Buy my photos!

Notecards for $2.40

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Expat Explorer Survey

The 2010 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey was recently published. It compiles answers from over 4000 expats living in 25 countries about their lifestyles, including topics like finances, social ties and family life. It’s an interesting – albeit simplified – view of life as a foreigner in various countries.

One thing that caught my attention was that the biggest concern for all expats was being able to establish a social life in the new country, & that women more than men worried about making local friends.

Here’s the summary from the report:

Moving abroad can understandably be daunting for any potential expats and this year’s report reveals that emotive worries cause much greater concern than practical issues. The most common concern for expats ahead of moving to their new country is re-establishing a social life (41%), feeling lonely and missing friends and family (34%).

The same worries are also much more prominent for female expats. Nearly half of female expats surveyed (48%) shared concerns about re-establishing their social life in their new country, compared to only 37% of men and 44% of female expats shared concerns about missing their friends and family, compared to less than one third (29%) of men.

This was definitely one of my main concerns when I was getting ready to leave the US. I was worried about leaving my friends behind, knowing I would miss them terribly. I made sure I saw everyone at least one last time before I boarded the plane to Vietnam. I hugged them tight, tears slipping down my cheeks as I finally said goodbye.

Once in Vietnam, I found that it was difficult to make local friends. Try as I might, my American friend-making approach just didn’t work there. Vietnam is not included on HSBC’s survey, but if it were, it would probably be near the bottom of the list for “Local Integration”.

China as it turns out ranks 17th out of 25 countries for ease of integration with the local population, which is also rather low. In the ten months that I have lived in Shanghai, I have made one or two local friends, but our relationship is not close. Again, I’ve tried everything I know to meet locals & form friendships, but I haven’t quite cracked the friendship code here yet.

One thing I have discovered, though, is that people see friends & friendships differently here in China than we do in the US. Back home, my friends are people that I like, people that I want to hang out with, go to a movie with or have a drink with after work. They’re people I respect & admire, who are my role models & my inspiration.

In China, on the other hand, friends are seen as people who can help you, people who can introduce you to business associates or boyfriends. They’re not necessarily people that you like, but they have been your friend since you were a child. The ties are strong, enduring & often unbreakable.

So it’s difficult to make local friends in China because friendship is just different here. Chinese people don’t seek out new friends once they become adults – they have enough of them already – which means the foreigners who come here tend to spend a lot of time with other foreigners.


scott said...

Interesting post Nancy! What makes you say what you say in your last paragraph? It is counter to my experience in Japan and just seems like an odd sentiment to ignore new people because "I've got enough friends already." 変ですよ、それは! (Ok, there is only one chinese character in there, but I wonder if you can still pick out what I'm saying..).

They seem interested enough to make mini-paparazzi out of you, I would think there would also be a cool-factor to being able to claim you as a friend also. No? Bummer!

Nancy Lewis said...

People are definitely nice here. They love taking my photo & are quick to help out if I need directions on the street. But I haven't been able to get beyond the superficial. I have plenty of people who can help me (Chinese definition of "friend"), but I can't seem to find anyone to hang out with (American definition of "friend").

Chris said...

Yeah, SH can be a little professional, even compared to New York. But I think you'll find real friends soon enough. The problem, as it often is, is separating wheat from chaff! In a poor neighborhood, everyone will claim to be your friend and it gets old quick (great for learning Chinese though). In a rich neighborhood, the only people who are interested in making new friends will be people looking to improve their English. This is an oversimplification, and I've had both stereotypical types of relationships blossom into relaly rewarding experiences, but:

What you really need are some hobbies. Most likely, at any Western-style hobby club you will meet primarily foreigners and Japanese people, but you'll meet cool Chinese poeple there too. For me it was not really a club, it was going to see rock music! But I can't imagine that the Vegetarians' Club would yield no interesting people...

Another thing that can help a lot is finding a Chinese teacher who is nice enough to hang around with, or a foreign friend with lots of Chinese friends. It may not always work out well but inevitably (and as your Chinese improves) you'll meet some cool Chinese people -- friends of friends -- who are more fun than the poeple you are ordinarily exposed to. ^^;

Nancy Lewis said...

Yeah, I think if I spoke better Chinese, more doors would open for me. Damn that job! It takes precious time away from studying ;>