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Why Expats Are Modern-Day Pioneers

From seventeenth-century settlers searching for the new world to the scientists behind groundbreaking discoveries, pioneers dominate the history books. Though their adventures may be very different, what unites all pioneers is a sense of adventure. Whether it’s an unmapped island or an untested medical treatment, pioneers are the people that move towards the unknown and embrace it. It’s that same spirit that defines an expat.

With the internet and social media, it might seem like the world is an open book. We can stroll down streets on the other side of the world without leaving our armchair thanks to Google Maps; we can see what someone’s having for dinner 3,000 miles away on Instagram, or read their blog to find out their interests and beliefs. But — as any expat will tell you — there’s still plenty to discover.

The moment someone decides to move abroad, they are a pioneer. Just making that decision to take a different path requires a certain bravery, potentially stepping away from what friends and family expected, maybe even from a job offer or a relationship. Deciding to move abroad means choosing to go where things are unfamiliar, where you don’t know what to expect — just like those intrepid pioneers of the past.

While international travel has become fairly common, living abroad and turning the unknown into your home is something very different. It’s the tiny — un-Instagram worthy — moments that make up day-to-day life: it’s the different smells as you walk down the street, the chaos of finding your way from A to B, the frustration of trying to make yourself understood in a foreign language. Performing these everyday tasks in an unfamiliar environment is part of the unique challenge that is expat life. You can’t experience it through a screen or on a two-week vacation.

It’s not just getting to grips with the practicalities of life abroad, there’s a whole new cultural code to uncover. Why does your German friend look so horrified that you wished them happy birthday in advance? Did your colleague mean to insult you when they congratulated you on looking “less fat”? Becoming aware of and sensitive to cultural differences only happens when you’re immersed somewhere new. In a world where we can connect so easily, it’s more important than ever to pick up on and embrace these differences.

These common qualities and challenges that expats share inspired entrepreneurs Malte Zeeck and Philipp von Plato. Though one was a TV reporter travelling through India and Brazil and the other a consultant in Croatia and the UK, the challenges they faced were the same: getting started in a new city, finding practical information about life abroad, and making friends. It inspired them to found InterNations.

A lot has changed in ten years. From being a start-up to having over 2.7 million members in 390 communities, InterNations is now the largest social network for expats. It’s more than a community — it’s a collective of pioneers. Among InterNations members, 78% have lived in two or more countries; 50% speak three or more languages. All of them embrace the unknown.

Leading up to our global birthday party on 7 October, we’re celebrating our pioneering members, their stories, and the unique experience of being an expat. We want to hear from you! Share your pioneering story for the chance to win a Hero Sessions GoPro — find out more here. Throughout the birthday celebrations you’ll find tips on life abroad, insights on succeeding as a start-up, and stories about expat life around the world in the Anniversary section of our new InterNations Magazine. You can also share your thoughts and stories by following us on Facebook or Twitter.  

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