Easter Treats, Flowers, and the Outdoors — April with InterNations

With World Health Day taking place on 7 April, health and happiness have been big topics this month. The good news is that there are countless opportunities in our communities to get out, and be active and adventurous. If you would rather relax, why not meet other global minds for a picnic instead? In many of our communities, spring is finally here, and there are plenty of opportunities to get out and smell the flowers.

And then, of course, there was Easter! Our members enjoyed this holiday weekend together, between Easter treats and treasure hunts.

Hiking Trails, Biking Lanes, and Big Adventures

Staying happy and healthy is an important part of expat life and it is something best achieved together. Many of our groups focus on physical activities like hiking or cycling but other groups also like to explore the outdoors and be active every now and then.

On Monday, 10 April, the Edinburgh City Trotters got out of bed early for an energizing morning walk up Arthur’s Seat. The fresh air and the breathtaking view got everyone in the mood to start off the day on the right foot.

The New York Fitness and Recreation Group got out of the city on Saturday, 15 April, for a spring walk in Westchester. The quaint towns along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail were well worth a visit and, although the sun hid behind the clouds, the trees were already blooming.

On Sunday, 23 April, the Bordeaux City Explorers took their vélos out for a spin. They cycled from the center of town to Lignan de Bordeaux, about 20 km east, where they stopped for a relaxed lunch and explored the area.

Are you feeling adventurous? Then you should join the Lisbon Outdoor and Sports Group as they head to an adventure park on Saturday, 29 April. Together you will do the Mega Circuit, which ends with a 200 m zip line.

Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket

InterNations Berlin started the Easter holidays early this year by celebrating with an Easter Treasure Hunt. On Saturday, 8 April, members gathered for the usual monthly event that came with a little twist: little treasures hidden all over the venue.

On Thursday, 13 April, global minds in Lyon celebrated pre-Easter with XL drinks, extended happy-hour prices and a magnificent view of the opera. Everyone left refreshed and in the right mood for the upcoming long weekend.

The Montpellier City Trotters enjoyed a nice Easter picnic on Saturday, April 15. The sun came out just in time for everyone to spread their picnic blankets and share some Easter treats.

Easter treats were also the main focus for the Rotterdam Coffee Group. On Saturday, 15 April, group members gathered at Olala Chocola to make some delicious chocolate eggs and learn more about the art of chocolate making during a two-hour workshop.

All the Pretty Flowers

As the seasons are changing all around the world, many of our communities can delight in the fact that the temperatures are rising, blue skies are becoming more common, and flowers are blooming everywhere.

The Istanbul La Dolce Vita Group attended the Tulip Festival together on Sunday, 16 April. This time each year, the city turns into a beautiful splash of color. But for a real tulip treat, this group headed to Emirgan Park to explore the gardens and enjoy brunch at the local restaurant.

Flowers are also the theme for our Strasbourg Photography Group. On Sunday, 23 April, group members will head out to capture the magic of this season in detail. Macro photography is the focus of this flower power activity.

On Friday, 28 April, InterNations Cairo will welcome the season in the traditional way: with a big spring party. The great view of the city and the Nile are just a bonus because what better way is there to celebrate than to hit the dance floor and make some new friends.

In Brussels, global minds are also dancing to celebrate the beginning of spring. The official spring party on Friday, 28 April, starts with a nice dinner at the venue, immediately followed by the actual party.

 

How are you enjoying your free time this month? Whether you are exploring hiking trails, meeting friends for a picnic, or eating remaining Easter eggs, let us know about it in the comments.

 

Image credits: InterNations

How Moving Abroad Will Change Your Perspective on Life

When I moved from the Netherlands to France last year, my life was about to change: I was about to see if I could actually live on my own in a foreign city. While moving abroad goes hand-in-hand with learning a lot of new things, it also changes your perspective on life — even if you don’t notice it at first!

1. You can start over (whether you like it or not).

Moving to a foreign city can be unsettling, particularly the thought of leaving your family and friends behind. Especially when you don’t know anyone, starting over is inevitable.

However, you can make the most of this. You can try out new things you normally wouldn’t do back home. For example, find exciting ways to familiarize yourself with your new city. Go out, try new restaurants, rent a bike, and learn to speak the local language. That way, you will quickly learn that moving alone to a new place isn’t as bad as you might think.

The idea of completely starting over terrified me at first, but being open to new experiences has given me the opportunity to leave my comfort zone. I lived in an alpine town in the French Alps, where paragliding was a popular sport. I’d always dreamed about doing that, but there had never been an opportunity. (A special sort of paragliding called “dune soaring” has been gaining in popularity in the Netherlands, but for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t be launching myself from a mountaintop back home…)

When I decided to just go for it, it wasn’t as frightening as I’d thought. It was actually a great experience — apart from my feeling so sick I had to tell my instructor I wanted to be on the ground as soon as possible. But I was still very proud of myself for daring to give it a try.

2. Home is where your suitcase is.

I used to find it hard to relate to the quote “the best things in life aren’t things”, but after I moved abroad with two suitcases in tow, it started making much more sense. You only pack your essentials, as anything else simply doesn’t fit into your luggage.

I, for one, found it hard to leave the first room I had lovingly furnished and decorated all on my own. But I soon realized that I didn’t actually need my beloved vintage armchair or poster collection to thrive in another country. You can make your home practically everywhere, and having fewer possessions allows you to appreciate what you have as well as what you have done.

The various city trips I took while I lived in France were way more valuable than I could have ever imagined. These non-material aspects of life abroad are the most important, and they could never be replaced by any item you can fit into your suitcase.

3. No challenge is too big.

While the process of moving abroad is already a big challenge in itself — the paperwork can be extremely daunting — you’ll eventually master the skill of dealing with little challenges that come with living in a foreign city. Whereas you used to get nervous when getting from point A to point B without speaking the local language, you can now effortlessly find your way around on public transportation.

I recently moved to Munich and I found it quite overwhelming to get accustomed to another new place I had to call home for the next six months; I didn’t know where to start! What if I ended up hating this big, busy city — so different from the cozy small town in Zeeland where I grew up and the picturesque French resort where I’d stayed before? What if nobody understood my German?

I had no idea I would end up loving German (and Bavarian) culture that much. Meeting local people to practice my German proved to be a great way to discover Munich in a much more authentic way. I felt that having successfully settled in and set up my life in a new city, I could take on everything!

4. It teaches you to appreciate your relationships more.

Your main motivation for moving abroad could be to get out of your hometown: you’re tired of the same old routine and you are looking for a new adventure. But living in another country than your friends and family can be hard, and many people think that it will harm your relationships.

You don’t get to see your loved ones as often as you’d like and missing out on family gatherings comes with a little bit of guilt. When you get a break from work and you have time to visit them, it’s often not more than a long weekend. But this makes the time you spend with them special.

I don’t talk to my family every day, but when I do, I appreciate the time that all of us take for our regular Skype call. I like sharing anything important that’s going on in my life much more now that we are no longer living in each other’s pockets. Surprisingly, moving abroad has even strengthened the relationships I have with the people close to me.

5. You can benefit from an unexpected creativity boost.

Moving abroad can even boost your creative thinking skills. While the ancients claimed that “those who travel across the sea only change their skies, but not their souls”, modern studies show the exact opposite: people who live abroad are indeed better at engaging with other cultures.

I found that a change of scenery helped me to be more flexible regarding the way I think. Trying to blend into a different environment, you’ll learn to take a different approach towards problem-solving, and you will become aware of certain issues you hadn’t seen that way before.

Living in France, for example, has made me realize how proud some people my age are of their heritage — an attitude I’d mainly associated with older generations. But they were more than happy to explain which aspects of French culture they think worth preserving, which inspired a few thought-provoking discussions.

So, moving abroad did change my perspective on life quite a lot, and I think it was the best decision I’ve made so far. I am sure that there are a million other reasons why you can benefit from the special knowledge and insights gained — what are yours?

Lena Waterman works for InterNations as an Editorial Office Intern while studying international business and languages in the Netherlands. She loves cats, discovering new cultures, and finding the best food places in and around Munich.

How to Beat the “Expat Blues”: Expatriates and Mental Health

Taking good care of your health and well-being is essential for making life abroad an enjoyable experience. When preparing for their move, expats-to-be usually remember to cross most health-related points off their to-do list.

Have you taken out the right medical insurance for your destination? Do you need any additional immunizations? Are there any particular health risks to be aware of? Such practical aspects are rarely neglected — but what about the thorny issue of expatriates’ mental health?

Let’s Talk Mental Health

Every year, the World Health Organization launches a global awareness campaign for World Health Day (7 April). For 2017, the WHO has chosen to focus on depression, which might affect as many as 300 million people around the globe. This staggering number shows that the impact of mental health problems shouldn’t be underestimated.

Fortunately, the majority of expats won’t have to deal with such a serious illness. In the Expat Insider 2016 survey, only one in eight respondents thought that moving abroad had been bad for their mental health.

However, psychological strain is frequently an unpleasant aspect of expat living. After all, you are uprooting your entire life!

What can you do to keep the normal stress of an international move — such as culture shock — from turning into something rather more worrying? And who can you turn to if you are among those unfortunate 12% who find it hard to cope?

Do Everything in Moderation

The best advice is often the simplest and the oldest: all things in moderation, as the ancient Greek philosophers used to say. When you adapt to a new environment and lifestyle, though, it’s tempting to take your new routines to extremes.

For example, if you have moved because of a great career opportunity, you might be carried away by exciting tasks and added responsibilities. After moving alone to a place where you don’t know anyone yet, you might spend every other night partying in order to get out and socialize, and so on.

Or you could be tempted to do the exact opposite: escape from a stressful day at the office and a niggling sense of loneliness by retreating into your bedroom, a modern-day hermit with a Netflix account.

Neither behavior is a healthy coping strategy: at best, you’ll be overworked and sleep-deprived, or remain isolated; in the rare worst-case scenario, you could increase the risk of burnout, substance abuse, or downward mood spirals.

The trick is to establish a well-balanced routine that works for you. Make sure to get enough rest and healthy food, and to take the time for some exercise and leisure activities you enjoy.

Emphasis on the words ‘you’ and ‘enjoy’: don’t add even more things to your plate just because you feel you should do them. If exploring the local sights in your new home is fun for you, go ahead! If you’d rather sit in a café with a good book for an afternoon, don’t feel guilty for not making the most of your time abroad.

You’re Not to Blame for Feeling Blue

In case your mental health should indeed get worse for a while, don’t blame yourself. There’s still considerable stigma attached to admitting to this kind of problems.

How such illnesses are perceived is dependent on cultural context, too. This can make it more difficult for expats to open up, as they may not know how to talk about their issues.

Moreover, some expatriates might be ashamed of not enjoying the perks of life abroad “properly”: why aren’t they simply grateful for the opportunity to explore another culture, earn a higher salary than back home, or live in a popular tourist destination?

In such situations, try to remind yourself of two salient facts: struggling with a psychological disorder isn’t anyone’s fault; nor is it all “just in your head”. Well, strictly speaking, it is, but that doesn’t mean you are imagining your distress or that its effects aren’t real.

We also don’t know exactly why some people are more susceptible to mental health problems than others, and why some folks are more resilient and bounce back even after intense stress. Just see it as a random predisposition, like some people are horribly prone to hay fever in spring while others have never had an allergic reaction in their entire life.

You wouldn’t blame the hay fever patients for sneezing and wheezing, would you? Then don’t be hard on yourself for suddenly feeling anxious or depressed after moving abroad!

It Takes a Strong Person to Admit to Weakness

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Finding a trustworthy and sympathetic person to talk to can be hard, especially if you aren’t fluent in the local language yet. It’s bad enough to opt for mime when trying to describe the symptoms of gastric flu to a doctor — how on Earth should you ask for help with psychological issues?

Now it’s time to make use of all resources aimed at the expat community. If you don’t think you need professional help, you could start looking for mindfulness activities, self-help groups, or crisis hotlines organized by volunteers. For the spiritually minded, religious congregations could be another starting point since they frequently offer pastoral care.

Furthermore, your home country’s consulate may provide a list of local doctors proficient in your mother tongue, including psychologists and counseling services. If you live in a remote location, or a destination without much of a foreign community, online counseling might be worth a try, too.

Don’t give up yet: the hardest thing is to admit that you are in need of support and to ask for it. Afterwards, it gets a lot easier, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy life abroad just like you always imagined.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Expats Raise Funds for a Healthier World

What will you be doing for your health this month?

Since 1950, the United Nations World Health Organization has celebrated World Health Day on 7 April. To raise awareness of global health topics and inspire you to get started on improving your own health, we have selected different volunteering activities from around the world.

In March, InterNations members from several communities focused on the five aspects of health: mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual health.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Natalia Aballay, an InterNations Changemakers Consul in Buenos Aires, decided to get together with other members and spend the day doing yoga with their furry friends. Participants could choose to bring their cat or dog along — a little yoga could do a world of good for the animals and their human companions alike. Moreover, the participants also included a fundraising round to support the organization Bicho Feliz, an animal shelter for stray dogs and cats in Buenos Aires.

Nairobi, Kenya

It’s always a challenge to keep the emotional and social dimensions of health in mind and make sure that not only the purely physical aspects get their due. With their “play date” activities, the InterNations Nairobi Changemakers Group helps to improve the emotional health of the Hope House Babies Home.

During this activity organized by InterNations member Ruhsen Sevketoglu, attendees could play with babies and toddlers who have been abandoned by their families. After all, these children don’t just need donations for food, milk, and nappies to survive, but they are also in dire need of care and affection to thrive.

Singapore

Lead by Group Consul Rosco Vasquez, InterNations Changemakers in Singapore got active for a good cause. To support the organization Break the Silence, who helps deaf women and children in the Philippines, they decided to participate in a solidarity run.

Thus, they couldn’t just put their own athletic abilities to the test, but their registration fees would also benefit women and kids with disabilities — a vulnerable population, who often become victims of all kinds of abuse.

Whether it is joining a 5k race, doing the downward dog pose with your dog, or chasing after children on a playground, there are many different ways you can improve all the different aspects of your health.

As our examples have shown, getting active is often a fun way to bridge the gap between creating a better life for yourself and a better world for other people. Maybe the question isn’t just what you will be doing for your own health this month — can you also think of ways to improve the health of others?

(Image credit: InterNations)

The One Thing You Must Do to Thrive as an Expat

When you first become an expatriate, you’re sure to experience a roller coaster of emotions.

On the one hand, there is a part of you that is excited about all the changes. Everything is different from what you have grown accustomed to in your country of origin — the environment and the weather, the language, the food, the customs and traditions, the fashion and style, the kind of daily routine you build.

On the other hand, you have a primal urge to cling to all that is familiar and comforting — and when you realize that this is no longer accessible, your levels of stress and anxiety will rise. Embracing your new way of life becomes a challenge.

A Crucial Mistake to Avoid

In this situation, it can be easier to curl up in a ball, constantly compare your life abroad to the life you had before, and torture yourself with the idea that you could never be as happy, content, comfortable, or confident here as you were in your previous home.

Succumbing to this temptation, however, will only cause you to miss out on all the opportunities for building a happy and meaningful life. Rather than remaining fixated on the life that you left behind, why not look forward — and discover how those very changes you dread can ultimately make you a well-adjusted individual?

A Vital Solution

Perhaps the only thing you must accomplish is learning how to ask. Instead of keeping to yourself and struggling to find your way around a new place on your own, take the first (and biggest) step towards a bright future by asking other people for help.

It’s one of the simplest forms of communication there is — trying politely to draw someone’s attention, asking for the time or the nearest bus stop or the word for ‘market’ in the local language. You initiate contact. It doesn’t even have to be a full conversation: when you reach out to other people — strangers as they may be — you open yourself up to further communication and more complex interactions.

From there, you can learn any number of new things that can help you thrive in your new environment.

What You Will Learn by Asking for Help

There are different ways of getting things done.

Forget about your tried-and-true methods for getting chores done, running errands, or even doing your job. They may no longer apply here, so you need to relearn the whole thing in this new environment.

You’ll soon discover that while you stubbornly clung to the old ways, there are much more effective methods that could have solved your problems easily. So you become more flexible, understanding that there’s can always another technique to try.

There are alternatives you can work with.

There’s no use trying to recreate something that would simply fail to fit in where you are now. Your favorite dish, for example, won’t taste exactly the same since some of the crucial ingredients are missing.

Your new acquaintances or friends will tell you about a similar recipe they can teach you, or an entirely unfamiliar one that makes use of the best local ingredients you have yet to sample. In the end, you can choose to welcome a new experience or blend it with what you know, thus creating another path to explore.

There are many different circumstances to thrive in.

Once you accept that asking for help allows you to accomplish new things, you will find out just how capable you are of thriving in unfamiliar circumstances. You will realize it’s possible to change your habits and accommodate new perspectives that ultimately enable you to succeed.

There are countless stories to be heard.

A major factor that causes expatriates to become hesitant about connecting with new people is the language barrier. They fear that their lack of fluency in the new language will cause them to fail at any activity they might attempt, or to be ridiculed, or to remain hopelessly misunderstood.

However, language is something best learned on your feet, so to speak — you pick it up as you go along. It may take you several tries to make yourself understood, but you will always have plenty of chances to practice. Plenty of native speakers will be willing to help you find the right word or to explain something to you. And as you become better at speaking the language, you can immerse yourself in everyone else’s stories — they will enrich your mind and spirit.

Asking for help and reaching out to others in a strange environment gives you a chance to test your mettle. Your instinct may be to stick to your own tribe, but imagine how much bigger your tribe will be if you embrace the culture of your new home. You may be an expatriate, but you can make a home in any corner of the world — all it takes to start is a slight nod, a smile, or a somewhat embarrassed, haltingly worded question about where to buy a good cup of coffee around here.

Bevan Berning is an immigration professional and the owner of Pathway Visas, an immigration agency dealing mostly with skilled immigration to Canada and Australia. He is South African by birth and has been residing in Dubai for the past eight years. You can connect with Bevan and Pathway Visas on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

(Image credit: 1), 2) & 4) Pexels 3) iStock)

A Month Full of Colors — The Best Holidays in March

What is there to do between Carnival and the beginning of summer/winter, you might wonder! Although March is greatly under-appreciated and is often considered an in-between month in which nothing exciting happens, it does have a lot of great holidays in store for you. Our communities around the world take every opportunity to have a good time, from celebrating the patron saint of Ireland to commemorating International Women’s Day.

Going Green!

St. Patrick’s Day is not just the most typical Irish holiday but also one of the most widely celebrated ones. When Irish people moved abroad, they took this day with them and established it in their new home, making it THE holiday for Irish expats, people of Irish ancestry and their friends. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is not just celebrated in Ireland but also in Canada, the USA, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world.

InterNations Nairobi hosted a Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Party on Wednesday, 15 March 2017. They met at the Emerald Garden to celebrate with their Irish friends and just have an exciting evening together. Of course, the dress code for this event was a touch of green.

On Thursday, 16 March 2017, our members in Raleigh celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with the best local liquor Chapel Hill has to offer as well as some delicious sweet potato fries. The guests got to relax over a game of pool and, of course, everyone was asked to wear green for this special occasion.

On the same day, our community in Quito celebrated an Irish night with friends. After a speed networking session to break the ice, everyone mingled and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Irish pub. On top of that, the person with the best Irish outfit or accessory won a prize.

InterNations Luxembourg also awarded a prize to the attendee with the greenest outfit. At their St. Patrick’s Day special, members got to enjoy green beer and international music while celebrating this very Irish holiday.

On Saturday, 18 March 2017, our community in Goiania had their St. Patrick’s Day party. They celebrated the patron saint of Ireland with great food, beer, and all things green. Hopefully, nobody got pinched!

You haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate your Irish friends, yet? Don’t worry! We have a few more St. Patrick’s Day events in the pipeline for you.

The InterNations community in Los Angeles is hosting a belated St. Patrick’s Day party on Friday, 24 March 2017. Although this event takes place at a Vietnamese restaurant, the delicious food and the great signature drinks of the venue make it the perfect place to celebrate the luck of the Irish.

On Thursday, 30 March 2017, our members in Omaha are getting a taste of Ireland. The venue is a typical pub with lots of traditional meals on their menu, including fish and chips, as well as Irish stew. Put on your favorite green attire and come out for a belated St. Patrick’s Day dinner with other expats and global minds.

Our community in Dar es Salaam is celebrating at an Irish pub as well. On Friday, 31 March 2017, you have a chance to win a prize for the best green costume while spending time with your favorite global minds. Don’t let the leprechaun pinch you!

Celebrate the Women in Your Life

International Women’s Day takes place each year on 8 March. It is the day on which we honor the amazing women in our life and our communities but also a day to fight for equal rights for all women around the globe.

InterNations Mumbai celebrated Women’s Day on Sunday, 5 March 2017, giving its members a head start. The event was exclusively hosted by two women: Cara, the Consul of the American Group and long-term member Yulia. With a live jazz band, flowers for every woman, and a raffle with lovely gifts, this event was the perfect opportunity for a night out with your favorite gal pals.

The International Women’s Day Party in Houston took place on Wednesday, 8 March 2017, at the Rosemont Club. The rooftop bar which is well-known for its seasonal cocktails and delicious snacks was the perfect environment to get to know all the great women of the community.

The Bologna Mindfulness and Life in Balance Group hosted an activity which was all about the words of women of the world. Attendees were asked to share lessons they have learned and advice they would like to give with other women in the group to help and empower each other.

The Unusual and the Unexpected

This is not all, of course! We have a few stray Carnival events that took place at the beginning of the month, plus some more unusual holidays.

Our community in Lagos, for instance, celebrated Mardi Gras on Saturday, 4 March 2017. Expats and global minds partied New Orleans style with masks and beads. The colors of the day were green, purple and gold and the bar tender served some concoctions worthy of a full-blown Mardi Gras.

On Friday, 10 March 2017, it was also Carnival time in Luanda. Members of this community met at a local restaurant to dance and mingle. Between dancing and chatting, some new friendships were forged and our members had an all-around great time.

The Bangalore Outdoors Groups celebrated Holi on Sunday, 12 March. The Hindu festival is a day-long celebration of color and joy. The group had a great time spending this special day in Bangalore.

Our community in Madagascar is celebrating the Night of Happiness on Wednesday, 29 March 2017. The goal is to spread joy and get people to look at the bright side of life. Happiness really is contagious, so let’s share some good vibes!

On Friday, 31 March 2017, Johannesburg celebrates Fools’ Day Eve with a big glamorous party. Forget playing silly pranks on your friends! This is your opportunity to dress up and hit the dance floor. Let’s paint the town red together!

 

Whether you dressed in green or are preparing for International Day of Happiness, we want to know what you are celebrating this month. Share it with us in the comments!

The Best Cities for Expats: And the Infrastructure Award Goes To …

“Same procedure as last year” — that oft-cited quote from the cult television classic Dinner for One could also refer to the latest results of Mercer’s Quality of Living survey. The annual city ranking compares over 200 destinations for foreign assignees with regard to quality of life.

The five best-rated cities in the 2017 edition have defended their top ranking for the fifth year in a row. The global number one — Austrian capital Vienna — has even emerged victorious for the past eight years! Again, it’s followed by Zurich (2), Auckland (3), Munich (4), and Vancouver (5).

However, the top 5 cities with the best quality of living are by no means the same as those with the best infrastructure worldwide. Mercer has also taken a closer look at factors like energy and water supplies, public transportation and international airports, phone services and other fundamental facilities. In this category, the winners are…

Singapore: As Pretty as an Airport

The late great British sci-fi writer Douglas Adams once famously quipped that “no language on Earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport’.” If only he’d explored Singapore’s Changi Airport, he might have changed his mind: the well-connected transport hub has just been rated the world’s best airport, providing its 59 million yearly passengers with public gardens, a koi pond, a free movie theater, and the world’s longest slide.

Singapore is widely known for its highly efficient local transportation network, too. Since owning a car in the densely populated city state is also notoriously expensive, there are only 12 vehicles per 100 residents.

However, the same number of inhabitants owns over 180 telephones between them. After all, the ICT sector is a pivotal part of the national economy, and Singapore has repeatedly earned the title of best international e-government.

A new infrastructure initiative aims to offer the best of both these worlds: by 2020, every train station and major bus interchange is supposed to come with free Wi-Fi.

Frankfurt: The Beating Heart of Europe

Did you know that the first airline in history was founded in Frankfurt? Today, Germany’s fifth-largest city is home to the country’s busiest airport, with over 60 million passengers per year, as well as the main aviation hub of Lufthansa, the largest German airline.

A third airport terminal is under construction: it’s scheduled to open in five years to handle the ever-increasing passenger flows. As far as I know, they are no plans to build a gigantic slide anywhere, though.

Frankfurt’s historic station building benefits greatly from its location in the heart of Europe. With more than a dozen high-speed connections, it is arguably the most important railway hub in Germany, linking Frankfurt to such European metropolises as Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest, Paris, Vienna, and Zurich.

Last but not least, Frankfurt was also the first place in continental Europe to open its open sewage treatment plant. The city’s current supply of tap water is not only of excellent quality, but also boasts the cheapest water tariffs among all major German cities. Unfortunately, the River Main is still not a suitable place for a swim in summer.

Copenhagen: A Green Capital

Once your plane is approaching Kastrup Airport, a few kilometers outside the Danish capital, the offshore wind park in the Øresund is clearly visible from above. The turbines are part of Copenhagen’s ambitious vision to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. In order to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels, it has added more wind farms to the power grid and expanded energy production from burning waste or biomass.

Though Copenhagen is sometimes accused of “greenwashing” its policies — for example, using biomass as an energy source depends on deforestation — its image of an environmentally friendly city remains. Cycling is such an essential part of its local transportation system that the process of making a town more bike-friendly is often called “to copenhagenize”.

If you aren’t keen on riding your bike in the rather volatile Danish weather, don’t panic. You can still make use of the fully automated metro lines or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi in the S-train system. On a beautiful, hot summer day, you could just alight at Islands Brygge, though: the former industrial harbor has been cleaned up and turned into a public bath.

Düsseldorf: The Ruhr Area Gets Copenhagenized

Though the financial and political center of Germany’s Rhein-Ruhr area hasn’t made it into the top five so far, Düsseldorf has been listed among the global top ten of Mercer’s overall Quality of Living ranking at least since 2010.

The boomtown is home to about 135,000 foreign residents: its large Japanese expat community has earned Düsseldorf the affectionate nickname “Nippon on the Rhine”. Lately, the city has also started attracting other East Asian expatriates, especially from China and Korea.

Expats living in Düsseldorf benefit from the dense network of regional transport connections. Its public transportation network belongs to the so-called Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr, a huge transport association that includes 15 other cities in the region.

In terms of local transportation, Düsseldorf strongly encourages the use of new car-sharing providers, offering subsidized fares for those drivers who make use of local buses and trains as well. Moreover, the city is being “copenhagenized”: Düsseldorf is trying to become more bike-friendly and has even developed its own free navigation app for local cyclists.

Hong Kong: More than the Iconic Trams

When you think about local transportation in Hong Kong, it’s easy to conjure up nostalgic images of its famous tramways. After all, this first form of commuter transport in the city goes back all the way to 1904.

Though the iconic double-decker cars still serve the northern coastline of Hong Kong Island, the city’s sophisticated transportation network has rapidly expanded to keep up with the times — and the rising demand. Today, Hong Kong has over 7.3 million inhabitants, and public transportation covers more than 90% of all daily journeys.

In addition to the historical trams, another unusual kind of local transport has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The Central-Mid-Levels outdoor escalator system along Cochrane and Shelley Street in the Central and Western District connects an exclusive residential area to Hong Kong’s CBD. The moving stairs and pavements are lined by numerous shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Supplying a densely populated metropolis with enough water requires solutions just as ingenious as building a mile-long escalator for pedestrian commuters.

Hong Kong mostly depends on water imports from the Chinese mainland, although seawater-flushing toilets are widespread. To shake off that dependency, the Hong Kong government has published its “total water management plan”, which includes constructing a brand-new desalination plant.

Do you agree with Mercer’s rating? Or would you have chosen different destinations for the best city infrastructure?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

The Trendiest Travel Destinations for 2017

Are you, like me, already dreaming of your upcoming summer vacation? But you haven’t yet decided where to go? No matter if you prefer trains or the theater, backpacking or living in the lap of luxury, cities or the countryside, this list should have an off-the-beaten-path recommendation for you.

From Vikings to Venus: Europe for Culture Vultures

Two smallish cities in very different climes share this year’s title of European Capital of Culture: the university town of Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, frequently (and unfairly) ignored by tourists in favor of Copenhagen, as well as Paphos in southwestern Cyprus, mythical birthplace of Aphrodite (aka Venus), the ancient goddess of love.

In honor of this occasion, both cities have scheduled a wide array of cultural events throughout the year, spanning several millennia of local history, from pre-historic archeology to contemporary art.

To be honest, my inner ten-year-old would like to pay a visit to Spøttrup Castle in northern Jutland, where the International World Championship in Medieval Martial Arts will be hosted in May, or to Moesgard Museum in Aarhus itself. The museum’s rooftop will be serving as the stage for several open-air performances of Røde Orm, a beloved Scandinavian children’s classic about the adventures of a Viking boy.

If you prefer the Mediterranean sun to the gray shores of the North and Baltic Seas, you should explore the archeological sites of Paphos instead.

The local cult of Aphrodite is mentioned by none other than Homer in The Odyssey, and the town’s rich heritage combines Hellenistic, Roman, and Ottoman influences. The ruins of its amphitheater are the perfect backdrop for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in summer, where classical plays like Lysistrata or The Trojan Women acquire a modern edge.

Hiking and Horses: Along Hadrian’s Wall

Thirty years ago, the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall — the northern fortifications of the Roman Empire — were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That anniversary offers the perfect opportunity to pack a pair of walking boots and a raincoat before you set forth to celebrate…

“Over the heather, the wet wind blows / I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose,” English poet W. H. Auden once wrote from a legionnaire’s point of view in ‘Roman Wall Blues’.

If you brave the unpredictable weather of Cumbria and Northumberland, you will be rewarded with a relatively easy trail for long-distance walking from coast to coast. Along the way, you’ll have plenty of chances to explore the frontier of Roman Britain.

Some of the heritage sites and museums have come up with special ways of commemorating what’s literally ancient history: if you make it to Carlisle in early July, you’ll be able to watch the live re-enactment of a Roman cavalry charge!

And once you’ve made it to Newcastle-upon-Tyne — and are probably fed up with ruins and footpaths alike — you can take advantage of the city’s buzzing nightlife. Newcastle being home to a student population of roughly 50,000 (as well as countless stag and hen parties), you have a sheer unlimited selection of pubs, bars, music venues, and nightclubs to choose from.

Instead of some Romano-Celtic cervisia, enjoy a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale!

Transcontinental Traffic: Across Australia by Train

Instead of traversing the English countryside, the leisurely traveler with ample time and a generous budget can celebrate a different anniversary by crossing an entire continent.

In 1917, the Trans-Australian Railway between Port Augusta, about 300 km from Adelaide, and the mining town of Kalgoorlie was finally finished. The tracks across the bleak desert of the Nullarbor Plain ended the isolation of Western Australia, helping to unite the newly established Commonwealth.

100 years later, in the era of inexpensive flights, traveling by train has become a bit of an indulgence. The Indian-Pacific passenger service from Sydney to Perth incorporates the old Trans-Australian line, but offers an upscale travel experience rather than freight transport.

If you can afford spending three nights and four days on a luxurious sleeper train (and the hefty fare to boot), you have the extraordinary opportunity to travel about 4,350 km in (more or less) one stretch.

Scheduled stops along the scenic route allow you to discover the art scene of Broken Hill, the wineries of Barossa Valley, the attractions of Adelaide, and the Australian outback. With gourmet meals and vintages served on board in the dining car, this journey must feel like the “Down Under” version of the legendary Orient Express.

Georgia: Two Continents Meeting in the Caucasus

Nestled in between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the mountainous country of Georgia has been designated the up-and-coming tourist destination by lifestyle magazine Vogue. From the shores of the Black Sea to snowy peaks, from Orthodox monasteries to swanky casinos, and from bustling Tbilisi to remote villages: Georgia offers something for everyone.

The capital is a great starting point for visitors. Strolling through the labyrinthine streets of Old Tbilisi with their eclectic architecture is an enchanting experience. From the historical district, it’s not far — albeit a steep climb — to the crumbling ruins of Narikala Fortress, which provides splendid views of the Kura River.

After making your way downhill from the castle, don’t forget to drop in at one of the sulphur baths in the Abanotubani neighborhood or to taste some Georgian specialties. Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) is a staple of the local cuisine, as are khinkali (soup dumplings).

From Tbilisi, it’s just a day trip to Mtskheta, a center of the Georgian Orthodox Church and home to the most important monuments of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia, which once stretched from southern Ukraine to northern Iran at the height of its power.

Those preferring scenery to history can board the next flight to Mestia or Batumi. The former is the heart of Svaneti, a picturesque paradise for trekking and mountaineering; the latter is Georgia’s fanciest seaside resort, complete with yacht club and exclusive beach parties.

Ecotourism for the Ethical Traveler: Costa Rica

Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler publishes a list of destinations that do their best to protect the environment, promote human rights, and support the social welfare of their population. If you’d like to spend your vacation without a guilty conscience, you should be heading straight to Costa Rica!

The Central American country has been a trailblazer in the emerging field of ecotourism, and its varied landscapes and amazing biodiversity offer a wide range of potential destinations for those interested in flora and fauna.

Even from the capital of San José, it’s just an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a privately owned nature reserve with easy walking trails — and the world’s largest butterfly observatory. The Costa Rican government has also declared about 25% of the country’s territory a protected area.

All in all, there are 26 national parks, so you can take your pick. For example, Tortugero in the remote northeast is famous for featuring one of the world’s largest nesting beaches, where marine turtles lay their eggs and hatch. The Arenal Volcano National Park in Central Costa Rica attracts hobby ornithologists: it’s a natural habitat for most native birds, including toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds.

My personal dream? To visit Costa Rica’s only sloth sanctuary in Limón Province! To paraphrase a quote by a popular German comedian: “A life without a baby sloth is certainly possible, but surely devoid of meaning.”

And what are your hot travel tips for 2017?

(Image credit: InterNations)

Let’s Create a Happier World Together!

What makes you happy? And what makes the world a happier place? Ideally, happiness is a chain that connects us all, with every one of us becoming an essential link in this chain.

One happy person has the power to make the people around them happy as well. How many of you have ever started laughing just because the people around you did? Or maybe you have simply returned their smile.

How InterNations Decided to Officially Celebrate Happiness

Happiness plays such an important role in our lives that the United Nations decided to dedicate 20 March to highlighting its positive impact.

When we at InterNations launched the Social Impact Night, a new kind of event to raise awareness of social issues and bring members together to take action for a good cause, this also happened in March. What better month to organize the first Social Impact Night than the one when the International Day of Happiness is celebrated?

The simplest way to increase happiness in your own life is to help someone else. Therefore, we dedicated our first Social Impact Night to helping refugees at Bayernkaserne, a local shelter in Munich. We asked our members to donate all kinds of items which would make both children and adults happy, such as toys, board games, materials for handicrafts, or even musical instruments.

Those members who didn’t bring along any articles showed their support by donating money instead. More than 200 Euros were collected on behalf of Caritas, the non-profit organization that runs several refugee shelters in Munich, while the goods donated to Bayernkaserne made more than 70 residents happy.

How InterNations Members Spread Some Happiness in Their Own Lives

During the first Social Impact Night, Thomas Zawadzki, an expert on positive psychology, presented an inspiring speech called “The Moment of Happiness” and shared his top five tips for a happier life:

1. Enjoy your relationships with family and friends; get in touch with other people — for example, InterNations members — and build a network for yourself.

2. Actively express your gratitude: if someone has done something to help you, make sure to tell them!

3. Offer help and support to others as well, whether this is a favor for a colleague or friend, or a random act of kindness for a passerby.

4. Try to be an optimist: look for the potential positive outcome and work on ways of making it come true.

5. Live in the here and now rather than hoping for the future or dwelling on the past.

After this speech, our guests were asked to write down what made them happy and what they would do to make someone else happy. The moment when everyone started answering these questions, we could see a smile appearing on everyone’s face. Deciding to share their own happiness already proved to be infectious.

Moreover, their answers demonstrated that the secret to happiness consists of seemingly small and trivial things. Curious to know what makes our members happy? We’d like to share some of their answers with you:

“To see happy people around me.” — Ricardo, Italy

“Going home and meeting old friends.” — Mara, Argentina

“Dancing.” — Annika, Germany

And what will they do to make others happy in turn?

“I will call my mother to tell her that I love her.” — Nella, Greece

“Bring some sweets for my students.” — Elena, Spain

“Making my friend Eva tea.” — Amelie, Germany

“Cook French food and make someone laugh. A lot.” — Astrid, France

How You Can Join Us in Making Others Happy

The secret of happiness lies within us, and you have the power to make the people around you happy as well. We’d like to invite you to celebrate the International Day of Happiness together with us.

In March we will try to make others happy and post about it (maybe even including a photo) on our social media channels. Just join us, and the chain of happiness won’t be broken!

(Image credit: 1) Stocksnap.io 2), 4), 5) InterNations 3) Pexels.com)

Why Your Long-Distance Relationship Might Be Better Than You Think

When I moved to Germany from the UK last July, I knew that leaving behind my long-term boyfriend would be one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Although I was to move back home after a year, saying goodbye to him was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had.

After living in Germany for seven months, however, I have realized that there are more advantages to a long-distance relationship than I initially thought.

1. You can benefit from additional travel opportunities.

If money and time permit, having a partner who lives overseas is a great opportunity to travel. My boyfriend, for example, gets the chance to visit Munich six times throughout the year — something he wouldn’t have had the chance to do if I had never moved abroad.

Your long-distance relationship might also give you the opportunity to travel more as a couple. If your new home is a convenient base for exploring new countries and cities, don’t miss out on these new places when your significant other comes to visit. Researching local sights can be a fun project to work on together and will keep you bonded despite the distance.

Whenever my boyfriend visits Munich, we try to take a day trip to another nearby city. In February, we spent the day strolling around Salzburg, eating Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Austrian pancakes) and exploring the city’s historical sites, such as Festung Hohensalzburg (a medieval fortress, which sits on the top of the Festungsberg — one of the city’s famous hills).

Not only was this a great chance to make new memories together, but planning the trip prior to his visit kept us both busy and distracted us from the distance.

2. You’re forced to discuss your issues.

When you live on the other side of an ocean from your partner, you can’t simply hug, make up and move on when you’ve had a disagreement. You need to deeply discuss any underlying or overwhelming issues, or you will run the risk of ruining your relationship.

One of the most common arguments among long-distance couples is caused by one partner not making enough time to talk to the other. The person who has moved abroad often wants to spend their time making friends, exploring new places, and trying to settle in — which means they have less time to check up on their other half.

The good news is that this disagreement is easily resolved! Over time, the partner living abroad will establish a routine. Moreover, the partner who is still at home will also adjust to the new methods and frequency of communication with their loved one and will feel less lonely and resentful.

The important thing is that you set common expectations. On the one hand, it’s not fair if your partner expects you to sit at home and wait for their call rather than explore your new country.

However, you need to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and cater to their needs a little more than you would if you were at home, as they’re probably feeling a little vulnerable. Discussing this problem, and any other issues that arise, will hopefully mean that the disagreement is fully resolved and won’t come back up in the future.

While communication is vital, don’t be afraid to give each other space. This can seem like a daunting thought when there are already hundreds or thousands of miles between you, but even stepping away from a video call for ten minutes can help you to have a more constructive conversation when you return. After a small break to collect your thoughts, you’re likely to feel calmer, more patient and more willing to find a solution.

3. You appreciate each other more.

The phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is clichéd but true!

While having less time to talk to your partner may be upsetting at first, you will quickly learn to appreciate the time your significant other can make for you. Those honeymoon-phase butterflies will make a sudden reappearance whenever you get to hear their voice. Be sure to express these feelings to your partner — they are bound to be thankful that you are sharing your gratitude instead of taking the relationship for granted.

Since you’ll get to see each other less, you will definitely appreciate time physically spent together more. Whether you go on a hike or cook a meal together, just being with your partner after weeks or months apart is bound to reignite that special spark.

Make the most of your time together by having new and exciting experiences; for example, my boyfriend and I always try out different restaurants, stroll around a park we have not yet explored or check out an interesting museum whenever he gets the chance to visit Munich.

Also, be sure to take plenty of photos and perhaps create a scrapbook to look at whenever you’re missing each other. My boyfriend and I have a joint photo album, and each time we see each other we swap ownership of it. This way, we both get the chance to reminisce when we’re feeling low.

4. You have time to work on yourself.

Spending less time with the person you may depend on the most might show you how to rely on yourself more instead. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be with your partner, but that you are responsible for your own happiness.

You’re likely to realize that spending time alone isn’t as daunting as you first thought and that having a little more space could help you to come to terms with any personal issues, such as your mental or physical health.

One of the biggest problems I faced when first living abroad, for example, was making friends. While I could rant to my boyfriend whenever I needed to, he couldn’t solve this issue for me. This forced me to be more proactive in socializing and leaving my comfort zone, and thanks to my own strength, I now have a great circle of friends in Munich!

Furthermore, spending more time alone might help you to (re-)discover a passion that you’ve been neglecting for a while. My boyfriend, for example, has picked up plenty of new hobbies since I moved to Munich. Spending less time together means he now has time to learn German, go to the gym and try out lots of new recipes he’s been collecting for a while.

5. You will see if the relationship is truly meant to be.

Only true love will survive long distance. Living in another country to your partner will prove whether your relationship is happy and functional, or whether it’s time to call it a day.

Nothing puts as much strain on a relationship as distance does — from only spending a few days a month together to only hearing each other’s voice once a week, there’s an endless list of challenges to overcome when you both live in different countries.

I won’t deny that it takes time to make a long-distance relationship work. From posting gifts to spending your evenings video calling each other, these relationships require effort from both sides, but when both people are committed, they’re totally worth it.

If your relationship can survive distance, it can survive anything!

Leah Martin is a German and History student from the University of Leeds, currently undertaking a year abroad in Munich and working as the Social Media Intern at InterNations. She loves exploring new areas of Munich and Bavaria and is an avid chef and baker.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)