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InterNations: The Virtual Home Away from Home for Sofia’s Expats

internationsSince the fall of the Iron Curtain, many countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe have become increasingly popular amongforeign visitors and residents from around the globe.

 

Bulgaria is no exception to this rule, especially since it joined the European Union and its common market in 2007.However, this industrialized upper-middle-income country remains one of the poorest EU member states. With an average gross income of about €360 per month, most Bulgarians have a rather low standard of living, particularly in the countryside.

 

Nonetheless, the Bulgarian economy has bounced back pretty quickly from the recession of 2008/2009. The current government is trying its best to keep the currency stable and to lower the unemployment rate. The mining sector, energy production, and IT/CT contribute considerably to the growth of Bulgaria's GDP, and the tourist industry is thriving: a rising number of visitors from abroad flock to the country's heritage sites and the numerous resorts on the Black Sea coast. Partly due to an international marketing campaign initiated by the Bulgarian tourism board, the hospitality industry hit a new record high in 2011. 8.7 million guests from Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and the UK came to spend their holidays in Bulgaria.

Although the country's population includes only a small percentage of foreign residents (roughly 70,000 or 1% of the Bulgarian populace), Bulgaria is becoming more international. Infrastructural improvements, the energy sector, environmental technology, and healthcare offer plenty of opportunities for foreign investors, and the low cost environment attracts companies from various countries. Did you know that Aurubis, a large copper mining business that's extremely active in Bulgaria, is actually based in Hamburg, Germany? Or that a Chinese automobile company has begun to produce some of its vehicles in Eastern Europe?

It doesn't come as a surprise that there are more and more "typical" expats in Bulgaria, i.e. managers on a foreign assignment or specialists on an intra-company transfer. In addition to these executives and employees who participate in large-scale projects or help to open branch offices, retirees on a fixed income are often attracted by the local cost of living. As to their exact numbers, the estimates vary wildly. In Sofia alone, the expat community is said to include between 5,000 and 10,000 people. The Bulgarian capital enjoys its new affluence, having grown into a cosmopolitan, dynamic, and confident metropolis.

This is the vibrant place where the Bulgarian chapter of InterNations organizes its activities. Founded in 2007, the Munich-based startup runs the world's largest community for expatriates and global minds. In less than five years, the once tiny network has developed into a huge platform with over half a million members around the world. Each InterNations expat belongs to one of 325 local communities in virtually every country around the world. Within their local community, people can exchange advice and insider tips on a forum, connect with each other, and attend offline events on a regular basis. The average InterNations member is around 35 years old, a highly qualified professional, and globally mobile. Their ardent desire to network and socialize is not confined to an online environment.

So-called Ambassadors - mostly a small team composed of local volunteers and other expats - invite the global minds to monthly InterNations gatherings in most communities. The nearly 1,400 members in Sofia profit from such an opportunity as well. Their Ambassador team consists of Carlos, a Mexican expatriate who lived in Peru before coming to Bulgaria, and Irina, a Bulgarian woman who spent several years in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Spain, both for work and study. Between them, the two speak half a dozen languages (which is not that unusual on InterNations), and they share a keen interest in travel and particularly in foreign affairs.

The most recent InterNations get-together in Sofia was a pretty multi-national affair too. Cross cultural communication? No problem! Guests from Australia, Bulgaria, China, Germany, Hungary, India, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Turkey, and the US gathered at one of Sofia's swankiest wine bars to taste some delicious vintages from Sliven and Plovdiv. The venues for the events, like the artsy jazz bar that welcomed the InterNations crowd in April, are usually chosen carefully to reflect the international, up-scale, but casual atmosphere of the events. We are sure that the Sofia Ambassadors will come again up with a great location for the July get-together.
If all this has caught your interest, why don't you have a look at our community? The InterNations expats are looking forward to meeting you!

INTERNATIONS is the international social networking service for expatriates and global minds worldwide. They actively discuss both local and global issues and meet up in over 300 communities on a regular basis. For further information, please go to www.internations.org.