Last Friday, on December 6th, I set out for one of my last InterNations-related trips in 2013. In many parts of Germany, as in plenty of other countries, this date has a special significance for kids.
As the 6th of December is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, they receive little gifts, like fruit or chocolate, as reward for their good behavior. Of course, most youngsters probably don’t know (or particularly care) that the historical Nicholas was an early Christian abbot in what is today southwestern Turkey. So, what better day was there for me to set out on a visit to our Local Community in Izmir, on Turkey’s western coast?
A 2.5-hour flight from Munich transported me from 0°C and a flurry of snow right into Mediterranean sunshine and a balmy climate of 15°C. No wonder that Izmir – spreading round the waterfront of a picturesque bay – is often nicknamed the Turkish Saint Tropez!
I checked in at the Swissotel Grand Izmir, where the InterNations Event was to take place, but I still had the time to take a walk and enjoy the spring-like temperatures. Strolling down the promenade, I got to see Izmir’s famous landmark, the late 19th-century Saat Kulesi (clock tower) on Konak Square, as well as the bustling bazaar.
While exploring the market, I noticed that lots of vendors didn’t only speak fluent English and German, but also Italian, Spanish, or French, to name just a few more languages. Every year, the city with its roughly 4 million inhabitants houses 500,000 international visitors from the huge cruise ships travelling the wine-dark sea. Fortunately, December is part of the off-season, so the city wasn’t nearly as busy, and I could leisurely sip a mug of Çay, Turkey’s famous black tea, in a little coffeehouse.
The InterNations Event then started at 8:30 pm, at the Swissotel’s Sky Bar, a sleek and stylish lounge which granted us a dazzling view of Izmir Bay and the Aegean Coast. There I met up with InterNations Ambassador Nadejda, a Bulgarian-Moldovan expat from ChișinÄ�u, who has been living in Turkey for the past three years.
Nadejda gave a warm welcome to her 80 guests, and the crowd started mixing and mingling soon. When I joined the networking and general introductions over finger food, I encountered quite a few lucky InterNations members whose career had led them to a place as beautiful as Izmir: they work at the NATO headquarters, in the regional mining industry, or as professors in higher education.
While chatting with our expat and local members at official events, it’s always important for me to gather as much open and honest feedback as possible, so we can improve InterNations for them. What were their expectations on joining our community? What would they like to see at future events? How could we make our website more user-friendly for our members? These are some of the questions for which I’m looking for answers.
Well, I was glad to hear that the replies I got in Izmir were overwhelmingly positive. Newcomers liked the nametags since they serve as an “ice-breaker” for starting a conversation and also demonstrate how international the events have become: that night, guests from about two dozen different countries attended the gathering.
Though the Izmir Community is still rather small, it is fairly active. Some members were interested in introducing InterNations Activity Groups for hiking or salsa dancing, for example. But what I heard from most people I talked to was a request for a better mobile usability of the InterNations site. Fortunately, a mobile-friendly experience is already high up on our IT agenda for 2014.
But enough with the “shop talk” already. It was high time to focus on the fun part of the evening and see how much our members were enjoying themselves. The live band at the Sky Bar seemed to have put them into the right mood: As the get-together was drawing to a close, quite a few folks wanted to move on to another location. After all, the night was still young! Thus, I joined them at Tren, a pretty lively local bar, where international and Turkish pop music drew the party-goers onto the dance floor. I can safely say that the residents of Izmir do know how to celebrate.
As I was here to stay for the weekend, I seized the opportunity to invite Nadejda, our Ambassador, to lunch on Saturday. She suggested leaving town in search of a quiet marina with a cozy restaurant. Over a delicious meal, she told me all about the challenges of running the Izmir InterNations Community.
I truly admire and appreciate the effort it must have taken her to grow our events from a tight-knit circle of about 10 attendees to all of 80 or 90 guests. Nadejda, if you read this (as I hope you will), thank you again for your great commitment! Since the Local Community in Izmir counts over 1,400 members by now, I agreed that Nadejda needs someone to help her organize and host the monthly events. She is currently looking for a Co-Ambassador in Izmir, and hopefully, we’ll have a complete InterNations Ambassador team soon.
In spite of my extended lunch, I yielded to the temptation of having dinner at one of Izmir’s great seafood restaurants. If you are in town, you should try the red snapper, along with a glass of local white wine, at Yengec. It’s really worth it! Later on, I met some other InterNations members at En Velo, one of Izmir’s classic clubs, which has been a fixture in the town’s local nightlife for the last twenty years.
When I left Izmir on Sunday, there was so much I would have liked to see or do. The beach parties along the coast are apparently legendary, and I didn’t really have the time to explore the region’s fascinating cultural heritage. The Agora Open Air Museum preserves some vestiges of ancient Smyrna, and the city is also a popular starting point for tours to Pergamon and especially Ephesus – one of the biggest and most beautiful archeological sites in former Asia Minor.
Maybe next time I will even make it down the coast, all the way to Demre. This sleepy town was once known as Myra, the home of Saint Nicholas and his final resting place – at least until some sailors from Bari (Italy) stole his relics in 1087.