“I’m glad to be a part of it because I think it’s nice for women to help other women.” – Michelle Ibarra, Girl Gone International Asia Regional Manager
Going international is always an intimidating decision. You are essentially choosing to throw yourself into a completely new environment, language and lifestyle; while your friends and family remain thousands of miles away. And moving to a new city in a new country presents many challenges, from finding friends to finding places to go on the weekend. Girl Gone International (GGI), a free non-profit organization connecting female expats, was born out of a desire to connect with fellow travelers and revel in common experience.
It started out very naturally, according to Michelle Ibarra the regional manager of GGI Asia. It was just a few girls meeting up in Germany to hang out. After a few months, however, it started to catch on by word of mouth. One year later, they decided to expand. As the original members worked their way around the globe, they brought GGI with them. From there, girls volunteered to work on a GGI magazine which became a culmination of stories and advice from female expats all over the world.
Now, over 20,000 members strong and based in 100 cities, GGI continues to grow exponentially. The GGI chapter in Shanghai, specifically, has almost 400 members in its wechat group alone and even within such a large community these women are comfortable enough to look to each other for support, whether it be recovering from a breakup or asking about safety. Touching on the stigma surrounding solo female travel, Ibarra had this to say, “It can be scary, for me especially. I’m small and petite. I’m alone. I’m carrying a big backpack, a big suitcase. I’m an easy target. I think it’s important that we’ve established this community.” It lets you find a mentor or guide in other women who have already experienced so much.
Beyond that, GGI has encouraged women to start clubs, organize events and simply be more outgoing. There is a running club that meets every Tuesday, a book club, a nightlife group and just a few months ago they organized a fashion show staffed entirely by GGI volunteers. When it comes to the future of GGI, the sky’s the limit and that is exciting to see. Their official website is launching soon and with that, they are looking to establish city specific forums and web pages for everything from finding a house swap to planning a night out in a new place.
Growing up, I noticed a lack of women interested in travel and so the communal aspect of GGI is what I find most inspiring. Here I am able to connect with dozens of women, all over the world, all interested in exploring new places and “going international”. Just as great literature inspires great movements, GGI will go on to inspire future generations of women to take on the world and feel safe doing so.
If you would like to explore GGI and their Shanghai chapter, you can connect with them on Facebook or Wechat (Michelleyibarra)!