Although Shanghai is an exciting city, the sheer quantity of people can also make an expat feel overwhelmed. While housing and healthcare are logistics that must be immediately handled, it’s just as vital to alleviate the stress and depression often associated with culture shock by tapping into the bustling social Shanghai community. Fortunately there are organisations throughout the city, some around for over 10 years, to help newcomers get involved. For example, the Shanghai Cultural Information Call Center is a free, 24-hour public resource that not only answers questions about a variety of topics (such as finding an ayi or wading through confusing government regulations), but also provides information about concerts, plays and other fun events.
In Shanghai, there’s something for everyone, from volunteer opportunities, sports, cooking and language classes to daytime and evening mixers. Indeed, going to a mixer is one of the easiest ways to meet new friends. A number of great online resources can help guide you to the best and most current social offerings. Shanghai Expat lists events such as Sunday coffee meetings, Wednesday night dinners and mixers. The site also provides social calendars and witty anecdotes about Chinese holidays (i.e. the history of National Day on October 1). Time Out, on the other hand, will, in addition to helping you find a plethora of daily goings-on in the expat community, provide you with information about events that will lead to more authentic Shanghai experiences. Our listings contain some of the more popular ways to connect with your new community.
Community Center Shanghai
A great first venture into the Shanghai community might be a visit to one of three community centers (in Minhang, Pudong and Hongqiao) geared towards improving life for internationals. Originally founded as the Concordia Family Center in 1998, “with the purpose of enhancing family and community life for parents of CISS students”, the center has grown significantly since then. Similar to a YMCA or other local community program, the centers offer counseling, care groups and free classes that include an intensive day-and-a-half orientation session for newcomers. Childcare is provided for families. Topics include a welcome to the community and such practicals as learning how to deal with culture shock, managing household staff and finding your way around the medical system. The centers also host a variety of events and members can become involved in various charities, such as the renowned Giving Tree organisation. Look for their quarterly guide to all their programs distributed across expat venues and schools.
Pudong: Greenhills Clubhouse, 2/F, 418 Jinxiu Dong Lu,
by Baihua Lu, Jinqiao
Minhang: 474 Jinfeng Lu, by Yunle Lu, Huacao
137 6473 7311
Hongqiao: 201 Shenglunlan Building, 5B, Lane 3215 Hongmei Lu
Coffee, Tea & Mandarin Language Center
Hone your language skills with other expats by taking a Survival, Travel Chinese or more advanced class with other expats at Coffee, Tea & Mandarin. Located in the former French Concession, the school is just a few minutes walk from Changshu Lu Metro. All teachers have Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees and are certified to teach Chinese. Classes run throughout the day into early evening hours, and the school makes the immersion into Shanghai culture as easy as possible by visiting markets with its students and helping with many other practical activities such as booking tickets, taking taxis and even renting apartments. With a coffee bar, free Internet access and a laid-back approach, the language school boasts comfortable environs that allow its students to learn in comfort while sitting around sharing coffee and conversation with new friends.
Room 105, No 12, Lane 228 Changshu Lu
136 5177 7266
Hands On Shanghai
Founded by expat professionals in 2004, Hands On Shanghai (HOS) connects expat volunteers with local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who can accommodate their personal interests and need the extra hand. HOS also designs and manages volunteer programs through partners in the private sector. Most of the programs are in education, elder care, children’s health and facility improvement. Project length and scope vary, but generally require two to three hours of commitment either on weekday evenings or three- to four-hour commitments on weekends.
Heart-to-Heart Parent Support Group
Since 2003, Heart-to-Heart Shanghai has been visiting children admitted for heart surgery at Shanghai Thoracic Hospital, bringing happiness through play sessions. The group also organises fundraisers which help families of young patients who are in dire need of financial support. These families often have to travel great distances in order to be with their child at the hospital.
139 1731 9214
Expat Learning Center
Located in the historic Hengshan Lu neighborhood in the former French Concession, the Shanghai Expat Learning Center was established in 2004 by an American former English professor who, upon learning that Shanghai was devoid of part-time, affordable Western-educational programs, took it upon himself to fill the gap. Just two blocks away from Hengshan Lu Metro, this is a place that helps students become more proficient in subjects as varied as creative writing, web design and painting, while joining a dynamic expat community interested in education, culture and the arts. With over 40 classes taught by foreign instructors, there’s something for every Shanghai newbie.
Expat Learning Center (Xuhui), Building 1, Lane 152 Kangping Lu
An excellent online club for women, Shanghai Dolls enables expat women from around the world to meet, socialise and network. With dozens of monthly activities such as dinners, nights out on the town, book clubs and art classes, both recent and established expats from all walks of life join the Dolls for a variety of reasons. While most of the events and resources are for women, some events are open to both genders.
Ladies’ Cooking Club and Hongqiao Restaurant
Once a month for more than ten years, the Hongqiao Renjia Restaurant has hosted a Ladies’ Cooking Club led by Chef Winnie Ruan. Established to create a welcome environment for expat women, here participants learn about authentic Shanghai cuisine and make a fabulous lunch to eat with new friends. While the restaurant boasts accomplished signature dishes such as Shanghai Crab (which makes a trip to the venue worthwhile even if not signing up for the cooking club!), participants can expect to be introduced to the joys of Chinese cooking through attempting to make items such as Shanghainese dumplings. RMB150 includes materials, lunch and a soft drink. If you’d rather not roll up your sleeves, you can also pay RMB100 for a cooking demonstration, lunch included.
406 Wulumuqi Nan Lu, by Zhaojiabang Lu
Shanghai Pudong Toastmasters Club
Toastmasters International is a global non-profit organisation that plans events to develop members’ public speaking, communication and leadership skills during fun conversations, speech contests and meetings. The Shanghai Pudong Chapter of the Toastmasters offers hour-long events every Sunday for 20 to 30 individuals. Members are professionals from various countries from around the globe.
2/F, Motel 268, 166 Yushan Lu
Lifeline Shanghai is a public-benefit, non-profit organisation offering free, confidential and anonymous information and emotional support. They are affiliated with and accredited by Lifeline International, funded in part by the World Health Organization.