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Connecting expats' online and offline worlds

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Connecting expats' online and offline worlds
11:59 CET+01:00
As the popularity of international social networking site InterNations continues to grow in Sweden, The Local speaks with the site's Stockholm ambassador, Barbara Weinzierl, about how it brings expats' online and offline worlds together.

On a chilly December evening in Stockholm, around 150 expats from more than nearly 50 countries gathered at the Hell's Kitchen bar to enjoy an evening of dancing, drinking, and swapping stories about the ups and downs of life in Sweden.

The event was the latest expat meet up organised by the Stockholm chapter of the international social networking site, InterNations.

Founded in 2007, the site now boasts more than 220,000 members in more than 230 virtual communities around the world, about 2,000 of whom are based in Sweden.

The Local caught up recently with InterNations' Stockholm Ambassador, Barbara Weinzierl, to find out a bit more about the site and what it is doing to help bring expats' online and offline worlds together.

How did you get involved with InterNations?

I've been living in Stockholm for more than12 years now, and I needed to reconnect with my mother tongue and culture, so I started searching for Austrians. When I found InterNations I thought it was much more fun to meet all kinds of expats from all over the world and hear about their interesting life stories.

How is InterNations different than other social networking sites?

From the start, InterNations was conceived with the needs of expatriates in mind. The founders were continually faced with typical expat questions: Is there a German-speaking dentist in town? Can they trust the relocation company? Where can one have a nice dinner outside the typical tourist traps? So, they wanted to gather expats from across the globe in one place specifically designed for them, where they could exchange reliable advice.

They also wanted to combine high-quality online networking with regular offline events for expats. So membership is invitation only and our forums are moderated. Members are also connecting face-to-face using their offline identities

Why do people join InterNations?

To have their personal expat network with them wherever they go. If you join InterNations a few months before you actually go abroad, you'll already have new friends waiting for you, many of whom were in a situation very similar to yours not that long ago.

They can support you in getting used to everyday life and easing the culture shock. And when you move again – since lots of expats don't return to their home country, but may go on to work in yet another place for a while – you simply change your InterNations ”Home Community”, and you'll have the same infrastructure for re-building your local network, no matter if it's in Stockholm or in Sydney.

What do you say to people who complain they are already overwhelmed with other social networking sites?

That these sites weren't necessarily created for them. Look at Facebook. It was originally geared towards college students, for gossiping and hanging out online. It's expanded quite aggressively, but it's huge, unstructured, overwhelming, and unfocused.

InterNations doesn't want to be another Facebook, a daily app where people post birthday greetings for their aunt or spend their lunch break playing Farmville. We're for expats, and largely developed by expats. We are about connecting these specific types of people, both online and at our events, and about addressing their real-life problems.

Describe your role as the ‘ambassador' for Stockholm? What does it entail?

Ambassadors make the InterNations experience more personal. New members receive welcome messages from them. They are also the first go-to person on the site for typical newcomer questions, and of course, they organise one InterNations event per month. Generally, InterNations Ambassadors are committed volunteers, usually expats, as well as some locals with an international outlook and strong ties to the expat community.

What's on the horizon for InterNations?

In the year ahead, InterNations plans to launch more communities in several new cities. Another goal is adding an Activity Group section to the site to introduce small-scale local events for special interests, like going to a museum exhibition together, founding an international soccer team or establishing a multilingual playgroup for toddlers and their parents. We also hope to add a section with information on expat living and various country guides.

And more immediately, we've got another event right around the corner. From 7pm on Friday, January 28th we'll be Sturecompaniet, a popular club in Stockholm's Stureplan district. It should be a great time –both for current members, but also for other expats looking to join.

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