Online writers’ clubbing on Internations

AWwYP's Editor in Chief Thornton Sully with author and frequent Kaffeeklatsch attendee Jacek Skrzypczynski in the Polish city of Wrocław at an Internations "Writers' Kaffeeklatsch" meeting on board the ship Wratislavia in February 2019. Photo by Hanna Motłoch

We connected the world. Mission accomplished.

At home? Bored with your usual distractions from writing your next novel? Forgotten what it’s like to have a coffee or a beer with your friends? There might be a solution…

In 2007, German TV news reporter Malte Zeeck and a couple of his college friends from McKinsey & Company, Inc., decided that the world needed an organization where expatriates and other “internationally minded” people could meet and make friends. What they came up with is Internations.

Internations is a social media platform geared specifically for “international people to meet, connect, and exchange information.” For expatriates moving from community to community, they provide a ready-made network to support their social needs, allowing them to make friends and find knowledgeable companions with whom to explore their new surroundings. For locals, they provide a place with which they can meet others from around the world that might be living in their town, and learn from their stories about what other distant places are like. The group maintains community pages for 420 cities, most of which support active communities that normally meet at least once a month in person, and more than 2.5 million individual profiles of people who have taken an active interest at one point or another in their activities. It’s quite possible that a well-traveled digital nomad might find a former acquaintance’s profile on the site.

Malte Zeeck and Philipp von Plato, co-CEOs and founders of Internations.org . Photo via Internations

Sometime around 2012, Internations began to organize activity groups to match people within communities who share similar interests. People who like to go out to eat with friends could find a Dinnernations activity group waiting for them. Others who like to visit cultural events or view art in galleries could find a club of their own where they might gather with others to share their experiences. Sports enthusiasts could go for a drink at a sports bar, or buy up a bunch of seats at a stadium to watch their teams play, or maybe it’s concert goers at a concert, or live music venue, etc.

Before long, creatives started gathering as well, as writers’ groups began to form in various cities, places where writers could discuss their craft, take part in writing sessions, or just have a good time with each other.

 

Ben Angel visiting Prague’s Tančící dům, or Dancing House, Frank Gehry’s contribution to the Czech capital’s skyline. Photo via Ben Angel.

My experiences with Internations Writers Groups

In 2017, I joined one such group in Prague during a trip I had decided to take to that city. That was how I met Thornton Sully. Shortly after I signed up, hoping that at some future visit I’d be able to make it to one of their activities, he took over the group. At the time, he had just come from Moscow, Idaho, to Prague on a foreign study program, which caught my attention. The Idaho Moscow was the first Moscow I’d been to, and though it of course pales in comparison to the bigger one in Russia (yes, the Kremlin is actually pretty impressive), I still had a soft spot for it – my junior high jazz band traveled up from the Tri-Cities to play there, I took part in a journalism conference when I was studying to become a journalist way back when, and it was not far from Spokane, where my father had just passed away. (I suppose that’s two things I share with Chuck Pahlaniuk, a birth place, and an area where our fathers passed away, though his father died under considerably more violent circumstances.)

Just before the end of Thorn’s stay in Prague as spring turned to summer in 2018, I made a second visit to the city in order to meet him, and to see what a writers’ group might have to offer. He gave a pretty good talk about metaphors, which turned into an interesting discussion afterward, first as part of a questions and answers session, then as part of a drinking session at a nearby bar. On the bus ride home, saddened that this was the last such meeting that he would be holding, I started asking myself, well, why couldn’t we start up something similar in Wrocław?

Pick a prompt, any prompt. Face-to-face writing sessions at Wrocław’s Bridge Hotel brought out creativity in the good ol’ days before the virus. Photo by Ben Angel

So I got with Alan Townend, who I knew had wanted to start a creativity-oriented group, and suggested that we get together and put together something like what I had seen Thorn do in Prague up in our Silesian home. Over the course of the summer, we worked out what we wanted to achieve, and in September 2018, we opened our first discussion group in a quiet cellar-like restaurant that had almost no business on a Sunday evening. This seemed to go well, and we continued to meet once a month through the coming winter. By Spring 2019, Thorn had come back to Europe, and naturally we invited him to come and check us out. We were meeting on a boat restaurant by that time, and had one of our published writers, Jacek Skrzypczynski, speak for us, and it turned into a rather nice evening.

We continued to host activities, including discussions and guest speaker events, and then finally a series of writer sessions organized by one of our more enthusiastic members, until the COVID-19 pandemic finally spread out from China and shut down the world. Naturally, according to Murphy’s Law, it hit right as we were increasing our stride, making plans to go from one meeting a month to two. With all the restaurants and bars closing up, even if we wanted to risk it, there was simply no place to go. Then Internations shut down all face-to-face events, and that seemed that.

 

A world of writers

Back when we organized our group, one of the things that I wanted to do with our group was to connect with other writers groups around Europe. I went through the different community pages, and wrote down the names of some 13 or so groups that seemed to focus on connecting writers with each other. I then wrote to our activity group supervisor covering the European region, and told her what I wanted to do. Of course, back then in those salad days of face-to-face interaction, the idea of interacting between writer groups seemed to be pointless. Unless you were taking a road trip to the other city, what was the point? I’d be mistaken as a spammer, I was warned.

Then came the shutdown, and with face-to-face out, and all the regret being expressed among everyone about not being able to grab a beer or a coffee somewhere, there was an opening here. If only we could just find an online way to meet with other people in real time.

That’s where Zoom came in. In fact, in the weeks prior to the pandemic, I had the chance to try the platform during a job interview with a Taiwanese robotics firm who was seeking someone to support their own beleaguered tech writer. Doing further research into that platform, and comparing it with other platforms like FaceTime and Skype, it seemed to offer more – 100 spaces for participants, compared to 34 with Skype, no restrictions on the operating system used… one does need to jump off and jump on every 40 minutes on the free version, but with host-switching, that can be worked around.

So, on Monday, Mar. 30, the day of our cancelled face-to-face meeting, we held our session online, a How-To session for author interviewing, inviting participants from some 39 writer-friendly groups from every inhabited continent. We had 32 sign-ups from 23 countries, of which 20 showed up. The presentation wasn’t as good as I’d have liked it to be (when I’m nervous, I speak way too fast – part of the reason I do more writing, rather than speaking), but we connected the world. Mission accomplished.

 

A Wrocław Dwarf waiting for the streets to fill again. The rest of us have migrated to the online world. Photo by Ben Angel

How to join the conversation

There are, of course, plenty of writers’ groups that are getting online and connecting with people. But Internations focuses its offer specifically on the entire world. By joining the nearest community to you (there are Internations communities all up and down the West Coast of the United States, Including San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle), you’ll be able to immediately check out activities taking place in your hometown. However, navigating the site using the community indicator in the upper right hand corner of the interface page, you’ll be able to also see what’s happening anywhere else in the world, their events, their activity groups, etc.

During the crisis, the social networking platform is allowing Basic (free) members the chance to join any activity group they like, which will allow them to attend any online gathering.

To join Internations, go to their website and follow the application instructions. When you do, drop me a line. (I’m the only Ben Angel in the Wroclaw community.)

 

The list of Writer Friendly groups across Internations (as of March 2020)

  1. Moscow Literary and Creative Writing Group (writing and reading)
  2. Helsinki Literary Group (writing and reading)
  3. The Hague Cultural, Creative, and Culinary Group (writing, reading and artistic activities)
  4. Prague Books Group (reading, formerly Prague Writers Group) and Prague Brainstorming 101 Group (artistic and creative activities)
  5. Bern Creative Writing Group (writing)
  6. Kiev Literary Group (writing and reading)
  7. Munich Writers Café Group (writing)
  8. Rome Literary Group (writing and reading)
  9. Paris Social Writing Group (writing)
  10. Frankfurt Creative Writing Group (writing)
  11. Barcelona Sitges Group (writing, reading, and artistic activities) and Barcelona Writing and Reading Group (predecessor group)
  12. Berlin Let’s Talk Books Group (reading) and Berlin Hang Out and Explore Group (artistic activities)
  13. Bucharest Short Stories Group (reading)
  14. Zurich Book Group (reading)
  15. Geneva Book Group (reading)
  16. Toulouse Book Group (reading)
  17. Mannheim Book Group (reading)
  18. Brussels Let’s Write Group (face-to-face writing, as of late March plans to stay inactive during crisis)
  19. London Closet Writers & Creatives Media Group (writing)
  20. Ankara Crucible of Stories and Games Group (reading and writing, creative activities)
  21. Antalya Books Group (reading)
  22. Abu Dhabi Books & Study Group (reading)
  23. Dubai Books Group (reading)
  24. Muscat Living Library Group (reading)
  25. Cairo Books Group (reading)
  26. Lagos Bound Together Group (reading)
  27. Abuja Literary Group (reading)
  28. Nairobi Book Group (primarily reading, some writing)
  29. Johannesburg Book and Film Group (reading)
  30. Mascarene Islands Literature and Book Group (reading)
  31. Taipei Books & Crafts Group (reading, artistic and creative activities)
  32. Tokyo Book Group (reading)
  33. Sydney Writing Group (writing)
  34. Seattle Writing Group (writing and some reading)
  35. Panama City Book Group (reading)
  36. Medellin Writers Group (writing)
  37. Bogota Book and Writing Group (writing and reading)
  38. Lima Writers Group (writing)
  39. Sao Paolo Writers Group (writing)
  40. Wroclaw Writers Kaffeeklatsch (writing and some creative activities)