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International students’ experiences of adjusting to the UK

Watch this video and read the article to learn more about some of the biggest adjustments international students have noticed while studying in the UK

The students talked about a lot of different things – and different things to each other. So, this can tell us a few things: people moving to the UK notice a wide range of differences from their home country. These will vary depending on your home culture; it isn’t necessarily huge differences that add to the sense of culture shock, even small differences can create an uncomfortable feeling, and this is a common part of adjusting.

Some of the differences that are mentioned often by students include:

  • the food
  • accents (especially regional ones that can change depending on where you are in the UK – ‘there is not just one English accent’)
  • driving on the left side of the road and managing this as a pedestrian (especially as jaywalking – crossing the road away from a pedestrian crossing – is not illegal in the UK)
  • the height of ceilings (some can be really high, especially in older buildings)
  • small talk – British people might ask how you are doing but it is commonly used as a greeting, rather than a question about your mood or how you are actually getting on
  • the drinking culture in the UK. In the UK drinking alcohol in social settings is commonplace and some people can drink quite a lot, for example undergraduate students who are moving away from home for the first time and have recently turned 18 (the legal drinking age in the UK) can get overexcited, especially at the beginning of term.
  • card culture – people often pay for things using a debit card or via a payment application on their mobile (like Apple Pay) and cash is used less frequently these days
  • the weather – throughout the year it can be relatively cold, wet, and rainy depending on where you are in the UK (this tends to be the case the further north and/or west in the country you are). The weather can change throughout a day, which is an unfamiliar experience to some people.
    • top tip – the UK government recommends that everyone in the UK takes vitamin D supplements between August and April because of the limited sun exposure and to avoid getting a deficiency. This is especially important for students coming from climates where they are used to a lot of sun exposure. Find out more on the NHS website.
  • prices of items – compared to your home country, you might find that things in the UK cost relatively more
    • top tip – avoid smaller ‘metro’ food stores that you find in the centre of towns and cities. You might find it better to do your food shopping outside of the city centre. You will usually be able to find bigger supermarkets a bit further out of the centre of town where you’ll usually find lower prices and a wider range of items available, even if you have to walk for a while or take a bus it’s likely still worth it if you’re getting more than a few items.
    • You might also find it helpful to compare the prices of different items in shops as some things might be cheaper in one shop but more expensive in another – it’s also worth looking at getting online deliveries as it will save you a journey and you can put an order in as yourself or with your housemates for bigger savings – many of the shops below offer home delivery throughout the UK, so just look up the store website and put in your postcode to see if it is available to you
    • some of the main supermarkets in the UK are
      • budget (£) – Aldi/Lidl/Morrisons/ASDA/Home Bargains
      • mid-range (££) – Tesco, Sainsburys
      • higher end (£££) – Waitrose, Marks and Spencer (also known and M and S)
    • these tips also count for when you are buying items to set up your room and/or student home. Look for stores such as IKEA, B&M, and Wilko, as homeware items, for example, will be cheaper. Even if you need to take a taxi or get things delivered the savings will often be worth the extra cost of this – especially if you team-up with housemates or friends and share transport

One possible take home message from this is that it might be hard to predict what you will find strange or unusual, but it is likely that there will be at least some point when things feel that way for you. These feelings are common and are part of going through the stages of culture shock. If you aren’t feeling that way right now, hopefully you can hold onto this information for when you do need it.


We’d love to hear from you in the forum. Is there anything above in the video or text that surprised you? Do you have any tips to share from your own personal experience or have you spoken to anyone who lives/lived in the UK and has had experiences that other students might find interesting and useful

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