If you’re thinking of moving to China, you’ll no doubt have lots of questions. What will your students be like? What will your daily life look like? How will you meet other people in a foreign country? If you’re asking these questions you’re not alone!
When I first made the move to China three years ago, I only knew a few other teachers from my program that were also going to teach. I was in a strange country, adjusting to life in a new culture, and I was also wondering how to settle in and meet more people.
I was quickly surprised by how many ways there were to meet people and how easy it was to get connected with others here in China! You’ll find the foreign community in China is diverse and very open. Most people understand the challenges that come with living in a foreign country and are happy to meet new people and help one another out!
Here’s some great ways you can meet people abroad in China:
Your co-workers, of course, are the ones you’ll be interacting with on a daily or weekly basis. They’re the people you’ll want to grab lunch with after class or go exploring with on the weekends. Your co-workers are also a great resource to use for meeting other people, especially if they have been living in China longer than you have!
If you’re teaching through a company or agency in China, you have the chance to meet even more teachers. Many companies will have networking events and parties to connect their teachers who are living in the same city but might not have otherwise meet!
WeChat is a valuable tool to utilize when you’re in China! Not only can you pay for things, order taxis, and send messages to friends, but you can also join groups and follow public pages. There are countless WeChat groups related to renting apartments, job postings, and foreigner events.
You can also use WeChat to follow public accounts and receive subscriptions from restaurants, businesses, events, and other English publications. Accounts such as CHINADAILY and Sino Bytes are great accounts to follow for general information about China, but I also recommend finding accounts specific to your city that will help you connect with other foreigners and let you know about music concerts, expat meet-ups, cool restaurants to try, and other local events going on.
Beijing: The Beijinger (WeChat id: theBeijinger)
Shanghai: Shanghaiist (WeChat ID: shanghai_ist)
Guangzhou: That’s Guangzhou and City Weekend Guangzhou
There are plenty of expat bars, restaurants, and coffee shops in China where other foreigners love to kick back and relax! These places are not only a great way to meet new faces, but also a chance to participate in fun events. Many bars will have trivia nights, theme parties, as well as holiday festivities. Coffee shops and restaurants will often host karaoke parties, open mike nights, or concerts featuring local musicians. These expat hangouts are also a great way to hear about local sports teams, game nights, and other clubs you might have an interest in.
For those in Shanghai, check out this list of popular restaurants expats love to visit: https://www.chinahighlights.com/shanghai/article-where-expats-eat.htm
If you’re going to Beijing and wanting to meet other expats, visit one of these well-known bars: https://www.10best.com/destinations/china/beijing/nightlife/bars/
You’ll find lots of lists like these online that can recommend great places to go in your city!
Most cities in China offer a variety of language learning opportunities for foreigners. Through private classes, open language exchanges, or Chinese cultural events, there are lots of ways to be more immersed in Chinese culture and meet some friends!
My second year in China I found out about a free weekly Chinese lesson that many foreigners attended. It was a great way to practice our Chinese and also make connections with each other. We often ended up going out to dinner afterwards or heading out to a music bar on the weekends.
Language Learning Apps are also a great tool! Max, one of my friends from the UK currently living in Shenzhen, said that he used the app Hello Talk to meet people: “Hello Talk is a really useful app that connected me with people who wanted to learn English, and in return they taught me Chinese,” Max said. “Those connections brought me even more connections with other people also wanting to learn.”
My friend Pete, an Irish teacher currently living in Foshan, also had some great advice: “Don’t just limit yourself to only making expat friends! It’s fun to also make Chinese friends and learn more about Chinese culture. That’s why we’re in China after all, to have new experiences in a foreign country!”
Language Learning Apps: Hello Talk, Let’s Talk, Bilingua
In this era of social media, it’s easy to connect with other online who are experiencing the same joys and struggles as you living in a foreign country. On Facebook, you’ll find lots of groups for expats living in Chinese cities, as well as postings about events happening.
Instagram is a platform I personally use a lot, and through it I’ve become friends with lots of other teachers in my city, Guangzhou. I’ve even met up with some of them! By searching through locations and hashtags, you can discover others near you.
If Instagram isn’t your style, there are plenty of other online networking sites expats frequently use such as Reddit, Meet Up, and Internations. Theses sites are great for connecting with other expats in your community and joining groups related to hobbies you enjoy.
Sign up for InterNations here: https://www.internations.org/
And check out this Reddit page about China to read posts from other expats and find others in your city: https://www.reddit.com/r/China/
Take advantage of your days off during Chinese holidays and do some traveling! You’ll run into lots of interesting people on the road, especially if you stay in hostels. I’ve met lots of friends just from crossing paths in a hostel lobby or when a group was headed out to explore.
Couchsurfing is a fantastic app to use if you’re wanting to meet local people and have a unique experience during your travels. It’s a way to dive deeper into a new city, and also get some insider information.
It will surprise you how many connections you’ll make simply by getting out in your city. Try to pursue hobbies and activities you enjoy doing and you’ll find others who share similar interests as you! I made many friends at my gym, at a coffee shop I frequented a lot, and at a local expat restaurant. Building a network of friends in your city will not only be fun and give you the chance to explore more, but also help on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed in a foreign country or a little homesick.
You have the opportunity to make friends everywhere in China! Through working, traveling, and exploring, you'll bump into some pretty cool people along the way.