When you move to a new country with a family, the number of things to do is vast – find the perfect apartment, search out the school that suits your children’s needs, become acclimatized to your surroundings, and more. At times, it’s easy to forget about your own social needs. But for expat families to thrive, they need to build and maintain a strong support network. When you relocate to a foreign place, these personal connections can stave off loneliness, isolation, and help you on your way to finding work as well as your passion.
So, if you are a new expat in Beijing or if – like me – you’ve been around for some time but have sadly bid goodbye recently to some of your best friends due to the transient environment of this city, here are some top expat networking tips for a fresh new start.
Establish Support Networks
Teach your spouse and your children how critical it is to set up their own support networks. Encourage them to actively pursue their hobbies and make their own friends while still having those social plans fit around the family agenda. If you have teenagers at home, draft together a weekly plan with time for school, after-school activities, friends and a few “sacred” family times.
Children’s playgroups are also a great way to connect with other mothers. Children will get the chance to socialize with their peers, while you and fellow moms can exchange advice, stories, and form your own friendships. Many are likely to be going through the same obstacles as you.
On top of social support networks, you might want to reach out to emotional support networks (friends, teachers, counselors, life and career coaches), professional networks (alumni networks, chambers of commerce, networking organizations) and religious networks.
A good exercise is to ask your family members and yourself what are the key areas in your lives that are the most important and in need of balance right now. Those areas could be related to education and career, but also to physical health, personal growth, professional development, fun and recreation. For me, it meant joining the Beijing Tai Tai tennis league – an organization with structure helped me exercise. For you, it might mean joining a book club or a cooking class. These groups can mean so much to you – friendships can help you grow personally and professionally.
Give back and nurture your networks
As Andrea Martins says on her website (www.expatwomen.com), “The number one rule in networking is to give without expecting anything in return. Whenever someone asks you for something, give with a smile on your face and go out of your way to help them. This will not only make both of you feel good, but it will build up your piggy bank of potential reciprocal favors.”
So what appropriate “gifts” could you pass onto your friends? Offer the address of a tailor or pass along the name of a business card printing shop. Even an inspirational quote or a bit of some advice you’ve earned during your time here can help you make friends and have someone keen to return the favor.
Cultivate your curiosity and an open mind
It is often tempting to mainly mix with our own nationals and within the networks we already are comfortable with – expat social circles from work, compounds, and schools. This will most probably satisfy a lot of your relational needs. But then, what is the point of being overseas if you don’t let yourself take the opportunity and gain some new experiences that could enlighten you?
This is a good chance to ask yourself: “What have you always wanted to do but never could?” Maybe it’s a hobby you never had time for before, maybe it’s a new career direction that you’ve been interested in exploring, maybe it’s giving back and volunteering your time, or maybe it’s simply stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something fresh. Perhaps a new language, a new sport or some cooking skills will pull you out of a rut.
Elisabeth Koch, a former banker, decided to reinvent herself in Beijing and become a hat-maker. The Dutch Princess Maxima has worn her creations which have been seen at Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup and the Royal Salute Polo Tournament – proof that a new place can bring out new, unexplored sides of people.
Life abroad moves quickly – seize the opportunities while you can. It will pass before you know it. Jasmine Keel
Jasmine Keel’s Top Five Networks:
Benelux Chamber of Commerce organizes interesting and intimate Young Professional events. It’s a good place to make career connections.
Expatmamma is an open discussion area for mothers in Beijing. Meet the members at the “Mum & Me” activities (www.expatmamma.com).
INN : International Newcomers Network provides an opportunity for foreigners to obtain information about living in Beijing and to meet new friends (www.innbeijing.org).
INSPIRED offers a range of workshops and coaching programs to expats who want to live their Beijing experience to the fullest (www.inspiredbeijing.com).
VIVA: Professional Womens’ Network gives professionally minded women in Beijing an inspiring and international career support network (www.vivabeijing.org).
Jasmine Keel is the Managing Director of INSPIRED, the most comprehensive training & coaching organization in China in the field of Life & Career Transition Support for expats. For a free E-Book, How to Thrive as a Expat Spouse in Beijing, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.