Moving to a different country can be a bit overwhelming. It takes time to adapt to a whole lot of things which can be significantly different from what you are used to. When you move to a country like the UK, especially from India or elsewhere in Asia or Africa, the cultural change can be a bit of a shocker.
As a student, you could find your life at university quite different to what you have experienced back home. As an international student from India, these are 5 interesting cultural shocks I experienced during my Uni life in the UK.
1. Style of Teaching
During my bachelor's in India, I had become accustomed to certain norms which I thought were universal. However, on my very first day at Leeds University Business School, I found quite a few drastic differences.
To begin with, the professors insisted we address them by their first name rather than calling them sir or ma'am or even by their second names. This set the tone for the rest of the term and made us feel more comfortable and the professors more approachable.
Further, we always felt like equals and a group of adults exchanging knowledge and experiences rather than a one-way transaction. Instead of telling the students to byheart a lot of theoretical stuff, most of the professors gave us a brief theoretical understanding of several different things and emphasised the practical aspect while giving us plenty of freedom to approach it with different views.
Open book assignments and exams are common practice especially in business schools as the focus is not on byhearting things rather than understanding them and being able to explain things in our own words. The last part is very important as plagiarism is dealt with very seriously so you cannot just copy and paste things from the internet.
University campuses in the UK can be ginormous, big enough to be a mini city of its own, spread across multiple postcodes with public access roads running through.
This was quite a shock for me having known universities as closed campuses with tall gates where the campus security would demand id cards to let you in. They could also send you back home for not following the dress code or even being late and once you were in, you pretty much couldn't leave until the classes were over in the evening. In a lot of universities in India, there boys and girls hanging out together can be frowned upon and boys and girls living in the same accommodation are pretty much unheard of except in a rare few universities.
In the UK not only are there no gates on campus, no one bothers you about what you are wearing or where you are going at what time or with who. You could be sharing your accommodations with both girls and boys and no one bats an eye. And the best part is it is extremely safe to be out even at 2 in the morning.
3. Drinking culture
This was the biggest shock to me coming to the UK. In India, educational institutions, even universities are alcohol-free, at least on paper and selling alcohol near an educational institution is illegal.
Imagine my surprise finding that not only does the university have 2 bars on campus, but they are also proudly advertised on the university website. Also, you can find about a dozen bars surrounding the campus.
Having a drink with your coursemates is a common thing and you often run into your professors too. One of the best experiences in the UK is watching a football match in a sports bar, especially if England or the local club is playing. If you are a teetotaller don't worry, there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages for you to enjoy with your friends too.
4. Confusing Social Norms
Every country has different social norms and so do the British. However, the British social etiquettes can be a bit of a hard nut to crack.
The general idea is to be courteous. Please and thank you make up a big part of it. Also saying sorry in almost every situation irrespective of who is wrong and what your lawyer might recommend is the way about it. It is not an admittance of guilt, just politeness.
However, none of this is to be confused with a personal connection or friendship. It's just being nice and apart from that, the British may seem a bit cold and distant as they rarely interfere in each other's personal life. Yet again that does not mean they can't be friendly or won't help you out. Ask for help and you'll get it, you can also make a lot of friends but be sure not to poke your nose in where it doesn't belong and they won't either.
The foundation of British humour is sarcasm and that may seem a bit rude if you are not used to it. But that's just the way things are and if you don't like it just raise your hand and put it over your mouth.
5. Party culture
This could be unique to Leeds, which is famous for being an unapologetic party city or it could be the sequel of the drinking culture. But in my experience, university life in the UK is big on partying. And this is unlike any other experience I have had before and I have not seen or even heard of anything on this level anywhere at an Indian university.
Going to bars, pubs and clubs, partying at your accommodation with friends, bar hopping, drinking games, doing things that will cause a lot of regrets the next morning, watching your friends do things they will regret for weeks, that's just a Friday night. I know people who started partying in Leeds and ended up in London, 200 miles away.
I have to admit, I am not the most eager person when it comes to parties and most of the evenings, I would love to have some time to myself. But trust me, the evenings out with my friends are the ones that bring out the best memories even though it may seem like a huge waste of time at the time. It is always good to have a few friends who will drag you out of your comfort zone once in a while.
Every country, even every city has its own soul which may come across as a cultural shock if you are an international student. But while you are at it, embrace it and make the best of it because it is your home away from home.