Moving to a new place is about 50% excitement and 50% anxiousness under the best of circumstances. When you don’t know anyone that anxiety can really take off and make it hard to enjoy a new place.
This was the case for me when I moved to Shanghai – I arrived not knowing anyone other than my partner and worked hard to build up a social circle with whom I could socialize and explore the city.
This post is a look at the steps I took to find, meet, and keep up with new friends so that I always had something to do, a place to ask questions and help when I needed it.
Yes, for most of you moving to China, your new job will come with a built-in social circle – you will have colleagues that have been in China a while or are just as willing to go exploring. This post is for those of you arriving solo, or taking jobs where you’re the only teacher and need a social outlet.
The good news is that there is no shortage of places to build relationships in China, the bad news is that it will take some work and you will need to put yourself out there – let’s get started!
As the name implies, Meetup is a platform where people can create events for other people to find and attend. It has been the best option by far in terms of finding non-nightlife related events to check out and groups to join.
The trick with Meetup is having an open mind – you might not find something overlaps 100% with your interests, but you should be able to find at least 1 group that piques your curiosity. When I first arrived in Shanghai I tried photo walks, language exchanges, neighborhood get-togethers, and even talks on emerging tech.
In the end, it was the board game group (also the longest-running Meetup in Shanghai!) that pulled me in and I’m glad to be able to meet regularly with them!
Reddit is known as the front page of the internet and has a community, or Subreddit, for pretty much every topic – including Shanghai.
I primarily relied on Reddit for 3 things:
- Asking questions – Reddit is a great place to ask for advice on events happening in the city, groups to join on Wechat, or even places to eat and drink.
- Event announcements – there weren’t many events announced on r/shanghai but the few that were turned out to be pretty fun – think about bar crawls, adventures outside the city, and group meetups.
- Monthly meetup – most location-based Reddit groups get together pretty regularly and the Shanghai group met monthly. These were always fun and if you’re familiar with Reddit then you should get along with everyone.
Facebook has been great for getting quick and genuine help for topics related to Shanghai. There are a few expat groups you can join and each is a wealth of information if you just use the search function.
I use Facebook to ask about events I’ve found elsewhere, inquire about Wechat groups to join, and ask for general advice regarding living in Shanghai. In general, I’d treat is as a place to find Wechat groups to join and ask questions but wouldn’t rely on it as a place to meet other expats.
You really can’t talk about building a social network in China without talking about WeChat – it will be home to most of your social interaction and you will likely become a member of numerous groups that focus on everything from restaurant deals to buying and selling items to ESL teaching resources.
The downside of Wechat is that the search functionality is pretty useless so you’ll need to be invited to join most groups. I approached this by asking both the Shanghai Facebook Group and Subreddit about their favorite groups – you could also ask if they know any groups about a certain topic. From there, someone will almost certainly offer to invite you and you’re off to the races!
A few tips:
- Some groups are 100% noise with little interaction – I use those to find events and stuff for my friends to do but they are useless in finding other people to socialize with.
- The best groups for relationship-building are the ones set up by specific businesses – for example, I’m a member of a group run by a restaurant called The Cannery and the members are all awesome and there is a real sense of community.
- Don’t hesitate to ask if someone wants to meet up for an event – I’ve done this a few times when something interesting came along and every time I was able to join another person or group planning to attend!
Where to start?
If you’re just arriving in Shanghai or China and looking to build out your social network, here are the steps I’d take:
- Browse Meetup for groups that appeal to you and make it a point of trying something new every week. Use these interactions to build up your Wechat contact list and ask for Wechat group invites.
- Interact with the best Wechat groups regularly – answer questions, give advice, and generally be engaged. When you see an event you’d like to attend simply ask if anyone is going and if they’d like to Meetup.
- Rinse and repeat – do this enough and your Wechat will grow exponentially – you’ll have a regular group of friends in no time and can move into the “I’ll try anything” phase to seeking out the events you really want and then inviting your crew.