An international student’s guide to culture shock

What is culture shock?

Arriving to Mexico for my study year abroad, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the world feeling totally overwhelmed by unfamiliar places, strange university procedures and new transportation systems. I navigated my way through these experiences, confusing and amusing the locals with my minimal Spanish that also made it difficult to make friends and connect with other people. I was suffering from culture shock which, for me and many other people, is the anxiety that results from the experience of living and/ or studying in a new country with an unfamiliar culture, language and cuisine.

Culture shock and the UK

There are many weird and wonderful reasons why people experience culture shock in the UK but here are a few things that current international students at the University of Brighton told us they found different about UK life and culture:

“Shops and cafes often close around 6pm and restaurants at 11pm.”

“People often say ‘thanks’ to the bus driver when leaving the bus.”

“In the UK people use the French words for the vegetables ‘courgette’ and ‘aubergine’ but in my country and many other English-speaking countries we say ‘zucchini’ and ‘eggplant’.”

International student

Tips for surviving culture shock

As you become familiar with the university and life in the UK, the effects of culture shock should be reduced bit by bit. However, there are things you can do to help with the transition process. Here’s our top tips for surviving culture shock:

Get involved in university life

Try the Student Union for societies and events to meet new friends and learn new things

In particular, we recommend joining the International Student society on Facebook to meet students from your own country or share similar experiences with students from many different countries.

Be prepared!

Read up and research about living and studying in the UK before you arrive so you know what to expect. UKCISA is a useful website for advice and guidance for international students:


Keep in contact with friends and family at home

Make sure you keep your loved ones up to date with your progress so that they can support and advise you if needed. You may find it helpful to create a group on a messanger service, such as Whatsapp, to communicate with family and friends.


Find ways to improve your level of English and academic study skills

Many international students can find the transition to a higher level of study challenging. If English is not your first language and you want to improve your level, check out the University’s International Academic Study Kit (iASK) for dates of academic English workshops and study weekends.

Be patient and kind to yourself

Finally, remember that it takes time to adjust to a new culture and that the University’s support services are here to help you have an amazing experience living and studying in the UK.

Contact International Student Support Officers Candice Armah and Sarah Digon at:

Further reading:

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)

Guardian newspaper article on culture shock

Written by Shona Luton


Sarah Digon • September 11, 2017

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