Editor’s note: I met Stephanie Schmit through people fromÂ InterNationsÂ – the expat community that has chapters in cities worldwide. It was at a pub quiz at Noel’s Ballroom, which used to be one of my favorite pastimes; I don’t think our team won the trivia game that time, but I’m pretty sure we did next time when Stephanie was there, and used the prize to buyÂ a round of shots whose name seems to have been inspired by the movie Brokeback Mountain. I also danced all night with Stephanie and other InterNations expats one time, atÂ Elserartig, and had so much fun at the recently opened club that I didn’t even notice then the eye candy orÂ Lolo the usherÂ with the longish black hair and moustache, clad in a white suit and big round sunglasses, watching the restroomsÂ and sometimes leading women into their stalls like a true gentleman so they don’t have to knock and try to find out which ones might beÂ vacant. All this is to say that some of my fondest moments in Leipzig nightlife have come from hangouts with InterNations people, including Stephanie – who, with her bright smile, energy and very good people skills, is now the ambassador for the group’s Leipzig chapter, along with the also very nice and personable French guy Christopher Persee. I’ve asked Stephanie to tell us about her gig, experience in Leipzig and the InterNations community itself in this Q&A. Â
Q: Can you please tell me a bit about yourself?
A: Stephanie Schmit, 30 years old, Luxembourgish, researcher in Psychology and project coordinator at the German Foundation Against Depression, in Leipzig since 1 year now.
Q: How would you describe InterNations and its purpose?
A: InterNations is a platform bringing together expats and consisting of local communities in many different cities all over the world. The idea behind it is that nobody should feel aloneÂ when they move abroad, for example for their job. The purpose is to make expats feel atÂ ease, welcome them to the new city, put them in contact with people who are in the sameÂ situation and help them with everyday issues, like for example administrative tasks.
Q: When did you become InterNations ambassador for Leipzig, what motivated you to doÂ it, and what are your duties as ambassador?
A: I became ambassador only recently, in April 2015. I guess what motivated me to do it, wasÂ that I wanted to become active in a cause that I really support, to have a fulfilling purpose inÂ my life besides my job. I find the concept of InterNations so useful: I myself found practicallyÂ all my friends in Leipzig through this and I would like to help other people have the sameÂ opportunity. Plus, coming from Luxembourg, I am used to having people from all kinds ofÂ different nationalities around me. You hear so many different languages in the streets ofÂ Luxembourg and this is something that I missed when I first came to Leipzig. I feel so at easeÂ with people from all over the world, so it really felt natural for me to apply for the position.
Duties as ambassador include organizing at least one event per month in different locationsÂ in Leipzig, to welcoming new members, answering their questions online, helping themÂ wherever you can. Ambassadors as well as active members can decide to organize otherÂ activities apart from the monthly events and I would definitely like to do that once I find theÂ time for it (after my busy summer).
Q: How many members and nationalities are represented in InterNations Leipzig?
A: We currently have 1738 members from 61 locations.
Q: What have been some of the InterNations highlights in terms of activities in Leipzig,Â and how often do you meet?
A: We meet once a month. In the one year Iâ€™ve been here, one highlight was definitelyÂ watching the final of the football World Cup together. I had just arrived here and it was soÂ much fun cheering together for Germany, even though we all come from different countries.
One event I unfortunately missed out on was the golf class that our consul Sam organized forÂ the community. I heard it was a lot of fun and I would love to join next time.
Other great activities that have developed from InterNations are our Thursday running groupÂ and the many fun evenings pubquizzing at Noelâ€™s Ballroom.
Q: What do you think makes Leipzig attractive for foreigners?
A: On a professional level, I would say itâ€™s definitely the fast developing start-up scene here thatÂ is attractive. Compared to Berlin, which is still THE place to be for start-ups but maybe notÂ that much longer, Leipzig is still a very affordable place to live: rents are very low dependingÂ on the neighborhoods, so is the general cost of living. That makes it a good place to startÂ from, when you have a small budget and want to set up your business. Itâ€™s also smaller andÂ thus maybe more comfortable to live compared to big Berlin. And should you getÂ claustrophobic here because itâ€™s quite small: have a weekend away in the capital (itâ€™s only 1Â hour away by train), then come back and enjoy cozy Leipzig again.
Apart from the professional level, the city has so much to offer culturally. Great classicÂ concerts in the Opera and as open air concerts during the summer, small jazz concerts in gloomyÂ bars, art studios in the Spinnerei in Plagwitz, little craft stores, museums about GDR times, pompous buildingsâ€¦ thereâ€™s something for every taste. And if youâ€™re not theÂ culturally interested kind of person: have a stroll in one of the many parks or lie lazily on theÂ beach next to the lake.
Q: What has your experience been like as a foreigner in Leipzig?
A: I must say, for me it was probably not that difficult as for other foreigners, as I speak theÂ language fluently and had lived in Germany before. However, it struck me in the beginningÂ that East Germans have a very different mentality than Western Germans (or at least thanÂ people from the Rhine, where I lived before). I didnâ€™t find it easy to make local friends.
Thatâ€™s why I was really happy that there was an active InterNations community here and Iâ€™veÂ made some wonderful international friends here. The bittersweetness of the expat life,Â however, lies in the fact that people are coming and going quickly. I had to say goodbye to aÂ few good friends already and itâ€™s never easy. You feel you have to start from scratch to findÂ new friends. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m happy to be an active member of InterNations and to meet newÂ people regularly.
Q: What are some of the main concerns and questions InterNations members pose to youÂ regarding life in Leipzig?
A: I’ve received some messages online from people who are condisering moving here withÂ children and I can only imagine how difficult moving as a whole family must be: you have toÂ find a school for the children, a neighborhood that is convenient for every member of theÂ family, a language school, etc. Other questions posted in our Facebook group are for example,Â finding an English-speaking doctor, a bookstore with English literature, finding a job, learningÂ Germanâ€¦ I try to help as much as I can, but Facebook members are so proactive that mostÂ questions get answered quite quickly. That is of great help!
Q: What are some of your plans for the near future regarding the development andÂ activities of InterNations Leipzig?
A: Like I said, I would like to create some other activities during the week, as an additon to theÂ monthly events. Especially now with the good weather, there are many things to do, likeÂ having a barbeque in the park or going to one of the lakes. In winter maybe some food- orÂ wine-tasting events, or going to watch movies in English would be some ideas. What I alsoÂ would really like to do is create a sort of directory, in which I collect all the previouslyÂ mentioned questions and answers posted in our Facebook group, so as to create a sort ofÂ handbook for expats in Leipzig. But I must honestly say that itâ€™s difficult to realise suchÂ projects alongside work. If I had some volunteers among our members to help me out withÂ that, that would be great!