When I first moved to China to work, I came with my boyfriend and some of his friends. The group we came here with were all from the same city in Canada, and were tightly knit. So much so that they had little interest in meeting others or even getting to know Hangzhou. Because of this, I feel like I didn’t get as much out of my first few months here as I could have. When we got our new jobs and began working full time, my partner and I slid into our own little bubble of working and hanging out just the two of us. While it is valuable to make the move to China with your significant other, it puts a lot of strain on each of you when both people are getting used to a dramatically different lifestyle. I realized that making friends outside of my relationship would lighten the pressure as well as bring a bit of spice to the routine of teaching full-time.
Finding friends with expat groups
There are endless amounts of foreigner and “expat” groups in China. Just do a quick Bing search (don’t forget… Google is blocked!) and you can find all sorts of resources. The group I connected with hosts mixers about once every two weeks – everything from dinners to hikes to dragon boat racing. Through them, I’ve made friends who significantly improved my experience in this city. Some have been here for a long time, and they’ve shown me fun new places to go, shared their experiences dealing with visa struggles, and generally provided relief when I realized most problems I encountered were fairly common; Sometimes just hearing that others share your frustrations and worries can make you feel better about your move. Others I’ve met were only in Hangzhou for a few months, and I loved showing them around “my” city. There are even a few locals who hang around the foreigner circles to practise their English, which was a great surprise! Knowing people who were born and raised in your city can open your eyes to a whole side of it that would otherwise be difficult to access as a non-native speaker. The months that have passed since I started going to expat mixers have been awesome: I’ve met people who can show me a new side of Hangzhou, and it’s always fun to go out in a big group or host a movie night with a few close friends.Before I started looking, I thought there were very few Westerners in this city, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! It was so easy to broaden my horizons, and now I know that my next year here will be full of new experiences with friends that I will stay in contact with long after I go home.