In this interview series, InterNations team members talk about their role and responsibilities. This time, Corporate Communications Manager Kalena discusses what fascinates her about InterNations and how her experience as an American expat in Paris and Munich relates to that.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Kalena?
Originally, I’m from California, but I’m currently living in Munich. So I’m an expat like most of our members. I’ve been with the company for nearly three years: first as an intern and then as a Junior Corporate Communications Manager. Last year, I was promoted to the position of Corporate Communications Manager, and I’m happy to be developing in my role.
And what’s your job all about?
We build mutually beneficial relationships with journalists and promote InterNations to media outlets worldwide.
A lot of our press outreach focuses on Expat Insider, one of the world’s biggest surveys about life abroad. We usually publish the latest survey results in two major media campaigns. First, there’s a general report with a country ranking, followed by a separate city ranking a few months later.
Journalists also approach us on their own when they’d like to find out more about our survey or the InterNations community. I respond to many of these incoming press requests. That’s among my favorite parts of the job! I love working with different journalists on projects and articles.
We also communicate with the media via our Twitter account and share data-driven insights on expat life. That way, we keep them informed and hope to win new followers.
What do you consider the most challenging part of your job?
One of my more difficult tasks is to work with the thousands of responses from our yearly expat survey. Luckily, I don’t have to analyze the raw survey data ― my data-wizard colleagues take care of that. They boil down the individual responses to the Expat Insider survey into a format that’s easier to digest.
Based on the data, we prepare the materials for our media campaigns, such as various press releases. Basically, we convert spreadsheets full of figures into texts that are easy to understand and interesting to read. I’ve learned a lot about Excel and about working with data in general!
But it can be a bit challenging to identify what’s most relevant for our media outreach. We have to be tuned into the current trends of what journalists and their audiences are interested in.
I’ve definitely improved my general writing and communications skills, too. I really love creative writing, but when you’re writing for a particular brand, you have to set aside your own style. I’ve had to learn to write in the company tone of voice while still being engaging — even when talking about numbers. It’s an interesting balance!
On top of that, we’re an international company. We’re in touch with people from all around the globe all the time, and most of them aren’t native English speakers. Communicating in clear, concise, and simple English can sometimes be a challenge!
You’re an American living in Munich. How has being an expat shaped your relationship with your employer, the world’s largest expat community?
Well, when I initially applied for my internship, I was immediately fascinated by the company mission: it’s all about bringing international people together and creating a community for them.
Living in France, I realized how difficult getting settled in a foreign country can be. It’s particularly hard to find somewhere you fit in. So, I loved right from the start what InterNations was doing. It’s been such a cool opportunity to get to be a part of it.
I also love how open the company is. There’s no strict corporate hierarchy, and the team feels like more of an open network. I can just reach out to anyone if I need their input. I’ve really learned a lot from my international colleagues.
And I like how flexible InterNations has become as an organization. Our remote work policy now allows employees to work from countries other than Germany, which I think is a good example of our global outlook.
Can you tell us more about your personal experiences living abroad?
I first became an expat as an undergrad, moving to Paris as an exchange student for a year. Luckily, I already spoke pretty fluent French, but putting my language skills to the test was quite another thing! Something as basic as setting up a bank account seemed daunting. All of my classes were in French, too. At the end of the day, I’d literally have a language-induced headache until I eventually got used to thinking in French.
Making friends in France was also difficult. I didn’t know anyone at all when moving, and even as a student, building up your own little network takes time. I then joined a sports club, which did help a lot. But there were still lonely moments. Being an expat definitely takes a lot of courage. But by the end of that year, Paris really felt like home, and I knew my expat journey wasn’t over.
After finishing my bachelor’s in the US, I returned to Paris for my master’s degree. To finish this degree course, I needed to do an internship. This led me to InterNations, and on to another country! My expat experience in Germany was very different from life in France. I arrived in Munich the day before the first of many COVID-19 lockdowns. It was pretty strange timing for an international move!
One of my favorite things about Paris was exploring the culture. I visited a new museum every week to learn more about the country and its history. This wasn’t possible in Munich for quite a while due to COVID-19 restrictions, and this made it difficult to form an emotional connection to the city.
Once restrictions lifted, I was able to connect a lot more to the local culture. For example, I started exploring the city and taking in-person German classes. I feel much more at home now.
Has your international experience also had an impact on your general mindset and attitude?
Definitely. It’s not just the practical aspects that come with living in three different countries. I also like thinking about this topic in a more abstract way.
For example, my master’s degree was in international business. The course basically analyzed everything — from finance to marketing — through an intercultural lens. And that’s what a global mindset is for me: to stop comparing everything to a single point of reference. Things aren’t “better” or “worse” than in my home country, they’re just different.
One of the most difficult parts of being an expat is putting yourself out there. You worry about what people think of you and how you’ll fit in. The first steps are always the hardest: joining a new class, speaking your first awkward words in a new language, making plans with a new friend. But it’s usually worth it in the end, and I’m really happy to be a part of a company that helps expats find their place and their own community abroad.
Image credit: Canva/InterNations