Loneliness can be a problem for foreign teachers in China.
You’re in a new environment where you don’t know many people, you may not speak Chinese and you may not know where the sightseeing spots are in your city.
Students are generally very busy with homework and exam preparation. The fact is, as a foreign teacher in China, you will have much more free time than your students.
This article explores some ideas for dealing with the problem.
1. Teach at a public university
Students at universities are young adults and you will have more in common with them than teenagers and schoolchildren. If you teach at a primary school, it would be safe to say that hanging out with students is definitely not an option!
At the larger public universities, you should have colleagues (both Chinese and foreigners) to socialize with. Your university may even organize meals out, parties and excursions for you.
At some small colleges however, you may be the sole foreign teacher. Your Chinese colleagues may sometimes not be able to socialize with you due to family commitments.
2. Be friendly and make it clear to your students that you would like to socialize with them
Chinese students are generally quite shy but if you are friendly and engaging, it should not be too much trouble to develop a rapport with them.
Sometimes you need to make it very clear and tell your students that you would like to be a part of their life and that you would appreciate the opportunity to socialize with them.
I have been invited by my students to play badminton and to go on excursions. You can even invite your students to your apartment for a meal or a party.
However, one time when I did that, my students had a minor ‘accident’ and nearly burnt my kitchen down! They had offered to do the cooking.
Socializing with your adult students is one way you can avoid loneliness in China.
3. Take up a hobby
If you’re a Bruce Lee fan, being in China offers you a good opportunity to learn martial arts like Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Not only will this give you useful self-defence skills but it will also teach you self-discipline and give you many other health benefits.
One foreign teacher I know is a keen artist. Creating art is a time-consuming activity that keeps boredom at bay. You may even be able to make extra money on the side by selling your artwork.
4. Join or set up an English Corner
Some Chinese cities have English Corners. This is like a club where English-speaking Chinese people meet to practice their English.
The organizer may ask you to lead whatever activity they are doing for that day and there may also be movie nights.
If you can’t find an English Corner in your city, you can always set one up in your university or school for your students to attend.
5. Hit the bars
All Chinese cities have bars.
Going to bars is a popular pastime among foreign teachers in China. The beers are really cheap but the quality may not be that good.
Going to a bar is also a good way to make new friends. Foreigners are a bit of a novelty in China so you will find many Chinese folk coming up to your table to drink a toast with you.
The only problem is that many Chinese men smoke. If you’re a non-smoker, the environment in a Chinese bar may be a little uncomfortable.
6. Do some sightseeing, backpacking or traveling
Away from the concrete jungles that major Chinese cities resemble, China offers some absolutely fascinating places to visit and explore.
Go to the mountains and see miles upon miles of beautiful countryside, check out the traditional buildings of China and learn about their rich history, and visit historical cities and see what life was like in a bygone era.
Backpacking and staying in hostels is also a good way to meet new friends.
If you're feeling lonely in China, try going sightseeing (pictured: Bird's Nest Stadium, or Beijing National Stadium, in China's capital).
7. Get a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend
If you are lonely, China has a number of dating websites that you can join. Even if you don’t meet the love of your life in China, by joining a dating site you will still get to meet new people and perhaps visit new cities.
Be warned though that Chinese people tend to take romantic relationships quite seriously. You may be expected to commit to marriage at some point!
You would then need to think about all the responsibilities that come with this, in particular whether or not you would be prepared to commit to staying in China long term.
8. Learn Chinese
If you don’t want to be totally dependent on your Chinese colleagues and students, learning some Chinese is absolutely vital in order to survive in China.
Some schools like echineselearning.com offer one-to-one lessons online through Skype with native Chinese teachers. You may even make new friends this way and get to visit your teachers in their city of residence.
9. Do solitary activities
Unfortunately, sometimes being alone is unavoidable and you will need to be someone who enjoys their own company to be happy in China.
There are many things that you can do on your own, like jogging, walking, watching movies, going to the gym, chatting with your students online using QQ and WeChat, playing computer games, reading and blogging.
10. Get a part-time job
Be careful with this one as some schools have a clause in their contracts that prohibit teachers from doing jobs on the side.
If your school doesn’t mind, taking on a weekend job as a tutor not only gives you something to do but also enables you to earn some extra money. The downside of course, is that this is more ‘work’ rather than ‘recreation’.
With these 10 tips in mind, you should be able to keep loneliness in China at bay. Keep active!
What are your top tips for avoiding loneliness in China? Please share your thoughts below.