Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Expat Friends through Internations Expat Social Network

Friends having fun!
That's how we spell it: Y-M-C-A
How was anyone an expat before the Internet? That was when people really left home and immersed themselves completely in another country. No TV shows from home, no news from home, only snail mail, and a new culture where English was not the global language it is today.  That was expat commitment on a whole other level.
Enjoying new Internations friends in Turkey
Gratefully, these days, the Internet provides us not only the comforts of our familiar media, but also tools to help us make the most of our new overseas city as quickly as possible. Before I left to go overseas, I made my first Prague friends through blogging. I started a blog and connected with expats in Prague that were also already blogging. That seems quite a slow, laborious way to make friends now that I think about it. At the time, in 2008, I thought I was high tech!
The Turkish gesture for sincerity:
A hand over the heart
What do all the people who are too busy or lazy to write a blog do? There are new, quicker ways to make friends before arrival in a new city. I first discovered couchsurfing as a way to meet locals as I travelled, and as a way to experience amazing events with fellow expats.  Couchsurfing participants skew fairly young demographically. What has been a wonderful resource for me in Istanbul is the expatriate professional's social network called Internations. It's designed to connect global minds in over 250 communities worldwide.

To use Internations, you first need an invitation from an expat who is already a member. That's easy enough to secure. They can send you an email invitation and then you too are a basic member. I've enjoyed my free basic membership for a couple of years now. Through that basic membership, I have access to all kinds of relevant information like city and relocation guides and an expat magazine. Those resources are highly valuable if first starting out or daydreaming about "hmmm, where should I go next?" I've occasionally used the forum feature in the Istanbul section of Internations where people post their job openings or 'positions wanted' listings, their moving sales, and their color commentary. I find that valuable. I've mostly used it to source books.
Sampling Turkish wine together
There is also an Internations paid membership, called the Albatross membership, which has a small monthly cost. It allows people to send unlimited messages to others in the network. I could imagine that would be useful to someone who organizes lots of activities or does business with other professionals. The Albatross membership would be useful for anyone who does business with expats because there is an advanced search feature that allows people to search by nationality, organization, or interests. Albatross membership also provides people free entry into the monthly megaparty held in each city. I find those parties to be meat-market-like and skippable even though they are often in beautiful and interesting locations. It's hard to have an in-depth conversation with anyone at one of those events.

The feature on Internations that has been a Godsend to me is the local events section.  Nice people all over the city organize outings and/or actual groups that meet on an ongoing basis. My hike to the Belgrad Forest was an event advertised on Internations by my friend Yasemin. I've also joined two different groups on Internations that have been so fun and so full of terrific, delightful people that I keep coming back to them again and again. I will write about my Internations book group and travel group both in later posts. I also appreciate that the basic Internations membership allows me to organize my connections with new friends in a different place than Facebook. That's useful if I'm not ready to make someone a Facebook friend.
Chilled Out in a Cappadochian Cave
I'm always surprised when sheer visits to a site don't translate into enough traffic to generate revenue. For example, I thought reader's consistent daily visits to the New York Times were enough for them to go out and sell advertising based on high viewership. I thought my consistent return to Internations was too.  Apparently not though, because both organizations have demanded a new monthly fee for a specific level of service beyond the minimum. I hate it when that happens! Aren't my eyeballs enough?
Dinner at Meze by Lemon Tree,
Frequently rated #1 restaurant in Istanbul
on Tripadvisor
Reluctantly, due to the new fees, my groups on Internations have concluded that we will go elsewhere for our organization and communication. My book group had set up an entire alternative communication method as we were limited to only five messages a month each on Internations (imagine how frequently we'd have visited if we could have done all of our communication with each other through the site - that limit made us create backup plans) and my travel group has already migrated to Facebook. Will Internations stay interesting if access becomes so restricted that people move their energy elsewhere?

Have you become a member of Internations? What's been your experience? What have you valued the most?


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Yes, I am a member of Internations and here in Moldova our group only just started. We have only a few members and no activities yet apart from an occasional dinner together.

It's good to see what can happen when the group grows. Unfortunately the expat community in Moldova is very small.

Barbara said...

I am a member of IN, too. I started in Milan, Italy when IN was launched and am now a member in Frankfurt, Germany - my "homebase". I am an Albatross member from the beginning. First, because I really value the idea behind IN and cherish all the work the team is doing (they started quite small) and second because I don't want to live through the restrictions. For me, it is really worth it to pay abt. 4 Euros/month. I have met wonderful people in different communities, attended great events (huge and tiny) and stop by the website at least once a day to check what is going on. We have some very active groups in Frankfurt: bike lovers, wine lovers, Salsa lovers, etc. said...

I joined IN (at your suggestion!) but have yet to make it to any event in Prague because they have either clashed with my existing commitments or were too expensive. However, I do find it interesting that you have now become so frustrated with IN. As you rightly point out, there are other ways for like-minded expats to get together & share interests.

InterNations Groups Team said...

Dear Karen,

First of all we would like to thank you for your blog entry about InterNations. It is great to see that you want to share your thoughts about our website with the online community.

We (that is the InterNations Groups Team) have read your concerns about the launch of the Activity Groups and are happy to provide you with some further information on this.

You are indeed raising a good point when you say that on the big InterNations events it is hard to have an in-debth conversation. We are well aware of this problem and the fact that this type of event does not suit everybody’s interests. This is why we are currently developing the Activity Groups. They should make it easy for our members to meet in a more intimate environment and to follow their specific interests.
The workload that we put into this feature as well as our ever-growing team (currently there are more than 40 people working full time here) have made it necessary to make the Activity Groups Albatross only. However, there will be a free trial for Basic members.

Unfortunately your eyeballs are not enough. Unlike other social networks we do not earn our money by selling our user’s information. We believe that your personal data should stay private and will never share it with third parties.
The little advertisment you can see on InterNations only provides a small percentage of our revenues. Running the network completely on ads would mean that every square-inch of the website is plastered with banners and we do not think that this is in our members’ best interest.

We sincerely hope for your understanding in the matter and wish you all the best!

Your InterNations Groups Team

Karen said...

I really appreciate a personal reply from the Internations staff to this post. I also appreciate the walkthrough on how your costs are structured. I think you make a good case for why there is a small charge each month for the Albatross membership. Thanks for explaining that to me and my readers.

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