Friends are important at any stage of life. As an expat, your friends become the family you don't have nearby and your constant support system. But picking who to spend your time with is also important. Yes, you should seek out people who have similar interests as you but you should also look for those who bring a unique set of skills to your friendship. In order to best enjoy the time you have in your new country, I suggest you seek out each of the following people.
The Adventurous One
When you first move to a new place, it can be overwhelming. The places, smells, and perhaps even the language are all new and intimidating. This is why it is helpful to meet someone who isn't held back by insecurities. My first friend in Shanghai, J, was great at forcing me to go new places. Sure, riding the metro to a new neighborhood seems rudimentary now, but I was terrified the first time she suggested we meet for lunch. She also taught me that it was okay not to understand what the waiter was saying to us or vice versa. She happily pointed at other tables and used hand gestures to order. She fearlessness made me feel more comfortable doing the same. Even now, she's always game to try new restaurants or wander down unmarked alleyways.
The Social Planner
This person is great to have around. They will organize nights out at KTV as well as make sure you have reservations for Thanksgiving dinner. They always know what is going on around the city and are able to constantly introduce you to new people. My friend C can organize a raging party with 15 minutes notice and she is guaranteed to always be on time for social events. Your Social Planner will make sure you never find yourself bored or alone.
This one can be a bit tricky for many expats at first. Different customs, traditions, and languages often hamper the ability to cultivate this friendship early on. But once you are able to break through those barriers, you'll be happy you made the effect. The Local can help you with everyone from translating text messages to serving as your point of contact in an emergency. They will give you tips on the best local restaurants and can tell someone off for you in their native tongue. And no, your ayi doesn't count, even if she can do all of the things I've just mentioned.
Yes, you read the correctly. Every expat should be friends with someone new to the country they are living in. Why? First, they are bound to think you are the smartest person ever. You know tricks like how to pay your bills at Family Mart and where to buy recharge cards for your phone. You can introduce them to your favorite local haunts and they tend to think your language skills are amazing (even when they aren't). But more importantly, you have the chance to see your city through their eyes. Fresh eyes. They aren't jaded yet by the surroundings and see each day as a new adventure. The Newbie will remind you of all the things you love about your city and help renew that passion you felt when first starting your own adventure.
Now, I'm not saying you need to go out and find a new group of friends. You likely already know someone who represents each of these categories. Use their innate characteristics to your advantage. Exploit their talents. You'll be glad you did.
Need some tips for meeting people in Shanghai? Check out our post on how to make friends.