News and Events

international students in uk

Adapting to British life: Making friends, social etiquette and improving your language skills

September 29, 2014

The great thing about British universities is that they’re well and truly multicultural. Each September students from all over the world come to our student cities and we’re proud to say we’re very welcoming of international students.\r\n\r\nFrom English foundation years to clubs dedicated to your home country/language, your time in the UK should be supportive and offer an immersive, cultural experience. However, we’re well aware that starting life in a new country can be difficult when norms and social behaviour are so different from those in your home country.\r\n\r\nSo we’ve briefly explained what you can expect from life in the UK to help your transition go smoothly. As with everything we cover, if you would like any more information please just get in touch.\r\n

Making friends and practising your language skills

\r\nUK universities have a number of societies (clubs) which you can join and it is even possible to set up your own. Societies are generally focused on a sport, culture/language/country (e.g. Spanish Society) or a political leaning (e.g. the Student Labour Society).\r\n\r\nIt is also possible to set up completely unique societies (for example the ‘Tea and Biscuits Society!’) At your university there will probably be a society dedicated to your language and home country. While these can be a fantastic way to make friends and mitigate home sickness, they can also mean that you stick to a friendship group that speaks only your home language in social contexts.\r\n\r\nTry to get involved with a range of social activities to ensure you’re not missing any opportunities to improve your language skills with native English speakers. It is natural to want to socialise with friends from your own country, but forming bonds with UK students can enhance your language skills and give you a more varied friendship group.\r\n\r\nPeople won’t laugh at your English language ability and most British people are happy to listen even if you speak slowly. Don’t hesitate to ask if you can’t quite remember a phrase or word either, other students will be more than willing to help if you’re struggling.\r\n

Integrating with British students

\r\nSome international students claim that British students can seem a little unwilling to make friends with students from overseas. This isn’t because they feel that British students are unfriendly, it’s more because they believe they form their own groups early on.\r\n\r\nIt isn’t always easy to make the first move and say hello, but unfortunately when both British and international students feel that everyone just stays in their own groups, it can form a bit of a stalemate!\r\n\r\nSimply saying hello at the start of each lecture is a great way to get friendly with new people – remember, all new students will be in the same position – everyone is in a new environment and everyone is keen to make new friends.\r\n\r\nIt is also useful to ask your tutors if they could possibly place you in a mixed group for any teamwork. In your first year it is common for tutors to predetermine working groups and your tutor should be more than happy to place you with native English speakers.\r\n\r\nIt may also be possible to speak to the student accommodation department and ask to be placed in a flat with a mixture of students from your own country and the UK.\r\n

Manners & public behaviour

\r\nIn the UK, we’re generally very accepting of diversity. People should be free to wear what they like, have relationships with who they like and express their affections in public (for example you may see couples holding hands).\r\n\r\nThis certainly isn’t the case in many countries and it can be a surprise to see people behaving in a way which might not be commonplace back home.\r\n\r\nPicking up British norms and cultural ideals will happen over time, however there are a few useful things to be aware of to avoid offending people.\r\n

Please and thank you

\r\nThe British are stereotyped as polite and reserved and it’s fair to say that most of us are liberal with our ‘Ps and Qs’ (that’s British slang for manners!) It is considered respectful to say thank you to anybody who carries out a service (i.e. bus drivers and waiting staff) and we also tend to say sorry to anybody we inconvenience (for example bumping into somebody on the street).\r\n

Greetings

\r\nIn the UK we typically greet people with a handshake. This is usually the case in formal settings, and there aren’t really specific rules surrounding this. For example, it is considered the norm for men and women and people of different ages to shake hands. If you feel uncomfortable with this, just say – most British people are happy to adhere to your own cultural norms.\r\n\r\nIt is common for British people to greet each other with a hug. This is usually the case between female friends and men and women with platonic relationships. Men don’t usually hug other men in their friendship group, although some people are just naturally affectionate!\r\n

Titles

\r\nUniversal titles apply to academic staff and your lecturers/course leaders will have either the ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’ title, with these titles preceding their surname. Academic staff may also be called by their first name, so just ask if you feel unsure. The most common UK titles are included below, and it is worth mentioning that even people who are older than you may like to be called by their first name.\r\n\r\nMr – This is a universal title for a man. This precedes a man’s surname. In formal situations, the title ‘Sir’ may also be used.\r\nMrs – This title refers to a married woman and again, precedes a surname.\r\nMiss – An unmarried woman.\r\nMs – This is a general term of address for a woman. If a woman is choosing to use this then she may be keeping her marital status deliberately private.\r\n\r\nIs there anything about UK culture which you find confusing? Please get in touch on Facebook or Twitter and our team will be happy to help. If you’re looking to study abroad in the UK or London, please visit our helpful ‘Study in‘ pages to learn more.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n