Top 10 Cultural Guide For International Students in The UK

Top 10 Cultural Guide For International Students in The UK
Cultural Guide For International Students

Every year thousands of international students come to the UK to study, whether it’s political science, journalism, fine art, psychology or English Lanaguge . England has become the educational capital of the world. We’re known for many things, which include drinking tea, our love of fish and chips but most importantly the UK is known for our fine educational institutions that’s alumni span the globe. That’s why the UK is such as great place to study for any international student looking to experience English culture and the best in education.

This guide takes a look at the top 10 cultural norms and differences that every international student should know about the UK.

1. Communication

British are friendly and social people, so communicating is very easy. Although there are some do’s and don’t when communicating in UK.

Greeting: British greetings vary, depending on how well you know the person you’re greeting. While a simple smile and a nod is good enough when you’re greeting a stranger, if it’s someone you’re acquainted with a hug or a kiss on the cheek is also acceptable.

Distance: Personal space is loved by the British. So keep a safe distant of about an arms length between you and whomever you’re chatting to. Coming to close is viewed as inappropriate. You should also never stare, as the British don’t hold eye contact for too long. It’s generally considered rude.

Being Animated: There are many countries whose citizens enjoy a heated debate that can become quite animated, even if it is in a friendly or social setting. Not the British, however. Being animated is generally frowned upon. The British are generally monotone and extremely polite, even when the conversation requires more emotion. Flinging your arms in the air, making hand gestures or raising your voice, may not seem like such a big deal in other countries when you’re trying to make a point, but will probably be looked down on when in England.

2. Sports

The British love sports. But the most popular have to be football, rugby and cricket.

Football: Also known as soccer to the Americans, this is Great Britain’s most popular sport. The English premier league is one of the worlds most watched leagues and has some well known clubs on the log including Manchester United, Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea amongst others. 

Rugby: Formally a game for the elite, rugby although less popular than football among the British is still loved by many. In Britain’s former colonies (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) the sport still dominates.

Cricket: Whether it’s an ODI or test series, English love a good game of cricket. Played in a more intimate setting than rugby and football, cricket requires patience and stamina, as a test match can last a couple of days or longer.

3. Food

Travelling to or living in Britain means you’re going to eat some common British food. Many know the British for their fish and chips but our culinary skills extend further than this popular local takeout.

Sunday Roast: Generally eaten on a Sunday this meal consists of a roasted whole bird (duck, chicken or turkey), gravy and seasonal vegetables, and is a British staple.

Cornish Pasties: These delights are enjoyed all over the UK but are native to Cornwall and are probably best prepared by the Cornish. Its a savoury pie filled with seasoned meat and vegetables.

English Breakfast: This is definitely not eaten everyday but is a lovely indulgent breakfast for weekends, bank holidays or when you’re going out. It includes eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, hash browns, toast, and black pudding.

4. Music

The UK is a breeding ground for some of the worlds most well known artists, and British are proud of this. In recent years the British has exported some of the most well known and beloved artists, that have re-introduced the country as a global hub for creatives.

The Beetles: Coming out of Liverpool England, the Beetles were the most popular rock group of the ’60’s and many British and international fans still believe them to be the best rock group of all time.

Adele: One of the most well known pop musicians of our time, Adele proves that British music and especially British music history has a profound impact on the world.

5. Socialising

Getting out and about while you’re staying in England is only natural, as many students do. So knowing how to socialise will make your stay here alot better.

Time To Arrive: British are punctual. So, you should try to be on time most of the time. The only exception to this rule is being invited to a party or similar event. Being a few minutes late can be forgiven but try to arrive within a reasonable time frame.

Manners: If you want your time in Britain to be pleasant you’re going to need to be well mannered. Always be sure to use please and thank you in the correct setting. Pardon me, excuse me and I’m sorry are also commonly used. While you’re in the country you should also be aware that British respect their elders and those who are disabled. Going out of their way to help them, and ensuring they’re comfortable.

6. Language

Part of living in another country even if it is as a student means adopting the language, and while we have English language classes that’ll help you blend in, English is not the only language spoken in the UK and we’re known for some slang of our own. Here’s what you need to know about language in the UK.

Colloquialism: Every country has their own slang or colloquialisms and Britain is no different. 

  • Bloke/ Chap means male.
  • Crikey is a common exclamation like gosh.
  • Telly means television.
  • Mufti is a term used for uniform. Non-mufti meaning casual clothes.
  • Quid means One Great British Pound
  • Posh means classy and sophisticated

Indigenous languages: The UK (United Kingdom) is split into 4 countries; England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Each country has their own indigenous language, for example those in Scotland speak Scottish Gaelic, those in Ireland speak Gaelige or Gaelic and in Wales Welsh. They also have a different kind of English; for Scotland its Scottish English and for Ireland it’s Irish English or Hiberno English. In Cornwall, England you’ll also find a small population who speak Cornish. But for the most part English is the language commonly spoken in the UK.

7. Myths and Legend

Every country has there fair share of myths and “odd” beliefs, and the UK is no different.

Fairies: Known as the little people or hidden people, the British have always believed in fairies with many claiming they’ve seen this mythical creatures and some even going as far as saying they’ve photographed them.

Gnomes: According to legend these creatures are meant to keep gardens safe from other mythical evils. Hence the popular garden gnome which can be seen all across gardens in England. 

Leprechauns: The mischievous creatures is in fact a fairy and is popular among the Irish. If caught it is said to give the catcher 3 wishes to set him free. It’s also said to be waiting at the end of a rainbow with a pot of gold… 

8. Education

Great Britain is known for it’s top universities and great learning opportunities. So, to succeed in British academics it only makes sense that as an international student studying in the UK that you understand our education system.

UK Universities: The UK is home to some of the worlds top universities and this is because of it’s top quality teaching. Foreign students in the UK can study at Oxford University, University of Nottingham, University College London and Portsmouth University among many others.

Academic Year: The academic year or school term in Britain varies by region and university, so any international students should find this out from the university they’ll be attending. But most universities terms run from September to July.

Student Visa: Applying for a student visa can be easy, as is proved by the many foreign students that study in the UK each year. But in order to qualify for a student visa you’ll need an acceptance letter, proof that you can afford tuition fees and living expenses as well as being able to pay a health surcharge.

Student and Social Life: Besides overcoming the culture shock, having an international student experience while enjoying life in the UK is easy. There are many initiatives to make international students comfortable and minimise the experience of culture shock when moving from a familiar culture to a foreign one. To make your stay in UK more pleasant as a student you should:

  • Visit the UKCISA website
  • Stay in touch with home
  • Communicate with your international student advisor
  • Learn about British traditions

9. Royalty and Rank

This is definitely something that sets Britain apart from other countries. Although having royalty is quite common all around the world very few make such a fuss about it as the British.

Queens and Kings: At the top of the royal line is the king and queen. At the moment that’s Queen Elizabeth II. 

Dukes and Duchesses: This is the second most powerful rank in the monarchy, given to those just beneath the King and Queen. Duke is for a male and Duchess for a female. 

Knights and Dames: Given to ordinary citizens who have accomplished something extraordinary. They’ll be honoured by royalty with a title. A knight is the title given to a man whereas Dame is for a female. After which they’ll be formally called Sir or Dame.

10. Bank/ Public Holidays and Days Of Significance

Although bank holiday and public holiday are used interchangeably in the UK, a bank holiday can also be celebrated by schools, businesses etc. Whereas public holidays are celebrated all around the UK on the same day.

Boxing Day: This is the day after Christmas and is a bank holiday. It’s celebrated on 26 December every year.

Shrove Tuesday: Also known as Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras (to Americans) Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the start of lent. It’s the last day many Christians can feast before the beginning of lent where traditionally they would abstain for 40 days. It falls on a different date each year, but obviously happens on a Tuesday.

St. Patrick’s Day: Falls on the 17 March every year and has great significance to the Irish as this is the day St Patrick died. St Patrick was known for preaching Christianity in Ireland in the 5th century.


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