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Ask Sarah: Finding Your Place in Beijing

Tips for the newbie who's ready to find their niche

I recently moved to Beijing from overseas for work. This is the first time I'm living and working abroad, and I'm here without a partner and kids. I don't know anyone outside work and don't speak any Mandarin, I'm experiencing a massive culture shock and feel quite lonely. While I hope I will adapt eventually, do you have any recommendations to feel less overwhelmed and stressed out?
Newbie in Beijing 

Dear Newbie,

I came to Beijing as a childless trailing spouse in the summer of 2016 and really know how you’re feeling. Although I had already lived and worked in different cities around the world, Beijing was unlike any place I had ever experienced. Beijing is a city you will hate at times and that eventually will grow on you in unexpected ways and you’ll start to love it. When I left recently to move to another country by myself, I was sad to leave behind this crazy city and the truly awesome friends I had made.

So here are my tips for you to help deal with your stress, meet like-minded expats and locals, and start to feel at home:

First and foremost, practice self-care: When overwhelming feeling creep up, focus on your breathing; meditate daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes; start journaling—if it’s not your thing, try five minutes of writing down whatever comes to mind; get regular massages to soothe your tense body, eat healthily, and get enough sleep; listen to music you love, sing along and get dancing; lose yourself in a good book or movie. My favorite place to take care of myself was The Beijing Mindfulness Centre, which among others offers mindful meditation and yoga classes.

Sign up for international social networks and go to their events: Internations and International Newcomers’ Network (INN) come to mind. To find activity groups have a look at Meetup.com. You can also check with your embassy if there is a club run by your compatriots.

Take a class and stimulate your brain: Mandarin, Chinese culture, cooking, jewelry making, arts, etc. (check out The Hutong, Pop-Up Beijing, or Atelier).

Follow venues on WeChat and go to their events by yourself, even if it may be difficult at first (my favorites were Modernista and The Bookworm).

Get involved in the community and help a cause close to your heart. Love & Hope Center, Roundabout, Chi Fan for Charity, and the China AIDS Walk  (Sep. 23 this year) all offer great ways to get involved. 

Get moving! Exercise is known to relieve/prevent depression. Join a running group, a CrossFit or yoga class instead of working out in a gym by yourself.

Please remember, all the emotions you are going through are valid. So be kind with yourself and have patience, I know you will thrive! 


What did you find successful when you were new to Beijing? Leave a comment below! 

Sarah Neuenschwander is the founder of Organize Me! and devotes her time to helping clients declutter and streamline their lives to minimize stress.  ​


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