Cultural Experience | United Kingdom

How to embrace your new local culture and (politely) share your own while on study abroad.

Maximize your study abroad experience with these tips on living like a local.

By Rachel Hemsley.

uk study abroad imageNorth American students, the UK is the most popular country to study abroad (according to the Institute of International Education).  I’m Rachel and I recently graduated from the University of Exeter in the UK; in my final year I met some lovely American students who were on their year abroad in England. From my experience here are some things that you might find useful to know if you’re planning to visit the UK:

We already know a decent amount about American Culture

One great thing about studying in the UK is we’ve grown up watching a lot of US TV and with a lot of American music in the charts. So, whilst there will be a lot of little cultural differences if you’re dying to talk about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or reminisce about how awesome Sabrina the teenage witch was , people will know what you’re talking about. It might be a good idea to watch a few English TV shows before you go, just to get a brief idea of British culture and sense of humour (e.g. the office (the original UK version), Fresh Meat – about UK uni life, Mock the Week – a stand-up comedy show talking about the news etc.).

Make an effort to understand British Culture

Making a small effort to understand something about British culture can go a long way – this really goes for studying abroad anywhere, the more interested in, open to and aware of a different culture you are the more likely people from that culture will be accepting of you. There’s a bit of a European perception of North Americans being oblivious to other cultures (to be honest I think that’s also a perception of the English abroad too) – it’s probably an unfair prejudice and it isn’t true of the US students I’ve met but it’s worth being aware of it.

Bring Some US Traditions to the UK

That being said, having grown up on American TV we’re probably going to be interested in your culture too – my group of friends decided to do thanksgiving, something we don’t have in the UK (having watched years of FRIENDS thanksgiving specials we got the jist). Although I’m sure to our US friends it was probably a poor attempted compared to thanksgiving back home, it was a fun thing to do and hopefully made our US friends feel a bit more at home.

Sport is a good way to get to know people

Soccer is a really big part of British culture – of course we just call it football – whether it’s playing it, watching it down the pub or playing the FIFA games on the Xbox. If you want an easy way to get to know new people, it might be worth taking an interest in UK football.

Sport societies tend to have great social events and are a good way to meet new people and get involved in university life. There’s a huge range of different sports to choose from, some of which are taken more seriously than others; if you want a causal sport maybe try Korfball.  If you’re feeling a bit homesick, some universities (like Exeter) even have American Football teams – we don’t generally grow up playing it here so if you join you’ll probably have an advantage.

Make Friends with other International Students

As a visiting international student the simplest option is just to go into university provided accommodation because then you don’t have to worry about finding a house or people to live with. This is great because you instantly have a group of people to hang out with who are in the exactly the same situation as you. Making friends with other international students is fun because you can all do touristy things together. When you’ve grown up here, especially if like me you lived a short train ride away from London, all the sites like the houses of parliament, the various castles are kind of every day to you now. Although, in fairness I still find driving past Stonehenge on the way to Exeter pretty cool.

The point is other people who are visiting the UK for the first time are more likely to be excited about visiting places with you. The American girls I met in Exeter didn’t know each other before coming in the UK but soon become close friends after arriving – when I first met them I assumed they’d known each other for years because they seemed so close. Having people around who understand your situation and who you can navigate this strange new place with is essential. Independent student accommodation is often a good place to go because there tend to be a lot of other international students there – for instance Touchstone who provide student accommodation in London say 85% of their residents are international students.

Also Make Friends with Non-international Students

It’s also nice to have friends have been at the university for a while – they will probably have their own house you can go around for pre-drinks before going out and will know all the good places to go and little things about the university that can be really helpful. I think out US friends found it helpful having a group 2nd year students to invite them on nights out, show them the local clubs and really allow them to become a part of UK student culture, instead of just visiting the student culture.

That’s my advice, I hope you’ve found it helpful and you enjoy studying abroad wherever you end up.

Rachel Hemsley

University of Exeter | 1 story

Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm a recent psychology graduate from the University of Exeter (in the UK). I now specialize in writing online content and enjoy writing about student life.

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