If it’s your first time moving to China, there is a lot to worry about in advance. How can I find a place to live? How will I communicate with people who speak a different language? What if I don’t like the food? Is there good medical support if I get sick or injured? The list could go on and on. But let’s stop it right here because we all know stress is bad for your health and you probably don’t know how to ask for a doctor in Chinese yet!
Being all alone in a foreign country is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re up for the challenge, you will learn a lot about yourself. At the very beginning it can be exciting and different and fascinating, but it most likely won’t stay like that. If after a few weeks, you find yourself feeling annoyed, unhappy, or start snipping at people for no reason, it’s time to take a good look at your circle of friends in China. Ask yourself three simple questions. First, is there even a circle? Or have you been too busy trying to get settled that you haven’t had time to meet people or spend any quality time with them? Make the time to get out and talk to people.
Second, what are your priorities at the moment? If you have been lucky to meet some nice people who you get along with, how much time are you spending with them? Just hanging out once or twice a month won’t establish the kind of friendships you need to have in China. One of the biggest mistakes expats make when living in a new country is not finding local friends soon enough.
Local and other expat friends can act as your support group in China. Without a support group or someone to call when you have questions or problems with your China experience, your life can become extremely frustrating and stressful. If you can’t speak Chinese, no amount of yoga and deep breathing can help you deal with China on your own! You need a support group whether it’s someone at work, a friend, or a family member who may not be in China at the moment but who is somewhat familiar with China. Ideally, you’ll have all three types as part of your support group.
Third, are your closest friends in China mostly expats or mostly Chinese? New expats in China tend to complain about China when they get together with other new expats. This negative environment can greatly affect your mood and opinion of China. Surround yourself with positive people or expats who have been living in China for many years. Long-term expats have already overcome everything you’re encountering and can help you through it. It’s also a great idea to have a good number of close Chinese friends.
One of the best ways to make long-lasting Chinese friends is by becoming close to those around you at work or at school. Seeing someone every day often establishes a relationship of trust. Plus, you will have the opportunity to learn a lot about each other since you can’t just ask each other the same questions every day. Asking your co-worker, “What did you have for breakfast?” gets a little old five days in a row.
Having Chinese friends will take a huge load off your back. They will be able to solve problems for you in minutes. If you were on your own, those same problems could take you days or weeks to resolve or maybe they’d never be solved at all! In return for their help, perhaps you could help them learn another language or improve their English. You’ll find many Chinese people are eager to have a foreign friend. Just like many of us are curious about China, many Chinese people are also curious about the West.
Making local friends quickly is an important tip to remember when moving to China to teach English, study Chinese or for whatever other reason you move to the Middle Kingdom. Not only will you create some amazing life-long friendships, but the sooner you do, the less headaches you’ll have, I promise!