An Extrovert's Guide to Shanghai: 10 Ways to Interact

Mar 1, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Traveling to a new country, especially if you're on your own, can sometimes feel a bit lonely at first. If you're an extrovert, you'll likely be looking for interaction and places to engage in social activities so you feel more at home in your new environment. In a bustling, global city, there are many opportunities to connect with other people who will inspire and energize you. Here are 10 of our favorites in Shanghai: 

1. JOIN A DAMA DANCE GROUP. At dusk and dawn, China's famous damas head out to dance in public squares around the country (and sometimes beyond, making appearances in New York and Paris). Embodying the spirit of collectivism, this group set up their boom boxes and show off their moves together for an hour or so. Just head along Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street and see the energetic middle-aged citizens dancing their hearts out. They'll welcome anyone to join in. Give it a shot and you'll make a few new local friends in no time. Do be aware, though, that the practice can be controversial in places with neighbors complaining about the noise, so be respectful and keep time and place in mind!


Photo: A colorful DaMa dance group by Colin Speakman

2. DANCE IN A NIGHT CLUB. Speaking of dancing and loud music, if you prefer to show off your moves indoors instead, Shanghai does have a fantastic night life scene. Check out one of the popular clubs like as Bar Rouge, Mint or Sky. You will need to be outgoing to meet new people here because many Chinese arrive in groups and stick together, but don't let that discourage you from joining in on the fun. Remember to be smart and responsible, go with people you know and make sure you return to your accommodation safely and together!

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Photo: A Shanghai night club by Micah Sittig

3. LAUGH AT A COMEDY CLUB. If dancing's not your forte, try a different sort of night life and visit one of the city's comedy clubs. This is not to hide in the audience, but to go on an open mic night at the Shanghai Comedy Club or the Punchline and, yes, you go on the stage! All are welcome. CAPA Resident Director Colin Speakman invites you to borrow his opener: "My friends laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian; they are not laughing now." (Yes, we're rolling our eyes too!)


Image: Shanghai Tickler Comedy poster

4. LEARN FROM A KITE FLYING GROUP. Head to the gardens opposite the West Bund and you'll likely find a group of kite-fliers to join. Kites are said to have been originally created in China and kite flying as a sport has a long history in the country. Bring your own and ask for pointers from the locals. It takes some guts as Chinese are very talented when it comes to flying kites, and they'll probably be a bit amused with your efforts at first, but it will make a great conversation starter nonetheless. Persevere and you'll be a legend - the foreigner who knows how to fly a kite!


Photo: Kite flying group by Colin Speakman

5. OFFER TO TEACH ENGLISH TO A LOCAL. Put your linguistic knowledge and teaching skills on the line and volunteer to teach English to someone you've just met. In an international university like ECNU, you'll have classes with people from all different backgrounds and many of them would love to brush up on their English skills which are always an asset in the job market of such a global world. Plus, it's a great excuse to socialize and to make a new friend. If that person is a native Chinese speaker, you might even be able to pick up a few pointers and practice with them a bit in their own language as well in exchange.

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Photo: Students studying in Shanghai

6. START A CONVERSATION WITH A LOCAL... IN CHINESE. Even if your vocabulary is limited you can do this. Locals appreciate the effort and you might strike up a lasting friendship. Nihao! Wo jiao ... Wo hen gao xin ren shi ni... Where to practice? Anywhere! The list goes on endlessly, but you can start with the barrista when you buy your morning latte, in the local markets where you buy your veggies, with your favorite noodle vendor in the streets, with your native Chinese friends and professors, when you're ordering food at a restaurant or buying a ticket to a movie or exhibition. The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel going forward.

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Photo: Conversations in Shanghai by CAPA alumna Caitlin Murphy

7. TRY AN EVENING CLASS THAT WILL TEACH YOU MORE ABOUT CHINA. Expand your network and sign up for an evening class to learn more about Chinese culture. You can find no-credit adult education classes in the English magazines and on the web that you can sign up for if you're interested in a bit of extra involvement and knowledge. You might choose to feed your creative side with a calligraphy course or perhaps learn how to play a traditional Chinese instrument like the violin-like erhu or even how create a Chinese Qipao dress in a fashion design course.

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Photo: A classroom at Shanghai's ECNU

8. IMPROVE YOUR CHINESE COOKING. Love those famous soup-filled dumplings you find in Shanghai? Why not lean how to make them yourself so you can let your friends and family try them when you return to the US? Gather your friends and a Pinterest recipe for a night of learning to cook your favorite Chinese food or sign up for a cooking class. This is a popular thing to do. Plus, cooking on your own can help you save money while you're abroad and you may even nurture a new skill and one day become a master chief... Anything is possible! Some of our favorites include xiaolongbao (those soup dumplings!), guo tie (pot stickers), "pepper duck" and Nanxiang steamed pork buns.

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Photo: A Chinese cooking class by Lauren Jong

9. GO TO A COSTUME PARTY. Love to dress up? So do Chinese locals. Embrace your inner extrovert by living in an alter ego for a night at a costume party. Fall students will enjoy Halloween in Shanghai with plenty of opportunities to don a mask. Make an effort and you might even win a prize, plus you're more likely to get a few compliments which can be great conversation starters. And that goes both ways; share your appreciation of others' costume efforts to initiate a chat - perhaps even in Chinese. 


Photo: Costume shopping in Shanghai by Colin Speakman

10. CHECK OUT A MEETUP.COM EVENT. There are a ton of options here to interact with both locals and expats and other international students. Whether you're interested in practicing your language skills, socializing in a coffee shop, joining a volleyball team, exploring the city with a group of photographers, taking a break from Chinese and hanging out with some English speaking expats, playing board games, learning to code, sharing creative ideas or taking day trips outside of Shanghai to explore the countryside, you're bound to find a group on Meetup.com to do just that. 

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Screenshot: A few of Meetup.com's Shanghai events

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Topics: Shanghai, China, Practical Study Abroad Advice