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Culture Shock

What is culture shock?

Adapting to life in a different country can be difficult, and many people will experience a period of transition while they get used to their new surroundings, this is often known as "culture shock". But don't worry, here is some information about what to expect and some ideas for helping you to adapt to life in the UK.

What differences might contribute to culture shock?

  • Social roles: such as the way in which people interact with one another
  • Rules of behaviour: for example time keeping and queuing
  • Academic expectations: different methods of teaching and learning
  • Language: such as coping with regional accents
  • Climate: the British weather can be very unpredictable
  • Food: you may find British food quite bland and boring

What are the effects of culture shock?

You may experience health problems such as headaches or stomach aches. You may also find it difficult to sleep and concentrate and to focus on your studies. Some people also find that they become more irritable or emotional. All of these effects can increase your anxiety.

Some tips on how to deal with culture shock

  • Remember that culture shock is a normal reaction
  • Keep in touch with family and friends at home
  • Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs and ornaments 
  • Find a supplier of familiar food if you can
  • Keep healthy: take regular exercise, eat well and get enough sleep
  • Work at making friends other students, both from your own culture and others
  • Take advantage of the help and support that is on offer at the University: from the Student Support Centre; the Chaplaincy; the Students' Union and your personal tutor
  • Find out about local faith communities if this is important to you
  • Join the Students Union and any student societies that interest you

Here are a few topics that you may find interesting , and perhaps being aware of these things will help you settle in more quickly:

  • Time Keeping: In the UK being late for a class or formal meeting of any kind is seen as bad manners and being on time is valued very highly. If you think you are going to be late for a formal appointment with someone, try to let them know in advance. Always aim to arrive 5 minutes early for any lectures, seminars or meetings. Social events are less formal and it won't matter if you arrive a little late.
  • Queuing: The British are famous for queuing for all sorts of things such as getting on buses and trains, to be served in shops, and even to enter lecture theatres. As with good time-keeping, queuing is seen as being polite and respectful of others and failing to queue may result in people becoming annoyed with you. It's good to remember that if someone was there before you allow them to go first.
  • Gender Issues: Men and women in the UK are entitled to equal respect in all areas of life. You may find that relationships between men and women are perhaps either more or less formal than you are used to, and there may also be differences in the way people interact depending on their age and status. You may find it difficult at first to adapt to the differences in the way in which men and women interact here in the UK compared with the way they do in your home country. However, you should gradually become accustomed to and accepting of these differences. 
  • Making conversation: When you first meet somebody it can be difficult to know what to talk about, especially if English is not your first language. As a general rule you should ask about people's interests but avoid asking any personal questions. In the UK it is considered impolite to ask someone about their age, religion, political views or how much money they earn. So these topics should all be avoided!

Useful Resource

  • UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) have a very useful informmation sheet available