Many of the team members at InterNations are expats themselves and can relate to both the positive and the challenging sides of life abroad. In particular, we know how tough it can be to find new friends in a foreign country. Even though it can be difficult at times, we can at least count on our colleagues for support. And it is hardly surprising that some of the strong bonds at work develop into lasting friendships.
To celebrate the International Day of Friendship on 30 July — a day honoring peaceful, friendly interactions and non-violence among all people and nations — several colleagues share how they have bonded and become friends at work. More than 120 team members with more than 40 nationalities are currently working at InterNations, and they can confirm what Human Resource Team Lead Christa Fellner says: “Diversity is at the heart of our team here, and we think it’s really important to celebrate that.”
Dani and Laura: “We even took a trip to Disneyland together!”
Dani, a British expat, and Laura, originally from Romania, have been working together at the InterNations headquarters in Munich for more than three years now. “Our friendship started when I asked Laura if she would come and sit next to me,” Dani shares. “We became friends, and she sat next to me for three years. It was almost like in high school.” Both started off in the Community Support Team, but in 2019, Laura switched to Product Management. They really miss seeing each other for nine hours a day. “It’s like a breakup,” Dani jokes. “She’s still my work wife,” says Laura. And even though Laura belongs to a different team now, they still work together on cross-departmental projects now and then.
Dani was the first person Laura connected with after moving to Munich. She says that “Laura is definitely a really good friend. We meet outside of work and have quite a lot in common.” Sometimes they share their love for movies — especially for Disney movies. “We even took a trip to Disneyland in Paris together,” Laura remembers. The two also share aspects of their respective home country’s culture with each other. Dani enjoys cooking traditional British dinners for Laura, while Laura enjoys making special friendship bracelets for Dani — she has already given her three! The red-and-white bracelets called Martisor (little March) are typically worn in Romania from 1 March until the end of the month. “And at the end, you tie it to a fruit-bearing tree, so you have a good year,” Dani explains.
“Being colleagues first and friends later has brought us closer together,” Laura concludes. And Dani adds that being friends in the workplace has never harmed their relationship because “when you’re friends, it’s much easier to communicate in a more direct way”.
Jasmine and Michael: “We both have a dry and sarcastic style of humor.”
Jasmine, originally from Taiwan, has been living in Germany for the past six years. She is part of the InterNations Community Support Team, where she was introduced to Michael, a British expat, five years ago. “Shortly before Jasmine joined InterNations, I started learning Chinese, and I developed a specific interest in Taiwan and the Taiwanese culture,” Michael shares. “I was excited to hear that a Taiwanese colleague would be joining us.” So, he immediately approached Jasmine. “On one of my first days at work,” Jasmine remembers, “I found a welcome message written in Chinese on my desk, and when I asked who did this, my colleagues said it was Michael. I immediately felt welcome.”
Although Jasmine and Michael have different backgrounds, they share a lot of interests and a “very British” humor, according to Michael. “We both have a dry and sarcastic style of humor.” Jasmine agrees that being able to joke around and laugh together is an important part of their friendship. The two also had to overcome similar obstacles as expats living in Germany. “Munich is not the easiest place to make new friends,” Michael says. “It’s hard to get into the friendship circles of the locals.”
This is another reason why he enjoys having a group of friends who are expats with different backgrounds. “From a British perspective, I think we do consider people friends much quicker,” Michael says. Jasmine can relate to that personally: “I also make friends quickly. And I would define friendship as being willing to share certain degrees of privacy with someone, as well as being willing to support them when they are having a difficult time.”
Caroline and Samuele: “At the end of the day, we are friends first.”
Caroline has been with InterNations for more than three years. The Corporate Communications Team Lead proves that there are exceptions to the local friendship rule — it is, in fact, possible to join a local’s circle of close personal friends in Germany. Her friendship with the Italian expat Samuele began soon after they both started working at InterNations, even though, as the Community Engagement Specialist for East Asia, Samuele is part of a different department.
It all began with the two of them being interested in improving their language skills: Caroline wanted to freshen up her Italian skills, and Samuele wished to be more proficient in the German language. “One day, someone from my department told me that there was a new employee who wanted to learn Italian,” Samuele remembers. “And when I spotted her on the bus during a team trip, I just approached her and asked, ‘So, you want to learn Italian?’ Well, she was a bit surprised but still said yes!”
Samuele moved to Germany six years ago, speaking no German at all. He just knew the basics like “Hallo” (hello) and “Auf Wiedersehen” (good-bye). “Caroline can be very strict when it comes to mistakes,” he jokes. “But I like this a lot about her! I told her to let me know whenever I make a mistake — luckily, she takes it seriously.” Samuele has learned a lot about German customs through Caroline; in turn, she has benefitted from Samuele’s insights into Italian culture. And although they meet regularly for their language-learning sessions, they are more than just “study buddies”: “At the end of the day, we are friends first”.
Siham and Natalia: “We bonded over how stressful it was to live in a foreign country.”
Siham, originally from the UK, and Natalia, an expat from Spain, both started their Corporate Communications internships at InterNations in October 2019. “When you meet at work,” Natalia thinks, “you get to know someone who you might not have expected to have much in common with — for example, because you are from two different cultures.” Siham agrees: “I’ve learned from Natalia that you should always put yourself out there to meet new people. And even if you think you might not have anything in common, you might be very wrong.”
The first time Natalia and Siham met outside of work was at a climbing forest in Munich. Then, after moving into the same apartment building for students, they started meeting more often and had movie nights together. “I made Siham sit through Star Wars Episodes IV and V, while she made me sit through Bad Boys.” Their taste in movies goes in slightly different directions, but their similarities still tip the scale. Natalia regularly visits Siham’s apartment to enjoy her cooking. “Sharing food with visitors is a cultural tradition I acquired from my mom, who is Ethiopian,” Siham explains.
Siham and Natalia agree that being friends in the workplace makes things easier. “Siham is my closest friend here, and she has supported me a lot; she’s always been there for me,” Natalia shares. “I feel the same way,” Siham says. Both will return to their universities in the UK, and as they live only two hours apart — Siham in Bath and Natalia in Bournemouth — they are already planning to visit each other back in England. “And I’m waiting for my invitation to Spain,” Siham jokes — although it seems quite likely that the two of them will meet there as well.
Image credit: InterNations / private