Editor’s note: I met Stephanie Schmit through people from InterNations – 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 buy 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, at Elserartig, and had so much fun at the recently opened club that I didn’t even notice then the eye candy or Lolo the usher with the longish black hair and moustache, clad in a white suit and big round sunglasses, watching the restrooms 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 be 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.
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 alone when they move abroad, for example for their job. The purpose is to make expats feel at ease, welcome them to the new city, put them in contact with people who are in the same 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 do 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, was that I wanted to become active in a cause that I really support, to have a fulfilling purpose in my life besides my job. I find the concept of InterNations so useful: I myself found practically all my friends in Leipzig through this and I would like to help other people have the same opportunity. Plus, coming from Luxembourg, I am used to having people from all kinds of different nationalities around me. You hear so many different languages in the streets of Luxembourg and this is something that I missed when I first came to Leipzig. I feel so at ease 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 locations in Leipzig, to welcoming new members, answering their questions online, helping them wherever you can. Ambassadors as well as active members can decide to organize other activities apart from the monthly events and I would definitely like to do that once I find the 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, and how often do you meet?
A: We meet once a month. In the one year I’ve been here, one highlight was definitely watching the final of the football World Cup together. I had just arrived here and it was so 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 for 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 group and the many fun evenings pubquizzing at Noel’s Ballroom.
Q: What do you think makes Leipzig attractive for foreigners?
A: On a professional level, I would say it’s definitely the fast developing start-up scene here that is attractive. Compared to Berlin, which is still THE place to be for start-ups but maybe not that much longer, Leipzig is still a very affordable place to live: rents are very low depending on the neighborhoods, so is the general cost of living. That makes it a good place to start from, when you have a small budget and want to set up your business. It’s also smaller and thus maybe more comfortable to live compared to big Berlin. And should you get claustrophobic here because it’s quite small: have a weekend away in the capital (it’s only 1 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 classic concerts in the Opera and as open air concerts during the summer, small jazz concerts in gloomy bars, art studios in the Spinnerei in Plagwitz, little craft stores, museums about GDR times, pompous buildings… there’s something for every taste. And if you’re not the culturally interested kind of person: have a stroll in one of the many parks or lie lazily on the 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 the language fluently and had lived in Germany before. However, it struck me in the beginning that East Germans have a very different mentality than Western Germans (or at least than people from the Rhine, where I lived before). I didn’t find it easy to make local friends.
That’s why I was really happy that there was an active InterNations community here and I’ve made some wonderful international friends here. The bittersweetness of the expat life, however, lies in the fact that people are coming and going quickly. I had to say goodbye to a few good friends already and it’s never easy. You feel you have to start from scratch to find new friends. That’s why I’m happy to be an active member of InterNations and to meet new people regularly.
Q: What are some of the main concerns and questions InterNations members pose to you regarding life in Leipzig?
A: I’ve received some messages online from people who are condisering moving here with children and I can only imagine how difficult moving as a whole family must be: you have to find a school for the children, a neighborhood that is convenient for every member of the family, a language school, etc. Other questions posted in our Facebook group are for example, finding an English-speaking doctor, a bookstore with English literature, finding a job, learning German… I try to help as much as I can, but Facebook members are so proactive that most questions get answered quite quickly. That is of great help!
Q: What are some of your plans for the near future regarding the development and activities of InterNations Leipzig?
A: Like I said, I would like to create some other activities during the week, as an additon to the monthly events. Especially now with the good weather, there are many things to do, like having a barbeque in the park or going to one of the lakes. In winter maybe some food- or wine-tasting events, or going to watch movies in English would be some ideas. What I also would really like to do is create a sort of directory, in which I collect all the previously mentioned questions and answers posted in our Facebook group, so as to create a sort of handbook for expats in Leipzig. But I must honestly say that it’s difficult to realise such projects alongside work. If I had some volunteers among our members to help me out with that, that would be great!