’s archbishops, who used to rule their territory with all the power and splendor of secular princes.

Cathedral square (Domplatz) located at Salzburg, Austria The Residenz palace is a grandiose reflection of their wealth and influence, as well as their worldly lifestyle. For example, you can visit the bishop’s ornate audience chambers, the council chamber where six-year-old Mozart played in front of the court for the first time, and the private rooms where a 16th-century prelate’s mistress lived with their 15 (!) children.

As the archbishops were also patrons of the art, their private collection of paintings served as the basis for today’s gallery dedicated to Old Masters. You’d better be fond of Baroque art to fully enjoy the experience, though.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Salzburg

The founder and co-CEO of InterNations, Malte Zeeck, remembers his recent visit to Salzburg where he attended an event organized by the local InterNations Community.

After my previous visits to official InterNations Events had led me on a tour around the Mediterranean south of Europe, from Athens over Rome to Madrid and Barcelona, the trip to follow was a short one.InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Salzburg 2015_Pic 4

As I happened to attend a wedding in Salzburg on the weekend right after an upcoming InterNations Event, I simply started the journey a couple of days earlier, so I could join the get-together on Thursday night. After all, Salzburg is just a 90-minute car ride away from Munich.

The InterNations Event was hosted at Glüxfall (a pun on the German word Glücksfall or ‘stroke of luck’), a charming café and bar right in Salzburg’s historic city center, close to the alpine river running right through the town.

Unfortunately, despite the promising name, the venue didn’t bring us the hoped-for good luck at first: since it was raining cats and dogs that day, we couldn’t make use of the picturesque patio and courtyard — an ideal setting for mellow summer nights. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Salzburg 2015_Pic 3Nonetheless, our guests had decided to brave the elements. In spite of the frankly horrible weather, there were 92 InterNations members from over 30 countries on the guest list.

Before the attendees started arriving, Lucy — one of the InterNations Salzburg Ambassadors – and I were interviewed for the Salzburger Nachrichten, one of Austria’s daily newspapers. Lucy, a Polish expat, and her fellow InterNations Ambassador Miguel from Madrid, are both very active and committed event hosts who take good care of the InterNations Salzburg Community.

With roughly 1,500 members in the Salzburg area, the community is far smaller than the one in Vienna, which is among the largest InterNations Communities in Central Europe. However, such a relatively modest size does have its distinct advantages: I noticed that the atmosphere at the event felt very casual and familiar. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Salzburg 2015_Pic 2

I was very happy to thank Lucy and Miguel in my brief introduction speech for creating such a welcoming community, as well as the many Group Consuls present at the event for offering a wide range of fun activities in Salzburg, like a bike ride around town or a Spanish movie night for the Cinema Group.

The Consuls also did a great job of presenting what they’d been planning next, so the guests could find out more about upcoming Events and Activities in town — for example, Tina Turner (not the rock legend, but a fantastic InterNations Consul), who runs the DinnerNations Group and is part of the Salzburg City Life team, or Victor, who had recently created an Outdoor and Adventure Group for InterNations members in Salzburg.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Salzburg 2015_Pic 1I really enjoyed talking to various members, such as Verena, a former InterNations Ambassador in Salzburg, who is still a regular at our events, or expats working for Red Bull (the headquarters of the brand are located in rural Fuschl am See close to Salzburg), the city’s international airport, or the Austrian branch of multinational retail chain SPAR.

The pouring rain notwithstanding, the enjoyable evening was indeed more than a simple stroke of luck.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

How to Make a Complete Mess of Moving Abroad

There’s plenty of advice out there that helps you prepare for your big move abroad and make the transition as smooth as possible. This is not one of those posts.

On the contrary: we’ll tell you how to mess up the start of your new life abroad as spectacularly as possible. Just follow these seven tips and you will probably spend the following year sorting out the chaos. But don’t worry: in about a decade, you will look back on it and it’ll all seem funny.

1) Don’t move towards to something new — run away from your old life instead.

Your girlfriend of nine years is leaving you for your best mate? Your boss has passed you over once again when it came to the annual promotions and pay rises? Or, far worse, there has been a death in your family and you are feeling literally numb with grief? InterNations Expat Blog_Making a Mess of Your Move Abroad_Pic 1

Clearly, the decision to move abroad will miraculously heal heart-break, job-related frustration, and even the loss of a loved one. Who needs a coping strategy to recover slowly from a personal crisis? On the other side of the globe, everything is bliss, and nothing hurts.

2) Research is overrated.

Who even has the time to dedicate hours upon hours to gathering information? Reading up on such legal details as visa options, on professional qualifications, or the local housing market in your destination of choice is tedium at its worst. Hunching before a computer screen hampers your spontaneity.

Things like being turned away at the airport because you don’t have the correct visa or being stuck in shabby hostel dorms for months rarely ever happen. At the very least, they won’t happen to you. You will step off the plane and stumble upon the perfect job, plus the house of your dreams.

3) Budget-planning is for tightwads.

Drawing up a checklist of necessary expenses for the first few months, doing your homework regarding the cost of living abroad, and figuring out how much of a financial cushion you need — these tasks all remind you of that elderly uncle who has a certain reputation as a penny-pincher. InterNations Expat Blog_Making a Mess of Your Move Abroad_Pic 4

You know the type: always grumbles about how much everything costs “these days”, has a dozen of Excel spreadsheets for his household expenses, and never invites you for a single cup of coffee. That’s not who you want to be when you embark on your adventure.

Moreover, you deserve to treat yourself and splurge on that fancy restaurant in your adopted city. And on fun souvenirs for your friends back home. And on a flatscreen TV plus sound system for your new apartment. And so on…

4) Packing wisely is as boring as budget-planning.

You’d rather spend the last few weeks before your departure throwing one farewell party after the other and surfing the net for photogenic pictures of your destination? Go for it! Sorting through your belongings is hard work, and you want to start the fun as early as possible instead of dealing with the harsh realities of the moving process.

When wrapping up your affairs at home, you’re just so busy that taking old clothes to a charity shop or putting a few crates into storage becomes another needless chore. Woman struggles to shut a full suitcaseNo problem!

You can just have your entire household shipped overseas without worrying about the bill, or simply buy everything you need upon arrival. Surely, you’ll find a good use for your high-school yearbooks in Buenos Aires and it’ll be easy to purchase a size 18 pantsuit in Tokyo.

5) Skimping on healthcare saves a lot of time and money.

From what you have heard about your destination (remember: research is for nerds), it has some sort of national healthcare system. Fantastic! There’s no need to check out international insurance plans, which cost a pretty penny, or find reliable information on the quality of healthcare and the coverage extended to foreign residents.

Also, you’re young and as healthy as a horse, or pretty fit for someone on the wrong side of forty. Why should you fret about worst-case scenarios that will never ever come to pass?

Like finding out that the national insurance plan doesn’t cover the cost of your complicated root canal. Or learning the hard way why public emergency services in China are infamous for unreliability. Or trying to explain your gynecological complaints in mime to a doctor who doesn’t speak your language.

None of this could possibly happen to you.

6) Treat your stay abroad like a never-ending vacation.

You have come a long way to enjoy yourself, not to return to the daily grind. Getting yourself trapped in something as mundane as a personal routine is the last thing you could want, even after the first few weeks.

InterNations Expat Blog_Making a Mess of Your Move Abroad_Pic 3Instead, there are so many sights to see and so many other expats to meet! Learning the local language would be an additional bother that keeps you from exploring. If somebody doesn’t understand you, just talk in very loud English, and your communication problems will be solved instantaneously.

Maybe you are among those lucky ones who didn’t relocate for the sake of their career. You might be a retiree, a traveling spouse, or a backpacker who does the odd part-time job.

In short: you have all the time in the world. Time to find yourself. Funnily enough, finding yourself mostly means finding yourself in your pajamas at 2 pm.

7) Back-up plans are for wimps.

You’re an adventurous person, always ready to tackle every challenge that life throws your way. Plan A Plan B word You are most definitely not one of those worrywarts who would do something as silly as establish an emergency fund large enough to get them home safely or keep copies of their most important paperwork. Just in case.

No, you are confident, and your plans are foolproof. You will never be affected by redundancy, serious illness, family emergencies, ill-advised investments, or anything else that might lead to your being stranded at some random airport, longing desperately to go home.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Cool Things to Do in Barcelona

Malte Zeeck, our founder and co-CEO and a former expatriate himself, shares his five favorite things to do in beautiful Barcelona.

While Barcelona, or “BCN”, isn’t as familiar to me as its perennial rival Madrid, I’ve had the chance to visit the capital of Catalonia repeatedly, and not only in my role as the founder of InterNations. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Tips Pic 3

Recently, I was invited to a good friend’s bachelor party in the city, and all 15 of us were flitting about on rented mini-scooters to explore the town. Which reminds me of my first tip for anyone who wishes to play the tourist in Barcelona for a little while:

1) Discover the city by scooter. Inspired by my Vespa ride through Rome, I used the “Cooltra” renting company for my motorist needs in Barcelona. The distances between major sights such as the Sagrada Familia and more of Gaudí’s masterpieces, like Park Güell and the architecture along the Passeig de Gracia, are ideal to cover by scooter.

The flexibility to go wherever you please and stop whenever you want is a huge plus for anyone exploring a city of that size. However, if you don’t feel quite as confident on two wheels yet, there are also guided scooter tours through the city. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Tips Pic 2

2) Explore the La Barceloneta district. This densely built district was designed on a grid. The clothing lines between the buildings, along with the traditional small eateries and bars called chiringuitos (guinguetas in Catalán), are a throwback to the days of yore when this area housed Barcelona’s fishing community.

At the end of La Barceloneta, you’ll immediately spot the W Barcelona building (nicknamed “Hotel Vela” by the locals), a stunning sight in its own right. If you end up going in that direction, be sure to head to the waterfront and check out the chiringuitos on the beach.

3) Go clubbing at Carpe Diem. Fair’s fair: after I recommended the official stadium café of Real Madrid in my last post, I should include a Barça-related activity here to balance this.

Beautiful streets of Barceloneta neighbourhood in BarcelonaFor the FC Barcelona fans that weren’t able to secure tickets for a match at Camp Nou, the Carpe Diem lounge club, owned by Dutch football star and former FCB player Patrick Kluivert, is a fun alternative. The restaurant serves high-end Asian and Arabic cuisine, and the lounge is ideal for those looking for an exclusive clubbing experience.

4) Have lunch at the Boquería. A visit to Las Ramblas is inevitable for every visitor in Barcelona, just as inevitable as getting a bit overwhelmed by the crowds. La Boquería is a market just off Las Ramblas where you can escape to for a while. This mercat has plenty of fresh produce to choose from and is a dream come true for everyone who loves shopping locally. Barcelona Las Ramblas La Boqueria Market

5) Enjoy the view at Mirablau. A panoramic view is hard to say no to – especially in a city like Barcelona with a waterfront on the Mediterranean.

Mirablau isn’t only a great venue for its view, but you’ll also enjoy the food and drinks there. If you didn’t get enough of the Barcelona nightlife at Carpe Diem, you can try your luck here and enjoy the scenic view in the early morning hours.

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

Founder’s Diary: Barcelona

Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations, reports back from a visit to Spain where he was invited to an event by our Barcelona Community.

In contrast to Madrid, where I’ve been fairly frequently, it had been quite a long while – several years, in fact – since I last visited the InterNations Community in Barcelona. Therefore I was looking forward even more to this particular trip, excited to see for myself how much the community had grown and changed and what the local events were like.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Pic 4 What the two events – Madrid and Barcelona – did have in common was the lavish and themed decor at both venues: In Madrid, we’d celebrated at Kerala Fusión, a vibrant lounge bar with an Indian-Arab touch, and in Barcelona, the local Ambassador team invited their expat community to the Elephant Club, a glamorous restaurant and lounge club with an Asian-inspired flair, located in a 1920s mansion in central Barcelona.

Before the party started, I enjoyed a quiet dinner together with three of the four InterNations Ambassadors in Barcelona. (Giulio, the fourth member of the Ambassador team, was unfortunately out of town and couldn’t make it to that event.) The four of us formed quite the international little group.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Pic 1Apart from me, visiting from Germany, there was Paul, a Mexican expat who left his native country over a decade ago to study and work in Europe and who’s been living in Barcelona for the past three years; Elina, a Swiss-born Finnish national who has spent most of her life living overseas, for instance, in South America and the United Arab Emirates; and Anna, a Ukrainian lecturer, researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Universitat Autònoma of Barcelona, whose academic career has also taken her to Denmark, Switzerland, and the US.

After getting to know the trio personally, it was my pleasure to officially introduce them and thank them for their great commitment in my welcome speech at the event. The guest list – as diverse as it was long, with over 300 people from more than 50 nations signing up to attend the get-together – demonstrated very clearly how far Barcelona has come as an InterNations Community. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Pic 2 Today, the community has about 19,000 members, which places it firmly among the top twenty InterNations Communities worldwide – though not quite among the global top ten, like Madrid, as Barcelona’s local patriots may be somewhat disappointed to hear.

Barcelona does have a large and varied InterNations Groups landscape, though, to rival that of Madrid in every way: from outdoor activities to wine-tasting to movie nights – not to mention our InterNations Barcelona Volunteer Group – there’s really something for everyone. I also enjoyed a brief chat with Veyza, a Peruvian expat and jazz enthusiast who runs our Jazz Live Music Group in Barcelona. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Barcelona_2015_Pic 3

Speaking of music: my speech was followed by a short live act, an impressive Bollywood Dance trio, and later that night, when the time for networking and animated conversation was over, the attendees could hit the dancefloor, where one of the Elephant’s top-notch DJs provided the soundtrack till the early hours of the morning.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

The Ten Best Tricks for Foreign Language Learners

You needn’t be a hyperpolyglot to enjoy studying a new language. Hyperpolyglots are those rare geniuses who speak at least eleven languages fluently. Apparently, learning about ten languages is still an attainable goal, relatively speaking, but after the first dozen, things get pretty tricky.funny baby girl in glasses reading a book in a library

Startling facts like that make me feel rather woeful about my own language proficiency, or lack thereof. English is the only foreign language I have mastered, and while I can ask for the nearest bathroom in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Norwegian, I wouldn’t understand the answer in any of them. Time to get cracking!

If you, too, are feeling the sudden urge to add another foreign language to your skill set, these tips and tricks will come in handy.

1) Find the right motivation. If you sit down and decide to study a language, just because, you’ll run out of steam soon. You need to actually want it.

Have you always dreamed of traveling to a particular country? Will a specific language help you climb the career ladder? Are you dating someone whose mother tongue is different from your own? Go for it.

Even obscure motivations will do the trick. I know people with university degrees in Japanese studies who were manga and anime geeks in their teens, or those fluent in Korean because they once went through an intense K-pop phase.

Grammar2) Find out what type of language learner you are.

I’m the analytical rather than the conversational type. I need to understand language on an abstract level and take it apart before I can put it back together and form my own sentences. Give me all the grammar rules and verb charts and declension paradigms.

Other people run screaming in the opposite direction as soon as they hear the word “grammar”. They learn best through informal conversation and contextual input. Put those two types of students in the same language class, and they’ll drive each other mad.

3) Set yourself S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you’re familiar with the jargon of project management, you’ll recognize this abbreviation. S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

“I want to learn Italian” is none of those. “I want to take an Italian 101 class and pass the test for A1 level before I go on a holiday to Tuscany next spring,” however, fits all the criteria. Try to break down the learning process into small milestones like this. InterNations Expat Blog_10 Tips for Language Learners_Pic 6

4) Start with the basics. In many languages, the 100 to 1,000 most common words in their most frequent meanings cover a huge percentage of everyday communication.

Those boring little words like “you”, “what”, “this”, “in”, “have”, etc. are the backbones of the language. Make sure you learn them as soon as possible – both fancy flash card apps and old-fashioned index cards will do the trick.

5) Follow your interests and make it fun! Even the most entertaining study materials may bore you to tears since they aren’t tailored to your personal preferences. Enhance them by adding your own input.

You love cooking? Look up simple recipes in the target language. You’re into music? Explore the discography of the most famous artists singing in that language, and so on.Have Fun!

I’ve heard of people perfecting their English through hours of video games or their Swedish by re-reading their favorite children’s classics by Astrid Lindgren. As long as it holds your interest, it’s fine.

6) DVDs and the Internet are a godsend for improving listening comprehension. News channels on the web often feature broadcasters with more or less standard accents and clear pronunciation.

Once you feel more confident – or are tired of the weather forecast – just switch to movies and TV shows. Subtitles in the foreign language are a great way of matching the written to the spoken word till you can make do without them.

Listening comprehension is the part that comes hardest to me, but I knew I’d made it when I could watch films in rather different varieties of English, like O Brother Where Art Thou? (Southern US), The Full Monty (Northern England), and Strictly Ballroom (Australia), without any auditory confusion.

7) Get a native speaker to practice with. It’s not just about common words and basic grammar. True proficiency comes with getting proverbs and idioms, laughing at silly puns, and learning to understand (though not necessarily to use) some bawdy innuendo and heart-felt cussing.

group of university students relaxing outdoorsIn a university town, foreign exchange students are often grateful for a tandem partner. The same applies to international co-workers in companies with many expats on their staff.

If you can’t find anyone in “real life”, a weekly video chat with someone on the other side of the globe may be just as effective. And if you move to another country, how about looking for local roommates or neighbors?

8) Learn to speak about language. For your conversational practice, be prepared with some useful “meta” phrases to discuss the language itself. “I don’t understand this”, “What does this mean?”, “How do you say…?”, “Could you spell this?” and all the rest will pop up again and again and again.

The more advanced learners can try using some grammatical terms (“Is that the plural form?” “Is there a difference between adjectives and adverbs?”), and they can make sure to guess the right meaning of unknown words from context by paraphrasing them as simply as possible.

9) Don’t be a perfectionist. – Yes, you will make mistakes. No, it doesn’t matter. InterNations Expat Blog_10 Tips for Language Learners_Pic 3

Don’t be afraid of talking nonsense, but ask a native speaker to point it out to you. That way, the wrong usage won’t take hold, and you can still chat merrily without worrying about getting it right the first time.

10) Practice, practice, practice. A daily 15 minutes of concentrated study time with lots of repetition is better than a haphazard four hours every three weeks. It’s as simple as that.

Which strategies for learning a new language would you recommend?

(Image credit: iStockphoto))

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Typical Things to Do in Madrid

Malte Zeeck, our founder and co-CEO and a former expat himself, shares his five favorite travel tips for the Spanish capital.

Madrid is a city I have close personal ties to. Lots of my friends still live here, and some years ago, I would spend almost every other weekend in the Spanish capital. Even after all this time, the following five activities remain those I most enjoy about the city and would recommend to everyone, no matter if you’re new in town or have been to Madrid a dozen times.

1) Enjoy Abuelo’s tapas. Come lunchtime, or whenever the inevitable craving for tapas arises, I recommend La Casa del Abuelo, or “El Abuelo”, as it is called locally. This quaint eatery in the Calle de Goya has been perfecting its menu for over a century. But don’t worry – the ingredients are all as fresh as they can be!InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Madrid_Tips_Pic 1

Rather than instinctively reaching for the sangria, remember that a nice rioja (red, white, or rosé) is a typically Spanish alternative to go with the tapas. Try the red rioja, which is a product of their private vineyard!

Here are my top picks from the menu: chistorra (a fatty, cured sausage); pimientos de padrón (fried peppers from the Padrón region); espárragos trigueros a la Plancha (green asparagus in olive oil); gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimps); and, a classic, jamón ibérico (cured ham).

2) Stroll through El Retiro. The Parque del Buen Retiro is a great place to walk around, bike, or take a boat-ride. During your stroll, you will see a flurry of activity, including rowing and theater productions.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Madrid_Tips_Pic 2 If the weather should thwart your plans, just seize the opportunity to visit the museums in the park. They are remnants of the palace that used to stand here when the gardens were part of the royal family’s private estate.

If you find yourself in need of a break, take a seat at one of the cafeterias in the park, this time not with a glass of rioja, but with a clara instead (a refreshing mixture parts lemonade and parts beer — it reminds me a bit of the Radler here in Munich, actually).

3) Take part in the nightlife at Plaza Santa Ana. Situated right in between La Casa del Abuelo and El Retiro, Plaza Santa Ana is the go-to place for plenty of fine dining and vibrant nightlife.Homemade Delicious Red Sangria

On this square you’ll find all sorts of bars and restaurants, ranging from traditional tabernas to chic rooftop bars, such as the terrace of the ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel. If you don’t find a good fit here, you can take a leisurely stroll further into the Huertas barrio, which is known for its nightlife as well.

4) Ride the cable car over Casa de Campo. For the full scenic experience, take the cable car (el teleférico) from the Paseo del Pintor Rosales station to the final destination: Casa de Campo. As is so often the case when you are traveling, the experience is all about the journey. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Madrid_Tips_Pic 5

In the cable car, you can look back to see the cityscape, look downwards over the Rio Manzanares, or look ahead at the approaching park. The Casa de Campo might not be as popular as El Retiro, but it still provides its visitors with a lake, a zoo, and an amusement park.

5) Feel like a champion at the RealCafé Bernabéu. With 18 official UEFA and FIFA trophies, Real Madrid is one of the most successful football teams worldwide.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Madrid_Tips_Pic 4However, you don’t have to be a Vikingo (as the Real fans are nicknamed) to enjoy a drink or dinner at the Bernabéu stadium – though this will certainly help you to truly appreciate the magnificent view of the legendary lawn. For hardcore supporters of the FC Barça, the restaurant might count as “enemy territory”, though.

(Image credit: 1) Malte Zeeck/InterNations 2)-4) iStockphoto)