Making Friends While Living Overseas
Moving overseas is a big decision that leaves you with many factors to consider before making the leap.
When you start planning out your move, there’s a lot of questions that you’ll likely be asking yourself and searching for answers for. How do I find an apartment? Set up a bank account? Learn to ask where the bathroom is in Chinese?
These are all good questions, and ones with easy answers. But there’s more important questions to ask. Such as how I will get by without all my friends from back home and how can I make some new friends while living overseas?
I asked myself the same question before I moved to Asia nearly four years ago, and I’ve found out since then that making friends while living overseas is easier than I thought it would be.
Being an expat overseas grants you automatic access to a community that is full of people that are friendly, outgoing, and ready to meet other people from around the world. Expats all share a similar life experience of being outside their home country and making a new life for themselves overseas, so it’s easy to relate to people you meet.
Even if you’re a fairly shy person, or someone that finds if difficult to make friends back home, you’ll see that coming out to China will put you totally out of your comfort zone and make you grow in many ways. I’ve met more than a few people in my time in Asia that told me they found it difficult to get out of their shell back home, but the experience of living in a new country has changed that.
So we know that finding friends while living in China will be a fun experience, but what are some of the best ways to find new friends while living overseas? Well, there’s a lot of ways to make new friends. Here are some of my favorite methods.
Meet The Co-Workers
When you arrive in China, the first people you’re likely to meet are the other teachers and staff at the school you’re going to work at. The really cool thing about teaching is coming into a community that’s already built around life at the school. With nearly any school you go to, there will be at least a couple of other foreign teachers that work there. These will be your friends from the get-go.
They’ll help introduce you to the teaching style of the school, give you some tips on lesson planning, and maybe even tell you where to get the best Americano or pint of craft beer in the neighborhood.
Having friends at the school you work with makes every day at work more fun, so start with making friends here.
Going out at night is a great way to meet friends when you first arrive in a new city. It’s also a great spot where you can go with your co-workers to build stronger bonds while off the clock. Most cities in China will have plenty of options when it comes to where to go.
While big cities like Beijing have more clubs and bars than you could probably ever visit in two lifetimes.
I would recommend finding a place that’s known to be a spot with a good mix of expats and locals. These venues are goldmines for easily meeting people from around the world and having lots of conversations in a casual and fun setting. Plus, people always open up a little and are more easily approachable when they have a few drinks in them.
If you’re into live music as much as I am, then you’ll definitely want to check out the local music scene and see some good bands. I’ve met a lot of great friends here going out to shows and I have the added bonus of having lots of show partners now.
Meetup is a great website where independent hosts can choose to host an event of nearly any kind and you can easily find out the details for the event and join in the fun yourself.
There’s meet ups for just about anything you can think of. So if you’re a board game geek, a craft beer lover, an indoor rock climbing freak looking for people to climb with – or whatever else is interesting to you, then you’ll be able to find that community locally.
Since you’re all going to be joining in the same type of event, you automatically know you have a mutual interest that you can use as an easy springboard to starting conversations with strangers.
Language Centers/Language Exchange Groups
One way to greatly increase your chances of making friends with locals is to learn the language. Language centers are a great place to learn the language and another awesome spot to make friends. A lot of language centers in China will have dual programs where they teach English to Chinese people and Chinese to various foreigners from around the world.
I find this makes it easy to make friends with both locals and other expats at language centers. There’s also more informal language exchange groups that happen often and this is one of the types of events you’ll often see on Meetup. These are fun events to go meet people and share stories about your cultures and where you’ve been and done with your life.
The Couchsurfing Community
If you’ve ever used Couchsurfing.com before, then you know it’s a great place to find somewhere to stay or someone local to the area to give you an idea about what you should do in any given city.
This can also be a great place to connect with other likeminded individuals in your city. People that share the love of travel and are looking to meet others like them. Every local Couchsurfing community has regular events where you can go and meet the people that call your city home. These events normally have a mix of expats, locals, and people that are just traveling through.
This is also a great solution for when you’re missing life back home, as you can host people from your home country and show them what your adopted home is all about. This is another of my favorite ways to meet really cool and cultured people.
Internations is the world’s largest expat network in the world. With over 2 million members, spanning more than 390 cities around the world, there’s lots of opportunities for you to connect with new people wherever you find yourself.
Internations operates in multiple cities in China and they have a monthly event where all members meet, along with a great social networking component where you message other people and get tips and guides about living in your city. I highly recommend checking Internations out, as there’s a lot of diverse people from all over the world you’ll meet by going to the events.
There’s also a lot of opportunities to network with people in your same career field or others that have similar goals in life.
This one might only apply to people that are already into the Reddit community, but Reddit remains one of the best places to connect with people that are interested in what you are.
r/China is probably the largest Reddit community for expats and locals living in China, though you’ll find other ones as well. It’s a great place to connect with other people and discuss local news, must visit places, or how life as an expat is going for you.
I’ve met a lot of people through Reddit events and offered a few Redditors a place to stay in the past. The community is very friendly overall and they’re fun to be around. Some of my best friends now I met through Reddit.
FB groups are another outstanding place to meet like-minded people and keep in touch with what’s going on around you.
There are many different types of FB groups out there. I would recommend you join one for the expats in your local community and start checking what’s going on there and taking part in discussions.
This is a great place to come and ask questions to other expats or locals about whatever you might need to know about adjusting to life in your new city. I’ve met some cool people this way as well.
Make sure that you have a VPN to use so that you won’t have any problems using FB in China.
A great way to get involved in your local community is to seek out some volunteer work that you can do. This is an awesome way to give back while meeting other people that share a passion for giving back some of their time to help others.
There’s all kinds of different volunteer opportunities available, so find something that interests you and sign up. You’ll help some people, feel great about yourself, and likely meet a friend or two along the way.
You’ll likely have opportunities available for volunteer work through your school as well during your time in China.
Find A New Hobby (Or Keep Practicing An Old One)
My favorite way of meeting friends is learning a new hobby and pursuing my interests by taking classes. I’ve met a bunch of great friends through training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for example. These are some of the best friends that I have out here because we built a great bond through spending lots of time with each other doing something we’re deeply passionate about.
Getting out of the house is also essential when you live overseas.
It’s so easy to just stay in and mess around on the computer or watch Netflix all day – especially if you’re in a city like Beijing with their endless options for delivery everything – but you have to resist this urge.
Find a hobby that’s calling you and pursue it with full force of your intention. You’ll get a healthy dose of self development along with a great way to make close friends that you can relate to on a deeper level than the average person you meet.
If you’re an expat that runs an online business or has a startup idea you’re trying to get off the ground, co-working spaces are an awesome place for networking and meeting other entrepreneurs that are living and working overseas.
You can get a lot of work done here, while also getting a chance to socialize with people that will likely end up becoming great friends of yours, and possibly even business partners down the line.
Most co-working spaces will hold regular event nights and parties where you can talk to people more easily than when they’re locked in on their computer working on fixing coding bugs or preparing their latest social marketing campaign.
These are just some of my favorite ways to meet people living in Asia. There’s a lot of other great spots as well. Ultimately, it just comes down to putting yourself out there and having a great time while you’re living in China. People love being around people that are fun and make them feel good when they’re together, so just keep a smile on your face and meeting people is easy.
Make sure to form good relationships with people in your community, because it’s the most powerful method of making sure you don’t feel lonely or overwhelmed being so far away from home. Everyone needs someone they can count on from time to time.
Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, get out there and get to making friends while living overseas.