Moving halfway around the globe to a city the size of Beijing on your own or with your family is challenging, even overwhelming. This is often compounded by feelings of isolation and loneliness. There is, however, a solution to both of these problems – get involved. It’s never too early or too late to join a social group, volunteer for a local charity or join a sports club. The value of these efforts can hardly be overstated. For one, getting involved provides an opportunity to get to know your neighbourhood and Beijing, which will inevitably make the city feel smaller and more familiar. Second, you will meet other expats as well as locals with similar interests, which will quickly build and expand your social and professional network. Third, many activities, such as volunteering, allow expats to share their skills and contribute to the community. Remember, every other expat was new here once, and most are eager to share their experiences and make new friends.
The Beijing expat community is very active in organising events for compatriots, fellow mothers and those interested in meeting people while lending a helping hand. Listed below are some organizations that welcome volunteering and other involvement. If you have time, attend several events and join a few groups, improving the odds that you’ll find a place or places that are a good fit. For updated event listings, go to City Weekend.
American Community Club (ACC)
A membership organisation for American citizens or green card holders (and their families) residing in Beijing, run by the American Chamber of Commerce. ACC seeks to provide ongoing support, practical information and social activities while helping to serve the local community. They hold public social events about once a month.
FC Club (Fortune Connection Club)
The FC Club is one of the oldest networking organizations for professionals in Beijing and Shanghai. They hold monthly industry-themed networking evenings that bring together people from across the business spectrum. Headhunters, IT professionals, media reps and those in finance are usually well-represented at Fortune Connection Club events.
Mashup Beijing is a popular sports and social club started by a group of young American tennis and flag football enthusiasts in 2009. The club has grown to over 400 members from a dozen countries and now organizes several sports or quasi-sports leagues, including dodgeball, basketball, bowling, beer pong and tennis. Mashup isn’t just about the sports; it’s designed to be a networking and social club. Most of the team events and leagues evolve into parties and social gatherings.
Abiding by the motto “Indulge for a cause”, Beijing Foodies organizes monthly dinners for young expats at Beijing’s hottest or most unusual restaurants. Each dinner sponsors a local charity or community cause. Beijing Foodies is a good way to meet people, learn about causes and, of course, get to know new food places to eat. To learn about upcoming events, contact Xixi Cheng at the email address below.
China Culture Centre
This is a great group for people who want to deepen their understanding of Chinese history and culture. The classes and tours are designed for expats and conducted in English. Their activities generally fall into two categories: guided tours and specialized classes. Guided tours are organized for groups of expats and generally entail an educational tour of a Beijing historical site or a hike in the Beijing area. The classes range from educational seminars to calligraphy. Check the website for upcoming events and classes.
The Expat Learning Centre Beijing
Designed to replicate adult community learning styles in the West, the Expat Learning Centre offers ongoing adult education classes in Chinese language, filmmaking, web-design, interior design, e-commerce and more. Fellow students will be small and social groups of expats.
Inspired offers coaching and training programs specifically designed to help expat women adjust to Beijing and to change or launch a career. Programs include spouse support, cross-cultural training, career counseling, job searching and self-employment coaching. The courses are created and taught by experienced expats.
Volunteering in Beijing is a way to meet people, share your skills while developing new ones, and interact positively with your community. There are several expat-initiated programs that facilitate expat volunteers. Most of them work with children, so if you have patience, any skills in teaching or art, you can probably be useful to these non-profit organizations. Be sure to research and visit any organization before committing, to make sure it’s a good fit. Speaking Mandarin is not a requirement to volunteer at the organizations listed below. Bear in mind, however, that most places ask for a regular commitment in order to follow through on your support and build relationships, particularly when working with children.
Included (formerly Compassion for Migrant Children)
Migrants make up about one-third of Beijing’s population, and many of them struggle to adjust to life in the capital. CMC is a non-governmental organization with centers in migrant areas in Beijing. They offer various social and education programs for the children of migrant workers and are always looking for passionate volunteers to dedicate a few hours a week to teaching and playing games with the kids. They have several volunteer programs to choose from, such as an After School Program for helping children with homework and taking part in fun activities, Open House Weekends where volunteers participate in activities and Super Saturday Program where volunteers teach the children English.
Room 1107, Haocheng Building, 6 Zuojiazhuang Zhongjie, Chaoyang District
6465 6100 / 6465 6101
Bethel is a training centre started by a French couple in 2003 specifically for visually-impaired orphans. It’s a self-sustainable and environmentally friendly. Their mission is to provide foster care, education and professional training to develop independent living skills. Bethel offers classes in arts and crafts, braille, English and computers.
Blue Sky Healing Home
Blue Sky Healing Home provides in-house care of orphans with medical needs in a homelike setting, and rehabilitation training sessions for disabled orphans and their caregivers. They often need volunteers to help with child-care, education and fundraising.
Golden Bridges is a grassroots-supported US-China non-profit working to support 100 NGOs in Beijing through capacity building, events, volunteering and relationship building. The overall goal is to build bridges between communities in the West and China. They have ongoing projects that seek to link up expats with appropriate volunteering and community involvement in Beijing. Check the website for updates on projects and to inquire about getting involved.
Roots and Shoots
Roots and Shoots is a program of the Jane Goodall Institute focusing on environmental awareness and sustainable development among young people. Every year they launch a number of environmental campaigns, and members can get involved by joining groups in an area of interest. Roots & Shoots is a global initiative, but has several projects in Beijing that regularly seek volunteers. Projects are constantly changing so check the website for updated information.
Rotary Club of Beijing
This is a very active Rotary Club and a great place for networking and seeking volunteer or work opportunities. In fact, the Beijing Rotary Club has been in existence since 1924. Many of the members have been in Beijing for years and are always looking for new, innovative projects. They meet weekly at the Kempinksi Hotel. Check the website for details on meetings and upcoming projects.
One of the greatest hardships on children moving to a new city is the feeling that they’ve left everything behind. Fortunately, Chinese people love children and generally go out of their way to be welcoming. Kids will come to love the beautiful outdoor play areas littered across the city, and, with very little digging you can find sports and activity centers just like the ones they had back home. For weekly and monthly event listings, check out Beijing Kids.
It’s a simple idea, but it works for kids and parents, particularly given Beijing’s weather. Play centers are all over the city now, and usually safe and fun places for kids to run wild and make friends. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending the afternoon befriending other parents while the little ones enjoy the jungle gyms and slides and among the building blocks.
An active online support group for Beijing parents with kids of all ages. This is an excellent forum for newcomers with logistical and personal questions about parenting in Beijing. There are hundreds of members and the chats are active.