One of the best ways, I have found, to meet new people in China is to go to an English Corner. An English Corner is where indigenous people gather to practice speaking English. It’s a bonus for someone trying to improve their English skills to have a native English speaker join them at an English Corner.
Some English Corners are very casual. The university in China where I taught had a designated spot on campus and time to meet. I was amazed by how many students attended. Some weren’t English majors, but they still wanted to have conversations in English. Anything and everything was discussed in this setting. Now, I must brag on my friends there, because they would come out in any weather. I have literally stood in snow and on ice with my toes numb, and the students kept wanting to speak in English.
In another casual setting―in a different city in China where I lived― many people would gather at a coffee shop on Friday and Saturday nights to practice their English. We would have quite a range of ages and backgrounds at these gatherings. Oftentimes, a middle school girl would come, a large group of college students, some young professionals, and a retired guy that was a global current events guru. We were quite a group! We enjoyed each other’s company, and we’d miss someone if they weren’t there.
On the other end of the spectrum, some English Corners are more formal or structured. When I taught at a business school in Beijing, a designated subject or magazine would be discussed. At the end of the meeting, a new assignment was given so that everyone would know what to be prepared to speak about at the next gathering.
I am very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people during my time at English Corners, and with many of whom I am still friends.
Learn more by reading my book Lessons from China: A Westerner’s Cultural Education.