Studying abroad in the UK sounds simple enough, but don’t be fooled by the English speaking universities in the UK; it’s still a completely different country! There’s new lingo, shortened opening times, foreign practices, and a different grading system to wrap your head around. They might speak English in the UK, but it sure ain’t American.
Students often experience a greater degree of culture shock when studying abroad in countries where their expectations are inaccurate, and American students studying in England, and other UK nations, are often confronted with false expectations early on. After all, there’s much more to a country than just its language.
Before packing an umbrella and embarking on a journey to taste real pot pie, here are some notes about going to university in the UK to keep in mind:
Three Perfect Advantages of Studying in the UK
- The depth of academics. Undergraduates are often exposed to lectures and topics that they wouldn’t find at home, and class expectations are high.
- The history. From Vikings to medieval castles, there’s a significant artifact in every town and on top of every hill.
- The diversity of cultures, languages, and foods. Any ethnicity you want, you can find in the UK, and top-notch, too!
Three Bad Reasons for Going to University in the UK
- “I chose England because I can’t speak any foreign languages!” - Not only does this sound like a great reason to pick another destination, but it also overlooks the language differences. If I told you to get my jacket out of the boot, would you know where to look?
- “I chose Scotland because it doesn’t seem as ‘foreign’ as other destinations!” - Does bog-snorkeling or cheese-rolling sound normal to you? What about gurning? Yeah, didn’t think so. Help yourself to another exotic croissant.
- “I chose to study in the UK because the classes should be easier given the common language and culture!” - Did we already mention the depth of the academics at universities in the UK? The English, especially, take their schooling very seriously, and grades are highly competitive. There’s also an entire new grading scale to get used to; if you get a 65 on your next assignment, you should be celebrating.
Three Scholarships for U.S. Students in the UK
- Scotland's Saltire Scholarship is one of many UK scholarships for American students, available at the undergraduate, master's and PhD course levels.
- EuraxESS is the British Council’s effort to increase international student enrollment at universities in the UK.
- EducationUK shares tons of helpful and up-to-date info on available scholarships for U.S. students in the UK.
Three Surprises for International Students in the UK
- The classes are more challenging, as you are expected to learn on your own and demonstrate a semester of knowledge in ONE paper/exam. This can be especially challenging for American students, who are used to being graded and turning in work throughout the academic year. By connecting with your UK peers and participating in group study sessions, you’ll be better adjusted to understanding how the academic system works.
- The culture is completely different than what I expected. You just might be surprised at how different, and will think twice about making inaccurate assumptions. You might find more similarities between your household and that of New Zealand or Costa Rica than that of Great Britain.
- The food is like what my grandmother makes for Sunday dinner. In other words, things tend to be kinda bland. Spices aren’t very common in traditional English cooking, and it doesn’t rank very high on the health radar.
Three Program Providers Doing it Right in the UK
- IES Abroad - London - Better understand UK today during this summer study abroad in London program.
- AIFS - British Fantasy Fiction study abroad program transports students not only abroad, but through the pages and characters (and settings!) of popular novels penned by J.K. Rowling, Shakespeare, and more.
- CISabroad - the British Isles - Ireland, Scotland, and England have never looked better (or sunnier!) than with this popular summer study abroad program.
Three Things You Will Love After Studying Abroad in the UK
- Futbol (soccer). As the most popular of worldwide sports, football is played by over 250 million players in over 200 countries. There are over 40,000 clubs in England alone, so you’ll never be at a loss in finding a team to support or a match to attend.
- Curry. The variety of curry dishes in the UK are immensely popular, and for good reason. Curry has been recognized as an integral part of British cuisine, and you’ll likely see dishes served in restaurants and homes all throughout England. Expand your own palette by trying out a new dish and new spices whenever you can.
- British Comedy. The Brits and their comedy are well-known for dry, biting, and intelligent humor (or “humour”). It might take some getting used to, but don’t worry; soon you’ll be rolling on the floor with laughter (or, rather, giggling daintily behind a gloved hand) in no time.
Three Things You Still Won’t Understand After You Study in the UK
- The Royals. The British Monarchy traces its origins back hundreds of years, so it’s no surprise how ingrained into British culture it is. Although the political powers of the Monarch are much more reduced than years past, there are still ties between the British people and The Royals. Look at how many people tuned into the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton (who, by the way, each did a gap year and went abroad). You can’t say people weren’t interested.
- How Nice Brits are and How Mean Their Press Is. It’s hard to say why the British press gets a reputation for being so “mean,” but perhaps it could be attributed to the extremely dense market. With so many newspapers and tabloids competing for readers, there is a drive to outdo each other in any way they can. From hard news to celebrity gossip, the British press is notorious for operating in a vicious circle.
- Bangers and Mash with Mushy Peas. This quintessentially English dish can be found in pubs up and down England. The combination of mashed potatoes, sausages, and onion gravy may be hard to understand, but it hasn’t deflected from its popularity.
Three Subjects You’ve GOT to Study in the UK
- Literature - Can you say Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Orwell three times fast?!
- Business and marketing majors will salivate over the unique program options at hand.
- Theater - Dabble in the arts like never before.
Three Things to Keep in Mind as an American Student in the UK
- Control your drinking. It’s part of the culture for British students to drink, but there also those that drink and “chunder”. The reality is that most have only a pint or two and do not set out to drink a hundred shots of tequila. At the same time, drinking culture is very prominent in English life, so it’s important to set your own limits.
- Be prepared to talk politics (and prepare yourself mentally that you may find yourself responsible for Iraq and the world economy). If you don’t have anything to say, just nod and smile.
- Your accent sounds like an exaggerated cartoon voice to a Brit. Embrace it! Just like they sound funny to you, you sound goofy to them.
As you can see, the differences between universities in the UK and the the United States can be just as big as its similarities. In the end, this should just serve as more motivation to study abroad in Blighty, as cultural expansion and daily learning is the ultimate goal in an educational endeavor abroad. And, soon enough, you will have gotten so accustomed to the afternoon tea times, that going back home is going to be one big reverse culture shock.
Pull on some Wellies, pack some somber clothes, keep calm, and study abroad in the UK!