The Year in InterNations Moments: Our Very Own Best of 2015

The end of the year is mostly a festive time. Almost every culture and country traditionally celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one, no matter which calendar they follow.

Fireworks bursting

But it’s also a time for stock-taking; a time when decisions are reviewed and sums are taken. And last but not least, it’s a time for thinking big! After all, what would the end of one year be without all the great plans and resolutions for the new year?

For us here at InterNations, 2015 cannot simply be expressed in numbers! But like most retrospectives, we’ll start this one with some of the numbers that made us particularly happy this year:

2015: Community Life around the Globe

We were very happy to welcome 400,000 new members to InterNations in 2015! Our 850 InterNations Ambassadors and 4,300 Consuls made sure that these newcomers are now part of our 390 vibrant and welcoming communities all around the world. Our big and heartfelt “Thank You” goes out to all of them!

All in all, we’re now connecting 1.9 million expats and global minds. 1,240,000 people socialized and networked at 5,500 official events all around the globe this year and shared their hobbies and interests with other global minds at 32,000 different activities.

Great Gatsby Event Sofia_Original Image by Bo Yordonova

Here are just some of the highlights:

For three motto months with special themes, our Ambassadors and Consuls invited their groups and communities to start their new year with InterNations in January, to color their life in April, and to feel like a movie star in the summer months. Our event calendar rapidly filled with ski trips to the French Pyrenees, authentic Neapolitan pizza nights in London, cooking classes in Quito, a “Red Party” in Barcelona, a Casino Royale night in Manila, a Great Gatsby-style celebration in Sofia, and many more.

Malte in Helsinki June 2015 by Olli Huhtala_Desaturated Like every year, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck visited as many communities as possible this year in order to get a chance to talk to our members all around the world in person and listen to their feedback and experiences with InterNations. In 2015, he visited one official event in a different city every month, from Athens in March to Helsinki in June to Milan in September — where he celebrated the eighth birthday of InterNations together with our largest community in Italy. Cincin!

Last but certainly not least, the number 24,000 makes us particularly proud: just as many InterNations members have now joined one of the Volunteer Groups in 32 cities worldwide. They donate their time, money, and talents to people in need by supporting a variety of local non-profit organizations in their InterNations Community.

Our Munich Volunteer Group, for example, unites nearly 2,000 people from 130 countries. Together, they have been helping refugees in Munich (e.g. by collecting goods, sorting clothing donations, or hosting a party), as well as organizing regular activities for people with cerebral palsy.

InterNations Online: The Relaunch Continues

But we have not only seen a lot of offline activity in 2015 — online, there have been some major changes, too. Our site relaunch has been continuing apace: InterNations has received a “facelift” with a fresh design and a brand-new logo. Furthermore, our Product and IT Teams have overhauled nearly our entire platform.

In 2015, we introduced an updated member profile focusing on the international experience and global lifestyle of the InterNations members. We also released a new and improved version of the event calendar and completely redesigned the centerpiece of your InterNations Community — the start page. The positive feedback we received from our members and the high activity levels on our website have shown us that we are on the right path!

NL_201510_StartPageDevices

The fact that the InterNations website is now more mobile friendly certainly plays a big part in this. The responsive design for smartphones and tablets seems to meet with general approval: 50% of all logins are now made through mobile devices — a number reflecting both the zeitgeist and our internationally mobile member base.

Of course, we updated another important part of the InterNations website as well: the Expat Insider. For the second year in a row, we have conducted one of the largest expat surveys worldwide. More than 14,000 expatriates from 170 countries of origin have provided detailed insights into life abroad in 64 countries — with Ecuador remaining the uncontested #1.

infographics_top_expat_destinations

Our Social Media Team has another number to be proud of: over 500,000 fans are currently following our official Facebook page. To our presence on Facebook and Google+, our Twitter feed, and our YouTube channel, we have recently added an official Instagram account. So don’t forget to share your best pictures from your expat life and your travels with us!

Instagram Full-size Feature on newsletter

A First Sneak Peek at 2016

Right now, we are busy planning the upcoming year before lots of team members leave on a well-deserved vacation. So what do we have in store for you? Here are just a few of the topics that will make 2016 an exciting year for InterNations members:

• We will make sure that our volunteers around the globe have the best possible experience during their time as InterNations Ambassadors and Consuls. With our dedicated Learning & Engagement Lead Anastasiya on board, we’ll be developing new training materials and knowledge-sharing facilities.

• In line with our mission to make life easier for expats, we’re currently thinking of even more ways to enrich your experience as an InterNations member. Features that are likely to make it from the drawing board into production this year will focus on offering you innovative networking options and interesting local co-operations.

• 2016 will see our website relaunch completed, with all the remaining sections of our platform redesigned and optimized for use on mobile devices.

• And yes, there will be an InterNations app, for iOS as well as Android, to allow you to get the most out of InterNations while you’re on the go.

InterNations-Apps

We’ll keep you updated! But for the moment, we’d simply like to say thank you to everyone who has helped to make InterNations the flourishing and friendly community it is.

A Happy New Year 2016, everyone — we’re looking forward to sharing it with you.

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto 2) Bo Yordanova / InterNations 3) Olli Huhtala / InterNations 4)-6) InterNations)

Fireworks, Tinsel, and Lights — The Holiday Season Is Upon Us

For those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar, the last few weeks of this year are finally here. December is a month rife with various holidays, traditions, and hopes for a relaxed end-of-the-year vacation. Our Ambassadors and Consuls have been swept away by the holiday cheer, too, and have organized a lot of great events to share it with their members.

Glühwein and Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Whether it is summer or winter in your part of the world, the Christmas cheer may have gotten to you as well. Chances are, the first Christmas cookies are baking in the oven, the first candles on your Advent wreath have been lit, and the first windows of your Advent calendar have been opened.
Reykjavik Ugly Christmas Sweaters

On Tuesday, 8 December, our members in Prague and Reykjavik kept up with a completely different Christmas tradition. Members dusted off their ugliest, most outrageous Christmas sweaters and got together for a drink or two. The member with the ugliest sweater even won a prize.

Toronto Wine Appreciation Group800px

The Toronto Wine Appreciation Group used the opportunity to soak up some of that holiday cheer by visiting a local Christmas market. The members got together to drink some Glühwein (German-style mulled wine) and enjoy the Christmas atmosphere.

Vienna Arts and Culture Club

Christmas markets are also quite popular with the Vienna Arts & Culture Group. The members visited the medieval Christmas market in town and had a fantastic time with Glühwein, roasted meat, and bonfires.

While the Singapore Explorers Group did not have a Christmas market to attend, they did, indeed, indulge in the magic of Christmas. The group met for a stroll down Orchard Road to marvel at the lights and decorations and enjoy the classical music of the season.

Singapore Explorers Group

The Vancouver Expat Women Group decided on a more private (and most of all secret) location to host their Christmas party and celebrate the one-year anniversary of their group. Wine, Christmas cookies, and other treats were provided for everyone to make it a particularly cozy and fun get-together.

Vancouver Expat Women2

Celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with InterNations

You haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate the holidays yet or have simply been too busy with gift shopping? Or maybe you are just waiting for this year to be over so you can make a fresh start. In any case, there are still many opportunities to kick back with your fellow expat friends before the end of December.
cookies-christmas-xmas-baking570px

On Friday, 18 December, our community in Casablanca will get together to celebrate Christmas with cocktails, appetizers, and some surprises. InterNations members in Barcelona are looking forward to their last official event of the year as well. If you are ready for some Christmas ice-breaking games, fun photos, and a lottery, you should not miss out on this pre-Christmas party.christmas-xmas-christmas-tree-decoration570px

Of course, we also have something in store for the more outdoorsy types, who may feel a little left behind this holiday season. The Cairo Arts & Culture Group will embark on a cruise to spend Christmas on the Nile. The Nairobi Sports & Hiking Group, on the other hand, will use the Christmas holidays to explore the Ndoto Mountains and Samburu County.

Not the cozy holiday type? Come and celebrate the end of the year with us. On Thursday, 31 December, it is time to put on your party shoes and let loose. Our community in Oslo is hosting a New Year’s Eve Ball, while Santiago is getting ready for a full-fledged party with a big dinner preceding it. mulled wine570px

Finally, the Johannesburg Pubs, Lounges and Bars Group is also getting ready to say goodbye to 2015 with a two-day New Year’s bash. That way, you will not only get to party with your favorite InterNations members, but you’ll also have the opportunity to recover with them the next day.

More Than Mistletoe: Other Holidays in December

Some of our members, who don’t commemorate Christmas at all, still have a lot to celebrate this month. Hanukkah is another big holiday in December, for instance. The Jewish festival of light takes place between 6 and 14 December this year, and each night an additional candle on the menorah is lit until all eight lights are kindled.Menorah

Candles and lights also play a big role in the Scandinavian Saint Lucia Day celebrations, which take place on 13 December each year.Lussekatter The holiday is considered to signal the beginning of Christmastide and is celebrated with processions of children wearing white gowns and singing songs. Usually, one of them plays the role of Lucia, wearing a candle-lit wreath on their head. For this occasion, many families bake the traditional lussekatter, delicious saffron buns with raisins.

Kwanzaa, another December celebration, is less of a religious holiday and more of a cultural celebration. Originating in 1966, Kwanzaa refers to the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” (“first fruits of the harvest”). The holiday celebrates the African heritage of African-American culture and takes place from 26 December to 1 January.

Are you enjoying the holiday season or are you just waiting for it to be over? Tell us how you are celebrating this December.

(Image credit: 1) – 5) InterNations, 6) + 7) Pexels, 8) SplitShire, 9) + 10) iStockphoto)

InterNations Members Inspire Action for a Good Cause

As the year is coming to a close, we’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the amazing activities organized by InterNations members for a good cause.

24,000 members are part of our 32 Volunteer Groups in New York, Dubai, Zurich, Vienna, Bangkok and Munich, amongst others. Due to the Group Consuls’ and volunteers’ hard work, we have seen over 550 activities helping less fortunate people in communities all over the world through hands-on support and donations.

The Difference We Made in 2015

Bringing a Smile to Children’s Faces

We have seen some wonderful partnerships between our Volunteer Groups and non-profit organizations develop this year. Bangkok volunteers have brought happiness to many children from the Duang Prateep Foundation by planning a series of great fun activities, including a sports day, a trip to the water park, and a day out at the zoo. In Kuala Lumpur, InterNations volunteers have been equally enthusiastic and committed, partnering with the Pandawas Academy, a school providing quality education to refugee children. Not only have volunteers supported the school by donating food and repairing their buildings, they have also planned an exciting nature walk and a trip to Jungle Land.

These long-term relationships between the Volunteer Groups and the non-profit organizations offer a really amazing opportunity to connect with the people that you are helping: it is rewarding to see the results of your efforts develop.
Children

Rollout of the Social Impact Night

The Social Impact Night launched this year in Munich and has since been rolled out to five more cities, with December events held in Singapore, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, and Munich. The night brings together like-minded expats, providing a chance to listen to a stimulating speech, get to know other volunteers, and do something for a good cause by donating funds or goods to a non-profit organization. In Munich, 1,250 goods have been collected for refugees in the city. We are delighted that the concept has spread and look forward to bringing this successful initiative to more communities in 2016.
Social Impact Nightklein

Making Refugees Feel at Home

With the refugee crisis prominent in many people’s minds, we are pleased to say that InterNations members have been doing their bit to help. Volunteers in Frankfurt constructed a summer house for refugee children without parents, whilst in Dubai volunteers gathered for a presentation on Syrian refugee children and made generous donations to the cause. Visits to the refugee camp in Munich have become a weekly feature and their hard work sorting donations is hugely appreciated.

Over in Dallas, the Group Consuls have been working hard to support refugees, collecting clothing, running an employment workshop and reading with refugee children. Both Vienna and Brussels have had similar initiatives, preparing food and collecting clothes for refugees in need.
Refugeesklein

Giving Some Happiness to the Homeless

Members all over the world have been offering a helping hand to homeless people. Brussels, Rome, Washington, and Vienna have all prepared and distributed food to people on the streets. Volunteers in Vienna have led the way, organizing a weekly trip to the local soup kitchen — over the last year they have given many people a full tummy for the night.

In Barcelona, the Volunteer Group ran a “Nobody Sleeping on the Street” campaign, raising awareness of the homeless people in the city by marching with eye-catching heart-shaped signs on Valentine’s Day.
Homelessklein

Building Friendships with People with Disabilities

Washington volunteers have had great fun exercising and building friendships with young people with disabilities. Playing sports, getting active, and sharing their achievements helped the kids to really feel happy, and the volunteers had a great sense of achievement as well.

Volunteers in Munich have enjoyed some special days at a local center for adults with cerebral palsy. They treated the residents to a photo shoot, enjoyed watching a movie together, and indulged in a spa day. A great relationship has been built with the center, and they always look forward to InterNations coming to visit.
People with Disabilitiesklein

Thank you!

There have been more great activities than we can mention here. These couldn’t have happened without our incredibly committed Consuls and volunteers. The Volunteer Program Team would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your hard work! We look forward to continuing this success into 2016.

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

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

Around the World in Seven Unique Holidays

Every culture — not to mention every family — has their own holiday traditions, and some are well worth knowing. Not only is it fun to read up on various festivities worldwide, but it can also save you from being caught off guard abroad: Imagine visiting a peaceful Austrian town in early December only to be (unpleasantly) surprised by a Krampus, or having to dodge roller skaters on their way to mass on an early morning run in Caracas!

These traditions certainly brighten up the month of December, which is frequently so dark and dreary for half the world, and some might even convince you to visit the respective country this season.

The Straw Goat with the Odds Stacked against It

iStock_000017760783_Small

If you thought Santa Claus has monopolized the title of winter holiday celebrities, think again. The Gävlebocken boasts its own blog, website, email address, and live camera feed, keeping over nine thousand followers up to date through Instagram and Twitter accounts. However, much like with other celebrities, if you get too close, its bodyguards will apprehend you.

Why would a thirteen-meter (42 ft. 7 in.) straw statue of a goat, weighing over 3.6 tons (over 7,900 pounds), be in need of guards, you may wonder? Well, pyromaniacs from all around the world come to Gävle each year to take part in a race against the clock.

The game starts on the first Sunday of Advent when the goat is set up on Castle Square in Gävle, Sweden, and ends after New Year’s Day when it is taken down. The aim of the game is to ignite the straw goat before this happens. Care to hazard a guess at how many years since its inauguration in 1966 the goat has made it to its intended end? Only 22 out of its 49 years, putting its survival rate at around 45%.

Oh, and we’d just like to point out that setting the goat on fire is actually arson and vandalism, so don’t try it yourself!

The Post Office — Your Christmas Pen Pal

iStock_000018593546_Small

Come November, kids from all around the world can send letters to Santa. Multiple post offices across the globe accept letters addressed to Santa, including some in Germany, Australia, France, Poland, Finland, and Ukraine. Canada Post, however, is the most popular and has long been a very dedicated pen pal to many children.

With employees of Canada Post answering Santa’s mail for over three decades, this tradition reaches children all across the globe and spans across generations. Language barriers are a non-issue for Santa’s post office, with even letters in Braille being dutifully responded to. Letters can be addressed to Santa Claus at North Pole, HOH OHO, Canada.

Santa’s one request? Send the letter by 16 December in order to get a reply in time for Christmas, and don’t forget your return address!

Mari Lwyd: Let the Battle of Wits Begin!

1280px-Mari_Lwyd_(wiki)

Mari Lwyd, or, the Grey Mare, is an age-old tradition in Wales. The Grey Mare presents itself in the form of a horse’s skull mounted on a pole, the bearer of which is covered by a sheet attached to the top of the pole. This may sound rather morbid, but fortunately the Mari Lwyd is accompanied by a witty group of singers!

Should you come to find said mare on your doorstep sometime in late December, and should you feel confident in your ability to spontaneously burst into verse, you can challenge the singers to a lyrical debate known as a pwnco. If the Mari Lwyd wins, she gains access to the establishment in question, be it a home, a restaurant, or a pub.

Sadly, you will seldom see the Mari Lwyd prancing through Welsh towns nowadays. Arguably this could be due to the fact that horse’s skulls are simply not as easy to come by as they once were. As with most relics, the tradition of Mari Lwyd is preserved in a museum. The one place you can be sure to witness a performance of the Mari Lwyd and her men is at the St. Fagans National History Museum.

The Little Drumstick Boy

Homemade Southern Fried Chicken with Biscuits and Mashed Potatoes

I think we can all agree that there’s certainly nothing wrong with the Japanese using Christmas, a holiday which is not traditionally part of their culture for most of them, as an excuse to get together and have a tasty, holiday-themed meal. Why has it made our list of kooky holiday traditions, though?

Well, the scene described above is set in KFC franchises all across Japan on Christmas Eve. Reserving buckets of chicken well in advance and endless queuing are all part of Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii — Kentucky for Christmas! This tradition is the direct result of a very successful marketing campaign launched in 1974. The campaign was inspired by foreigners in Japan looking for the next best thing after having failed to find turkey for their holiday feast.

Now KFC is capitalizing on Japan’s turkey scarcity, to put it mildly. The marketing gurus have succeeded in removing the stigma around hosting a traditionally family-oriented holiday, where people take pride in laboring over a home-cooked meal, in a fast-food joint.

Krampus and Saint Nicholas — Ying and Yang in the Alpine Region

11272324613_9a374a5212_z

There are many variations to the Saint Nicholas festivities across Europe, but generally the “good cop, bad cop” routine, with Saint Nicholas playing the role of the good guy, is retained in some form or other. Out of these many variations, Krampusnacht, celebrated in the Alpine regions, stands out.

The night of 5 December strikes fear into the hearts of children in these areas. As they’re anxiously waiting to see if the Krampus will drop by to settle the score, they’re undoubtedly regretting the tantrum they threw the week before or the broken china they swept under the rug.

To be fair, many Krampus costumes would put adults on edge, too — you won’t forget your first encounter with a Krampus. The Krampus often comes armed with a bundle of twigs, chains and bells, and a sack to carry away the naughty children who will not be receiving gifts from Saint Nicholas the day after.

Mass in Venezuela: It’s Not the Destination that Counts, It’s How You Get There

Old worn roller skates with big shoe-laces on a yellow wall background

Between 16 and 24 December, early morning masses called Misas de Aguinaldo are held in Venezuela. Missing mass is generally frowned upon, even if said mass takes place at an ungodly hour. Fortunately for the pious Venezuelans who like to have a bit of a lie-in, a tradition has evolved which helps them get to mass on time.

In some places in Venezuela, Caracas included, some roads are blocked off before 08:00 so that people can roller-skate to mass. Children not attending mass can tie a long piece of string to their toe the night before and hang it out the window; friendly skaters can tug on it on their way back from morning mass as a wakeup call.

These days are also filled with neighborhood celebrations, including open fires and open doors, so neighbors can easily share treats and hot beverages with each other.

Zamenhofa Tago — Truly a Niche Holiday

esperanto med. size

Does the month of December not offer enough opportunities to celebrate for you? Or would you prefer a purely secular holiday? Then you can consider learning Esperanto — the universal language — and mark Zamenhofa Tago (15 December) on your calendar.

Easier said than done? In fact, it doesn’t get much easier than Esperanto. It is especially easy to learn for native speakers of Indo-European languages, and Leo Tolstoy claimed to have learned it in just a couple of hours, although the latter is disputed by Esperantists.

Zamenhofa Tago celebrates the birthday of the creator of the language, L. L. Zamenhof, and on this day Esperantist communities get together and pay homage to their beloved language. Perhaps you may recite a poem in Esperanto, or purchase some new literature to celebrate.

It may not be as glamorous as a Christmas tree laden with ornaments, and it may not have an equivalent to eggnog or gingerbread houses, but this holiday is a special day for the tightly knit community of around two million Esperantists around the globe.

 

(Image credit: Photos 1 &2 by iStockphoto; Photo 3 by R. fiend / CC BY-SA 3.0; Photo 4 by iStockphoto; Photo 5 by tribp / CC BY 2.0; Photo 6 by iStockphoto; Photo 7 by Martin Schmitt / CC BY 2.0)

By Christiane van Ophem

(Not So) Common Knowledge: Expats Share Their Top Tips

Being part of the global expat community means that what is a new experience for you is likely to be considered business as usual by other, more seasoned expatriates. In this sense, you have a large, multicultural group of expats from all walks of life at your disposal for advice on whatever topic you can think of.

InterNations has therefore reached out to its members to find the expat tips for adjusting to life abroad. Andrea, Samantha, Sidra, and Anna share the advice which has helped them most during their time as an expat.


Andrea recommends: “Try a variety of local food!”

Food is commonly known as a way to people’s hearts, but abroad it is also a gateway to a new culture. Going out to try the local cuisine exposes more than just your palate to new things.

For example, many among us will recognize the phenomenon of becoming proficient in ordering food in a foreign language before we can talk about anything else. Getting out there and trying local food opens you up to all kinds of social interactions welcome to new expats. Blurry concept on mature friends having piece of cake

Food is also a great way to make new friends, whether you sit next to another expat at the local diner, or, in Andrea’s case, maybe she can invite her local Romanian friends over to critique her attempt at a homemade ciorba de pui.

Food can even remedy homesickness: feeling comfortable with the local food can make you feel more at home in your host country. Soon enough rolling balls of falafel will feel as natural to a Japanese expat in Istanbul as rolling sushi back in Nagoya.


Samantha urges: “Expats! Leave your comfort zone.”

We’re all very familiar with it: the comfort zone. It’s a place we thrive in and where everything comes to us naturally. However, ‘the zone’ becomes more of a foe than a friend when you find yourself in an environment ready to surprise you with cultural curveballs at any minute. Even though leaving your comfort zone might not be voluntary when you’ve moved abroad, it is really the bare minimum expats can do to get the most out of their new home.InterNations Blog_Top Expat Tips_Pic 4

Going out and meeting new people, speaking a foreign language (no matter how poorly), and, in general, leaving the comfort of your own home will make for great experiences. Said experiences will be unparalleled to those of expats not making the effort to engage with the local population and immerse themselves in another culture. These measures are well worth taking as the comfort zone can ultimately be a lonely and isolating place when you’re abroad.


Anna advises: “Do not be afraid to make mistakes.”

A trace of a foreign accent or the occasional grammatical mistake can make you stand out like a sore thumb. Sound familiar? Insecurities about their linguistic skills will often hold newcomers back, taking away from their expat experience.

Moving past this “Hillary Step” of learning a foreign language is quintessential to the process. Much like with the ascent of Mount Everest itself, the rest of the journey will come with exponentially increasing ease. Judging by Anna’s advice, she seems to be making her way to the top!InterNations Blog_Top Expat Tips_Pic 2

Admittedly, succumbing to the pressure generated by sighs and eye rolls from onlookers when you stutter your way through a sentence is very tempting when there is a common language, such as English, to switch to. However, no number of disgruntled patrons standing behind you in line at your favorite take-away in Jakarta can lessen the satisfaction you get when successfully explaining in Bahasa that you in fact wanted sweet soy sauce with your meal rather than salty.

Proficiency in the language of your host country will open the doors to all kinds of cultural delights which might be closed to those content just treading the linguistic waters.


Sidra says: “Respect the culture, people, and the country.”

Expats are dropped in the midst of different cultures all the time, and a clash is bound to occur once in a while: some local customs might make some foreigners uneasy or even put them on edge. This uneasiness can range from not liking the cuisine to being flabbergasted by local traditions. Fortunately, Sidra has yet to be overwhelmed by the melting pot of cultures he encounters over in Kuala Lumpur!InterNations Blog_Top Expat Tips_Pic 3

Nevertheless, it works in your best interest to respect the customs and people of your host country. This approach is a sure way to get the most out of a situation, no matter how alien it may seem to you. Ultimately, even if you’re not charmed by some cultural aspects of a new country, they can still teach you a lot about your own culture.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

By Christiane van Ophem

Munich Volunteers: Supporting People with Cerebral Palsy

Thursday, 3 December, marks the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In Munich, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul Temenuga Bakalska organizes regular activities for people with disabilities, together with our partner organization, the Münchner Förderzentrum.

What does the International Day of Persons with Disabilities mean to you in relation to your role as Group Consul?

This is a new project for me, and it is very important to me that we try to help and bring some happiness into the daily lives of people with cerebral palsy. I feel responsible for the activities and for ensuring that we provide them with nothing but love and care. I am proud that the organization decided to trust us and has started working with us.

What is the non-profit organization that you are supporting, and what do they do to help people with disabilities?

The Münchner Förderzentrum (MFZ) takes care of and supports people with disabilities who live there. InterNations Expat Blog_International Day of Persons with Disabilities_Pic 1

The MFZ is just one part of the ICP Munich Foundation, which provides facilities for children, adolescents, and adults with cerebral palsy (ICP, formerly known as “spasticity”). They aim to enable the people entrusted to their care to participate in society to the greatest possible extent. The ICP Munich Foundation focuses on both professional and social integration by providing special needs education, study groups, and vocational training, as well as speech therapy, physical therapy, psychological and medical care.

Which activity has been the highlight of your work with the MFZ so far?

All activities we have had, for example our movie night, games and coffee, a spa day and a photo shooting, were great fun. They brought everyone a lot of smiles and happiness and gave true meaning to the time we’ve spent on them. I think the best part is that we have gained the NPO’s trust and are invited back for more and more activities there.

What was the impact of this activity on both the people from the MFZ and the InterNations volunteers?

The people at the MFZ are very welcoming towards us every time, and more and more have started joining our events. The InterNations volunteers feel that they can really make a difference when they see the excitement and the friendly welcome from everyone when we are there.

Sabine Rolser, a curative education nurse from the organization, despite her challenging role, finds her work rewarding and varied.

Working as a curative education nurse means supporting people in all aspects of their daily lives. What is particularly exciting is that every day is different; my day-to-day life and work are never the same since I accompany the people in my care through ups and downs.

I like that there is a very friendly atmosphere at the MFZ in general. The residents are usually very warm and honest; they are very grateful to us and trust us.InterNations Expat Blog_International Day of Persons with Disabilities_Pic 2

The MFZ team are extremely appreciative of the efforts and enthusiasm shown by InterNations volunteers. Sabine would like to add how much she appreciates their hard work.

Cooperating with InterNations allows our residents to break out of their daily routine and to experience more variety in their lives. I also like that we have developed a core group of InterNations members who come to the MFZ to support us on a regular basis.

I can honestly say that it is a great enrichment for our residents, and they are always very happy when a new activity takes place.

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: Temenuga Bakalska/InterNations)

Five Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat

1. Do What You Really Want to Do

If you keep waiting for the “right time” and the “right opportunity”, you’ll be waiting forever. There is never a right time to make your dreams come true. Life-changing decisions always require an effort and create some hassle.

InterNations Expat Blog_Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat_Pic 4Are you dreaming of living in a particular country for a while? Or are you merely longing to travel and see the world? Then stop dreaming, wake up, and get to work.

Is there any way you can take a sabbatical from your job? Would a shorter break — such as an extended language-learning vacation, a “work and travel” scheme, or a volunteer position — also be enough? How much of a financial cushion do you need, and what would a realistic savings plan look like?

As for the nay-sayers in your life who keep objecting to your preparations — just remember that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact than for permission.

2. Learn to Let Go

Yes, “Frozen” in-jokes are so 2013. Nonetheless, the advice to let it go is timeless.

You literally can’t take along everything you want when moving abroad. You need to pack light and let go of plenty of things. It’s time to raise a detailed inventory and get rid of the unnecessary stuff that has been accumulating for years.

bye bye-cloud text on blue sky backgroundBut letting go of tangible possessions isn’t the hardest part. Letting go of family and friends can be way more difficult, although you’re not saying goodbye forever. Don’t give into the temptation of avoiding any potential awkwardness or displays of emotion — don’t just rush out of town, but make time for a proper farewell.

After all the goodbyes, when you have finally arrived, the letting go isn’t over yet. You still have to let go of your fears, doubts, and insecurities. Only then can you make the best out of life abroad.

3. You Got to Keep Your Balance

Life is a balancing act, and focusing too much on one thing can easily trip you up. When you have just moved abroad, finding your balance is often more difficult than normally — and also more important.

For instance, expats who move for the sake of their career may give it their all at first: their new job is literally the chance of a lifetime. But you can’t do a good job if work is all you do. Poise

Obviously, productivity isn’t a bad thing — especially not if you love what you are doing. But remember to balance it out with other aspects of your life.

Don’t be that person who neglects the family that moved with them! Your loved ones may have sacrificed a big part of their own lives for the sake of your career and you shouldn’t repay them by setting up camp in your shiny new corner office.

4. What Is Now Normal Anyway?

Everyone who has gone abroad for more than just a nice summer vacation knows how much culture shock shakes up your idea of what’s “normal”.

After all, you’re now living in a foreign country, and they do things differently there. So far, so good. At first, while you are in the honeymoon phase, every little difference seems exciting, and you’re endlessly curious about everyday life abroad.

Memory LaneBut after a while, all the changes you need to get used to start wearing you down. You begin to consider them a little weird, then downright irritating, and find fault with just about anything. You will probably paint an overly rosy picture of how much better life back home is.

Finally, though, the fog of frustration will be lifting. You’ll be able to look at both your old and your new culture and appreciate their differences (and similarities) again. Welcome to the new normal!

5. Get By — With a Little Help from Your Friends

Funnily enough, you don’t have the slightest problem with asking for directions on vacation, and you’ll readily admit that you barely understand half of what any native speaker tells you in the local language.

However, when you are settling in abroad, showing that you are out of your depth becomes a source of embarrassment. You are used to being an independent, functioning adult, and you’d like to demonstrate how much you have learned about your adopted country. Silhouette of helping hand between two climber Something as simple as a trip to the dentist or a conversation with your landlord shouldn’t be a nerve-wracking experience.

Sometimes, it helps to swallow your pride and remind yourself that asking for help isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As you’re missing your usual support network, start building a new “team you” that includes both locals and other expatriates. You’ll be amazed at how happy most people are to offer their help.

Is there another “life lesson” from living abroad that you’d like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Expat Life? There Must Be an App for That!

“Why is there no InterNations mobile app?” or “when is the app coming?” are questions we’ve been hearing a lot, whether in our forum, at official events, on social media, or simply as part of the feedback we have received from our members in the course of our ongoing website relaunch.

“It’s the most frequently asked question when I talk to our members at events all around the world”, says InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck. “During my community visits, I always ask members for their honest feedback about InterNations, and a mobile app appears to be high on everybody’s wish-list.”

share of login across devices

Of course, the high demand for a mobile app doesn’t come as a surprise. The share of devices used to surf the web is shifting more and more towards mobile, be it tablets or mobile phones.

We have also observed this trend on InterNations: the percentage of members visiting our website from mobile devices is increasing constantly. Last month, for instance, only just over half the logins on InterNations were still made through desktop computers. This is hardly surprising, considering not only the general trend, but particularly the international and mobile lifestyle of our members!

Long Awaited — Nearly There: The InterNations App(s)

This year has been a busy one for InterNations, with an ever-growing member base and the relaunch of the platform keeping us here at headquarters on our toes. However, it is this relaunch and the fact that our website is now being mobile optimized that has paved the way for the long-awaited app!

InterNations Team at Work_big

Or should we say apps? “We are currently busy developing both, an iOS as well as an Android app,” reveals Philipp von Plato, the co-CEO and also a founder of InterNations. “We’re planning to launch a first version of both apps in the first quarter of the upcoming year. This will be a long-anticipated milestone in our company’s history and working with our Product Team and the developers on it has been immensely exciting so far!”

So what will the app look like? Very similar to what you can see in the picture below. And it will of course allow you to comfortably use InterNations on the go — be it in order to connect with fellow members you’ve just met at an event, reply to a message (or Twinkle!), accept an invitation for brunch with your local InterNations Business Networking Group, check for upcoming events on your next business trip or vacation, or join a group that’s been recommended to you…

Expat life? There will be an app for that!

A preview of the upcoming InterNations apps for iOS and Android

My InterNations: The Networking Professionals

My personal networking tip — don’t follow my example! Despite loving the written word, I get nervous talking to strangers: my perfectly honed elevator pitch would probably leave my mouth sounding like “warrrghaabllfff”.

Moving abroad, you can’t afford to neglect business networking, though — not even if you’re shy, like me. So I’ve asked some of our Group Consuls, who organize business networking activities in London and Perth, to share their experience from their careers and their role on InterNations.People and Network Concept with Textured Effect

“It’s easier to connect in your own country, where you’ve grown up and made friends,” Patricio, one of the consuls running the Perth Professional Networking Group, confirms. “Before attending one meeting, you already have a great network”.

Elsewhere, you’ll know a lot fewer people, though connections are key for anyone starting a career abroad. Networking “could be the game changer”, his fellow Group Consul Francesca stresses.

Patricio, Francesca, and Melda, who’s heading the London Entrepreneurs and Startups Group, have plenty of helpful advice, both for less experienced and more seasoned networkers amongst us.

Three Transformations

The interviewees know what it’s like to overcome obstacles abroad. Francesca’s case is probably the most dramatic.

The trilingual Chilean-Italian architect had plenty of expat experience in the UK, Italy, and the US under her belt when facing her biggest challenge yet — her husband needed to move from Palo Alto to Perth for his scientific career.

“I had to leave a promising position in a multinational real estate company behind and reinvent myself,” she sums it up.

Compared to Francesca, Patricio “only” had to cope with the geographical distance from Chile, an unfamiliar business environment, and the difficulty of speaking English as a second language. He came to Australia to enjoy the international experience and improve his language skills — and stayed.

“In terms of professional life, I came sort of fresh from Chile,” he remembers. “With only a year of work experience, I had to start from zero.”InterNations Expat Blog_Professional Networking_Pic 2

Melda, on the other hand, decided to work abroad while doing her Master’s degree in Warwick. “Some people always want to explore, and I’d count myself as one of them,” she says.

To explore expat life, she went for the safer corporate route first: her job in the HR department of a global cosmetics company took her from her native Istanbul to Paris and London. Opening a business in the UK was the real challenge.

Fortunately, their stories have a happy ending: after looking for casual jobs where experience in Australia wasn’t mandatory, Francesca eventually found one in her original field. Recently, she has begun to reinvent herself again, breaking into marketing and cultural events organization.

Patricio has established himself as Communications and Control Systems Engineer in the mining industry. Perth is an ideal destination for overseas specialists — Francesca describes it as a multicultural city, and about 60% of Patricio’s colleagues are expatriates.

Lastly, Melda is now a successful learning and development consultant with local and international clients from the UK, Mexico, France, Ghana, and many more.

Empowering Expats

The consuls are passionate about “paying it forward” and empowering other expats to make the most of life and work abroad. “The Perth Community is a friendly environment of open-minded people,” Patricio says. After his first event, “the decision to keep attending was a no-brainer.” He wants to use his role to help others and generate connections.

“The Professional Networking Group is crucial,” Francesca emphasizes. “Lots of people come to Australia for better job opportunities. But you have to learn the way people work here, their protocols, and the industry’s technical jargon. Above all, be open to the idea that you’ll have to start all over again.”

Francesca, Patricio, and Monica, another Chilean expat, regularly organize speed networking events. Guests get feedback on their personal pitch or listen to short lectures on selected topics, such as writing an Australian CV. But it’s about more than factual knowledge or soft skills — the aim is “to create synergy with peers.”Close up of microphone in conference room

In London, Melda has chosen a similar format for the Entrepreneurs and Startups Group. Usually, a member gives a 15-minute talk about their entrepreneurial journey and personal learnings. She fondly remembers one on creating business plans: “Entrepreneurs tend to wake up inspired every morning — it was good to have someone to help us ground ourselves.” Soon, the group will also have their first entrepreneurial dinner.

Blatantly touting products and services is a strict no-no: “There are a lot of bright, talented, and courageous people out there,” Melda says, and she wants to give them the opportunity to grow their network organically. The latter is indeed essential advice.

Tips from the Networking Pros

What works best for them when it comes to (net)working abroad?

• Melda stresses the need to treat networking as a mindset rather than an objective. “I feel useful and happy when introducing the right people to each other,” she says. “But some are so focused on their goals that you get ‘I want something from you’ vibes — which is anything but nice.”

• Be curious and open-minded, patient and relaxed instead. “No worries, mate,” as Patricio jokingly quotes the Aussies’ favorite saying. senior businesswoman using smart phone

• If you’re shy or nervous, “think of it as a game rather than a stressful task”, Melda suggests. A standard repertoire of ice-breakers comes in handy, like commenting on a hot topic in the media: in Australia, for example, it pays off to follow cricket and footie, as Patricio knows.

• Experienced networkers can play Sherlock Holmes, Melda-style: “Watch people — depending on their style and the way they interact with others, you might find an angle to strike up a conversation.”

• “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” — be proactive with regard to your host country, learn more about the culture and the business environment, and try to put theory in practice.

• Finally, turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage. Patricio uses his Spanish accent “to engage, be remembered, entertain, and laugh about himself.” Expats have a certain “international flavor”, as Melda calls it — “people sometimes want and need exactly that.”

And what’s your favorite tip for business networking abroad?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Zombies, Lights, and Turkey — Holidays in November

For most of us, December is the month of holiday celebrations. After all, it is the last month of the year (according to the Gregorian calendar at least) and the time when people all around the world celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Lucia’s Day, Pancha Ganapati, or Winter Solstice, to name just a few.

However, the months before also bring a lot to the plate. If you are one of those people who count down the days until New Year’s Eve, we have some great events this November to pass the time and distract yourself from the cold (or heat if you find yourself in the southern hemisphere and summer is knocking on your door).

The Halloween Groove

The celebrations already started at the end of October when our members around the world got ready to get their Halloween groove on. Witches and monsters flocked to our events and zombies walked around, hunting for brains.

HalloweenStrasbourg2015

Great Halloween parties have indeed become a tradition for our Frankfurt Community. The wonderful people of the Champions Bar at the Marriott even decorated the venue especially for us. While spooky costumes were optional, InterNations members brought their A-game to this Frankfurt Halloween event. The best costumes won a small prize.

Who says you can’t be scary and classy at the same time? Our members in Strasbourg combined the fun and excitement of a Halloween party with the delight for the taste buds that only a wine tasting can provide. With vampires, witches and one bad-tempered ghost all enjoying delicious wines and candy, this ghost wine party in Strasbourg was a huge success.

HalloweenSanFrancisco2015_2

Clad in feathers, rhinestones and sequins, members of the San Francisco Community celebrated Halloween in Moulin Rouge style. The guests of this Halloween party surely dressed to impress. However, aside from cancan dancers and the phantom of the opera, some monsters had found their way to this San Francisco Halloween party as well.

HalloweenChisinau2015_3

Our community in Chisinau went back to the roots of this American holiday. They hosted their Halloween party at a traditional American barbecue place, the Smokehouse. InterNations members got to enjoy some delicious snacks and drinks while voting for the best, the sexiest, and the scariest costume. It was a tough choice, considering all the great costumes at this Halloween party in Chisinau.

The Festival of Lights

A November holiday which originated on the other side of the globe is Diwali. Officially starting on 11 November this year, Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. It is one of the most important celebrations of the season and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and many other countries.
DiwaliDubai2015_2

The After Work Drinks Group in Dubai hosted a Diwali dinner for its members and their friends. They met at a traditional Indian restaurant to celebrate the festival of lights while enjoying the ambience and delicious authentic food.

The Munich Namaste Group went all out and celebrated Diwali with fanfare and fireworks. Members of the group were asked to dress in colorful Indian outfits and meet at the Kulturhaus Milbertshofen for music, dance, and Indian food.

DiwaliBangaloreVP2015Our Bangalore Volunteer Group took the opportunity to combine the Diwali festivities with a good cause. Members donated books, crayons, chocolates, and other toys and sweets, which were given to underprivileged kids on Diwali. A small gesture that put a smile on everyone’s face!

Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: Oh My!

Halloween events and Diwali aside, there are many more occasions to celebrate this month. On Thursday, 26 November, many expats in and from the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday to be grateful, peaceful and share a huge feast with your family and friends. Although Thanksgiving is not quite as widely celebrated as Halloween, members in more and more of our communities are getting together for Thanksgiving dinners and potlucks. Thanksgiving2015_1

InterNations Orange County invites all of their members to a pre-Thanksgiving celebration on Friday, 20 November. This is the perfect opportunity to take a moment to reflect on the blessings in our lives and be grateful before the usual mixing and mingling.

Members of the Basel Women Only Group are invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with their Group Consul on Saturday, 28 November. It’s a potluck-style activity and every guest gets to bring some food that is typical for their country of origin. So dust off your recipe books!

The Honolulu Outdoor Action Group has their own way of celebrating Thanksgiving: a pool party! Members meet on Saturday, 28 November, for a post-Thanksgiving party. Aside from the swimming and soaking in the hot tub, there will be the traditional potluck dinner to enjoy. Bring an appetizer, main dish or dessert, and, of course, a towel!

Members of the Newcastle Social Dining Group will get together for a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, 26 November. This is your chance to find out what this holiday is all about and if American food is more than just burgers and fries.

Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey on a Plate with Stuffing and Potatoes

Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey on a Plate with Stuffing and Potatoes

There is plenty to do before the year ends and, of course, these holidays are not the only festive occasions in November. What are you celebrating this month?

(Image credit: 1)-5) InterNations, 6) + 7) iStockphoto)