Wherever one is living as an ESL teacher abroad, finding an expat community in your locality is important. The same can be said for teaching English in Suzhou, China. Being abroad is an experience worth sharing and, while friends and family you may have grown up with may be far away, rest assured there are plenty of amazing expats in your community looking to be found. ;) There’s nothing better than getting to share experiences, network and to find new friends when abroad. So, how does one go about finding an ex-pat community as a newcomer?
Well, today, I’m here to share some helpful tips I used in finding an expat community in Suzhou, China:
Tip #1: To start off, I firmly believe that the process of finding an expat community should start before you begin your life abroad. It’s good to at least have an idea about the resources available to the expat community and to know whether or not an active expat community exists. It is also reassuring to know that there are others in your community who have likely dealt with the same culture shock, and are thus more likely to understand what you are going through. By beginning your search for other expats in your area before arrival to your host country, you establish a sense of community and facilitate a smoother transition to life abroad.
Tip #2: A first tip I recommend for anyone teaching abroad with ITA is to join the ITA Facebook Group for their placement country. I joined the ITA China Discussion group and found that it was a great resource for me to connect with other expats in China, compare cities, and ask general questions regarding my move to China. The members of this group are very active and always seem receptive and willing to help. It’s a positive place to begin your search for a community. Even if you don’t find expats in your specific city, you are likely to find expats at least in your region. For an ITA Alum, the ITA Facebook group are an indispensable resource.
Tip #3: After posing my general questions in the ITA China Facebook group and deciding on Suzhou as my top choice, I began to search for Suzhou-specific Facebook groups. I was able to find a group called “Suzhou Expats”. It had over 9,000 members, and seemed like a great place to start my search for community. Here, I was able to post Suzhou-specific questions before arrival, and the members of this group were more than willing to help me find answers. It felt like I was coming into a supportive community and this gave me even more conviction in my choice to move to Suzhou.
Tip #4: Upon arrival in Suzhou, my search for an expat community did not stop. I made a point of inquiring. I found myself asking local foreigners and colleagues if they knew about any local meet-ups among Ex-pats. These friends recommended me to join interest groups on WeChat. They also introduced me to the Suzhou City Calendar, which outlines local events. There’s no better way to find community than to get out and to be active in the community. I definitely recommend reaching out and searching for an interest group which suits your needs. In Suzhou, there are gamer clubs, language exchange groups, book clubs, biking clubs and much more. It all depends on your interests.
Tip #5: Upon searching for specific interest groups, you may find that no one has joined forces to form an ex pat group. If the need is not met in your community and you have the time, I encourage you to make your own meet-up group, or reach out to your expat community to find others with similar interests.
In my own experience, I had a hard time finding other expats with my schedule in Suzhou. I remember feeling a bit alone and isolated at first. I realized this didn’t need to be the case and decided to take action: I decided to make my own expat meet-up group. It’s a free-form group. Anyone can post events or invite others to join them during their travels in China. It’s been a great experience thus far and everyone shares in planning, so there’s always someplace new to explore and new things to do. This group has made my Suzhou life and experience more wholesome and fun. I feel more connected and have been able to make new friends and discover more of Suzhou. It’s made my experience more wholesome and fun.
Life abroad may bring challenges, but having good friends and a supportive expat community in your locality will enable you to surpass any obstacle that comes your way, pose any question, and find like-minded individuals to spend time with. These individuals are your support network. They may become your friends and over time. They may feel like your family abroad. The quest in finding an expat community begins with you. So, reach out, and you will without a doubt find community to help you withstand the struggles and celebrate the victories wherever your ITA teaching experience takes you.
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