Preparing for life in the UK: what to expect?

Posted 10 September 2015
Life in the UK what to expect

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More than 400,000 international students come to study in the UK each year , so whatever you’re feeling right now you’re definitely not alone!

All international students in the UK have preconceived ideas about what studying and living in Britain might be like. Maybe you’ve visited the UK before on holiday or on a school trip? But living in a new country is a very different experience to just paying a visit. So what can you expect when you get here? And is there anything you can do to prepare yourself for any possible ‘culture shock’?

Getting to know British culture

Much of what we understand of other cultures comes from the media; TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the internet. Checking out a range of British films, music, TV shows and news stories can help to give you a loose overall picture of what to expect.

British manners

Politeness and good manners are an important part of British society. You might be surprised at how often you hear the words ‘sorry,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you.’ 

● Please - at the end of every request
● Thank you - any time someone does something for you, including simple things like holding a door open for you
● Excuse me - when you need get someone’s attention
● Sorry - if you bump into someone


Another aspect of British politeness is reflected in punctuality. In business and academic life being on time is important. You should always try to be on time for classes, lectures and meetings, and if you know you’re going to be late you should try and let the person you are meeting know.


The first thing you can do to prepare for life in the UK is to pack a raincoat! The weather here can be mixed all year round. But they say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes, so stock up on clothes that will keep you comfortable through sunny, rainy, hot, cold and windy days. 

Study differences

You’re bound to notice differences between the way teaching is delivered in your country and the way students are taught in the UK. Teaching standards are high in the UK, and school are rigorously assessed, but teaching methods can vary from school to school. In general, and at Bellerbys College, teaching is delivered in an engaging way. Creative and individual thinking is encouraged. It means you won’t just be studying straight from textbooks and listening to a teacher talk all day long. You’ll be encouraged to:

● Get involved
● Ask questions
● Debate with your tutors and fellow students
● Take part in special projects, activities and school excursions


The UK us a multicultural, multi-faith society. It’s home to an incredibly rich and diverse mix of cultures, nationalities and languages. It means that no matter where you’re from you can feel at home. British people tend to be more reserved, but this shouldn’t be mistake for coldness. People are polite and friendly, students are welcomed, and striking up conversations with people you don’t know can be remarkably easy.


British people, and in particular the British sense of humour, rely a lot upon self-deprecation. This means that people aren’t afraid to belittle themselves. Rather than showing off and boasting, people value modesty. So try not to brag. Instead you’ll find people cracking jokes at their own expense by making fun of their own faults and flaws. It’s a way of making everyone feel more equal, and a good way to ease social tension. 

Smoking and drinking

It is illegal to attempt to buy or consume alcohol if you are under 18. For many British people, drinking is an established part of social life – ‘going out for a drink’ is how they relax or spend time with friends. But this doesn’t mean that you have to drink alcohol. If you don’t want to you can always ask for a non-alcoholic drink instead.

Smoking is something that occurs less and less in the UK. Since 2007 it’s been illegal to smoke in bars, clubs and restaurants in England. Smoking is also banned in many public places including buses and the London Underground. If you smoke in these places, you may have to pay a fine. Some non-smokers find smoke unpleasant and uncomfortable. If you’re eating or drinking with friends – especially at someone else’s house – it’s polite to ask before you light your cigarette.


There are plenty of traditional British dishes, like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and, when you’re really hungry, the full English breakfast. Many cities have their own local specialities for you to try too. Britain’s multicultural society has also done wonders for its cuisine, so besides traditional British foods you’ll be able to get your hands on just about any global cuisine you care to try. Whether in restaurants, cafes or in supermarkets you’ll be able to find halal, kosher, vegetarian and vegan options.