Settling into life in a new city can be daunting for any new expat, especially in a city as big as Beijing. After moving into your new home and exploring the surroundings, it dawns on you that it's time to meet new people and make new friends—after all, networking is a vital part of building up your guanxi, or connections.
Work colleagues are always great to spend time with, but there comes a time, especially at the weekend, when you want to clear your mind of work-related issues. Socializing with people outside of your working environment allows for conversations on different topics and fresh debates. With such a diverse mixture of people living in international cities such as Beijing, it's a great idea to get yourself out there and meet new people who have interesting stories to tell: friendships blossom, name cards are exchanged, and guanxi grows.
As a keen sportsman, I decided to join a popular expat football team called Forbidden City F.C.—a decision I have not regretted one bit. From the first day I arrived, everyone was welcoming and made me feel right at home. The club has more than 30 players made up of all different nationalities and ages. There is a strong team ethic and a real sense of camaraderie. For me, this was the perfect way to meet a new group of friends, Chinese and foreign. Everyone in the squad was new at one stage, so they are all well aware of what it's like to be the fresh face joining a long-established community.
The club trains weekly on Wednesday evenings and usually has a game at the weekend. Along with the sporting aspect, the club also fosters many social events throughout the season—including an annual trip to Bangkok for an international tournament. Spread throughout the two leagues are 24 teams, with each team having a sponsor who provides their uniform, resources and money for travel: these sponsors are usually a local restaurant, bar or shop within the city the team is from.
Typically in the smaller cities of China, these types of clubs and opportunities are rare and hard to find—but that's not to say they can't be found. The city I previously lived in, Shaoxing, a tiny place just south of Shanghai, had only a small number of football teams, and they were predominantly made up of locals. I got introduced to a club through a friend, and in a squad of more than 20, only a small handful were Westerners. The whole squad were extremely welcoming and more than happy for me to join in. Needless to say it made for an unforgettable experience when we finished the season as the champions!
It doesn't just have to be a football team, either. Beijing is renowned for its large expat scene and friendly social attitude. Teams and clubs stretch from football to kungfu, whisky tasting clubs to marathon running—it truly does cater for the tastes of every man, woman and even their dogs. It's really easy to get in contact with them too. Popular websites and magazines such as Time Out Beijing, The Beijinger, Smart Beijing and City Weekend Beijing were all useful places to find information in Beijing—all other major cities have their own versions of these websites as well.
Being away from home can be tough at times—especially during celebratory occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. Becoming part of a team, and being part of a new family and community, really does set your mind at ease and allows for moving to a new town, city, country or continent to be a much more seamless and enjoyable experience. Worries and apprehensions of being lonely soon disappear, the regret of not making an effort to be social quickly evaporates, and you feel proud of yourself for getting out there and making an effort.
So, instead of waiting for people to come and ask you your name—make the first move and make some new friends. It helps to make life in a new city much easier and more enjoyable.
The author is a Briton living in Beijing