If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering moving abroad to teach in China. You’ve likely thought of the many benefits of taking such a big step; immersing yourself in a new culture, making memories to last a lifetime, and making your CV very attractive to future employers. But you’ve also probably had some niggling doubts. What if no one can speak your language? What if you have nothing in common with anyone? What if you can’t make any friends and get so lonely you want to come home?? Well, as someone who has gone through every stage of those kinds of doubts, I can assure you that those thoughts are totally normal for such a big decision, but are very much unfounded. There are so many benefits to teaching in China, and unless you choose to become a hermit and never leave your apartment for your entire time there, I cannot stress enough how easy it can be to make friends in China.
Mingle with your English co-workers
It’s very likely that the school or language center you work at will have other foreign teachers working there, making it the easiest place to find other people in the exact same situation as you, instantly giving you something in common to talk about! They’ll likely have the same worries and anxieties as you do, not to mention their own travel stories and interesting backgrounds for you to bond over. I’ve heard of people making friends with colleagues and becoming long distance friends even after they leave China, some even becoming penpals! Getting to know your English speaking colleagues is really the easiest way to make friends, but don’t stress if you don’t find a best friend among your co-workers, there’s no shortage of other ways to connect.
Get talking to your native colleagues
This one may depend on the level of English your Chinese co-workers speak, but even if there is a significant language barrier, I can guarantee the hospitality will not be lacking. In the school where I worked, only two teachers spoke English to a functional level, but that didn’t stop me from going on a trip to Hong Kong with some of the teachers who spoke next to no English. Some of our conversations relied on gestures and the occasional Google translator, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy each other’s company. I learnt very quickly that no matter what language you speak, kindness can be universally understood.
After a few months of teaching, the school I was working in hired a new nurse who happened to live in the same apartment complex as me. Her English was limited but functional, and she offered to drive me home after work every day. In this time we got to know each other, she practiced her English with me and I practiced my terrible Chinese with her, and she would often invite me to her apartment to meet her family. She even introduced me to some of her own friends in the complex, who then also became MY friends, essentially creating a domino effect of meeting incredibly interesting and generous people.
Join a local club or sports team
Despite how it may feel when you first get there, you won’t be the only foreigner in town! If you have a sport or hobby you enjoy, it’s worth asking around if there are any relevant societies you can join. You can either search through word of mouth or look online through websites such as meetup.com to see if there’s anything of interest near you. Everything from chess to football to calligraphy, there’s no shortage of clubs you can join to learn a new skill or refine an existing one.
Sign up to an expat community
Websites like internations.org are a great resource for finding expats in your community. You can choose to talk to a small number of people and get to know them, or maybe even attend one of the many organised events throughout the year. This can be a great excuse to explore more than just your own city and see more of the incredible places China has to offer. Whatever you decide, there’s never a shortage of people to get to know!
Go out and explore!
I cannot stress enough how great it can be to just wander around your city and explore the area. And that’s not just for your time in China, but whenever you go anywhere. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the most interesting people in several countries just from visiting new places and starting conversations with people. Going to a museum and chatting to another tourist about the interesting display, asking someone to take a picture of me in front of a picturesque view, or even going on a gallery tour and making friends with another person in the group, these are all ways I’ve inadvertently made friends with people from all over the world just by exploring new places and getting the courage to talk to someone new. It can be daunting at first, I know, but I guarantee you it’s worth risking it for the potential of making a friend.
To sum it all up, it’s completely understandable if you’re panicking about making connections in a foreign country, but there are so many ways to meet new people no matter where in China you are. One of the things I learnt very quickly when I first got to China is that no matter what language you speak, kindness can be universally understood.