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THE UK: Before you leave

Student Insights: Adjusting to studying in the UK

Learn about the cultural differences between America and the UK from an American student who studied in the UK.

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2011

Inevitably when you move abroad to study it may take some time to get used to a new culture and find your feet. There may be different traditions or cultural conventions to learn, not to mention the quirks of language. In addition to this you’ll be adjusting to a new academic environment, meaning there’s a lot to learn and acclimate to. Don’t let this put you off though, as the experience is well worth the learning curve. We sat down with Emilia, an American student who studied in the UK to get her take on the differences between America and the UK and what her study abroad experience was like when adjusting to a new culture. 

 

Studying in the UK

 

 

What were your first impressions of the UK?

 

One of the things that did surprise me was the fact that there wasn't as big a difference between America and the UK as I had expected. Coming from New York to study in the UK I had anticipated things being significantly different, but it didn’t feel totally foreign to me. It does help of course that we both speak the same language, although there are different accents which can make it hard to understand people at times. The academic environment is different  and can also take a bit of getting used to when coming from abroad. Apart from that I’ve found people very friendly and helpful.

 

What differences did you observed in the UK?

 

From my experience I think that people in the UK tend to be a bit more reserved and polite. They don’t always readily engage in conversation or in an overly familiar way. Some people may interpret that as being unfriendly or rude, however it’s not really meant in that way at all. British people just tend to be a little bit more guarded with their emotions and have what I call a bit of a “physical bubble” around them. 

 

Study abroad in the UK

 

 

Can you give us an example? 

 

The one that comes to mind is when you go to the shops. In America we tend to be much more enthusiastic in that context, greeting shop assistants and waiters when we eat out,  maybe having a chat. In the UK that doesn’t really happen that much. At first it was a little bit of a shock, but you do get used to it after a while and accept some of the cultural norms. 

 

Are there any other things that stood out in the UK?

 

I would say that in the UK people are more formal, especially older generations. There always seems to be a bit of distance placed between themselves and you. It does take a bit of getting used to and I have modified my behaviour at times as a result. I’ve also noticed that in the UK there is more of an emphasis on class and people are quite aware of it. It’s not a major issue for me as an international student as I’m detached from that a little bit, but I did notice it. 

 

International student UK

 

 

Was there anything it took longer to get used to?

 

Definitely. I’d say there were two things that certainly took longer to adjust too. The first is the sense of time and distance, with many in the UK feeling that two hours of travel equates to a lifetime and that it constitutes a massive distance. Coming from America, with the large distances we have in the country I tried to wrap my mind around this. I thought a two hour train ride was great and really nothing at all, not a view shared by many in the UK. 

 

The second thing I needed to get used to was how much people in the UK talk about the weather. It’s a constant topic. There is also the fact that the weather in the UK is quite rainy and dark (make sure you bring the right clothes) not bad per se, just different. In America I was used to much more extreme weather events, things like blizzards and heavy snow. These often didn’t cause that much trouble in the U.S. but when smaller weather events happened in the UK it did cause quite a lot of disruption, which was frustrating. This is all minor though when weighed against the positive aspects of the overall experience. 

 

Student life UK

 

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The Hotcourses Abroad editorial team makes sure you're informed and in the know with all aspects of your study abroad journey, from application to graduation.