What do an Irishman, a Scotsman, an Englishman, a Swede, an Indian, an Australian, a Norwegian, an American, a Chinaman, a Filipino, a German, a Spaniard and an Austrian all have in common?
Apart from seeming like a chapter of the United Nations, they are some of the nationalities of a group of people who meet each month at one of Manila’s many watering holes to swap tales of their Philippine adventures. They are also members of www.internations.org, the international online community for people who live and work abroad.
Canadian John Mihalo and Irishman Tom Kershaw share a drink at the bar of Murphy's Irish pub during the January InterNations get together.
InterNations is the brain child of three Germans, Christian Leifeld, Philipp von Plato and Malte Zeeck. Between them, in the preceding thirteen years, they had lived and studied and/or worked in fifteen countries that ranged from India in the east to the Americas in the west. The impetus to start InterNations was their shared discovery, common amongst expatriates, of the often difficult process of finding like minded people who could show them the ropes in their new country. So in September of 2007, utilizing their skills in international management and media, they founded InterNations, an organization dedicated to making life easier for people living abroad.
In the eighteen months from its inception, InterNations has grown to 100,000 members from 230 local communities across the globe. Members range from diplomats, members of IGOs and NGOs, foreign correspondents, expatriates employed by multinational companies, their family members and the diverse range of individuals living abroad along with locals with ties to the expatriate community.
Via the internet, InterNations provides a network that enables its members to interact with other people in a similar situation. From New York to New Delhi, from Amsterdam to Addis Ababa, it allows members with comparable interests to share insights and ideas through the site’s forums; to exchange reliable information on expat-specific topics; and to keep in touch with friends and business contacts. From across the world or around the corner, these globally minded people pool their knowledge and their experiences.
With topics that range from the meaty like, “How to bring peace to the middle east?” or “Who will be the next superpower?” to the frivolous such as “what frequently tickles your feet” or “ROSITA'S CANTINA - with the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover - SORRY WE'RE OPEN” and its 21979 replies, the forums are at the heart of the web site. With six broad categories, that includes an Expat Q&A, there is a plethora of information as well as opinion just waiting discovery. And if the forum can’t help, the members’ directory with its display of country affiliations means an answer is just an email away, pretty much wherever in the world your concern lies.
More than a Web Site
But this ever expanding network is more than a web site, members are encouraged to get out from behind their computers and interact in the real world. Each of the 203 local communities has an ambassador. A dedicated individual who organizes activities within his or her local community that brings the membership out of the house, out of the work place.
From bowling in Budapest to pub nights in Paris, the InterNations’ ambassadors organize get-togethers for their multi cultural throng. With, of course, the recent festive season being an excuse for serious party going from Melbourne to Moscow, from Miami to Manila.
Here in the Philippines the pre Christmas get-together was organized by the local InterNations’ ambassador, Pat Hawkins. An Australian and a serial expatriate, he has lived and worked in 48 cities in 39 countries mostly in the Middle East and Asia. Hawkins, although currently employed in real estate here in Manila, utilizes his past experience as a team leader in information technology start ups to organize the local events. He has grown the Manila get-togethers from an initial seven people from four countries to 25 people from 20 countries in just a handful of months. Based around the principle of eat, drink and be merry, these gatherings foster a bonhomie conducive to making friends and business contacts.
The Dane and the Filipina
Lone Nielsen is a marketing post graduate from Denmark, who came to Manila upon the completion of her degree to work as an intern with the Filtra group of companies. After her one year stint with Filtra, she will return to Denmark to pursue a Masters degree in her chosen field of Marketing and Management Communications. This year off from study has given her the chance to gain some valuable work experience whilst indulging her passion for foreign travel. Joining InterNations seemed like the obvious thing to do when she arrived in the Philippines.
Monelli Ponce de Leon is a Filipina in her mid twenties. An avid reader and part time computer geek, she is also multi-lingual, speaking English, Tagalog, Spanish, Japanese and French. For this language instructor joining InterNations was a “no brainer”, not only for the networking associated with her employment but for the opportunity to practice and maintain her language skills.
They met at the InterNations gathering held at Murphy’s Irish Pub in down town Makati a couple of months ago. They have since got together several times outside of the InterNations meetings to swap notes on their cultural differences while Ponce de Leon introduces Nielsen to the intricacies of the Philippines unofficial sport, malling. No doubt the true test of this budding friendship will come when the Filipina introduces the Dane to her favorite local delicacy, balut.
Beam me up Scotty
Currently, basic membership of InterNations is free but only through invitation, which can be obtained from the front page of www.internations.org. Answer the half a dozen questions and you could find yourself on the invitation list for the next get-together, which in Manila tend to be held on the third Wednesday of the month.