Top Cultural Guide for International Students in the UK

Mohamed Adesola Adjaou, MSc Digital Marketing Management Student

Every year, thousands of foreign students come to the UK to study, be it in political science, journalism, fine arts, business, psychology or English language. England has become the education capital of the world. The country is known for many things, including tea and the love of fish and chips, but the UK is best known for its excellent educational institutions that include alumni from around the world. That’s why the UK is a great place to study for all international students who want to experience English culture and the best of education.

This guide presents the main cultural norms and differences that every international student should know about the UK.


The British are friendly and social people, so communication is very easy. Although there are do’s and don’ts when communicating in the UK.

Greeting: British greetings vary according to your knowledge of the person you are greeting. Although a simple smile and a nod are enough when greeting a stranger, it is also acceptable to have a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

Distance: The personal space is loved by the British. So keep a safe distance of about an arm’s length between you and the one you are chatting with. Coming to close is considered inappropriate. Never stare either, as it is generally considered impolite.

Being animated: There are many countries whose citizens enjoy a heated debate that can come alive enough, even in a friendly or social setting. Not the British, though. Being animated is usually frowned upon. The British are generally reserved and extremely polite, even when the conversation requires more emotion. Throwing your arms in the air, making gestures or raising your voice may not seem like such a big problem in other countries when you try to make a point, but will probably be scorned in England.


The British love sports with the most popular being football, rugby and cricket.

Football: Also called soccer by the Americans, it is the most popular sport in Britain. The English Premier League is one of the most-watched leagues in the world and has well-known clubs including Manchester United, Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea.

Rugby: Formally a game for the elite, rugby, although less popular than British football, is still loved by many. In the former British colonies (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa), the sport still dominates.

Cricket: Whether it’s an ODI series or a series of tests, the English love a good game of cricket. Played in a more intimate setting than rugby and football, cricket requires patience and endurance, as a test match can last a few days or more.


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Traveling or living in Britain means that you are going to eat common British food. Many know the British for their fish and chips, but their culinary skills go further than this popular take-away dish.

Sunday Roast: Usually eaten on a Sunday, this meal consists of a roasted meat (e.g. duck, chicken, turkey, beef or lamb), a sauce or gravy and seasonal vegetables. It is a British staple.

Cornish Pasty: These delicacies are popular throughout the UK but are native to Cornwall and are probably better prepared by Cornwall. It’s a tasty pie filled with seasoned meat and vegetables.

English Breakfast: It’s certainly not consumed every day, but it’s a delicious hearty breakfast for weekends, holidays or outings. It includes eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, hash browns, toast and black pudding.


The Beatles on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1966 Credit: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

The UK is a breeding ground for some of the most famous artists in the world, and the British are proud of it. In recent years, the British have exported some of the most famous and beloved artists, who have reintroduced the country as a global hub for the creative community.

The Beatles: Originally from Liverpool in England, The Beatles were the most popular rock band of the 60s and many British and international fans still believe they are the best rock band of all time.

Adele: One of the most famous pop musicians of our time, Adele proves that British music, and in particular its history, has a profound impact on the world.


To go out in England is only natural, as many students do. So, knowing how to socialise will make your stay here much better.

Arrival time: The British are punctual. So, you should try to be on time most of the time. The only exception to this rule is to be invited to a party or similar event. Being a few minutes late can be forgiven, but try to arrive within a reasonable time.

Behaviour: If you want your stay in Britain to be enjoyable, you will need to be well behaved. Always be sure to use please and thank you in the right setting. Forgive me and I’m sorry, they are also commonly used. During your stay in the country, you should also know that the British respect their elders and people with disabilities. They do everything possible to help them and make sure they are comfortable.


Living in another country, even if it is as a student, means adopting the language. Although we have English classes to help you blend in, English is not the only language spoken in the UK and we are known for some slang of our own. Here is what you need to know about the language in the UK.

Familiar phrase: Every country has its own slang or colloquialisms and Britain is no different.

Chap means a man
Crikey is a common exclamation
TV means television
Chic means classy and sophisticated

Indigenous languages: The United Kingdom (UK) is divided into 4 countries; England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each country has its own indigenous language; Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Irish (“Gaeilge” pronounced Gwal-gah) in Northern Ireland and Welsh in Wales. In Cornwall, England, you will also find a small population that speaks Cornish. But English is generally the language spoken in the United Kingdom.

Myths and legends

Every country has its share of “strange” myths and beliefs, and the UK is no different.

Fairies: Nicknamed the little people or the hidden people, the British have always believed in fairies, many claiming to have seen these mythical creatures and some even say that they had photographed them.

Gnomes: According to legend, these creatures are supposed to protect the gardens from other mythical evils. Hence the popular garden gnome that can be seen everywhere in the gardens in England.

Leprechauns: Playful creatures are actually a fairy and are popular among the Irish. If caught it is said to give the recipient 3 wishes to release it. It is also said that they wait at the end of a rainbow with a pot of gold.


Britain is known for its great universities and learning opportunities. So, to succeed in UK universities, it makes sense that, as a foreign student studying in the UK, you understand our education system.

UK Universities: The UK is home to some of the best universities in the world, thanks to its high quality teaching. Foreign students in the United Kingdom can study at Oxford University, University of Nottingham, University College London, Staffordshire University and the University of Portsmouth, among others.

Academic Year: The school year or school term in Great Britain varies by region and by university; all foreign students must therefore inquire about this university. But most universities have semesters from September to July.

Student Visa: Applying for a student visa can be easy, as evidenced by the many foreign students studying in the UK each year. However, in order to qualify for a student visa, you will need a letter of acceptance, proof that you can pay tuition and living expenses, as well as the possibility of paying extra health.

Student and Social Life: In addition to overcoming culture shock, living an international student experience while enjoying life in the UK is easy. There are many initiatives to make foreign students feel comfortable and minimise the experience of cultural shock when moving from a familiar culture to a foreign culture. To make your stay in the UK more enjoyable as a student, you must:

  • Visit the UKCISA website
  • Stay in touch with the house
  • Contact your international student advisor
  • Learn about British Traditions

Royalty and rank

Queen Elizabeth II

This is certainly something that distinguishes Britain from other countries. Although royalty is quite common all over the world, very few of them do as much as the British do.

Queens and Kings: At the top of the royal line are the King and the Queen. Right now, it’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Duke and Duchess: This is the second most powerful rank of the monarchy, attributed to those who are just under the king and queen. Duke is for a man and Duchess for a woman.

Knights and Dames/Ladies: Given to ordinary citizens who have accomplished something extraordinary. They will be honoured by royalty with a title. A Knight is the title given to a man while Dame is a woman. After which they will be officially called Sir or Dame/Lady.


Although public holidays and holidays are used interchangeably in the United Kingdom, public holidays can also be celebrated by schools, businesses, etc.

Boxing Day: It’s the day after Christmas and it’s a holiday. It is celebrated every year on 26th December.

Pancake Day: Also known as Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras (for Americans), Pancake Day is the eve of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning Lent. This is the last day that many Christians can feast before the start of Lent where they would traditionally abstain for 40 days. It falls on a different date each year, but obviously occurs on a Tuesday.

Saint Patrick’s Day: It falls every year in March on the 17th. It is of great importance to the Irish because it is the day of the death of St. Patrick who was known to preach Christianity in Ireland in the 5th century.

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