Making Friends in China – Expats? Locals? Migrants?

by Jason Luong

Making Friends in China – Expats? Locals? Migrants?

By Thiago Hirai from São Paulo, Brazil (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you really want to get to know China? Or are you just hear for a good time, and then it’s time to head home? Don’t shortchange yourself. Make friends with the Chinese!

Don’t spend too much time just hanging out with your co-workers or other English teachers. Sure, you’ll learn a lot from them. But you’ll learn much more having Chinese friends and those who’ve lived here for a long time.

Get to know the expat community. But don’t limit yourself to just this. The expat community in each city is actually very small. Basically, everyone knows everyone. If you screw an expat or otherwise present yourself as someone who is dishonest or just looking to earn some money before leaving, you won’t make any real friends. Word will get out. Trust me on this.

Where to meet expats? Go to an expat bar and start talking to people. Look online for expat forums and find out where they meet each week.

Making friends with local Chinese

How to make friends with locals? Start by talking to people who live around your apartment. Make every attempt to learn to speak some Chinese. People will respect you more. But note that when locals speak to one another, they don’t use standard Mandarin. They will more than likely speak in their local dialect. This will be unintelligible to you or me, and I’ve studied Chinese for over 15 years. You won’t be expected to learn the local dialect. Just speak to people in standard Mandarin. To make friends, try to talk to people around your age. Ask what they like to do and express that you’re interested in learning more about the Chinese culture and language. Most would be happy to invite you for cultural exchange or even go on short trips together.

Migrant workers

Now on migrant workers. If you happen to be teaching English in a major city, chances are tons of people there are not locals. They will be migrant workers who have left their hometowns to seek opportunity and make more money in the big city. Getting to know migrant workers gives you different perspectives on life in China. Things are tough for migrant workers. They’ve traveled thousands of miles away from home to work and adapt to an unfamiliar environment. Like the locals, most would be happy to become your friend. They want to improve their English for better opportunities. But unlike the locals, they won’t know the city or province very well. Remember, these guys are not here for a tour. They’re here to earn a living and send the money back home.

Meet and get to know all kinds of people while you’re in China. Stay away from people who just like to drink and hang out at bars all the time. They won’t teach you anything or help you in any way. Make friends with the locals. Keep in touch with people, and they’ll lead you to a greater understanding of China and more opportunities along the way. China’s full of opportunities. Don’t waste your time here. Make friends for life.

Jason Luong is an EFL teacher and author of Teaching English in China – How to Negotiate the Best Package, Salary, and Avoid Getting Screwed.


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1 comment

  1. I was given some valuable advice when I arrived in Qingdao from the teacher I was replacing. She told me to find out where, near your home, the locals meet for exercise, public dancing or other events. I live in a high-rise and these four buildings have a center square. All I had to do was sit still for 5 minutes and I had 3 older women come a motion for me to join their exercise class. At the end of it I had two new friends that were willing to teach me Chinese words and phrases as well as learning some simple English in return. This was accomplished by speaking with their school-aged children. And a ton of laughter on both sides. I say hello in English and Chinese to everyone I have contact with, and some just passing by. We all have goodwill to trade. Using it is priceless!

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