Last week, we published the results of the Expat City Ranking 2020, presenting the best- and worst-rated cities for expats worldwide. This also provided the perfect opportunity to ask some of the InterNations team members about the cities they have lived in. Here, they share stories about their favorite cities across the globe — fond memories of carefree travel, moments of culture shock, and personal tips for expat destinations from Paris to Melbourne.
Kalena from the United States ♥ Paris
“I lived in Paris for two years in the period from 2017 to 2020. What I miss most about the city are its museums. The museums in Paris are simply incredible, and there are so many of them! I made it my goal to go to one every week, and I ended up finding some really neat museums that weren’t as crowded as the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, for example, the Museé des Arts et Métiers with its collection of scientific instruments and industrial design or the Château de Malmaison, the former residence of Empress Joséphine. I learned so much, and I also got a good feel for the city by exploring different neighborhoods on my trips.
However, as an expat in Paris, you should be prepared for administrative processes to be incredibly frustrating. They can be slow and inefficient, and sometimes they don’t make sense at all. Expect to submit your documents online, then be asked to send the same ones by mail, just to be told they need to be delivered in person… After my first time living in Paris, I learned to stop stressing out about this, to just be patient, go with the flow, and enjoy my museum tours instead.”
Christian from Germany ♥ Jakarta
“As a teenager, I lived in Jakarta for four years. Sometimes, I miss the feeling of being in an actual metropolis, with close to twelve million residents, a true ‘city that never sleeps’. Of course, Jakarta’s size also has its downsides, such as massive pollution, endless traffic jams, and no green spaces anywhere. But it is a very safe city — violent crime against foreign residents was practically unheard of when I lived there. So, I had a lot of freedom to explore the city, especially to enjoy the local street food in all its variety.
The people in Jakarta are also extremely polite and friendly, though some situations can be hard to gauge due to cultural differences. For example, if you ask the average cab driver if he knows a certain location, he will always say yes to avoid losing face, and then he’ll drive you around aimlessly rather than admit he hasn’t heard of the address. This isn’t an attempt to rip you off, but people just want to avoid having to say no to someone they consider a guest. I learned this the hard way!”
Valentina from Romania ♥ Aalborg
“I spent three years as a student in Aalborg in northern Denmark. The city itself isn’t that large — it has fewer than 150,000 residents — but I really loved cycling around and outside the town. Aalborg is also not far from Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town, which is famous for its historical lighthouses and its associations with a group of Danish impressionist artists, the Skagen Painters. And if you want to go even farther north, you can travel quite easily from Aalborg to Norway.
Weirdly enough, what I miss most about Aalborg is the Danish flag. Yes, that’s right — their flag. The Dannebrog is literally everywhere! It’s your birthday? Here’s a cake with some Dannebrog on top! You have just landed in Denmark and someone is picking you up at the airport? Well, you’ll be welcomed by people holding the Dannebrog. Your friend is graduating from university? Go and support them by waving the Dannebrog! The moment I bought a Danish flag for myself, just to have it in my home, I realized how fond I had become of both Aalborg and the entire country.”
Stephanie from Austria ♥ Vienna
“I fell in love with Vienna right away, even with its quirky sides, and I loved the city more with each passing day during the decade I lived there. The only thing that I always missed in Vienna were the mountains I’d grown up with in Klagenfurt, my Austrian hometown.
The local Viennese are very open-minded and interested in politics and culture. But if you’re not used to Vienna, they can come across as rude and grumpy, especially if you meet them in crowded places with popular tourist attractions, such as the area around St. Stephen’s Cathedral. To be quiet and shy — or even to smile too much — definitely won’t get you very far. In the beginning, random people kept asking me why I was smiling or what I was smiling at! However, if you have lived in Vienna for a while and get to know the locals, you will not only learn to love them but you’ll occasionally turn into a grumpy Viennese person yourself.
One of the things I miss most about Vienna — apart from the amazing architecture — is hanging out with my friends and colleagues down by the Danube. We’d just sit on the promenade in the summer months, drinks in our hands, dangling our feet, and watching the boats go by. Once a year, in early summer, there’s also a huge music festival, the Donaukanaltreiben, which is held in several locations along the river.”
Paula from the United States ♥ Melbourne
“I had the opportunity to live in Melbourne for three months, and it was such a cool, casual, artistic, and open city. I especially miss its hidden bars located in dark, mysterious alleys. My friends and I used to visit a really amazing one that we could only find by remembering the long line of trash cans in the street outside. More generally speaking, you will get lost in Melbourne’s alleyways at least once, but it’s a lot of fun!
The city’s seaside location is simply great. Everybody living in or visiting Melbourne should take at least one day to hit the beach. I definitely recommend going on a trip to see the Twelve Apostles; these beautiful rock formations are well worth visiting, even though it’s considered a very touristy thing to do. I did feel like a true Melburnian, though, when I spotted the famous Australian actor Hugo Weaving — Elrond from The Lord of the Rings — casually touring a local art gallery.”
Liva from Latvia ♥ Singapore
“I love Singapore for how ever-changing, modern, and dynamic it is. I had the chance to live there as a ten-year-old kid and then return for another year when I was twenty-one. In these eleven years, the city-state had changed beyond recognition while maintaining the core of its identity that makes it so special. The expression ‘concrete jungle’ definitely gets a whole other meaning in this place.
I miss Singapore’s tropical climate, the absolutely enormous Botanic Gardens, and the amazing food. You can eat out in a different hawker center for every meal; it’s even possible to find a food stall that sells only chicken and rice and has received a star in the Michelin Guide for its specialty! However, I do regret that one time when I was persuaded to try durian. It’s a really popular fruit in Southeast Asia, but for me, there’s no reason for anything that smells this terribly rotten to be consumed on a daily basis. It is actually forbidden to carry the fruit on Singapore’s public transportation system — you will immediately be able to smell it if someone breaks this rule.
Once you’ve made friends in Singapore, they will be friends for life. Whenever my family and I return, we never have to take public transportation from the airport or figure out where to have dinner that night. I feel truly lucky to have a place on the other side of the world, where I know I will always feel welcome.”
Ren Jie from Taiwan ♥ Würzburg
“I attended university in Würzburg, a town in northern Bavaria, for a year. For such a relatively small city, it’s very international, due to its large student population. When I started hanging out with both international and local people from school and making new friends, I felt like a local for the first time. In the summer months, we would sit close to the river, having a picnic or just enjoying the sunshine.
I also miss all the sightseeing I did in Würzburg — everyone should visit the Marienberg Fortress, a prominent landmark with amazing views of the Main Valley, or go to the nearby market town of Randersacker for a hike in the vineyards. After all, the region of Franconia is famous for its wines!”
Laura from Romania ♥ Leiden
“Leiden, in the Netherlands, is the most delightful city I’ve ever lived in. Due to Leiden University, it’s a typical student town, but everyone else who lives there has such a happy-go-lucky attitude too. The local people are really warm, friendly, and completely laidback. We would greet each other in the street, although we were all complete strangers; everyone spoke English and was very nice about my lack of Dutch language skills; and car drivers never honked or lost their patience with the many cyclists.
I don’t cycle as much here in Munich anymore because I’m a bit scared of the local traffic, but I loved riding my bike in Leiden! Not only were there bike paths everywhere, but in any Dutch city, you can find nice places to rent good-quality secondhand bicycles for a monthly fee. However, you need to remember that you should always lock your bike when parking it. I forgot about it one single time, and my bicycle was gone faster than you could say, ‘Oh, what an amateur’.
Also, never take your bike anywhere on Koningsdag (King’s Day), the Dutch national holiday. The large-scale celebrations can get a bit out of hand, and drunk partygoers will try to ride your bike home and end up falling into the Rhine. I think the police has to fish a few bikes — or people — out of the river each year. But all in all, Leiden is actually a great city to enjoy Koningsdag in. Though the Dutch do love to party in Leiden, too, it’s a less daunting experience than in Amsterdam — simply the perfect day for a fresh stroopwafel (syrup waffle).”
If you’d like to find out more about the results of the Expat City Ranking 2020 and how expats view city life around the globe, just take a look at the Expat Insider website!
Image credit: iStockphoto, Shutterstock