WeChat Changes Lives
A Chinese app is changing the way that people, government agencies and businesses interact
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Cover Stories Series 2015> WeChat Will Rock You> In-Depth
UPDATED: May 4, 2015 NO. 19 MAY 7, 2015
My Gateway to the World
A foreigner WeChats her way into life in China
By Kylee Mclntyre

AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: WeChat offers users several social media functions in one simple app (WEI YAO)

Last August, when all my paperwork was in place and it finally became clear to me that I was going to be working in China, I spent some time sitting alone in my kitchen, staring off into space because my life seemed too surreal.

That period lasted for about 10 minutes, over which I slowly devolved into a state of panic. I didn't know the first thing about living in China. I immediately sent out a mass text to everyone I knew who'd spent even a little time in China. The responses came back almost instantaneously, telling me the same thing--get WeChat.

I didn't know how a social media app was supposedly going to save my life, but then again, what did I know?

It felt a little redundant downloading yet another messaging app in my kitchen in the United States--I already had a number of apps with which to talk to my friends and family abroad. I fooled around with the settings for a little while and realized that it was easy enough to use--when in China, do as the Chinese do, right? I made my whole family get it so that they could talk to me during my time in Beijing, considered it a nice introduction to the world of Chinese social media, and didn't think anything more of it.

What I soon came to realize, though, was that WeChat had done something quite brilliant. My experience with American social media has taught me how to work on a number of different platforms. My posting style differs depending on which platform I'm using--whether its Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or another. WeChat takes several different types of social media and conveniently melds them into one platform. Several of my friends love this, and one has even stopped using Facebook in favor of WeChat. Though I primarily used WeChat for messaging when I first got to China, I noticed other people around me using it to catch up on news, pay their bills and even find dates.

As a foreigner, WeChat is almost as important in the China expat business world as Facebook or LinkedIn might be in the United States. Because I linked my LinkedIn to my account, I often get job offers through WeChat. The "translate" function is also very helpful to me as a native English-speaker.

What I didn't expect to get out of using WeChat was the sense of community I find among its users. When I meet one friend, I almost automatically meet all 40 of that person's friends because it's so easy to connect with friends-of-friends.

I quickly found that it's completely normal to have an almost-complete stranger ask me for my WeChat. Though I first worried about security--in the United States, I wouldn't give my Facebook information out to just anyone--I found that wasn't a problem for WeChat. It's very easy to add and delete people, and the service is casual enough to where I can set apart my friends from people I only deal with for business.

Because my family has WeChat too, they've found that they can use the user search functions to find other Chinese people in their neighborhoods for language practice. In a particularly hilarious situation, my sister, who attends college in Texas, found out that her chemistry teaching assistant was from Beijing and brought up the fact that she had a sister who worked there.

"Does she have a WeChat?" he asked.

A day later, I'd added him and now ask him for advice on restaurants and shopping around the city.

I admit that I haven't developed the complete devotion to WeChat that some of my other expat friends have, but I see myself using the social media platform for a long time to come. It's convenient and beneficial as a business and social platform. As a foreigner, it's streamlined a lot of things I do in daily life, and I'm glad that Chinese are able to use one app to do so many things.

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

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