One of many expat’s favorite things about life in Beijing is the sheer amount of diverse community to be found and the many things to do with family. Most of the hurdles of settling into Beijing are more easily jumped with a friend in hand. Typically, both expats and Chinese are happy to help those fresh off the plane – one only needs to ask. Since it’s been a while since beijingkids staff was new, we asked three new-to-Beijing moms what was hard about adjusting to life, tips they’d give, and how community and support groups can make a difference.
1. Learn the Language
“I didn’t realize how many people really didn’t know English. I’ve traveled a lot before, and I used to get by, but I really rely on my translator to get things done,” said Jamila Geter, 35 from the US. She has two boys, ages 6 and 20 months. Her husband travels for his job so often that she acts as a single mom.
This will be a struggle until the language is learned or until you have a strong support system of Chinese friends who are willing to help you through the more difficult language issues.
2. Get in WeChat Groups
“Getting into relevant WeChat groups was also helpful for quick answers and references,” said Shelia Loh, 42, Malaysia, mother of 3 girls ages 6, 8, and 10 years old.
We’re still shocked when we hear of expats who live without WeChat and WeChat wallet since it makes life in Beijing so much simpler and more convenient. A great deal of Beijing social interaction is planned on WeChat, and isolated mothers are able to connect with other moms looking for community.
3. Ask a Friend to Help with Household Tasks
“I found understanding the card system of paying bills really odd, different banks for different things and no one really tells you just kind of sink or swim,” said Aleesha Price, a mother of two small children from Australia.
We suggest asking an expat friend, neighbor, or Chinese friend for help for these seemingly easy tasks, which actually can be monumental without language skills. Tag along with them when they go to pay their bills to avoid feeling like you’re causing an inconvenience.
“I found a playgroup through Bumps2Babes, and they are just the most beautiful people and my kids love all those kids too,” Price said. The clothing auction network she attended in the first few weeks was “amazing.”
“[It was] just good to see so many expats having fun together,” Price smiled. The clothing auction network was specifically created to combat the loneliness expat mothers often feel while raising money for charity and getting new clothes. For Loh, her husband’s employer has a Spouse Association that welcomed her and gave her an opportunity to socialize upon arrival.
“For me, the biggest help regarding settling in was being plugged into various community groups and finding a position to receive and serve (that’s where I learned most),” Loh said. “We attend BICF, and there are many expats there at various stages of being in Beijing. Those who have lived in Beijing nearly 20 years or those that had just arrived like us, at that time. Both groups had insights to offer and gave us the opportunity to connect. More so via small groups and meetings like Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS).”
6. Get Involved at School
Geter found that relying on her school was the smartest thing she could do. She moved to Beijing then needed to start work almost immediately, requiring her to hire an ayi before she arrived and left her son with her the next day, “I had to trust the principal’s daughter since she spoke Chinese to make sure the ayi was doing what she should.” Geter found this help invaluable when she was navigating the medical system when her son was sick a few months after they arrived. “I could ask them about prices for visits and how to fill out insurance forms.”
7. Magazines and Media
Geter promised she wasn’t just saying this since she was talking to us, but she has found Beijing magazines incredibly helpful. “I joined parenting groups, like Bumps2Babes. I’m not too active in the discussions, but I do read the articles that are posted.” The articles are specifically helpful in giving her ideas for events with her children, and since she’s unable to conduct online research as she would back in the States, where answers were only a Google or phone call away. “Here, a lot of things are word of mouth or WeChat. Networking and asking around has been something I’ve had to do more.”
Great Communities Outside Your Neighborhood
By far, the best resource families have are the schools and community groups within each neighborhood, but for some families, this isn’t enough for reasons like children’s ages, distance from school, or language barriers. In these cases, here are plenty of community groups available. Send an email with your WeChat ID to firstname.lastname@example.org to request being added to these groups.
• Creative Friends: www.creativefriends.asia
• French Institute: www.institutfrancais-pekin.com
• Instituto Cervantes: www.pekin.cervantes.es
• Italian Cultural Institute: www.iicpechino.esteri.it
• Beijing International Newcomers’ Network (INN): www.innbeijing.org
• InterNations: www.internations.org
• Beijing Baptist Church: www.beijingbaptistchurch.org
• Beijing International Christian Fellowship (BICF): www.bicf.org
• Bet Yaakov Chabad House and Community Center: www.chabadbeijing.cn
• Capital Community Church: www.capitalcommunitychurch.net
• Congregation of the Good Shepherd: www.cogs-bj.org
• River of Grace: theriverofgrace.com
Parenting Support Groups
• Bumps 2 Babes: email@example.com
• La Leche League: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.llli.org/beijing
• Bazaar & Markets Network
• Beijing Dads Group
• Beijing Family Group
• Beijing Parenting and Beyond
• Beijing Women’s Network, Pregnant Married Mothers
• Beijing Writer’s Network
• Clothing Auction Network, City
• Clothing Auction Network, Shunyi
• Clothing Auction Network, Yizhuang
• Events Only Beijingkids Group
• Fit Mamas
• Global Women Founders
• Mothers with Preschoolers (MOPS)
• мамочки в китае (Mommies in China)
• Respectful-Positive Parenting
• Agape Family Life House: email@example.com
• Beijing Gender Health Education Institute: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Bread of Life Bakery: www.breadoflifebakery.org
• Dew Drops Little Flower: www.dewdropslittleflower.org
• Friends of Nature: www.fon.org.cn
• Magic Hospital: www.magichospital.org
• Migrant Children’s Foundation: www.mcfchina.org
• Roots & Shoots: www.genyuya.org.cn/en
• Roundabout: www.roundaboutchina.com
• Sew GORGEOUS: email@example.com
Provided by Beijing City International School (BCIS), Jenae Drisner, Graduated (made in Grade 11), first published in JingKids March 2015
This article originally appeared on p 52-53 of beijingkids May 2017 Home & Relocation Guide.
Download the digital copy here.