10 Years of GGI - Our Community Managers Share Their Stories

Back in 2010, the idea of Girl Gone International was sparked by one woman, Anne Scott, when she found herself needing to start over (again) in a new city where she knew absolutely no-one. Feeling very disorientated and socially isolated in Hamburg, Germany, Anne logged on to Facebook one day and began reaching out to other women who also appeared to be foreigners living in the city. She along with this small group of adventurous women decided to meet up in person for the first time on October 26. And as luck would have it, they all quickly developed a friendship built around their shared experiences and the feelings that come from being far away from friends, family and the familiar.

This humble, little group of travelers grew to the point where they were hosting monthly women-only events across Hamburg. And slowly but surely, a community of women from many countries started to form, creating a strong culture of helping and caring for one another in an unfamiliar city that now started to feel like home.

After a year or so, members of the group began to leave Hamburg and asked Anne if they could take Girl Gone International with them. But how could this same energy and culture be recreated? How could another community be built from scratch in a different city? How could the same magic be sparked? It turns out...very easily! The secret was that these communities needed to be started and supported by other women with the same mission and with the same shared sense of purpose: to help women feel like they belong right where they are.

These are the stories of some of the women who have continued to spread the Girl Gone International spirit of community and friendship to cities and countries all across the world.

1) Antwerp, Belgium - Sophie Larard

I moved to Sweden in 2019 and this was my first big move to a country with a different culture and language. I was apprehensive to live there; I had never even visited before! I immediately found GGI which allowed me to arrive in an unknown place and have a support network of awesome womxn who could help me settle in. Living in a new place can feel lonely but GGI give me that space to connect with new people. Some of these awesome girls later became close friends. Since then I have been on trips with friends I made in Sweden and we are planning more for the future. Then when I was once again getting ready to move again I knew that because of GGI any move to anywhere would always be ok! Now I am living in Antwerp and have another awesome GGI group to be a part of!

2) Berlin, Germany & GGI Global Community - Laurel Wright

GGI has been my lifeline as I've navigated building a life in a new country. All of my closest friends in Berlin are women that I met through GGI. I believe our community is like a sisterhood... the first time you meet a woman and she tells you that she's a GGI, you feel like you instantly have something in common because you know that she values building a life filled with adventure, love and built on her own terms. One of my most cherished GGI memories took place last year during the Community Manager summit in Marrakech. My father had passed away from lung cancer during the trip. After I received the news, Violet and Jeanette were there to comfort me. I had just met Jeanette during that trip and yet she was giving me love and hugs like we had known each other for our entire lives. I wouldn't be where I am today without GGI and am eternally grateful to Anne for building this amazing community.

3) Johannesburg, South Africa - Mandy September-Benini

Girl Gone International has impacted my life in two ways: Firstly, through the friendships I’ve made that have made me feel a sense of belonging in the world and secondly, to my personal life and helping me realise that the work I do for this community is what I want to take forward in my life. I began my journey as a GGI in 2015 when I first moved abroad to Belgrade, Serbia from South Africa. It was the friendships and kindness from women in that community that made me feel connected, supported and part of something special. It brought me to life! I will also always be thankful to GGI for the opportunities it has given me to grow as a community manager, GGI's Instagram manager, and as a creative part of the HQ team as a whole. My passion for supporting women-led communities has grown and become so important to me that I know it has opened a new calling in my life! I am a Girl Gone International and thanks to this community I know that no matter where I am, I will always belong.

4) San Diego, CA, USA - Jenny von Weisenborn

I’m a third-culture kid: my parents are from different cultures and then I was raised in cultures different from those. I continued my nomadic lifestyle into my adult years because it’s what I know. It’s a peculiar thing to feel like you’re from everywhere and nowhere. It’s also isolating at times because it’s an unconventional and unusual background, one that many people can’t relate to. GGI has positively affected my life and I’m grateful for the sense of community and connection it creates. I feel understood by like-minded individuals who’ve had similar life experiences and can empathize with concepts such as expat life, reverse culture shock, and feeling that every fiber of your being is meant to explore the world. I’ve developed new friendships and the monthly meetups are a fun way to explore the city. My whole life I’ve been the “new girl” and haven’t always felt like I “belonged.” Now, as a GGI Community Manager, I get to help all the “new girls” feel welcome. It has been a joyful and empowering opportunity to help foster a safe and supportive space for womxn to come together, and I will forever be thankful for the meaningful impact of GGI!

5) Oslo, Norway - Katalin Bencze

I have learnt so much about myself and what it means to be a strong and empowering woman both for others and myself. I was able to cross off one my travel bucket list items when thanks to GGI I traveled to Morocco with a group of people I had never met before and came home with friendships and bonds and I never thought imaginable. I have made new friends who inspire me even though we are not in the same country. I've also needed to train my brain to accept that I am in fact a leader for my community and it is a privilege to hold space for women in a situation similar to the one I was in when I moved to Norway 10 years ago and expat communities were nowhere to be found. GGI gave me an opportunity to meet new people after living here for 10 years, just when I thought it wouldn't be possible. I’m grateful that GGI found its way into my life and for the friend who introduced me.

6) Hamburg, Germany - Maike Breternitz

I discovered GGI in Shanghai where it helped me to find friends and survive in a culture so different from my own. But it mainly impacted my life when I decided to move back to my home. I knew I had changed and would have/need a completely different life than the one I left 8 years prior including finding much needed friends that had a similar mindset and had experienced living abroad. So I joined GGI Hamburg even before I bought my flight ticket home. The first year back was super tough. At first I ran away again and ended up staying with Anne Scott (GGI founder) for two months in Palma creating the GGI magazine – finding rest, peace, inspiration, friends and making many connections to GGI Headquarters. It was definitely one of the best decisions I've made! It gave me courage to go back to Hamburg and try again. I started hosting GGI events and became the Hamburg CM. I would have never thought that I would run a community with over 6,000 members, hosting events more or less by myself. It helped me settle, discover my home town and myself anew and, most importantly, find new friends and a GGI family that made me feel at home again.

7) Lisbon, Portugal - Jennifer Fry

GGI had always been a community I was part of but never fully engaged in. I joined up in a number of cities since 2010 but as a digital nomad, always found myself moving on before I could fully engage. It was only in my move to Lisbon after being back home in the US for nearly five years and feeling completely out of place, that I reentered the GGI community, having a gaping hole in my life for female friendships and an overall feeling of a lack of connection and community. The timing was right it seemed as Anne was in search of a new CM at just the right time! I took it as a sign and dove head first into organizing events and growing the Lisbon community. After just under a year in the role, we have now built one of, if not the best(!) regarded all-women communities in Lisbon with highly engaged and enthusiastic members! This year I lost my job of nearly nine years due to the global COVID pandemic, so in reality, this group has become the focal point of my life and is giving me so much more confidence and renewed energy. I would be utterly lost without it and my role as CM!

8) Maastricht, Netherlands - Sarah McGibbon

In January 2018, I moved from my hometown to a country on the other side of the world, to a city I’d never visited. After nine months of struggling to find my feet, I had the opportunity to launch the Maastricht GGI community. I thought that I could not be the only lonely woman in the city who wanted to make friends without feeling weird about it; and, I was right! Being part of GGI has allowed me to be part of over 700 women’s chapters in Maastricht, and that is such a wonderful gift. Through being able to meet people from all over the world, I learned that I was not alone in my struggle with understanding and accepting all the big changes in my life. I have shared smiles and frustration and laughter with so many women about packing (our boxes and boxes of books), navigating Dutch bureaucracy, long-distance love and the cost of plane tickets. I have learned about many different cultures, languages, foods and drinks. We have marched together and danced together. Of course I have made many wonderful friends of my own through the community, but the most rewarding experience of all is watching friendships blossom between our members and seeing GGIs rally to support each other, both in their personal and professional lives. From the somewhat selfish motive of finding support for myself, through GGI I have helped enable others to find their own support systems, change their lives and bloom in their new home. GGI has changed the social landscape for internationally minded women in Maastricht, including my own. I cannot imagine my life here without my GGI community and I know that if (when) I move again GGI will always be there for me, helping me find my way.

9) Karlshure + Baden-Baden, Germany - Michele Fernanda

I found GGI in a period of my life I felt the most vulnerable and broken. While I was living amazing experiences at the time, my inner voice felt silenced as I tried to be and do things because that was "how it is". Becoming a CM gave the me opportunity to be who I really am while meeting others who see the world as I see it. While I live a lifestyle that is so different (and confusing at times) to my loved ones, knowing I don´t stand alone has been very powerful during my journey. As I navigate the world meeting the most incredible womxn because of GGI, knowing that I have a community to be a part of as I enter a new city has been so reassuring. GGI not only highlighted my strengths, it empowered my voice, and it gave me a platform to be who I really am no matter I am in the world.

10) Malmö, Sweden - Irina Belenkaya

Imagine that you are standing in front of something very unknown and it excites and frightens you at the same time... this is exactly how I felt when I moved to a small town Malmö in the South of Sweden. It was my first experience of living abroad in my 40 years and I was not ready for not having my friends and relatives next to me. I didn't really understand the value of this privilege until I lost it. I still remember the warm welcoming feeling from joining my first Malmö GGI event! "Wow," I thought to myself in that moment. "I am not alone with the same challenges! I have never met so many amazing and courageous women exploring the world and building their life in a new place!" Now, a bit more than one year later, I am a community manager for GGI Malmö making sure that all are welcomed the same way I was on that day. It gives me a sense of purpose, it gives me a chance to meet new people and enriches my life. I have a nice social circle here now and it feels good! This is how, by showing kindness and by empowering each other, that we are creating a safe space for finding new friends. It is also warming my heart to know that I can move to another country or city again and join a GGI group there!

11) Kanazawa, Japan - Franziska Kolbe

Through my work for GGI I have met so many different and powerful women from all over the globe. Their stories are inspiring, empowering and often helped me to be brave as well in my decisions. All those women are very open minded, ambitious, passion-driven and, frankly said, amazing. I love everyone of them and I am grateful to call them my friends. My own way of thinking and perceiving the world has changed a lot through them; I learned so much and have been educated on topics like racism and patriarchy like never before. I've learned that coming from a rich European country, my life was often fairly easy compared to that of other women. I am glad I've been able to learn about different views and opinions through them. And thanks to GGI I will celebrate my birthday with many cool girls from different countries like Indonesia, Japan, Cuba, Colombia, Singapore, and more. This would not have been possible in my life before GGI.

12) Moscow, Russia - Nina Anigbogu

I first came across GGI in Berlin, became a member immediately, and haven't looked back. How has GGI impacted my life? Well, having lived in Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart while speaking zero German, having zero friends, and with no clue how anything worked, GGI helped me in many ways. First, I've been able to meet amazing ladies and make great friends. Second, with the help of the community I was able to get my first job in Germany . And third, I was able to understand how the German society works. Back in Moscow, I wanted to pass on my amazing experiences and was honoured to be given the opportunity by Anne to do so. If I can help even one girl not feel like a stranger and all alone in Moscow, then that is a reward in and of itself for me.

13) Jakarta, Indonesia - Marina Dailly

Starting-off again in a big city is never easy. I was doubly-lucky in Jakarta to discover GGI and also to become the Community manager. For the past four years, GGI has become the nucleus of my social life. What makes it special is that it is a genuine friendship connector for women who have gone abroad and a haven for Indonesian 're-pats' that are still longing for the international vibes & mindset. This makes the fabric of this community quite unique, meeting women with inspiring stories, always with open mind & hearts. Thank you GGI for my best friends - from Jakarta to Berlin and from Amsterdam to Bangkok.

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Representing, connecting & supporting every kickass woman who has ever packed a bag and headed out into the world to see what would happen next...