A Summer without Soccer?

Right now, football fever has plenty of fans worldwide firmly in its grasp. But what about those folks who don’t care much about the FIFA World Cup 2014? (Yes, they do exist.)

What should they do to keep busy until the big finale on July 13? And what have the footie fanatics got to look forward to once the spectacle is over?

So, here’s our list of five fun activities for all expats who think there’s more to summer than soccer!

1) Attend an open-air concert.

No matter where you are living at the moment, every major town has at least a couple of music events that take place outdoors. Smaller, local ones are often for free, whereas large international festivals are tourist attractions in their own right.

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 2The younger generation in particular will be flocking to the many rock and pop events around the world: to Glastonbury in the UK, Roskilde in Denmark, or Vienna’s Danube Island, to cite but a few famous venues. There’s even an annual rock festival at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan!

However, if you’re like me, you may think that your days of camping in the mud and sharing clogged showers with drunken teens are rapidly coming to an end. More mature music lovers might prefer enjoying their favorite arias or classical masterpieces in a spectacular setting – for instance, in Verona’s amphitheater or on a floating stage on Lake Constance.

If you’re in the UK, don’t miss out on the popular “proms”. Though they are held indoors, mostly in the venerable Royal Albert Hall, it’s an entire summer chock full of classical and contemporary “serious” music. The anything but serious Last Night of the Proms can also be watched outdoors on gigantic screens in Hyde Park.

2) Go fruit-picking.

Right now, it’s still strawberry season here in Germany, and every single food magazine available at supermarket checkouts seems to be advertising their most popular berry recipes. Just check what’s literally ripe for picking in your area and plan a daytrip to the countryside on the next weekend!

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 1If you like planning in advance, you may also consider a mini-break in late summer or early autumn when the local harvest season starts. Depending on your location or destination, it’s then time for gathering apples, grapes, olives, and more.

Quite a few agricultural estates offer visitors the chance to participate in the harvest. It’s an excellent opportunity to get some exercise in the fresh air, buy fresh produce, and try your hand at a local recipe or two. Have fun!

3) Enjoy star-gazing.

What could be more romantic than sitting outside on a mellow summer night, watching the sun set and the stars appear slowly in the night sky?

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 3 This summer – especially the month of August – is also a good season for hobby astronomers: It should be easy to observe several fascinating phenomena like the closest and largest full “supermoon” of the year, or a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, the brightest planets in the sky.

To truly appreciate such astronomical events, you should take a trip away from all major cities and larger towns. The “light pollution” from urban areas is usually too much of a distraction.

For the same reason, the very best places on earth to look heavenward are actually found in Chile’s deserts and mountains. There’s even such a thing as “astronomical tourism” to Chilean observatories for the truly dedicated astronomy geeks.

Even if you aren’t much of a science nerd, you shouldn’t miss out on the Perseis Meteor Shower on August 12 and 13. Just count the falling stars and make a wish for each and every one!

4) Never go to bed at all.

If you’re in for the exact opposite of star-gazing, then look for northern places where the sun doesn’t set. In midsummer, from around June 12 to July 1, you simply need to cross the Arctic Circle to soak in the midnight sun.

But even somewhat further to the south, the so-called “midnight twilight” is pretty widespread at this time of the year. In Saint Petersburg, the long hours of sunshine are known as “White Nights”, giving their name to one of the city’s most popular arts and culture festivals as well. InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 5

If you would rather combine the midnight sun and the rugged outdoors, you might plan an adventure holiday in such destinations as Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, the North Cape, or Svalbard.

The latter – a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean – is home to seven national parks, nearly two dozen nature reserves, and about 3,000 polar bears. So you might be rather careful when you go hiking, fossil-hunting, kayaking, or horse riding there!

5) Get soaking wet.

If you want to have some fun in the cool water, your next summer holiday could be a good opportunity to explore one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Die-hard football fans who are already in Brazil should rejoice: The pristine Baia do Sancho, on the Fernando de Noronha islands off the north-eastern coast, isn’t only a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it also ranks regularly as the loveliest beach around the globe.

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 4Fortunately, there are beautiful coastlines in less remote places as well. For instance, Rhossili Bay in Wales and Sicily’s Rabbit Beach have their ardent admirers, too.

But what if there’s not enough time or money for a beach holiday this year? A stay at the nearest waterpark can be just as fun.

Thrill-seekers might be interested in locations in Brazil or the Bahamas. Those amusement parks offer the world’s allegedly tallest and fastest water slide, or a transparent tunnel through a shark-infested lagoon, respectively.

But the largest indoor water park is actually not located in an especially exotic place. “Tropical Islands” occupies a former aircraft hangar in the countryside near … Berlin, Germany.

And what’s on your to-do list for this summer?

(Image credit: 1) Glastonbury Festival 2011 by flickr user jaswooduk 2) Fresh Strawberries from Sanok, Poland 2013 by Wikimedia Commons user Silar 3) Perseis Meteor Shower by USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest 4) Midnight Sun in Finland by Wikimedia Commons user Catrin1000 5) Baia do Sancho, Brazil by Wikimedia Commons user CCintra)

InterNations Activity Groups: Your Click Matters

Edyta, an InterNations member and Activity Group Consul in the Netherlands, addresses all those mysterious “Ghost RSVP’ers” in her open letter.

If you think you might be infected by the “Ghost RSVP’er” disease, I highly encourage you to get a cup of a good coffee, sit down comfortably and read my letter carefully.

My name is Edyta, and since last year I have been a Consul for one of the InterNations Activity Groups in The Hague, The Netherlands. As much as I like being a Consul and I believe that initiative is what keeps the world running, I have considered quitting. The only reason for that were the “Ghost RSVP’ers”: members who repeatedly click “attend” on multiple activities, without ever actually showing up.

RSVP Spelled Out in Alphabet Building BlocksPlease do not get me wrong: It has happened to me, too, to skip events organized by my colleagues, even though I was on the guest list.

You are looking forward to an InterNations Activity, you are ready to leave the office, when suddenly your supervisor stops you and hands you a critical task, which needs to be finished immediately. You stay in the office, you miss the activity, and you have no chance to change your attendance status on time.

This happens to all of us, and skipping an activity or two does not make you a “Ghost RSVP’er”. Ghost RSVP’ers click “attend” for all other reasons than the actual intention to attend the activity, and they do it repeatedly. A very weird phenomenon, most probably very familiar to all Consuls.

After some simple experiments and chats with other Consuls, I realized that the problem is rather easy to solve. When an InterNations Activity was posted without mentioning anything about the RSVP, the turn up was around 50%, depending on the nature of the activity.

When the activity description was clearly labeled on the bottom, a bit like an alcohol commercial or a pack of cigarettes, asking the members to “RSVP wisely”, the percentage rose to around 70%. In one of the latest activities I went even further and sent a private message to all guests subscribed.

The result of my message? Incredible. The turn up was probably around 90%, and the day after I received two messages with short apologies from those who could not make it.

People are great. Communication is what makes the difference, and a lack of it is the source of most of our problems. The guest list is communication! By clicking “attend”, you communicate to the Group Consul and other members: “I find it interesting and I am planning to attend the event.”

However, the guest list is not a field to promote yourself, to support the idea without the intention to join, or whatever other reason you have for clicking to join.Beings

Three reasons why you should never turn into a repeat “Ghost RSVP’er”:

Your profile on InterNations is your personal brand. Carefully chosen picture, professional profile description, etc. You try to brand yourself as well as you can; you try to show yourself at your best. The message seems positive, but the actions are what matters.

Will you trust a brand if the products are failing you over and over again? If you click “attend” randomly on all events, but you never show up – this is how others will remember you.

The attendance list is not a black hole; your name and picture won’t disappear unnoticed if you do not show up repeatedly. It is an important tool for Group Consuls, and yes, the Consuls have a really hard time filtering all ghosts from the guest list when estimating the actual number of attendees.

“30 people subscribed? Let’s see… 5 master ghosts (‘They are always clicking “attend” on all events I create, but I have never actually even met them in person!’) and 5 aspiring ghosts (‘Did not show up a couple of times, so who knows what will happen this time?’); I should better make a reservation for 20 people. Or should I make it 15? But what if they all show up?” Dear Consuls, does this sound familiar?

Just like fortunetellers, it seems that Group Consuls need to be able to predict the future. If we overestimate the number of guests, the restaurant owners will claim we are to blame. If we underestimate it and not everyone has a place to sit – we are also to blame for being bad Group Consuls. I must admit that being a Consul really helps you to refresh all the statistics lectures on calculating probabilities you had in college!

Then we arrive at the second point: If you avoid becoming a “Ghost RSVP’er”, you do not only make the life of us InterNations Consuls easier, but also your own.

Will you take a person seriously who promised you something three times, but never actually did it? It is a natural human reaction to ignore that person.

If you skipped three events in a row, but suddenly decide to attend the fourth one, do not be surprised if you do not meet the group in the announced meeting place. They may have changed their mind about the venue and might be already in another restaurant. No one waited for you because they’d already waited for you three times in vain.

woman holding tablet pc with email signAnd above all, because of the ghosts, the InterNations Activity Groups may not grow as much as they could: Their full potential is not used, there isn’t as much variety as there could be, the activities are not as frequent as they might be, and a lot of great ideas stay forever hidden in the minds of the Consuls, never to be actually realized.

How many Consuls might decide to quit and leave their groups abandoned and facing a slow death? Among those who still decide to keep up their task: How many great ideas are abandoned? Because of the unreliable nature of the guest list, the Group Consuls will avoid exposing themselves to a high risk.

Organizing a simple meet-up for after-work drinks, where everyone pays his or her own bill, is not a high-risk event. The only negative thing which could happen is receiving “that look” from the restaurant’s manager: “Are those the thirty people you expected? Really? What kind of unreliable friends do you have?”

Please remember that the Consuls of our InterNations Activity Groups are not professional event managers; they do it voluntarily, and they do it for you. If they book, for example, a venue based on the number of people subscribed and less than one third shows up, they may end up with a serious financial problem to sort out.

If the guest lists were reliable, the Group Consuls would be more willing to organize more complex, more interesting, more special activities by taking bigger risks. But unfortunately, until the “Ghost RSVP’ing” disappears, what we will see the most will be simple “coffees” or “drinks” all over and over again.

So please remember: It is all about communication and simple human interactions. Someone is counting on you! So if you change your plan, please change your status.

You completely forgot or it was too late to change it? I think your Consul would appreciate a short message; at least he or she will know you take it seriously next time.

Let’s all together try to make the guest lists more reliable and avoid the “Ghost RSVP’ing”, and it would benefit us all.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Wanted: InterNations Beta Testers

As you may already have heard, there are big changes for InterNations ahead: Our site relaunch is coming, and we’re going to need your help.

Why are we starting the relaunch?

We want to provide you with the best possible experience on our entire website and offer enhanced usability to all our members.

Thanks to the relaunch, this will apply regardless of where and which device you are accessing InterNations from: your PC on your desk at home or your smartphone in the airport lounge.Conceptual keyboard - Feedback (blue key)

What are we planning?

We’ve got plenty of updated features in store for you. Among other things, we are looking forward to present

  • - mobile-friendly usability for key areas of our portal
  • - a personalized calendar for all our Events and Activities
  • - a new networking tool for getting to know other expats and global minds in a one-on-one setting
  • - clear design and intuitive navigation
  • - a “makeover” for your profile page to better reflect your expat history and international lifestyle

Who can assist us with valuable feedback?

All InterNations members are invited to become beta testers, as well as to check out the preview of our new member profile.”Newbies” and long-term members, regular visitors or people who only log in once in a while – we are happy to receive everybody’s input!

How does this work?

  • - Want to give us feedback on the planned profile page? Have a look at this blog entry and just leave a comment over there!
  • - Interested in joining the beta testing program? Then sign up here to participate.

All participants in our beta testing program will be the first to get to try out new features. If you sign up as an InterNations Beta Tester, we will notify you immediately once we have an exciting site update ready for you.

Thank you for your support! You can make a difference and help us create an optimized website experience for all InterNations members.

Your New InterNations Profile: Feedback, Please!

As part of the upcoming InterNations Relaunch, your individual member profile will also get a “face-lift”, so to speak.

Your new InterNations profile will strongly focus on what makes you a global mind: your personal expat experience and your international life and career.

What’s new?

In the new timeline, you can share your international history. Describe all your stays abroad, as well as your time back in your home country!

Be it work, travel, or other reasons for moving and visiting: you can use this feature to indicate where you have been, how long you lived there, and why you relocated.

The big world map in the header helps to visualize your timeline. It points out where you are right now and highlights every country where you have stayed so far.

Have your say!

The image below is just a first glance at the brand-new InterNations profile. To see the screenshot in full size, please click on the image!

Please take a look at this preview and let us know what you think. Just leave your feedback in a comment below.

What do you like about it? What could we do differently?

InterNations Relaunch New Profile Joanna Final

(Image credit: InterNations)

Thank you very much for giving us your feedback! Please understand that we cannot reply to each of you individually. However, we will read every comment and do our best to accommodate your feedback.

Homesickness: The Best 5 Tips for Beating the “Expat Blues”

Even expats get the blues: Moving abroad is a tremendously exciting opportunity, but sooner or later every expat has to grapple with some stressful issues.

Sometimes, you’ll cope pretty well with the dreaded culture shock – for example, because you’ve been to the country before or because it’s quite similar to your own in a number of ways. Even then, however, you may be surprised to find yourself missing home really badly at times.

Homesickness isn’t only for little kids or students during their first exchange year. It can affect everyone, no matter how old you are or whether or not you’ve lived abroad before.

Actually, getting homesick is a fairly obvious and understandable reaction. If you want to talk about it in fancy psychological terms, you could call it a slight “adjustment disorder”.

Even the most flexible and dynamic people are creatures of habit at heart. Once their routines and environment undergo a drastic change, they’ll notice – and it does take them some getting used to. Portrait of beautiful woman leaned on the bench.

Everyone craves some measure of security and affection, and moving to another country often disrupts your usual ways of meeting those emotional needs. Fortunately, there are some tried and true measures you can take to adjust more easily.

1) Make yourself comfortable. There’s no point in trying to recreate your old apartment on the far side of the world, but moving into new accommodation, let alone living in a hotel room or furnished lodgings, often lacks the personal touch.

For starters, just bring along some cherished belongings to help you feel more at ease: your comfiest pillow, a collection of family photographs, and those knick-knack that have been gathering dust on your bedside table for the last few years.

2) Keep in touch. When it comes to staying in touch with family and friends back home, you need to find just the right balance between “clingy” and “out of sight, out of mind”.

You definitely shouldn’t neglect those loved ones you’ve left behind. On the other hand, if you spend all your time glued to Skype or staring at your Facebook phone app, this won’t help you with your new life abroad.

So, try to schedule regular phone calls or video chats with the people you’re closest to, and set aside some pre-defined time slots for updating your blog, sending a mass email, or uploading some pictures to social media. This still leaves you plenty of time for other activities. InterNations Expat Blog_Tips against Homesickness Picture 3

If you’re struggling with a wonky Internet connection or still need to find a decent mobile plan, good old “snail mail” will do the trick: Everyone loves getting a colorful postcard, a hand-written letter, or a small gift!

3) Establish some routine. If you start a university course or take up a new job right away, this will structure your daily and weekly routines immediately. However, even the busiest “worker bees” need something to look forward to outside the office.

And if you have arrived early or come along as a traveling spouse, you may suddenly find yourself with lots of time on your hands. This can be both liberating and overwhelming.

It really helps to create a mini-schedule for yourself, including duties as well as pleasure. Once you have devoted a couple of hours to job hunting, grocery shopping, or household chores, don’t forget to reward yourself!

Keep up with one of your favorite hobbies, or occasionally indulge yourself with a TV show or radio program from back home.

4) Explore. There’s only one thing as important as routine – and that’s novelty and change. Starting a new life abroad is a prime opportunity to try new things. First of all, just play the tourist for a while and get to know the city and country where you now live.

In addition to that, now’s the time to shake things up a bit: Pick up a new hobby that you never got around to. Learn a new language – especially the local one. And don’t be shy to make new friends at your workplace, your children’s school, the gym, or the next expat event.

Speaking of expat events: When you meet new people abroad, it may help to avoid the so-called “expat bubble”, where you only socialize with other expatriates, especially those from your own home country.

Memory LaneOn the one hand, your expat friends easily understand your mixed feelings about moving, homesickness, and culture shock; on the other hand, mingling exclusively with expats may keep you from ever feeling truly at home abroad.

5) Take good care of yourself. Homesickness isn’t a “real” illness, but you should nonetheless be kind and patient with yourself. Admit to yourself that you are missing home and give yourself time to adjust – but don’t wallow in your negative feelings.

It may be tempting to stay up all night to phone friends in a different time zone, or to hide in bed when you’re feeling particularly down. However, avoiding the problem at hand seldom works. It’s usually best to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and make sure to take a brisk walk or do some exercise.

Self-care recharges your batteries, so to speak, and it’s easier to settle in if you’re well-fed, well-rested, and full of energy!

And what are your best tips for expats missing home?

Image credit: iStockphoto)

Flood Relief for the Balkan Region

Though it did make the international news, the recent disaster in Southeastern Europe may not yet have achieved the same kind of awareness as comparable catastrophes. Several Balkan states are suffering from the worst flooding in over a century, and more than 1.5 million people from the region are affected. InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 1

Where has the flood hit particularly hard?

While there is some flooding in parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia, the border region in Northeastern Bosnia and Western Serbia is worst off. The situation in Bosnia, though dire, is less critical by now as the heavy rains have stopped.

The residents of Belgrade, the Serbian capital, still have some cause to be anxious. The water from the River Sava, an important tributary of the Danube, is expected to reach the city by the end of the week.

Who is affected by the disaster?

All in all, an estimated 1.6 million residents, or more, have been struck by disaster, in some way or the other. Thankfully the official number of casualties remains fairly low, with 50 people confirmed dead and others still missing.InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 2

However, about 30,000 Serbians and over 100,000 of their Bosnian neighbors had to leave their homes behind. Others “just” have to deal with the fallout of ruined housing and damaged infrastructure (roads, power stations, water supplies).

Why are the consequences of the flooding so dire?

Bosnia & Herzegovina in particular is in a rather bad state. The floods have been called the worst thing to befall the country since the 1990s Balkan Wars.

In the short term, the many drowned farm animals and the lack of fresh water pose a serious risk of epidemic diseases, like typhoid fever. But the long-term effects shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

The destruction of numerous family farms in the countryside means the loss of their livelihood for the owners – as well as a serious damper on the national economy. Nearly 20% of Bosnian workers earn their living in agriculture.

Lastly, the waters and resulting landslides have dislodged countless landmines from the wars. Only one third of all landmines used between 1992 and 1995 have been found and destroyed so far. Up to 120,000 mines may still be buried in once disputed border territories.

InterNations Expat Blog Flood Relief May 2014 Pic 3This is a major danger: Post-flood recovery work will proceed more slowly; all helpers, volunteers, and returning families are at risk; the anti-landmine specialists often need to start their work all over again, as they no longer know where the explosives ended up.

What do the flood victims need right now?

Obviously, the governments responsible for the affected areas have to provide technical and military support for rescue and recovery operations, especially if landmines might be hidden (or have washed up) there.

But the displaced residents are also in urgent need of everyday items, such as food, medication, clean drinking water, toiletries, powdered milk, and baby clothes. In the not so distant future, many of them will have to rebuild their lives from scratch.

How can you help?

The following organizations are probably the most reliable recipients for international donations.

- The Serbian government has established an official flood relief fund to coordinate efforts.

- The Red Cross Society of Bosnia & Herzegovina is asking for financial support (site in Bosnian only, but there’s an online appeal, as well as English-language payment information on the homepage).

- The Novak Djokovic Foundation, established by the Serbian tennis star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is also collecting money to rebuild or renovate kindergartens and schools in affected regions.

Moreover, local and national aid organizations from your country may also be trying to help. To cite but one example: the German NPO action medeor is currently sending medical supplies to local clinics and hospitals in the Balkans.

And don’t forget to spread the news: Just share this post – thank you! Xвала! Hvala lijepo!

(Photo credit: 1) Bridge south of Banja Luka, Bosnia by Wikimedia Commons user Бојанић Тибор 2) Landslide in Krupanj, Serbia by Wikimedia Commons user Zoran Dobrin 3) Uprooted traffic sign in Sarani, Serbia by Wikimedia Commons user Михаило Јовановић)

Founder’s Diary: The UAE

Malte, InterNations founder and CEO, shares his fresh impressions of our expat communities in the United Arab Emirates.

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to visit several InterNations Communities during one single trip. Spending my vacation in the United Arab Emirates, I seized the chance to attend InterNations Events in three cities. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 7

In late April, a six-hour night flight took me from Munich to Dubai, where I arrived somewhat bleary-eyed at 6 am. The difference in temperature was a bit of a shock as well: I’d left behind a grey and cool city with April showers and 5°C outside, but I arrived in a desert climate with blinding sunshine and 30°C. I spent two weeks in the Emirates, and it didn’t rain once.


A one-hour taxi ride took me from Dubai to Ras-al-Khaimah (RAK), one of the smaller emirates, especially in terms of population. Only 170,000 people live there; on the way to RAK, we mostly drove through the vast desert and empty coastal plains. We even passed herds of free-roaming camels along the way.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 4 When arriving in RAK, I immediately noticed that the atmosphere is rather different from Dubai. It’s a far less crowded place with fewer tourists and a more relaxed ambience. I very much enjoyed having a few days of vacation to myself. The warm weather was ideal for lounging on the beach, swimming in the hotel pool, and playing some rounds of golf.

Still, I was definitely looking forward to the InterNations RAK Event on April 21. We have circa 1,000 members in Ras-al-Khaimah, but our gathering was a small, cozy affair. About 30 people from 15 different countries met up at Cove Rotana Resort, a lovely village-style hotel round a lagoon, with our bar directly on the beach.

Unfortunately, Celine, an expat from Mauritius and our RAK Ambassador, couldn’t make it, as she was traveling. However, she’d still managed to organize the event, and members like Cleo, Bruno, and Ali gave me a warm welcome in her stead. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1c

The tight-knit gathering gave me a great, familial feeling: It really was a bit like meeting an extended family of friendly, easy-going expatriates, where I actually managed to talk to everyone in person – something that’s obviously no longer possible at our larger events. They even presented me with two nice photography books about the UAE and Saudi Arabia as a welcome gift. Thanks again for the surprise!

Despite the smallish size of our get-together, I had the distinct impression that RAK is a pretty lively InterNations Community. Consuls such as Yvonne, from the Arabic Conversation group, Sebastian (RAK Outdoor Adventures), as well as Cleo and Karin – who run the InterNations Foodie Club – come up with plenty of fun activities for our members.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1dThanks to Celine, I also got to participate in a falconry show at the Hotel Banyan Tree Al Wadi, organized by Ryan, a local InterNations member. Daniel – another of our members in the UAE – then provided me with yet another fascinating opportunity: a visit to a real Swiss chocolate factory in the middle of the Arab desert. Thank you for all these fantastic activities!

Abu Dhabi

After one week of vacation, I was off to Dubai, where InterNations member Gay Mendoza kindly helped me find a comfortable hotel for my stay. Unlike RAK, Dubai is huge and very busy: Over 35% of the UAE’s entire population, nearly 2 million residents, live there.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 8 Therefore it’s no wonder that the drive took over two hours, as we got stuck in traffic a lot. From the car window, I spotted the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building: The glittering, needle-like structure is an unmistakable landmark in Dubai’s sprawling skyline.

However, I didn’t see much of Dubai at first. Together with Philipp, a German expatriate who has been our InterNations Ambassador in Dubai for several years, we drove another 1.5 hours to Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, where we met up with the local Ambassadors team.

Our booming Abu Dhabi Community (with over 14,000 members) is run by three hospitable expat women: Loretta from Canada, Farrah from the Philippines, and Maha, another Canadian expatriate. The three jokingly call themselves “Charlie’s Angels”, after the popular 1970s TV show with actress Farrah Fawcett. And they are just as full of charm and can-do spirit as their television heroines!

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 3 I invited the angelic Abu Dhabi Ambassadors team for dinner at the Imago Restaurant and Bar of the Royal Méridien Hotel, where our event was to take place later on. Over the delicious food, we avidly discussed the future of our growing expat community before the guests started arriving.

240 people had signed up for the get-together, and the three Ambassadors did a great job welcoming them and introducing our members to one another. Thus I also got around to talking to quite a few expats living in Abu Dhabi. I learned a lot about the structure of the Emirates (a federation of seven principalities ruled by sheikhs) and the differences between such places as the capital and Dubai, the principal business hub.


A few days after the gathering in Abu Dhabi, it was finally time for the InterNations Dubai Event. Dubai isn’t only a major business hub in the Gulf region, but also one of the world’s top expat hotspots. In fact, most of the residents are foreign nationals rather than Emirati citizens.

It’s hardly surprising that InterNations has over 40,000 members in Dubai, our second largest Local Community, right after London. That night, nearly 680 people were on the guest list for our event.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1b The InterNations Event took place at the Pure Skylounge, located on the 35th floor of Hilton Dubai The Walk Hotel, a rooftop terrace with splendid views of the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island off the coast. Nina, our second Dubai Ambassador, was so kind as to organize the gathering while she was out of town.

Philipp and I were there to host the event, and I was introduced to a great many members from Dubai. I particularly remember our Group Consuls Waleed, Ibrahim, and Anas, all very committed to running various Activity Groups in Dubai.

Fortunately, I also had plenty of time to thank our volunteers for their time and energy: They are essential in creating such an active and busy expat life in Dubai. For instance, we have over 100 different InterNations Activity Groups, with nearly 100 Activities per month – there’s really something to choose from for everyone!

After the official event, I have a few more days left in Dubai. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary UAE Pic 1aSo I did a bit of sightseeing, visiting the Dubai Mall (an enormous “temple” of consumerism), the Fountains (an illuminated fountain system with special performances set to music), Deira and the Gold Souk, and the Madinat Jumeirah, a new souk with views of the Burj Al Arab. I also got to admire the “jet-flyers” on the waterfront – a new trendy kind of sport that everyone seemed to be crazy about.

It must be interesting to live in such a dynamic, fast-changing city: I’d been here before, 10 years ago, and it feels as if half the city hadn’t even existed back then.

Soon enough, it was time for my flight back to Munich, though, where I landed on another cold spring day. Another heart-felt to thank you to everybody who made my trip to the UAE such a success!

(Photo credit: 1), 2), 4), 7): Malte Zeeck/InterNations; 3) Celine Mambode, 5) Farrah Alenie Cañaliso, 6) Waqas Mohammed)

Labor or Leisure? Working Time around the Globe

This Thursday, May 1, is a welcome day off from work for millions of people across the globe. While the Anglophone world (e.g. Canada or the US) has established Labor Day as a national holiday in autumn, many other countries, for instance in Europe or Latin America, celebrate the same occasion on a different date.

Considering the origins of Labor Day, inextricably linked to the late 19th-century movements for improved working conditions, this is a great opportunity to talk about working time around the world.

Toil in Turkey, Chill in the Netherlands…

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re not laboring in some sweatshop or farmyard for 12 hours a day, like your forebears. But how much do people in highly industrialized nations actually work these days?

Which countries are the “busiest”? And where should you consider moving if you rather value your leisure time?

The statistical database maintained by the OECD may hold the answers to such questions. According to 2011 figures, the following OECD member states set the record for average working hours per week: InterNations Expat Blog_Working Hours around the World_Pic 3

• Turkey: 48.9 hours
• South Korea: 44.6 hours
• Mexico: 43.3 hours
• Greece: 42.1 hours
• Czech Republic: 41.1 hours

You can draw up a similar list for those lucky nations, where residents enjoy an unprecedented amount of time away from the workplace, rather than earning their living by the sweat of their brow.

• Netherlands: 30.5 hours (about 18 hours less than Turkey!)
• Denmark: 33.7 hours
• Norway: 33.9 hours
• Ireland: 34.9 hours
• Switzerland: 35.2 hours

Since I’m typing this in the InterNations head office in Germany, I’ll also add that Germany follows directly after Switzerland: The average German works 35.5 hours a week. Or so says the OECD. Judging from the frequent complaints of some rather overworked friends of mine, statistics and personal impressions don’t always match.

Behind the Stats

First of all, the data cited above doesn’t distinguish between self-employed professionals and 9-to-5 employees, or between full-time and part-time workers. Tired businesswoman sleeping in office

For example, Ireland’s figures may be low because the recession of 2008/09 forced quite a few people into casual part-time jobs. People in such positions are likely to earn less and have little money to spend in their spare time. Some German companies also switched to “Kurzarbeit” – reduced working hours, plus temporary wage cuts – to avoid mass lay-off in hard times. If you have two kids to raise and a mortgage to pay off, you may not be looking forward to that sort of change.

Moreover, the part-time employees who keep those statistics low frequently tend to be women. For instance, the average woman in Germany or Switzerland works 30.5 or 29.1 hours, respectively – about 10 hours less than their male compatriots.

In such cases, the difference is often accounted for by unpaid work within the home: Looking after young children or elderly relatives doesn’t equal a life of leisure. It can also add a financial burden decades after the fact, since pension plans and retirement provisions often depend on average life-time earnings.

Leisure Time and Loss of Productivity?

Despite the cautionary explanations described above, residents living and working in countries with shorter working weeks tend to fare better in other respects as well: They often have generous legal requirements for annual leave, as well as paid time off on public holidays – such as Labor Day.

InterNations Expat Blog_Working Hours around the World_Pic 2 While South Korea, for example, grants 15 days of annual leave, employees may still be reluctant to take all of these three weeks off. People working in Denmark, on the other hand, are entitled to at least five weeks of leave per year. Add this to the difference in weekly working hours, and you may safely state that the average Korean will spend far more time at the office than the average Dane!

However, this does not necessarily mean that Park-ssi or Lee-seonbae in Seoul will, in the long run, be more productive than Lars or Mette in Copenhagen. Indeed, average productivity, efficiency, or economic prosperity don’t seem to be strictly proportionate to average working time.

So, if you have May 1 off from work, you can enjoy your free day with a clear conscience!

In what kind of work culture do you prefer to live? Do you think that most people work too much or rather too little?

(Image credit: 1) Flickr user Daniel Novta 2) + 3) iStockphoto)

Insights into Expat Life: A Look at the InterNations Member Base

Have you ever wondered what makes the members of our InterNations network “tick”, so to speak? Are you curious about what they do for a living, how long they’ve been staying abroad, and what their future plans are? Now’s your chance to find out!

Over the last few months, our team has conducted a series of surveys to gather customer feedback in order to improve the InterNations experience for our members. Along the way, we have collected a variety of factoids about our member base, which we’d like to share with you.

Reasons for Relocating

The typical InterNations member is in his or her late thirties (the average age is 39), and Mr. or Ms. Expat is very much a highly qualified career guy or career woman. The vast majority of our members has at least a bachelor’s degree, and most of them moved abroad for the sake of their job (56%) or their education (37%).

However, there’s also a vast contingent of people with a definite case of “wanderlust”: Almost one third of survey participants decided to move because they enjoy living abroad. InterNations Expat Blog Member Survey Pic 1

(If you’re an attentive reader, you may have noticed that the three figures above add up to over 100%. Multiple answers were possible.)

On the Job

So, what do our career-minded expats actually do? While about a quarter of all respondents describe themselves as employees, 30% are in a management position of some kind – with a respectable 8% at the top of the corporate ladder.

16% of our members prefer being their very own boss, though: They are self-employed or successfully run a business.

Of course, we have also found out which sectors and industries are especially popular to work in. InterNations members have a strong affinity for IT and technology. With 12%, this was the most cited response to our question.

Runners up are finance and real estate, as well as education (with 10% and 9%, respectively). In comparison, the utilities sector and agriculture/mining were the two least frequent replies as far as occupation is concerned.

The Expat “Life Cycle”

But InterNations members don’t just live to work. They clearly like life abroad: Nearly 50% of all survey participants belong to the category of “long-term expatriates”. They left their home country two or more years ago; a great many have even been living abroad for five years or longer.

Our community has a significant percentage of local members, too: 18% are currently living in their native country, and 13% identify as “repatriates”, i.e. those who’ve recently come back from a stint abroad. InterNatons Expat Blog Member Survey Pic 2

The local members frequently dream of globe-trotting (again), and about one fifth has concrete plans to move to another country within a year.

All things considered, it hardly comes as a surprise that over 20% of InterNations expats would want to stay abroad forever.

Thanks and Congrats!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to fill in our questionnaire! We are very grateful for your feedback and will do our best to take all valuable input on board.

In particular, we’ve been told, over and over again, that our members are looking forward to seeing new Local Communities opening all across the world – particularly in emerging countries in Africa and Asia.

Last but not least, we’d like to congratulate the lucky winners of our prize draw. We raffled off five iPads among our respondents.

These prizes go to: Finnish expat Marina in Nice (France); Sophia from Belgium, who’s now living in Lisbon (Portugal); Marcus, a New Zealander in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia); US expatriate Craig Bailey in the Czech Republic, and Vicki, who has exchanged her native Greece for Belgium. Enjoy!

(Image credit: InterNations)

Going Home – Easier Said Than Done

Saying farewell is hardly ever easy. Our guest blogger Ben shares in the following his thoughts on the temporality of expat life and on going home again…

Hong Kong is such a transitory city. You have people from all over the world coming here to study, to work, or to live; but usually just temporarily. Sometimes they stay for a few years, and sometimes just for a few short months. It’s this ever changing environment that allows you to make friends so quickly, but on the flip side, it seems that there are always good-bye parties to attend. Recently, I had to bid farewell to a few friends in Hong Kong. It seemed like we had just gotten to know each other, and yet it was already time to say good-bye.

InterNations Expat Blog Saying GoodbyeI remember one good friend in particular. Her assignment at the Hong Kong office was up, and she was being called back to the head office. It was time for her to go home. During one of our last outings together, I asked her how she felt. She told me, “You really start to miss where you were because you forget all the disadvantages and only remember the good things.” She was understandably sad because this was her first time living abroad. She’d made some unforgettable memories and great friends. At the same time, she was nervous because going “home” would not be the same.

Having lived in a few different places and attended countless farewell parties for both friends and for myself, I understood what she was going through. I have often experienced short periods of depression when I returned home. The first thing I miss is the adrenaline rush of being in a foreign locale. When I am abroad, even mundane tasks can turn into an adventure – sometimes a very frustrating one. However, after returning home, I often forget the difficult moments and why they were so stressful. I just remember the excitement.

Secondly, everything at home seems to be the same: the people, the food, and my old stomping grounds. But for some strange reason they don’t feel the same. What I have soon come to realize is that it’s me who has changed. I am not the same person who left, perhaps, just one year ago. I have grown and been infused with new ideas and new perspectives. As journalist Pico Iyer so eloquently states it: “Once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home, become something different.”

Lastly, by being abroad, I usually have a wealth of interesting experiences and stories to share, but I often find that there are not too many people who I can share them with. Many people around me don’t seem to be that interested in hearing about them. I have learned over time it is not that they don’t care about me. They simply can’t relate very much to what I went through. When it is hard to relate to something, it is also hard to contribute to the conversation. And when it is hard to contribute to the conversation, it’s really best to change the topic.

InterNations Expat Blog Going HomeI am fully aware that my Hong Kong journey will probably come to an end eventually. There will be many parties to attend and farewells to say. I always hope that I will be able to stay in contact with the people I’ve met along the way. I do try my best, and all the new technological tools are definitely helpful, but everyone gets busier and it becomes harder to keep in touch.

When the adrenaline and excitement slowly subside, I am left with my thoughts and memories. I know that I will probably go through a period of melancholy while adjusting to my new-old surroundings. But after returning home, I always try to keep in mind what writer Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in seeing with new eyes.”

(Image credit: iStockphoto)