Brandon Fisher Jan 19 2019

Finding Community in Shanghai


For seasoned expats that have moved from one assignment to the next, transitions become a way of life. While it may not seem like it to the uninitiated relocating for the first time, there is a method to the madness of moving your life around the world. While it is certainly advisable and useful to do research prior to visiting Shanghai so you can understand the basics that will help orient you within the city, there is simply no substitute for human intelligence—that is, talking to people on the ground.

The catch is, however, that it is exceedingly difficult to gather that intelligence on a brief look-see trip or by having a few conversations with people you’ve just met. Everyone has reasons for advocating for this or that, but those reasons may not be in line with things you believe. It becomes a judgement call for the most part and one based on your best guess given the limited intelligence available.  Once you arrive in Shanghai however, you’ll have the opportunity to really connect with other expats through different community organizations – one of the best will be the school you have chosen for your children.

When you relocate, a significant amount of space opens in your life as you distill it during a transition to a completely new and foreign environment.

The importance of how you fill that space cannot be underestimated, as it will necessarily affect your overall happiness, which in turn improves your chances of having a successful move to Shanghai should you fill the space in your life with meaningful activities and people. Everyone leaves a community behind when they leave their home. That community may be people from your neighborhood or town that you have known for years or, if you are from a big city, it may be the people you know from the groups associated with the activities you or your children participate in.

In either case, filling the sense of community you have left behind is an important contributing factor to most successful relocations. For couples without children or older children that have finished school, there are a plethora of community organizations in every major expat city that offer various ways to connect with other like-minded expats. For assignees with school-aged children, the easiest way to connect is through your child’s school. That said, not all schools are created equal when it comes to the quality of parents’ organizations or their inclusiveness. Depending on the school and the year, these sorts of groups can vary in quality and membership.


Choosing a school with a strong and inclusive community of parents and organizations will help you fill the space in your life opened by your relocation to Shanghai with trusted human intelligence. 

When evaluating school choices for your children, it may well be worth asking admissions staff about parents’ groups, and following up with similar questions to teachers and other administrators. The sum of their answers will give you a better idea as to whether this potentially valuable resource offers a community you would like to be a part of.