University can be enough of a shock to wide-eyed British freshers, even if they're only from a town a mere Megabus away. So for those who travel from afar to study in such picturesque cities as Wolverhampton or Leeds, aware of the UK's student rituals and customs only via study-abroad brochures, arriving at halls for a freshers week full of strawpedoes and toga parties has to be fairly jarring.
To find out what shocked international students the most about British universities, we asked a few of them to tell us.
"I think the biggest shock for me had to be the drinking culture. I'm 20, so I'm not legally old enough to buy alcohol back home. So to see 18-year-old babes fresh out of high school walking up to a bar and ordering with no problem was odd. I also come from a very conservative state in Alabama where some people refer to alcohol as 'the devil's fire water', so to see a student bar on a college campus was so bizarre. Y'all are party animals. In the States, most things are winding down by midnight and definitely done by 2AM, but going out in the UK we didn't leave till midnight and stayed out till 4AM.
"A huge adjustment was also just getting accustomed to how classes in the UK were structured in general. When I read that my entire grade for my courses depended on the final, I was terrified. I'm so used to the American system, where there's plenty of homework and participation points – literally you get points just for showing up – to cushion your grade. Needless to say, I actually had to work my ass off and study like hell for all of my finals."
"The first thing that shocked me was the massive drug culture at university in the UK. It almost seems like drugs are an inevitable part of the university lifestyle. Another thing that struck me was the vast majority of English students paying their own tuition fees. The reaction to telling people that my parents pay for my education is, more often than not, met with eye rolling and criticism, just because my parents won't let me finish university and start my career in heaps of debt. I think that's just a bit sad."
"I was mostly shocked by the fact that campuses in the UK are like small cities. I mean, a nightclub, a Starbucks, three Costas, two SPARs and a student president actually making money doing their job? Everything is shockingly convenient: the library, accessible 24/7, is truly a blessing, the administration is way easier than in my country and people are surprisingly nice, polite and patient. You may have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get in, but I was really impressed as a foreigner coming to a British uni."
"The first thing that struck me was how the sesh has a cult-like aura; it's a constant struggle to redefine what 'a lot' means when talking about drugs, paired up with spending half an hour queuing to get in the club in a T-shirt in mid-January. Also, the binary opposition between the fucks given about uni and the obscene tuition fees. Lastly, how money is relative, like finding a £2 box of cereal expensive but two grams of shit coke for £100 an absolute bargain."
"What shocked me most about being in a British uni is just how much people love walking. It's not the walking itself that was particularly shocking, but the fact that even on nights out, when the club is 30 minutes away and it's the dead middle of winter, most people would rather trek up the hills of Bristol rather than get a cab back quickly and safely. In Jakarta people get cabs everywhere, and my friends who go to uni in the US tell me that Uber is their first, not last, option of transport on a night out. And I would understand if it's a price thing, but between a few friends in one cab it usually ends up being the same cost as an extra pint – and British people seem to have absolutely no qualms about spending a fortune on alcohol."
"I was pretty surprised by the amount of make-up girls wear for a 9AM lecture, and how most of them still managed to look terrible. Everyone was clearly so posh but still raided every vintage shop nearby in a bizarre effort to look working class – fucking weird. Also, I will never forget, on one of my first nights of Freshers Week, one guy strawpedoed two bottles of wine in a row in literally 15 seconds. I was in utter shock. Literally, how can a human being do that and not die? Then, Brits take SO much drugs. I mean, at the end of the day it's fair enough and it's not like people in France don't at all, but a coke/MD combo for a cheeky Tuesday night at a wank club seems a bit over the top."
"It's mental how accepted and 'normal' taking drugs at uni is. Obviously students in Spain take drugs too, but in the UK, it's something else. People literally don't care and are not judgmental about it. As long as you're a nice person it doesn't really matter if you K-hole every time you go out. Most of the people I know in the UK are students, and one of the things I noticed straight away is how polite and careful of offending other people are, which I like. Also, the sense of individualism and quirkiness – and that also applies to fashion. I feel like it's a very accepting and free country, and people can be whoever they want to be."
"Having never been to the UK before, coming straight to uni was probably the most shocking-slash-amazing experience ever, and it feels like home now, but it took some time getting used to. The drug, drinking and lad culture at uni is pretty ridiculous. It's really different in Cyprus. At first I didn't wanna be part of it, but it's actually pretty fun – I get why Brits love it so much. The food is pretty shocking, especially food in halls. Beans on toast is an absolute no-no, and so is Marmite. I'm still unsure as to what Marmite is and why it exists. Plus, it's weird how independent young people are from their parents when they go off to uni. It's actually quite refreshing; in Cyprus, your parents will spoon feed you until they physically can't any more. Also: your 'Henry' hoovers have names?!"
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