Moving to China to work can be a thrilling experience, but it can most certainly be a challenge. However determined you are to ‘stay local’ and make friends with Chinese nationals, at one point or another, you will eventually find yourself desperate to talk to someone either of your own nationality or at least someone who understands where you are coming from. Most Chinese people are incredibly friendly and willing to make friends with you, but there will often be an ‘us and them’ mentality that you will find very hard to break down – much of this will be due to cultural differences. There are a number of ways that you can make contact with other Westerners.
Through your company/school
Most companies/schools that hire expatriates will have more than one. This should set you up with a ready made group of acquaintances, if not friends. If you are living in the middle of nowhere and you really are the only expatriate around, then you may need to ask for your bosses’ help in making connections with other expatriates. Alternatively, you may need to consider spending the occasional weekend in a nearby city to give yourself the opportunity to meet other Westerners.
Through your Embassy/Consulate
Contact your Embassy/Consulate to find out what is on offer. If you live in Beijing, there are pubs within many Embassy compounds and, provided that you have a valid passport for that particular country, you should be free to use it. In other areas, you should find that Consulates organise social events for nationals – although of course it depends on what part of the country you are living in and whether there is a nearby Consulate.
Through the local Chamber of Commerce
If there is a group of foreign businessmen in the area in which you are working, there will almost certainly be a Chamber of Commerce that you can join. The Chamber will organise social events, most commonly meals with a speaker and they will provide you with a list of other members that you can contact as you wish. You should also be able to receive business-related help or advice, especially if your problem is to do with local bureaucracy.
By visiting bars frequented by Westerners
These days, most cities have bars that cater for a mixture of people, Chinese and foreign. They usually serve drinks and food that Westerners will be familiar with. Expatriates tend to be a friendly bunch, especially after a couple of drinks, so the chances are that you will be able to slot into a conversation very easily. At the very least, being in a location where you are surrounded by other expatriates should make you feel a little less lonely.
There are a number of ad hoc clubs set up for expatriates. These can include drama clubs, darts teams, drinking clubs…you name it, they almost certainly exist somewhere in China. The Hash House Harriers has a number of branches in China – HHH is known as ‘a drinking club with a running problem’ and arranges regular events that involve chasing someone who sets up a trail for other members to follow. The running is not particularly serious, so the unfit don’t need to worry too much about not being able to keep up – and at the end, everyone ends up in a bar.
Through expatriate magazines and the Internet
Many areas provide magazines that are specifically for expatriates. They include a number of articles on interesting places to go and eat and will advertise any upcoming events. If you don’t have a local magazine or can’t get your hands on one, then try the Internet – most magazines have an Internet site in any case. If you know that you are not going to have regular Internet access before you go to China, then make sure you have a list of any relevant phone numbers you can find – your nearest Embassy/Consulate and Chamber of Commerce at the very least.
(In some areas) just by walking down the street
If you are in a remote area in particular (by remote, this could still be a city, just not one that tends to attract many foreigners) and you really struggle to meet other expatriates, then just make sure you don’t wall yourself up in your room. If there are any expatriates in the area, the chances are you will bump into them eventually and, being two of a ‘kind’, will instantly be drawn to each other.
In many respects, making friends in China is much easier than it can be in your own country – simply because expatriates need each other. Don’t neglect the opportunity to make friends with local Chinese people as well and you will soon have a social life to die for.