A School in the Congo: A Changemakers Success Story

There’s no better way of starting 2017 than sharing a success story with you. We have a great example from the Madrid Changemakers Group: this particular story began in April 2016 — almost one year ago — and reached its happy ending in January.

Back in 2016, Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group, decided to support the Mzungu Project, which aims to provide education to children in need in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Beginning of an InterNations Success Story

The Mzungu Project was founded by José Antonio Ruiz Díez, an active member of the Madrid Changemakers Group.

When José Antonio decided to contact Rosa regarding his education project, he had already built one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a matter of fact, the successful completion of this school building was the reason why he wanted to establish the Mzungu Project in the first place — to open more schools, create more jobs for local residents, and enable more children in rural areas to get an education.

“I found his personal story so inspiring, about how he’d reached a point in his life when he was quite successful professionally and just wanted to give back to society. So he decided to embark on an adventure and built a school in a remote area of the Congo. He had already done it once, with his own money, and then he wanted to raise the funds for another school.”
— Rosa Guerrero, Consul of the Madrid Changemakers Group

The Challenge: How InterNations Contributed to a School in the Congo

The Consuls of the Madrid Changemakers Group decided to sign up for this challenge. They were planning to host an interactive and interesting fundraising event, so members could join an activity and hopefully learn more about the cause. Therefore, the Consuls opted for an African fundraising dinner, where José Antonio could present his project to the attendees and answer any questions they might have.

Unfortunately, the Consuls couldn’t find a Congolese restaurant, as they had originally planned. Thus they opted for an Ethiopian one, which ended up being a very popular choice!

The Successful Outcome

The members were so dedicated to supporting the Mzungu Project that every single one who’d accepted the invitation made sure to attend the fundraiser! Everything was perfectly organized, thanks to our wonderful Consuls, and the attendees who signed up managed to pay in advance for the fundraising dinner. More than 300 Euros were collected for helping to build another school in the DRC, money that benefited the project directly.

José’s dream of building a second school has now come true. The foundations were laid last May, and the construction was finished by the end of the year. Nowadays, over 200 children can attend primary school thanks to the Mzungu Project.

In order to commemorate all the donors that contributed to this cause, José Antonio dedicated a brick to each sponsor. Here’s the brick dedicated to InterNations, thanks to our fantastic Consuls from the Madrid Changemakers Group and our generous members. This brick is the proof that we can indeed change the world, one small step at a time.

If you’d like to know more about José and his project or get more information on the two schools it has helped to build, just check out the Mzungu Project.

Find out more about the InterNations Changemakers Program on our About Page or write to support@internations.org.

(Image credit: 1), 4), 5): José Antonio Ruiz Díez / Mzungu Project 2), 3) InterNations)

Ten Things to Expect with an Expat in the Family

Deciding to pack up and head overseas doesn’t just change your own life: it affects your family and friends, too. How does life change for those who stay at home? From planning weekends around time-zone-friendly Skype calls to struggling with jet lag, we get a family member’s perspective on what to expect from having expat relatives.

Five years ago, my sister went on an international internship to gain some professional experience abroad. “It’s just for six months,” she said. She is still travelling the world today.

We might have grown up in the same place, at the same time, in the same family even, but my sister and I are very different. While I like the feeling of putting down roots and being part of a stable community, my sister constantly wants to be on a plane on the way to something new.

Here’s what to expect when someone you love decides to hit the road.

1) You only have a mental image of their new home … which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality. Pictures online and travel guides give a tourist’s perspective, but everyday life abroad looks very different from glossy photos of famous attractions.

2) Some people’s mental images might be hazier than others. One family member will remain slightly confused as to where exactly the expat is currently living. Grandad might have been sharing the weather forecast for Taipei with good intentions, but it’s not got much to do with Chengdu, a mere 1,800 kilometers away.

3) Airports and train stations are your new living room. When you finally get the chance to see each other, the logistics of when and where to meet up sometimes mean it comes down to a cup of coffee at an airport restaurant.

4) There is never enough time to catch up. Whether it’s that airport coffee or a weekend call, being apart means you always say goodbye wanting more — even if you have been chatting for hours. It also means you’re never quite up to date. Time zones add an extra challenge, but even if you are lucky enough to be close, the details get lost as you gossip about insignificant but amusing stories from your day.

5) Speaking of weekend calls: half your conversations are spent doing an Adele impression. Hello? Hello? Yes, hello? Though internet calling has made staying in touch with the family nomad much easier, sometimes Skype seems to have a mind of its own. When my sister was living in the US, the connection would drop out after exactly 21 minutes. Every. Single. Time.

6) At least your holiday plans are all set. Free accommodation and a personal tour guide at your beck and call — these are the perks of having family and friends abroad. Visiting my sister has taken me to places that were never on my horizon before, and knowing someone who actually lives there allowed me to experience them in a different way.

7) You know all the baggage allowances by heart, even when you are not packing your suitcase for the next family visit. For birthdays and holidays, you will start coordinating with family members — not on what to buy, but to make sure your gifts are all within the total weight and liquid allowances. Forget about perfume as a back-up present.

8) Jet lag becomes all too real. Whether you are over visiting or they’re finally home for the holidays, someone will be either asleep or eating at the wrong time. Three meals a day quickly blur into brunch, afternoon tea, and “I don’t even know what time it is” cereal snacks.

9) Your own life will automatically appear less exciting. “What did you get up to this weekend?” becomes a loaded question: don’t you dare mention the b-word — beach — while we are sitting at home and watching telly on yet another rainy day!

10) You stop saying “I miss you”. Not because you don’t, but because it’s a given. Though you are happy your family nomad is getting their adventure fix, it doesn’t stop you wishing you could simply pop round for a cup of tea on a bad day.

Ultimately, however, all that anyone wants for someone they love is to be happy. Being an expat makes my sister’s inner nomad smile, and that puts a smile on my face too.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Common Misconceptions about Bilingualism

Bilingualism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, parents have been raising bilingual kids for years. I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy and doesn’t happen automatically. It takes effort and a lot of patience, but it is worth it. There are many misconceptions about bilingualism, though, especially about raising bilingual kids, and I am sure you will have heard some of them.

You have to be “smart” to become bilingual.

Any child has the possibility to become bilingual if they have enough exposure to the languages in question. Children with learning disabilities and development disorders such as Downs syndrome and autism can also become bilingual.

Language acquisition has nothing to do with being “smart” — it is a natural process like learning any skill in life, be it learning an instrument or a sport. Naturally some children will pick up certain skills more easily, but this doesn’t mean that they are more intelligent.

A bilingual child will have speech delays.

This is probably one of the most common misconceptions. However, it has been proven time and time again that bilingualism and speech delays are not related. All children develop their language skills at different levels, whether they are learning one language or two.

Some bilingual children may take a little longer to become fluent in both languages. However, they are taking in double the amount of vocabulary, so sometimes they just need a little more time to process it all. Even this is not always the case: some bilingual children start talking fluently before their peers and there is no difference at all. It always depends on the child.

It is best to speak one language fluently before learning another.

Quite on the contrary: Children learning two languages at once usually learn more quickly than children who study a foreign language later in life. The best time for a child to learn a language is while they are young — the younger the better. The critical period is from birth up to six years old.

Some parents believe that their kids should wait until they are speaking their first language fluently and are attending school before starting another language. However, waiting only makes it harder for the child. Once they get older, they realize they are learning. When a child is young, learning is simply a natural process: a normal part of life and a lot of fun.

You need to speak the language of instruction when talking to your kids.

This belief is common in expat families: parents think that they need to speak the language of instruction to prepare their children for school, or the kids might fall behind. In those cases where the parents themselves don’t speak the language that well, especially not on a native speaker level, it will be best if they continue talking in their own language to their children, thus building their vocabulary.

Soon enough, the parents’ mother tongue will become the minority language once the children start school. Sure, they may need a little more time catching up with their peers, but most of them will be speaking fluently and have caught up well within the first year of school.

You will become bilingual automatically.

Many parents think that just because each parent speaks a different language when talking to their child, using the OPOL (“one parent one language”) approach, their kid will automatically become bilingual. Or that a child can become fluent in a language with just a few lessons per week. What these parents don’t realize is that it actually takes work to give children enough exposure to a language so they can become proficient.

In the case of bilingual parents, there is usually one language that the child receives less exposure to — the so-called minority language. The parent speaking the minority language will have to work that little bit harder to provide their child with enough language input. For working parents, this can sometimes be quite difficult, and at times, they need to introduce outside resources to compensate.

Watching TV is enough to learn a new language.

Human interaction is the best way to learn a language. Watching TV in a foreign language can help your children once they have a good grasp of the language; otherwise, it will only result in them becoming passive bilinguals. They may understand what is going on in front of them, but without any practice or interaction, they will probably not be able to respond.

Conversation is what actually helps your kids to learn another language. Constant talking, playing, and practicing their language skills is going to give them the best chance of becoming truly proficient.

If the parents don’t speak a second language, there are many other options, such as hiring a babysitter or nanny who speaks the target language, sending their child to a bilingual or international school, or hiring a language tutor. TV will not get your child far.

Bilingual speakers don’t have accents.

Many people believe that “true bilinguals” will not have an accent. Depending on where your kids grow up and where they have learned the language, they may not always have the “perfect accent” in both languages, but can still speak either of them like a native. What is a “perfect” accent anyway?

Raising bilingual kids is both the hardest and the easiest thing that parents can do. It comes with many challenges, but also so many rewards that outweigh all of those challenges. The best thing you can do for your child is to ignore any negative comments that you might hear and keep encouraging them. Bilingualism is not so rare: after all, half the world is bilingual!

Chontelle Bonfiglio is a certified ESL teacher, writer, and the creator of Bilingual Kidspot, an informative website offering practical advice for parents raising bilingual children. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

How to Become a Green Globetrotter

Not only is traveling great fun — it’s also big business: According to the World Tourism Organization, the annual number of international tourists rose to a staggering 1.186 billion in 2016; that’s one-sixth of the world population! The tourism industry creates 10% of the global GDP and supports one in eleven jobs worldwide.

In short: tourism has a lot of economic clout. And, to quote one of my favorite superhero comics, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s what the UN celebrations of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism aim to highlight.

Just imagine: on your next vacation, you will not only get some much-needed relaxation, but you might contribute towards saving the world. (At least a little.) The Green Globetrotter — an everyday superhero on the move!

No matter whether you are an expat ready to explore your new country of residence or simply passionate about travel, here are some tips on how to maximize the benefits of tourism and minimize any negative impact.

Travel responsibly.

In the age of cheap flights and no-frills airlines, it’s never been that easy to give in to wanderlust and set out for destinations unknown. As tempting and comfortable those possibilities are, slow and steady does sometimes win the race — at least when it comes to environmental impact.

One long-stay trip beats several mini-breaks per year while travel by train, boat, or bus is more environmentally friendly than hopping on board the next plane. Of course, it will not always be possible to honor such good intentions.

True story: a friend of mine once looked into organizing a business trip to Hong Kong by train. After plotting the route Munich — Warsaw — Grodno — Moscow — Novosibirsk — Beijing — Shanghai — Hong Kong, even the most die-hard environmentalist would have given up in despair.

Fortunately, you can look up carbon-efficient airlines instead, or donate to climate change mitigation projects. You don’t even have to plant a single tree yourself!

Buy local.

The most people will benefit from the spending power of international visitors if you opt for local companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, or family-owned businesses. Just by choosing a specific accommodation, tour guide, or souvenir, you’ll help someone feed their children or create more training and job opportunities. And you might discover some hidden gems and make some wonderful memories.

Take Luang Prabang Night Market in Laos, for example. Established about a dozen years ago, it has become one of the major tourist attractions in the country’s mountainous north.

Though it’s definitely geared towards visitors from abroad, it still focuses traditional handicrafts from local vendors to a certain extent. Just avoid the Luang Prabang t-shirts and look for some gorgeous silk scarves or Hmong quilts, and you could find the perfect giveaway for your loved ones back home.

Behave respectfully.

Enjoying your long-awaited vacation is the easiest thing in the world: you are far from home, feeling like you’re floating in a little bubble of your own, safe from the concerns and worries of everyday life. But what is one person’s vacation highlight is another person’s everyday life.

Most residents will be grateful if you make the effort to learn a few polite phrases in the local language or even try a bit of small talk. To avoid any cultural misunderstandings or embarrassing faux-pas, take a bit of time to find out more about the local culture, customs and traditions of your destination.

That’s especially important if you are planning to visit any heritage sites or places of worship — or if you love travel photography. Before you take that perfect snapshot for your Instagram account, remember to ask the people in the picture for permission. Your newly acquired language skills will definitely come in handy!

Think green.

It might not feel very heroic to lug around a stainless steel bottle, a cutlery kit, and a couple of plastic bags — but they are indispensable items in the Green Globetrotter’s luggage.

In regions where tap water is safe to drink, a reusable container avoids a lot of unnecessary waste from plastic bottles and canned soda. And when you go camping, hiking, or merely admiring an archaeological site, carrying your own trash bag is the simplest way to cut down on littering, especially if there’s no convenient garbage container for miles.

Animal lovers should also make sure that their tour organizers are knowledgeable about environmental protection and local wildlife. For instance, some areas might be off limits when certain birds are nesting, or there might be a cap on the number of visitors in nature reserves.

In ideal conditions, wildlife tourism can be a great asset: the popularity of animal-watching safaris in several African regions, for instance, has led to more employment for local residents and a crackdown on poaching.

Give wisely.

Perhaps you’d like to support your favorite destination — especially one in an impoverished region or a developing market — even further. The easiest way to do is to find a way of traveling that combines both: economic benefits and local non-profits. There are numerous such projects, and they cover all kinds of tourism.

An upmarket resort in Fiji might give its guests the option to donate to a healthcare facility for low-income residents; a small adventure tourism company in the Himalayas can empower Nepali women by training them as tour guides and assistants for female trekkers; former turtle hunters in Gambia find new jobs in an ecotourism project for protected species — there are thousands of similar stories all over the world.

A trustworthy non-profit will inform visitors clearly about its purpose, be transparent about its finances, and avoid aggressively soliciting for donations. That way, you can be sure your generosity won’t be in vain.

Have a safe journey and enjoy your next trip!

Is there anything you’d like to add to this list? Which tips would you like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

From Mountains to Deserts — The Winners of Our #GlobalLocalHolidays Contest

Last month, we asked expats around the world to share their favorite holiday moments with us, using the hashtag #GlobalLocalHolidays. We received over 350 submissions on Instagram showing us everything from biking on the beach to snowy mountain peaks. With all of these great holiday moments being shared, it was not easy for us to choose the top three.

Today, we would like to take the opportunity to introduce you to our winner, as well as our first and second runner-up.

Third Place: The Snow-Covered Swiss Mountains

Mark Blackwell, a British expat living in Jakarta, shared a picture from his vacation in Zermatt, Switzerland. His partner hails from Australia and has never seen snow before, so this vacation was quite a change of scenery for the couple. Zermatt makes a great destination for winter sports enthusiasts but, due to its close proximity to Italy, is also a great place for foodies.

When he visits his family in the UK, Mark likes to take the opportunity to travel around Europe a bit. In his role as InterNations Jakarta Ambassador, he also helps newly-arrived expats settle in and visits other communities’ events whenever he can.

Second Place: Where the Santas Run

The picture that made it to second place was taken by Linda Bernau at the Sydney Santa Fun Run, a 5km charity run to raise money for disabled and disadvantaged children. Despite the heat, all of the runners wore Santa costumes and completed their run to Christmas music playing in the background.

The metropolis itself impressed Linda a lot, with its beaches, its natural harbor with the famous opera, and the lively arts and culture scene. For a German expat, spending Christmas time in Sydney was a unique experience, of course, since the scorching heat is not what one would expect this time of the year. While she misses the Christmas markets and the cold winter days, living in this beautiful city makes up for it.

When Linda moved to the city two years ago, the InterNations Sydney community there helped her to settle in and make new friends. She still enjoys attending the events organized by Sydney’s great Ambassador team.

First Place: Camels in the Dubai Desert

The winning picture of the #GlobalLocalHolidays contest was taken by Lira Ajkova during a trip to Margham with the InterNations Dubai Desert Camping Group. She managed to capture this image of two racing camels during their training in the early morning hours.

The UAE desert impressed her with its clear winter sky. The area around Margham is perfect for camping and venturing into the wilderness and gazing at the stars, says Lira. It is located only two hours from Dubai, making it a great destination for a quick get-away.

Congratulations on winning first prize and we hope you can use your hotel voucher on one of your next trips. Enjoy!

 

Last but not least: A big thank you again to everyone who participated in our contest. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to check out some of the other finalists and for more great #GlobalLocal images!

Welcome 2017 — Making this Year a Great One

The beginning of a new year always has a very special meaning. For most people, it feels like a new chance to work towards their goals, to make some New Year’s resolutions (and definitely keep them this time) and to embark on a new adventure. We have planned a lot of great things for the year ahead, and so have our communities.

Let’s make this year a great one and welcome 2017 together!

New Year’s Eve Parties and Relaxed January Gatherings

Before we introduce you to the great official events and activities that are still lying ahead, let’s look at how our members spent New Year’s Eve and started off the month of January.

Our community in Melbourne celebrated their last event of 2016 on Thursday, 29 December, at the Irish Times Pub. This is where everyone, including newly-arrived and already established expats, gathered for a final goodbye before the end of the year.

InterNations members and global minds in Johannesburg celebrated New Year’s Eve by the pool. Those who remained in the city throughout the holidays enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere, the stunning view of the city, and the burger bar provided by the venue.

InterNations Brussels also celebrated New Year’s Eve in style. The event started with a wonderful dinner and a live jazz band and turned into a party later in the evening. Guests danced their way into the new year or mingled outside on the heated terrace to get some fresh air and make new friends.

On Friday, 6 January, our members in Washington, DC, where the first ones to welcome this new year with us. The relaxed get-together offered the perfect opportunity to grab a drink, talk to some friends, and enjoy a night off to re-charge for the year ahead.

The Houston 2017 Launch Party on Tuesday, 10 January, impressed our members with a great new location, an amazing selection of cocktails and southern comfort food. For newcomers, it was also a great opportunity to meet other members and make new friends.

Our members in Luanda got 2017 started on Wednesday, 11 January. The event took place outside on the terrace of Brisa Café where all guests could enjoy the great company and get to know the new Co-Ambassador of the community.

The Guangzhou January Mixer on Saturday, 14 January, was the perfect opportunity for the community to kick off the new year and beat the post-Christmas blues. Members mingled in the elegant area exclusively reserved for them at the Guangzhou Marriott Hotel Tianhe and enjoyed the delicious food as well as the company of their fellow global minds.

Street Food, Ski Slopes, and the Chinese New Year

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with your expat friends yet, there are lots of official events and activities coming up to welcome 2017!

The motto of the Casablanca event on Friday, 20 January, is “Eat, Drink & Be Merry Again in 2017”. Expats and global minds will meet for drinks, dinner and dancing to kick off the new year. This is also a great opportunity to meet the new Ambassador of the community.

Dublin welcomes 2017 on Wednesday, 25 January, at the first official event of the new year. With the canapé selection and some great music, there is no reason not to come by to mix and mingle with your favorite expats in town.

The InterNations community in Graz is gathering at Durstküche this month to enjoy the delicious street food the venue is famous for. No matter if you are new in town or an established expat, join us on Wednesday, 25 January, to enjoy the delicious homemade fries and the company of other global minds.

On Friday, 27 January, Dar es Salaam is celebrating the beginning of a new year. It’s time to sit back and relax with a cocktail in hand and a friend by your side. The venue will offer a private area for attendees of this event until 21:00, after which the area will be open to all guests.

InterNations San Francisco is celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, 28 January. Expats will meet at a stylish wine bar to network and taste the wine produced by the venue. If you want to give this occasion a glamorous flair, wear red and gold in honor of the Chinese New Year.

For a more relaxed get-together, you should join DinnerNations Hanoi for their Happy New Year dinner at Koto. The place offers a great selection of local and international dishes, as well as delicious cakes and pastries. Of course, it is also the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s busy streets.

For a more active start into the new year, join the Milan Weekend Social Group for their skiing trip to Bardonecchia. The area offers slopes for every skill level, plus many places to take skiing lessons.

 

Image credits: 1) – 8) InterNations, 9) Pexels, 10) iStockphoto

How to Stay Active Abroad: 5 Tips to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Now that 2017 has arrived, it is time to actually tackle these New Year’s resolutions. You promised yourself to be more active this year, but you’re about to start your adventure abroad? No problem! Moving to another country doesn’t mean you have to give up all the athletic activities you used to enjoy back home.

Sports can make you healthier and happier — and who wouldn’t want to be that? Not only will regular exercise help you keep your New Year’s resolutions: it will also help you feel at home in a new country or city.

These five tips show you some of the endless possibilities to stay active during your time abroad!

Explore Your New Home — By Bike and on Foot

Getting to know your new home is an essential part of expat life. The best thing about discovering your new environment: it enables you to get in a lot of exercise while walking around all day.

When exploring a new sight or neighborhood in your new city of residence, make sure to refuse public transportation for reasonable distances. It is as easy as it sounds: walking everywhere adds up to a couple of kilometers per day.

If you don’t like walking, try out biking. Many cities are even very bike-friendly, offering dedicated bicycle lanes or even a bicycle-sharing-system throughout the city.

What are you waiting for? Grab your walking shoes or your bike and take in the scenery around you!

Become a Member of a Sports Club — and a Community

One in four people living in Switzerland is a member of a sports club, and in Germany, it even is one in three. Sports clubs are very popular in many other countries, too, providing a great way to combine exercising with socializing. Joining a sports club not only helps you to stay active but also gives you the possibility to meet locals and make new friends. Further, it is a great possibility to improve your languages skills since the language of instruction is usually the local one.

Even though many sports club also participate in tournaments, it is not just about winning. Some clubs take a trip together once a year or participate in other social activities apart from their usual training slot. Sports club are about people sharing a hobby, getting together, and being part of a community.

Start Your Own Group or Join an Existing One — It’s More Fun Together!

If you are already an enthusiast of a particular sport and would like to share your passion with others, then starting your own group for exercising and training together is a great opportunity. Working out in a group is always more fun than doing it alone. And most importantly: As a group, you can motivate and help each other to stay on track.

Ask your new colleagues if they are interested and you might find a workout buddy or even a whole team! If you don’t know anybody, then don’t give up just yet. There might already be a group with the same interests and the same athletic goals, such as running or hiking. Just ask around and make your workout more social — and more fun!

Try the Country’s National Sport and Broaden Your Horizon

Have you ever heard of arnis? Or how about bandy? You might not have heard of them, but these activities are the national sport of the Philippines (traditional martial arts) and one of the most popular team sports in Russia (a form of ice hockey). Apart from common sports like soccer, basketball, or volleyball, which are popular in many countries, there are also a great deal of lesser-known sports played around the world.

Some of them might sound a bit odd, like yagli güreş (oil wrestling) in Turkey, tossing the caber (a 175-pound log) in Scotland, or buzkhashi in Afghanistan, which translates into “goat dragging” and pretty much describes the objective of the game. However, there are numerous sports that are probably more interesting than plain old soccer. Dive into the country’s culture by trying out what locals enjoy in their free time and learn more about your new home!

Last but Not Least: The Passive Athlete

If none of the above-mentioned tips are your cup of tea or involve a bit too much physical activity, there is always the passive athlete route: enjoy a good game from the sidelines. Spectator sports like soccer, basketball, ice hockey, and many others are popular all around the world, and television broadcasts of the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon, or the Ski Jumping World Cup have never been more successful.

Rooting for a local team in a stadium with thousands of other people is exciting, and it will definitely get your adrenaline going. Moreover, cheering a local sports team is guaranteed to provide you with an easy small talk topic for your new co-workers or neighbors.

 

As you can see, there are many different ways to stay active as an expat. Try for yourself and find out what works best for you to achieve your athletic goals in 2017 and settle in abroad!

 

(Image credit:  iStockphoto)

Noodles and Pasta around the World: International Recipes to Discover

For all of you who aren’t planning on cutting carbs in the new year, we have good news! In the US, National Spaghetti Day is celebrated on 4 January:  it’s inspired us to get our chef hats on and find out which stringy, starchy dish is a favorite in various countries.

Japan’s Culinary Revolution

The all-time favorite noodle dish in Japan is ramen. In the town of Fukuoka alone, the largest city on the southernmost main island, there are more than 2,000 ramen shops — roughly one per 775 residents!

This spicy soup uses wheat noodles and is served with meat, or occasionally fish. It is almost always topped with chashu (Chinese-style roasted pork), negi (thinly sliced green onions), and an egg. Different regions in Japan have varying ramen recipes  which are often close-guarded secrets within families and towns. Other ramen recipes, such as gluten-free miso ramen, are loved worldwide.

In contrast to sushi, a more traditional food, Ramen is associated with Japan’s pop culture. Cooking ramen has no rules, and chefs are at liberty to experiment with and adapt recipes. Ramen is very significant in representing the country’s shift in cultural identity to a place of innovation, culinary experimentation, and urban youth culture.

Thailand’s Tastiest Treat

In the 1940s, Pad Thai began its ascension to glory following Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s announcement that Thailand needed a new national dish. Pad Thai was chosen in a war-time bid to encourage the nation to eat more rice noodles and thus increase the country’s rice production.

Today, the dish is not only well liked in Thailand but worldwide, particularly in Western countries, where it is a bestseller in Thai restaurants. The rapid globalization of Thai cuisine in the past few decades is due to its reputation as healthy and non-fattening.

The cheap, crowd-pleasing street food contains egg-fried rice, tofu, fish sauce, shrimp, garlic, and chili, among other various ingredients.

The Queen of Noodles: China

Chow mein takes its name from the Taishanese dialect, with chow meaning “fried” and mein meaning “noodles”. It’s another noodle dish which has come to be appreciated around the world.

The preparation varies by region, with Hong Kong preferring crispy noodles while they are often steamed or cooked in a hot wok in other places. Chinese people often enjoy chow mein with a generous helping of soy sauce.

Chow mein is a particular favorite in the US, the UK, and India. The dish is also adapted by the Chinese diaspora, with parts of the US, for example, serving crispy noodles in a hamburger bun!

A Global Favorite: Vietnamese Pho

An absolute must-try for noodle fans is the Vietnamese dish pho. Following the Vietnam War, the rice noodle broth was spread across the globe by Vietnamese refugees; it has become universally loved for its warm yet refreshing qualities.

Pho is cooked with thin slices of beef or chicken, crunchy bean sprouts, as well as an endless variety of garnishes, including onions, basil, lemon, and chili. Like so many recipes that have become a staple of international cuisine, the dish varies from region to region, and chef to chef. It has been continuously adapted abroad, so it’s well worth giving more than one Vietnamese restaurant a try.

Or how about creating a new version according to your own tastes?

 

Hearty Dishes from Germany

Germans aren’t particularly known for their pasta, but Käsespätzle from the region of Swabia in southwestern Germany is a delicious (though definitely not low-calorie) dish, which is also enjoyed in Austria. Käsespätzle are small egg noodles served with roasted onions, fresh parsley, and most importantly, generous amounts of cream and cheese. Emmental cheese is typically used, however, it can easily be adjusted to use up that last bit of cheddar or gouda in the fridge!

The German word for the cousin of America’s mac’n’cheese also has an adorable meaning: spätzle is the Swabian expression for “little sparrows”, which the stodgy little noodles resemble.

 

Saints and Seafood in Spain

Known more for its tasty rice dishes than pasta recipes, locals in Catalonia enjoy the relatively new yet popular Catalan Cannelloni. The dish, said to be especially tasty with a generous splash of mellow Spanish wine and some nutmeg, is now frequently eaten on Boxing Day (26 December), also known as Saint Stephen’s Day. The cannelloni also contain meat, varying from pork to beef, or even innards such as lamb’s brains and chicken liver!

If that doesn’t take your fancy, perhaps you should give Fideuá a try. The seafood dish originates from the coast of Valencia, but has become popular nationwide — think the pasta version of paella, with short noodles instead of rice.

 

Kingdom of Pasta: Italy

In Italy, pasta is king: it is a staple food for most of the population. The average Italian eats over sixty pounds of pasta per year, and the country exports 1.7 million tons annually.

Some claim that the Venetian merchant Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China, while others think that modern-day pasta was rather a rediscovery of Roman gastronomy. Perhaps Rome’s National Museum of Pasta Foods has the answer!

Empty cupboard? Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is a classic spicy dish which requires minimal ingredients: pepper, oil, chili, garlic, and — of course — spaghetti. Alternatively, another classic is Pasta Pomodoro — a simple but delicious tomato and basil sauce.

 

Aside from being inspired to try our hand at new delicious dishes in 2017, these recipes show how every country’s culinary traditions can be adapted and appreciated all over the world. As expats, we all bring a little bit of home with us in the way we eat, but can simultaneously fall in love with other cultures abroad. And, as the German saying goes, Liebe geht durch den Magen — “the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach”.

Image credits: 1) Pexels; 2-3) iStockphoto; 4) Pexels; 5-7) iStockphoto 

 

 

The Best Places Worldwide to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Waiting for the famous Times Square Ball in NYC to drop at 23:59 or for London’s Big Ben to strike the hour is certainly a fun way to start the new year, but there may be other destinations better suited to your personal preferences.

While it’s probably a tad too late to book a spontaneous flight to the South Pacific right now, you might already start making plans for New Year’s Eve in 2017. In that case, enjoy our suggestions for the best places around the globe to welcome the new year!

… if you don’t mind the cold and the dark.

You consider average temperatures from -6.5°C to -1.3°C to be pleasantly fresh and energizing? You can do without sunshine during your New Year’s vacation? You have always dreamed of seeing the northern lights?

Maybe it’s time for a trip to Tromsø, the self-styled “capital of the Arctic”! Situated in Northern Norway, 400km north of the Polar Circle, the former frontier settlement cheerfully defies all stereotypes that might be expected from its smallish size (73,000 residents) and remote location (a two-hour flight from Oslo).

Tromsø is a regional boomtown and a vibrant cultural center, a lively university town and a city of superlatives. The latter usually include the word “northernmost”: northernmost university worldwide, northernmost botanical gardens, northernmost symphony orchestra, northernmost tango club, northernmost roller derby team — just take your pick!

Unsurprisingly, Tromsø’s tourism industry is booming, too. To make the polar night more koselig (cozy), you could go on a Sami-style sleigh ride, attend a concert in the Arctic Cathedral, or book a spa day on a vintage fishing vessel. And if you join a bus tour outside of town, where there’s barely any light pollution, you may suddenly see the skies blaze up in cold flames of purple and green.

… if you enjoy things that sparkle and go boom.

When you were a child, the part you liked best about New Year’s Eve was the fireworks show? Now that you are all grown up, your inner ten-year-old still enjoys a good display of pyrotechnics? Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is the perfect place to greet the new year with a bang!

Every summer, the popular port town hosts the Festival do Atlantico, a series of cultural events, including an international fireworks competition. Its winner obtains the privilege of organizing the lavish pyrotechnical show for New Year’s Eve, Madeira’s most important touristic spectacle. Aficionados hotly debate the best place to watch the fireworks from — the football stadium, a hotel along the marina, or a catamaran in the bay.

The fireworks show is just the highlight of the local holiday celebrations starting in early December and ending on “Twelfth Night” (6 January). You can choose among various concerts and folkloric traditions. Not only do colorful illuminations decorate Funchal’s main streets, but the predominantly Catholic town is also famous for its picturesque nativity scenes.

Soccer fans might rather be interested in a more secular idol: Funchal’s most famous citizen recently received a bronze statue of his own — a 2.40m-tall Cristiano Ronaldo.

… if you prefer your parties posh and traditional.

Your ideal celebration involves champagne and classical music? You like dressing up in your fanciest outfit? You want to glide elegantly into the new year? Brush up your ballroom dancing before setting out for Vienna!

The Austrian capital is widely known for its ball season, which runs from 11 November — the official beginning of Carnival — until Lent. The most famous society event is the Vienna Opera Ball in February.

However, the New Year’s Eve Ball at the Imperial Palace is another prestigious occasion — as might be guessed from glancing at the price list and the dress code: better pack a floor-length evening gown, or a tux or tailcoat, unless you want the bouncer to send you packing very politely.

If you aren’t sure about mastering the waltz in the ballroom or in the streets, opt for the concert hall instead. Johann Strauss II’s operetta Die Fledermaus (‘The Revenge of the Bat’ — sounds like a superhero blockbuster) is as much as a staple of New Year’s Eve in Vienna as the New Year’s Concert on 1 January. If you can’t get a ticket for the latter, watch the live broadcast from the Golden Hall while nursing your hangover to nostalgic tunes.

… if you are interested in exploring another culture’s New Year’s traditions.

You shy away from touristy events and would rather mingle with the locals? You enjoy learning more about other cultures and customs? You aren’t afraid of queues and crowds? Think about spending New Year’s Day in Japan!

In major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka, you will stumble upon the usual public countdown parties. It is much more memorable, though, to join those flocking to the nearest temple: just stand in the semi-darkness, amidst the glow of the lanterns, and listen to the bells chime in the new year.

Don’t forget to eat some toshikoshi soba! Buckwheat noodles symbolize a long life. And if you have the energy to stay up all night or rise early, don’t miss out on hatsuhinode — watching the first sunrise of the year, an auspicious sight.

Afterwards, it’s time for hatsumode — the first visit to a nearby shrine, where you can purchase new lucky charms. If you plan on visiting a popular shrine, though, for example beautiful Fushimi Inari Taisha near Kyoto, be prepared for a throng of worshipers reminiscent of a commuter train at rush hour.

The downside: New Year’s Day being Japan’s most important holiday, most tourist attractions are closed in early January.

… if you want to be among the first to celebrate.

You’d like to be among the first people worldwide to wish one another ‘Happy New Year’? You don’t mind long-distance flights? And your ideal vacation includes white beaches, emerald seas, and a hammock under palm trees? Off to the South Pacific with you!

The Kingdom of Tonga is still relatively unspoilt when it comes to mass tourism. Fua’amotu Airport on Tongatapu, the main island, is only served by three international airlines, via Auckland, Sydney, or Fiji. The capital of Nuku’alofa is small enough to comfortably walk around, and life generally follows its own slow pace.

Tonga is a true tropical paradise for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, or sailing. Due to its location close to the International Date Line, it’s also among the places around the globe that celebrate New Year’s Day first, following right after Kiritimati, Samoa, and the Chatham Islands.

However, this might not be the place for a raucous beach party: most Tongans are pious and conservative people, and even the country’s only cinema shuts down on Sunday. But you won’t just get the opportunity to toast the new year with a glass of local Kava, but also gain unique insights into the Polynesian way of life.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Five Tips for Staying Sane on Christmas: The Expat Special

As beautiful as it is, Christmas is stressful for everyone, and even more so for expats. You have to decide if you can afford to go home this year, or if you even want to, and if you have kids, you need to figure out what’s best for them. If you stay put in your adopted homeland, then you might have to celebrate without the usual rituals that are automatically understood back home.

Some years ago, when I was living in the UK, my partner, a mate, and I decided to spend Christmas in Český Krumlov, one of the most picturesque places in the Czech Republic. For us three Australians, the thought of spending our first “White Christmas” in a medieval winter wonderland was incredibly exciting. We stayed in our own gorgeous little villa attached to a large youth hostel and had been invited to share in the Christmas meal.

Maybe we were a bit too excited because we lost track of the days leading up to Christmas and accidentally got far too drunk the night of 23 December. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized that in a Czech town, the big dinner would be held on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day, as is customary both in Australia and the UK. I spent a miserable day with my head over the toilet while our temporary family ate until they were stuffed full of Christmas goodness… Not quite the celebrations I’d imagined.

The following year I shared in an “Orphans’ Christmas” in Ireland in a lovely hired house in the countryside. These experiences, as well as many others over the years, have helped me realize that celebrating Christmas abroad is a skill rather than a bewildering mess.

So no matter if you are spending Christmas in a new home for the first or the seventh time, here are five tips to help you enjoy the day and keep your mental health on an even keel.

1) Accept and embrace that things will be different.

Plan something special, but allow it to be different from what you know. Welcome the difference instead of trying to make it all the same. The advantage of having Christmas away from home is that you get to reinvent some of the usual aspects (and erase the less desirable parts).

2) Delegate jobs and involve the whole clan via cultural contributions.

Don’t try and take the whole day on yourself: shouldering the sole responsibility of making it the perfect Christmas is surely a ticket to disaster. Instead, invite everyone who will be celebrating with you to do some research on Christmas in your adopted home. Each person can then make a cultural contribution in the form of local customs and traditions: food, a game, a story, a song, or a ritual.

If you have children, make sure to get them involved, too. Kids tend to be a lot more agreeable if they have genuine ownership and responsibility for what they take part in. You can all talk about what each person is going to do — but try not to make it competitive! No one’s contribution is more meaningful than anyone else’s, please.

3) Honor your own traditions.

Whether you and your guests are all from the same country, or from many different ones, each person can also contribute a tradition from their own home. “Home” might mean their family or the culture they come from, their country of origin, or a specific region.

Can you imagine how wide that range of diverse Christmas traditions will be even if you are all from the same place?

4) Be organized, but not controlling.

For example, do arrange times to Skype with your loved ones back home and wish them a merry Christmas; do figure out which cultural contribution everyone is going to make or how to pose for a great holiday picture; do make sure that you have enough food and drinks and gifts and holiday movies or whatever else is important to you.

But do not lose your mind if something isn’t perfect. Mistakes can sometimes turn into funny anecdotes, fond memories, or even traditions of their own!

5) Allow and express your real emotions.

If you suddenly feel like crying because you really miss your grandma, who passed away, or if you are homesick, then please do cry. Maybe even share your feelings —— with someone in your family or a fellow “orphan” — because I guarantee you will not be the only one who has those moments of overwhelming sadness, even in the middle of a joyful day. Keeping your feelings pent up can actually lead to a disastrous time: you may express that energy as anger or bitterness instead of simply being sad.

Radical empathy means expressing true feelings and also holding space for others when they express their genuine emotions, rather than trying to fix them or give them advice. There’s no greater gift than trusting someone with your vulnerabilities and having them trust you in return. Allowing yourself to shed some tears and telling someone what has made you sad — even to a child — can be a beautiful thing. In fact, if you can’t give anything else this Christmas, the gifts of trust and love and solidarity in action transcend most boundaries and can last a lifetime.

Some final advice: do take some time to reflect, and take care of yourself, your loved ones, and even strangers this holiday season. And don’t forget to reach out to a professional if things should get overwhelming: there’s never any shame in getting help!

Nicole Hind_smallNicole is a professional online counselor with a passion for helping people discover their untold stories. She has particular interest in supporting women to increase self-esteem, heal from trauma, and find their own power. Like many Aussies, Nicole loves travel and enjoys getting creative with mindfulness ideas that can be adapted to any environment.

(Image credit: 1)-6) iStockphoto 7) Nicole Hind)