Many people will agree that the UK is a unique place to live. It is lively, fun, and multicultural with beautiful landscapes, historical places and some of the best museums, art galleries and cinemas worldwide. However, coming to the UK can be an equally exciting and daunting event. It may take time to adjust to life in a different culture and a plethora of questions may cross your mind about your social life or even how you will begin to get around.
Despite the feeling of excitement of moving to a new place, you may also feel terrified because you leave the familiar environment of your home and your family members. Straight after you switch to a new environment, you are likely to be hit with culture shock and homesickness.
Here are some difficulties that I faced at the beginning:
I moved to the UK 5 years ago to study. I had never been there before and for that reason I was very stressed, as everything seemed different. As expected, I got hit by culture shock which made it even more difficult to adapt to the different aspects of the UK society. Language, accents, and mannerisms caught me off guard. On those grounds, bear in mind that social behaviours may confuse, surprise, or offend you, specifically in the centre of large cities, like London, where people might come across as cold and distant or always in a hurry.
Picking up the local language and slang
Before moving to the UK, I studied English for several years, however I still felt nervous when it came to communicating with the native speakers. Sometimes people were confused by my accent and at first, I did not always understand what they meant. Constantly listening and speaking in a foreign language might be tiring, especially when English is not your first language. Phrases and slang make up also a large part of social communication, which can be puzzling if you have never heard them before. British slang can be equally confusing, as they tend to informally use words for their opposite meaning, or even to mean something totally irrelevant. For instance: “sick” means “good“ and “peak” means “bad”. This has caused to many of us some embarrassing moments!
Politeness is at the heart of everything they do. Orderly queues, holding doors open and saying “please” and “thank you” are what the UK was built on. From rushing past someone on the stairs to walking into a lamppost, Brits love to apologise. For example, you might accidentally hit someone with your bag, so why are they apologising to you? It’s an unspoken rule that everyone should apologise over the most trivial reasons, regardless of who, or whether anyone is at fault.
Here are some of my suggestions which will help you adjust quicker to the UK lifestyle:
Keep yourself busy! – (My favourite one)
UK is a place, where you can always keep yourself busy. There may be an opportunity to learn a new sport or activity or continue an interest from back home. Ever since I moved here, I managed to become fluent in two new languages and discovered my passion for travelling. Moreover, you can easily meet new people and socialise with them and find someone to talk to, who will listen to what you say uncritically and with understanding. It can be a great learning experience, which will make you more aware of aspects of both your own culture and the one you have recently entered.
Build your network!
Even though culture shock might only be something temporary, it is essentially important to have in mind that there are certain things that can help you get through it. It really helps to surround yourself with other people who are in the same boat as you as it is a huge relief to know that you are not alone in this new chapter in life. In general, making friends is not only important for building your network but also for your mental health as it goes a long way in improving your social skills that can be useful across many areas in your life. It is always good to keep in touch with friends and relatives as well and update them on your current situation.
Always be open minded
An effective way to overcome culture shock is to stay open minded even in the most awkward situations. Take some time and think before you act. Treat everything as a new chance to learn more about the culture which in this case is largely based on politeness. You can gain knowledge from the most insignificant moments. From the q’s to the bus driver to the p’s to the barista that serves you your morning coffee. Being polite will always be appreciated and put you in a good stead. Undoubtedly, the word “please” will always be followed by a “thank you”.
Curiosity goes a long way
Ever since I moved here one of my biggest fears was being alone in a completely different country. Therefore, if there is one thing, I wish I knew earlier was how much people are willing to help you. Surprisingly it is considered to be very normal to stop someone on the street and ask them questions. Apart from that, asking my British friends questions helped me understand better the British culture and encouraged me to be more confident in my everyday life. As a result, I found communicating in English much easier. It might take you a while to get a grasp with the British use of English, especially if you’re used to watching American TV shows like I did, but don’t worry, you’ll pick it up in no time!
Conclusion: The UK as a society is very diverse, with many different cultures and nationalities. Welcoming people from different countries has been a long tradition, and for that reason many have stayed here permanently. It might be difficult once you move to a new country, but the way to deal with it would be: to always have a plan, be very well organised, and learn every day to be patient, because it WILL get better!
Published by George Theodotou Associate Consultant – IT Sales and Technical Division