Life in the UK as International Student: Culture Shock

Life in the UK as International Student: Culture Shock

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Updated on Jan 28, 2023 00:15 IST

For all those students who are all packed up and ready to go to UK to study one common worry is what if the culture shock is just too overwhelming? What if nobody likes you? What if you don't make friends? Living in a new culture and country is exciting but can also be a challenge. Here is some advice on handling student life in the UK.

Culture shock in UK

Almost all international students experience cultural shock when they arrive at the UK. The language, food and behaviour may seem different and strange compared to what you are used to in India. You may not catch up with all the differences as quickly as you might want to. The rules of academic and social life may be quite different from what you are used to. You may have thought you knew a lot about the UK before you came but once you are there you find it hard to settle. Sometimes culture shock can feel like an emotional rollercoaster.

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Tips to help with the transition:

  1. Remember that you are not alone. Talk to other international students who are probably going through the same thing.
  2. Take along a few items from India with you to make your room/space feel more like home.
  3. Talk to people in your classes even if you are nervous. Most people will be friendly and you will feel more confident.
  4. Join student clubs/societies where socializing with British and international students will be easier.
  5. If you are finding it particularly difficult to settle down, talk to your personal tutor/mentor or Residence Life Team. These people are trained listeners.
  6. Eat a balanced and healthy diet.
  7. Do regular exercise.
  8. Be prepared and take the first step and find activities that shall give you common interests with UK students such as sports, music or volunteering.
  9. Take the help offered by your institution. You can use the university services, where there shall be a professional and experienced staff. You can benefit from the counselling service and health services offered. The International Offices or hall wardens could offer a friendly or listening ear.
  10. Ask questions from the Student’s Union and its societies. There can be an opportunity to learn a new sport or continue an interest from home. A great benefit of these societies is that these societies bring together students from different countries that have a shared interest.

International Student Life in UK

Given below are some of the social rules that international students must follow in the UK. 

  • Simple politeness is always expected, British people like to hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. People there are friendly but can be reserved especially when talking to strangers, like in India.
  • It is rude to be late in Britain. If you think you are going to be late or if you can’t keep an appointment, contact the person and let them know beforehand. Don’t keep them waiting.
  • If you are invited to your friends’ home for dinner, it is polite to take a small gift wine, chocolates or flowers. If that isn’t your style, you could invite them to your place in return. Tell your hosts in advance if you have any religious or dietary requirements.
  • When you are at a bank, shop or in a bus line you are expected to queue. Stand in line and wait for your turn. People can get very angry if you jump the queue.
  • Student drinking culture is very different and dominant in the UK and you will be surprised by the amount of alcohol some students consume. However, you should never feel pressurized into drinking. Drink only to the level you are comfortable with or not at all if you don’t want to.
  • If you do not drink alcohol, you might still be invited to go to a pub or bar. Pubs are social meeting places and sell a range of non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcohol. So see those more as opportunities to socialize rather than getting drunk.
  • You may wish to tip. About 10-15% in a restaurant is normal although make sure a tip has not already been added to your bill.
  • Men and women both have equal rights in the UK. It is illegal to discriminate against anyone according to race, gender, age, class or disability.

Check: Student Guide to the United Kingdom (UK)

British food

British people enjoy a variety of food, including dishes from India. Curries are very popular with the British and Indians alike, however, they may be blander than the ones you are used to eating in India. Meals in the UK often rely on meat, potatoes and vegetables. It is important to maintain a good diet and not rely on fast food. If you are not used to cooking, it is a good idea to learn cooking before you reach UK.

Various languages are spoken in one country

The UK is home to diverse languages, communities, and ethnicities. Though English is the most common language spoken in the UK, there are thousands of people who speak multiple languages and belong to countries from various parts of the world. As an international student in the UK, you will find students speaking multiple languages, it is advised to practice speaking and listening British English in order to survive in the UK.


In 2007 England imposed a complete smoking ban in public places. All University buildings and campuses are non-smoking zones. Make sure you take notice of non-smoking zones in public areas. If you are in the company of others it is polite to ask if they mind whether you smoke, especially at meal times.


British electricity works on 230 volts/50 cycles and most sockets take 13 amp square pin fused plugs. Adaptors can be purchased at campus shops.

No ACs or Ceiling Fans

One of the biggest culture shocks in UK for Indian students is that there are no ceiling fans in the houses. The pleasant weather in the UK means that many households do not require fans and ACs even in the summer.

Drinking water

All British tap water is safe to drink unless it is labelled ‘not for drinking’. Do not use water from the hot water tap for making hot drinks. You should instead boil a kettle or use a microwave.

Driving in the UK

UK cities are easy to get around without a car and there is usually very limited student parking on campuses. Very few students have cars. Before buying a car consider all the costs involved – petrol, insurance and licence (compulsory), MOT (certificate to prove your car is roadworthy), taxes, repairs, etc. If you are caught without a licence, insurance, MOT it can affect your student visa status and you will be punished by the law.


Cycling is a healthy, economical and convenient way to travel to your campus. You can buy a second-hand bike and there are plenty of cycle parking facilities to lock your bike across university campuses. Most universities organize free cycle safety checkups and monthly bike events.

Check: Study in UK: Student Account of Application and Admission Process

Staying safe

Although UK cities are relatively crime free, with some simple crime prevention advice you can help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of crime just in case.

  • Attend a safety talk from the Police during Orientation week.
  • Keep your windows and doors shut and locked when you leave your room.
  • Don’t leave your valuables out in plain view.
  • Make sure your house looks secure enough. If no, speak to your landlord about safety measure.
  • Walk and travel in groups late at night.
  • Stick to walking on well-lit streets and avoid shortcuts after dark.
  • Use cash machines/ATM during the day. Never write down your PIN number anywhere and memorize it.

More related articles to living in the UK:

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Q. How is life in the UK for international students?

A. As an international student in the UK, you will discover numerous ways to enjoy yourself, learn new things, make new and lasting friendships and have some brilliant adventures. The UK has a buzzing cultural scene and dazzling nightlife. On top of this, the UK has a wide range of top-class galleries, museums, and cinemas that can keep you entertained on most days.

Q. How can international students overcome culture shock in UK?

A. In order to overcome the culture shock in UK, learn as much as you can about the UK. For this, you can talk to the people in your circle who have been there before. Apart from this, to overcome the culture shock, you can ask your program advisor for advice, find a healthy distraction, talk to others about how you feel, get involved with the local community, make an effort to learn the local language, etc.

Q. What is a culture shock in UK?

A. Culture shock is very common among students who arrive in the UK. You are going to notice the differences between the way things are done in the UK and what you were used to at home. This includes the way people speak, dress, teach, learn, and all the other everyday aspects of life. This will make you feel homesick and a little confused.

Q. What is the UK culture for international students?

A. Some of the basic rules that you should follow while being in the UK are showing politeness while speaking such as saying thank you or please. Try to be punctual at every occasion as it is considered rude to be late in Britain. It is advised to drink as per your convenience at the social scenes as student drinking culture in the UK is a little dominant and different.

Q. What are the challenges faced by international students in the UK?

A. Some of the challenges faced by international students in the UK include languages barrier, managing expenses, finding a part-time job, and fitting into a new environment.
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