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International Student's Guide to Surviving the UK

From Temperature to Etiquette, Everything You Need to Know to Make the Most of Ol’ Blighty

Having moved across nations, there is one thing I have to say for any far-quested individual: Everywhere has its own modes of normal. Setting out on a scholastic adventure comes with all the joys, sorrows, and freak out moments that you might imagine! There is only so much to do in preparation, and it all seems to dawn after the long wait has ended. Adjusting to the new scenery is one thing, but to completely reorientate yourself to a new culture is quite another. Having lived in the UK for several years now after emigrating from LA, here are some pointers that may come in handy for overseas students.

The weather always changes: Make way for many weather convos.

The value of sunshine in the UK is far greater than most places, since, being an island surrounded by water, it always rains. The entire day having been grey, always be prepared for the evening BBQ and fireworks display to be accompanied by at least a drizzle—or a downpour. Maybe this is the reason weather is one of the top icebreakers in many first conversations. The astonishing rate of the recent rise in temperature is always my biggest back up to avoid the notorious awkward silence. It could be the volatility of the clouds or it's also just deeply embedded in the British culture, but don't be surprised by this topic always cropping up.

As a side note, one of the best things about living in Britain is the accessibility of its countryside beauty. When the sun's out and the temperature's up in late spring, the beauty of the nation's holiday hotspots are the best place to be. For the many UK citizens who mostly holiday elsewhere, I often wonder why, since many British destinations are an unmissable experience that I could revisit again and again. I would stress, visit the renowned towns and cities, heritage sites, and peaceful nature reserves, all full of their own stories and antiquity. Student life is often intense and jam-packed, but it's good to find some relaxation time. These places need to be supported if they are to be enjoyed in the future!

Buy a kettle.

When in crisis, make someone a cup of tea. If, coming from a warm climate like me, you don't know how to do that, follow the instructions below. 

  • 1 tea bag
  • 1–2 tsp sugar
  • boiling kettle

Place tea bag in a favourite mug. Pour boiling water over tea and add sugar. Allow brewing for about 2–3 minutes depending on the strength you want. Everyone has their perfect brew. For the habitual "tea or coffee'" request, I always have my answer rehearsed: Tea with milk and ten sugars.

Prepare for a new code of always being 'polite.'

When I first arrived to the UK, the first thing I learned was a series of proper etiquette rules to follow. This was by no means expressed by word of mouth. Fortunately, I hadn't reached the level of rudeness or embarrassment for that. There are certain standards, "always known but never spoken," that are followed. It's how the British roll.

1. Say please and thank you.

This is granted in most cultures from childhood, but when on the phone, ordering a meal, or at the info desk, it goes miles. Sometimes it can be taken as an insult if you are not polite when being provided services. I would stress that it is very respected in this culture to always appreciate what you are given and the time it took for someone to prepare it for you (even if you paid them to). Everyone has valuable time, and the best thing about providing services is to feel appreciated for what you do.

2. Line up!

Be extremely wary of losing patience. "Queue jumping" and angry outbursts don't go down well. Think before you speak is granted, but think before you step over someone is also important. The British are generally "reserved" in that they don't like to "impose" themselves upon another. One byproduct of that is often suffering in silence. A lot of the time I find myself adhering to the motto, "if you have a problem waiting, get over it." One note to make is that the UK is one of the most densely populated areas you can find, so it can often feel like everyone is trying to get to the same place at the same time. Because the UK has an old and valuable heritage, which can't be overhauled, the transportation system is very efficient, considering, but also sometimes crowded or just frustrating. In that case, it's far better for everyone to make way for each other rather than always scramble for themselves. Remember teamwork and putting others first?

3. Take a breather.

One of the benefits of entering a new country that values its etiquette is that they will be polite to you. When you find yourself in a "host" country, expect to be treated well. You will find genuine people interested in your story and background. After all, you have sailed the world, which is not only brave, but also shows much responsibility and level-headedness. 

The pub is the best social hub.

After a long day of quality work or a fallout with one of your fellow mates, the best way to retire is with a nice pint of beer in a cozy and buzzing pub. For a bit of background, a pub is NOT the same as a bar, or a restaurant. It's rather a mix of the two. Either way, it's the place to drink, gossip, unload, or bet on the most popular sports matches. The combination of a chilled and relaxed setting with the element of "you're encouraged to get rather tipsy" makes unbeatable homely perfection incomparable to any other venue in my opinion. It's one of those things that compromises for all the other troubles and niggling factors about this country. The pub is definitely the heartthrob of the British social community, and I love how all the best of British culture is intertwined in one setting.

If you're still unconvinced, my advice is to just begin and learn as you go. Every adventure has a start, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. If I ever feel irreconcilably foreign because I just can't get my head around some cultural difference, I try to keep positive and mark it as a new experience. Never just try to "get used to it," for that diminishes the fun and joy of discovery. Whatever culture you are arriving from, it is also important to appreciate yourself and bring some colour wherever you go. Never be afraid to be you and let yourself shine from within.  At the end of the day, all you experience is a valuable encounter to share with everyone when you get back. 

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