For some people, making new friends comes easily, while for others it is a real push out of the comfort zone. However, I’d like to throw it out there and say that if you are living the expat life then, A: you already are out of your comfort zone, and B: making friends can be a lot easier than if you were moving to a new city in your home country.
As a generalization, I find it hard to slip into friendship group cliques in my home country because everyone has their group of friends, their routines, their comfort zone, and it can be even more difficult for someone new to break into a group which has been established for years. It’s completely different in an international city where English is not the first language. People come here alone or with their family, they are either new, know what it is like to be new, and usually open to making new friends. People are coming and going every year, so friendship circles are constantly moving and evolving. Although cliques and strong friendship groups do exist here, I generally find people more inclusive.
Don’t be afraid to make small talk. In general, I find foreigners more than happy to chat to other foreigners, so start conversations in supermarkets, in schools, at swimming pools, in yoga classes, or at the park. Throw some interesting questions in such as ‘what do you like the most about Beijing so far?’ or ‘what is one of your best discoveries’ and you can usually start to find out if you have common interests and then trade WeChat IDs.
Get involved in WeChat groups. It’s a great way to initially find your ‘tribe’: health and fitness, fashion, sustainability, spirituality, food, crafts, or playgroups. Start chatting with others online and then attend events and activities where these people will be present, or set up your own small event and invite others.
Make the first move. Invite other moms to do stuff, either by themselves or with kids if your kids are a similar age. There are plenty of great indoor playgrounds with cafes attached where you can get to know each other. Accept as many invitations as you can, even if you don’t want to go. People will stop inviting you if you regularly don’t accept invites.
Don’t take rejection personally. If someone doesn’t reciprocate your invitations after the 2nd or 3rd one, move onto someone else. Look for friends who appreciate you for who you are. Beijing has thousands of expats, so there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Engage regularly. A new report from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships actually details a study where they found the hours of interaction required to turn an acquaintance into a casual friend (50 hours of interaction), a casual friend to friend (90 hours), and more than 200 hours to make a best friend. This means that you should commit yourself regularly to the same events, or groups where you think you want to grow your friendships.
Network. Some useful groups for developing friendships: your own country meet-ups (contact your embassy to find out when they have social events), Bumps2Babes playgroup network (for mom’s with under 4 year olds), MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers), Knitting groups, Beijing Mother’s Guild, attend or sell your handmade products at regular markets (Riviera Chic, Rumble in the Jungle, F2N), Green Drinks, Taozi Tree yoga, HeyRobics community fitness, PartyFit, Alona Pilates, Le Leche League (breastfeeding support), Beijing Mindfulness Centre’s regular sessions, Mom & Me playgroups at BSB Shunyi, 3e International School Lido, Hello Future Kindergarten in the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) area, International Women of Shunyi, Women’s Retreats, Expat Connection Family Events, InterNations, International Newcomers Network (INN), Beijing Women’s Network (BWN), cooking classes with Pauline’s Cuisine, TIE Family Club events, The Bookworm Literary Events, Beijing Expat Network, the British Club, the Scottish Society.