I’m the first to preach that immersing yourself in the local culture is the best way to take advantage of your time in China. However, during your time abroad, hanging out with Westerners can sometimes be as valuable as spending time with Chinese people.
Befriending fellow foreigners can help stave off homesickness. Being around expatriates (or “expats”) offers you an opportunity to relax, because constantly interacting with foreign people in a foreign language can become exhausting.
By giving yourself the occasional break from Chinese culture, you create a buffer, which may end up enriching your appreciation of China.
If you spend all day at work, and then go back to your apartment for the evening, it can be difficult to meet fellow expats. How do you meet and cultivate relationships with people? Here are 4 strategies.
1. Attend Company Events
When I moved to China, my American recruiter set me up with a Chinese agency called Seadragon. This agency made all the arrangements for me to teach and then acted as the middle man between the school and me.
If you decide to work with an agency like Seadragon, you will undoubtedly hear about numerous company events.
Seadragon threw its employees a Christmas party with a buffet and free alcohol. Once per school year, there was an optional outing in the city for expats working in certain districts. My district’s school board also required that the agency hold weekly meetings and provide us with Chinese lessons.
Granted, some of these events were more fun than others. Regardless, attending some of them will introduce you to other foreigners who work for the same company. When you meet, you already have something in common!
2. Hang out at Expat-Friendly Places
In Shenzhen, where I lived, there was a neighborhood that locals referred to as “COCO Park,” with expat-friendly bars, clubs, and restaurants. Every weekend, crowds of foreigners flocked to COCO Park, which made it a great place to meet people.
I’ve met people while having a drink, but I’ve also met foreigners while enjoying a meal at expat-friendly cafes and diners. Trying local cuisine is one of the best parts of traveling, but stepping into a Western restaurant can be an easy way to meet a fellow Westerner.
3. Join a Gym
If you want to stay in shape, shop around for a gym. Once you find the one with the best membership package, join and say hello to others foreigners. If the price is reasonable and the equipment is good, chances are, other expats have joined this gym too.
I know someone who has made friends with many Westerners at his Chinese gym. As with events organized by your agency, meeting at the gym guarantees you already have something in common. You can also meet for a cup of coffee afterward. Maybe at one of those expat-friendly cafes!
4. Accept Invitations
Calling all fellow introverts!
After being around Chinese children for eight hours per day, you’re probably tempted to hole up in your apartment during evenings or weekends. That’s fair, and you should do that every once in a while, to rejuvenate.
But if you want to make new acquaintances, accept invitations to go out one or two nights per week. You’ll get to see new places and meet new people. Even if you’re invited by a friend you always hang out with anyway, if they invite others, you’ll get to meet more expats.