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Finding your feet and feeling at home

By Sophie Partarrieu, 28 August 2014

So, you’re all packed up and ready to go. Your parents are trying not to look too worried and you can’t help but wonder – what if the culture shock is just too great? What if nobody likes me? What if I don't make friends?

It is completely normal to worry about this kind of thing. However, knowing what to expect can help you feel more at ease. Read on for our guide to finding your feet in the UK – and scroll down for a video guide from new international students!

What is culture shock?

Finding your feet in a new place inevitably takes time, no matter where you move to. Whether you’re already familiar with UK culture or it’s completely new to you, it’s likely there will be a period of adjustment.

At the same time, thanks to the different people you meet and the different opinions you encounter along the way, you will find yourself growing as a person, learning about the world and starting to think in new ways.

There are four common stages in the process known as 'culture shock':

Stage 1: Honeymoon

This is the period when you see the world with rose-tinted glasses. You’re excited about moving; everything seems great, beautiful and fun; and you’re happy to be learning new things every day.

The first weeks will fly by and you’ll be making discoveries daily (Photo by James Glossop)

Stage 2: Crisis

This is the difficult period, during which some people reject the new culture and struggle to adapt. They focus on the differences and the negatives rather than the positives.

(Photo by Seb Huruguen on flickr under Creative Commons)

Stage 3: Adjustment

At this stage, people begin to understand the culture better and develop routines. They begin to see aspects of the new culture with a more positive attitude.

Digging into a scrumptious English breakfast! (Photo by James Glossop/Guzelian Ltd)

Stage 4: Acceptance

During this phase, people start to participate more fully in new activities and feel at ease in the host culture. This doesn’t mean that they forget their own culture! They enter what is known as the bi-cultural stage and feel comfortable in their new home.

You might experience some or all of these stages of 'culture shock'. The important thing is to remember that even the difficult and stressful stages are only temporary.

With thanks to staff and students at Loughborough University

What can I do to feel more ‘at home’ in the UK?

Home is where the heart is, or so they say. The most important things to do are to keep an open mind and to be out and about, discovering new things and talking to people as much as you can. It seems simple, but if you take an interest in new people, places and customs, it will be a very rewarding experience, and you will adapt quickly.

Adapting doesn’t mean you have to cut all ties to home. On the contrary! A good way of easing in is often to join a student society or a group in the local community that has links with your home country. Whether that is an Islamic society, an Indian women’s group, a Chinese students’ association or one of the UK's many other international societies, you will find lots of people who have already been through culture shock. They can offer a sympathetic ear and useful tips – like how to get a UK phone contract, or where to buy good-quality ingredients from back home.

Also, feeling ‘at home’ in the UK doesn’t mean you suddenly have to eat lots of British food or put on a British accent! The point of studying in another country is that you have the freedom to create your own version of ‘home’. It’s likely you will live and study with students from many different countries, who will speak lots of languages, introduce you to different and delicious foods, and laugh about the stranger sides of UK culture with you!

(Photo by Nic McPhee on flickr under Creative Commons)

What will the first couple of weeks be like?

When you first arrive in the UK, you will most likely be extremely busy. Moving in takes time, preparation and lots of shopping trips!

If you're an undergraduate student at college or university, you'll have the opportunity to join all sorts of events and meet new people during freshers' week. Many institutions also hold special events for international students, to help you settle in and get to know UK culture. There might be orientation sessions, tours of the local area, trips to other parts of the UK, or even fun dialect lessons to learn about the local accent in the region where you're studying.

Who can I turn to if I’m finding it really hard to settle in?

If you’re embarrassed to bring this up with other students or with the resident tutor where you're living, then the first place to go is your International Student Support Officer or Student Support hub, if your university or college has one (for younger students, most schools have a resident nurse and house tutors at boarding schools). If not, then it is best to go to one of the Students' Union welfare officers who will be more than happy to talk to you about any difficulties you may be experiencing.

There are many different types of welfare officers, so whatever the problem – whether it’s to do with mental health, sexual health, just getting used to things or missing home a lot – you’ll be able to find the right person to talk to.

If you prefer to talk on the phone instead of face-to-face, there are some national helplines you can call – see Essential contacts and Coping with stress and homesickness for useful numbers and more advice.

                    (Photo ©Loughborough University)

Read more:

   •  Health, safety and welfare
   •  20 surprising things every UK university student needs
   •  Packing your bags: What to wear in the UK
Download the British Council's First Steps guide

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