When you live in Beijing it’s normal to meet new people on a regular basis. Our social lives here are packed with event, parties, gatherings. Not only is it normal to meet new people on a regular basis here, but it’s thrilling. Foreigners in Beijing have interesting stories and on any given night you might find yourself sharing a moment with a perfect stranger because you recognize their face from a Wechat group or because you are the last two foreigners who can’t flag down a taxi at the end of a function etc.
While being able to meet new people easily is one of Beijing’s best qualities, many people feel on the other hand that it’s difficult to bond with the same folks on a deeper level. This can certainly be strange and disappointing to those who are accustomed to a close circle at home but these ‘surface’ connections and your Beijing social life actually have a lot to offer. They are in fact a unique, resourceful and powerful network that can support you and help you grow in numerous ways.
When I reflect on my experience with people in Beijing I’ve realized, that at the core, what we are inadvertently building is social capital and though it may not be those friendships that transcend a lifetime, here it equates to community and support; it fosters collaboration; it’s learning and perspective; and it’s a link to other people and places.
By dictionary definition the term ‘social capital’ refers to the value derived from alliances. We all have this here. As simple as it may seem, think about Wechat groups. Whether you are part of a group for business or for pleasure the underlying connection is a a community/network to support and help one another. How many times have you witnessed someone asking for a contact, recommendation or even personal advice in Black Life Beijing 2, Expat Activities, BLK GEN, Caribbean Family China, Women’s Network etc. Questions posed hardly go 10 minutes without someone offering a solution or a stranger saying “PM me, I can help you.” You may never talk to that person again, but they were happy to share their resources with you and supported you in a time of need. This certainly is different from the way we interact with online networks back home but a distinct blessing of our social network here.
These distant connections can also often lead to some pretty cool collaborations.
Beijing seems to have a way of stimulating the mind, especially when it comes to developing ideas and potential businesses. More often than not when you talk about your ideas you will find that you almost instantly attract collaborators. Midway through 2016 I posted an ad for a house mate on ‘The Beijinger’ and within 9 months after moving in, my housemate became my business partner as we co launched an online store.
The business exceeded our targets and is something we are proud of for one significant reason; the business is distinct in the market. This uniqueness derived from two minds with different experiences and perspectives coming together.
My connection to Thrive Beijing was sparked the same way, it was as simple as offering to collaborate with a friend who had an idea. Where both projects go in the future no one can say but the experience so far has definitely been an eye opener. Both experiences have made me more conscious of my cultural biases and more receptive to understanding the views of others. The lessons and knowledge gained through out, will be taken with me wherever I decide to go next and this I have my Beijing social network to thank for.
While we may continue to struggle with this idea that people in Beijing just aren’t the same as our friends back home, I encourage you to embrace what the connections here have to offer and to contribute the best way you can. My current job was a link made through a local Chinese friend who was just simply looking out for me, I’ve traveled extensively through Beijing connections, I’ve been a part of several startups through the people I’ve met here and I’ve gained perspective through a variety of Beijing avenues.
This network is distinct and amazing if you can appreciate what it has to offer. I for one look forward to continue being a part of it.
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After graduating with a degree in management and psychology, Nichole Alexis pursued a career in Human Resources. Wanting to add a new language to her portfolio Nichole moved to Beijing 5 years ago to study Mandarin at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE). With her experience and skills Nichole enjoys helping newcomers make a smooth transition to Beijing. Nichole also has a keen interest in charity work, adventure, entrepreneurship and children’s education.