Home Human For foreigners in China, the choice to hide in expatriate communities or...

For foreigners in China, the choice to hide in expatriate communities or mix with locals is a big decision


If you are a foreigner living in China, you may find yourself trapped inside what has come to be known as an “expat bubble,” where you mingle only with other foreigners, shop only at foreign stores and restaurants and seldom communicate with local people or explore their culture. So what causes these bubbles and how can expats “pop” out of them?
A too-friendly social environment can be a double-edged sword. It helps newbies adapt to their new surroundings, but tends to keep them trapped inside their comfort zone. This kind of situation has been encountered by many foreigners in Beijing, which boasts a thriving expat community.
For French Isabel Romane, who came to China in 2016, the expat bubble in Beijing is due to the city’s large foreign population. If you look through Beijinger (a free monthly listings and entertainment website and magazine), you can easily find advertisements for restaurants serving dishes of different countries. It will create the feeling of being back home for expats. But that means they’ll seldom choose local dishes.
It also doesn’t help that the most common way for Chinese locals to welcome new foreign arrivals is to communicate in English. It is a part of what is referred to as “Westerner privilege” in China, where local residents bend over backward to accommodate English speakers instead of the other way around.
“I don’t like that very much because I think it’s better if our two languages can mingle,” Kathy De Leye told Metropolitan. De Leye, who is from Belgium, uses WeChat to meet Chinese friends and find out about Chinese events, but she rarely gets a chance to practice her Putonghua. “The Chinese feel obliged to write to me in English on WeChat,” she added.
Bursting point
According to a 2017 survey by InterNations, an online expat community, the “expat bubble” could be reaching a bursting point. About 48 percent of surveyed expats said that their social circle is a mix of locals and expats while 19 percent count locals as a majority of their friends. The remaining 33 percent prefer to only mix and mingle with other expats.


There are many expat-majority neighborhoods in Shunyi district of Beijing. To some extent, living inside or getting out of the expat bubble is entirely a personal choice. But if you are attracted to and curious about Chinese culture and don’t mind mingling with local people, here are some tips for you to pop that expat bubble.
First, learn the language! No matter which country you are in, learning the local language is always the first step in breaking the ice. Darlene Carry, an English teacher at North China University of Technology, arrived in China 11 years ago. She told Metropolitan that she forced herself to learn Putonghua by making friends with local residents. “It was either that or live inside an English bubble,” she said.
Second, focus on something that you are truly interested in. For example, Juli Bradley, who came to Beijing in 2013 with her husband, used their love of Chinese food as motivation to get out of their comfortable apartment and explore the city. “When we first got here, we were only meeting other expats. Because, in the beginning, you are trying to stay in your comfort zone. But you need to go out on your own to explore,” said Bradley.
Finally, build relationships with locals through your kids.
Young people are far more adaptable to new surroundings. If you have kids, encourage them to make friends with local Chinese children at their school or in your community. A bond will eventually form between you and their parents. You can then invite them over for lunch or dinner or play dates.

PHOTOS: Expat Nigerian journalist with Chinese friends at a cultural function in Beijing in September 2016 at the Liangmaqiao Diplomatic Quarters, Chaoyang District Being

And photo of a Beijing Street near the Beijing Yayuncun Hotel, Chaoyang in May 2017


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here