After a few posts (like this one) that were borderline love letters to our friends in Shanghai, I thought perhaps I should talk about how we have managed to form our support system here. As an article this summer in The New York Times pointed out, making friends gets harder with age. Throw in the inability to fully converse with a large percentage of this city and your possible social network shrinks further.
Thankfully, Matthew and I have been fortunate enough to develop strong friendships here. But we also worked hard to create them. We endured countless social events and went on dozens of coffee dates to meet our Shanghai friends. So while there is no perfect science to finding a person who will laugh at your lame jokes while dancing to Korean pop music, here are a few places to start.
1) Sign up for a class: Signing up for a class is a great way to meet other people who have similar interests as you do, plus you get the opportunity to learn a new skill. I met my first Shanghai friend while attending a Shanghai Orientation held at the Expat Community Center. I've also met similarly nice people through a dumpling class as well as my photography course at the Expat Learning Center. While I have not personally taken any courses at the local universities, quite a few offer Mandarin classes which will allow you socialize while learning the local language.
2) Find your home country's association: The Americans have AmCham and the American Women's Club of Shanghai, while the Australians have AustCham and The Australian Women's Social Group, among others. Numerous countries have a presence here in Shanghai where you can meet people from your home country, connect over shared experiences, or lament about the things you are missing (like cheese and turkey burgers). During the US Presidential Election in November, a number of American organizations teamed up to hold a party where fellow Americans could come together to watch the election results. Groups like these can help you stay connected to your home even when thousands of miles away.
3) Join an organization: In a city full of expats, there are endless organizations that will allow you to connect with other people who share your interests. There are social organizations such as Shanghai Dolls, which puts together a great happy hour for the ladies (and is where I have personally met a number of my closest friends in Shanghai), as well as Shanghai Expat, which holds weekly coffee meetups, and the ever popular Shanghai Mamas which will give you, as well as your little ones, a chance to connect with others in this vast city. And if you have a special interest, there is everything from running groups like Shanghai Hash House Harriers and Happy2Run to the Shanghai Guild for knitters. Heck, even your alumni association may have a local chapter. If you have something you are passionate about, chances are there are other people in Shanghai that feel the same way.
4) Volunteer: You're bound to connect with another good Samaritan like yourself if you spend your free time helping others. Plus, you'll have an opportunity to learn about resources available in the community. Bean is a great spot to start as it is a networking, volunteering, and social group for young professionals. There are countless other organizations looking for volunteers such as Heart to Heart, which works with children undergoing heart surgery, Second Chance Animal Aid for the animals lovers, and Shanghai Sunrise, which works with underprivileged children in Shanghai.
5) Other: This last category is for all the people that don't fit into the above mold. The friend I made in yoga class. The neighbors who invited us for dinner. The girl who went to grad school with a mutual friend and happens to live in Shanghai. Be open to meeting new people wherever you are. You are likely both expats, which means you already have something in common. So say hi to people in the elevator or trade numbers with that girl at the bar. Who knows, the guy in line behind you at Starbucks just might end up being your best friend.
Making new friends can feel like a series of blind dates and I've always hated dating. But eventually you'll start to meet others who share your interests and meeting up for lunch won't seem like a chore. And one day soon, you'll see pictures of your friends hanging out together while you are away in the US. And you'll suddenly realize that you wish you were back in Shanghai with them too.