New Students: A Guide to Life in the UK

The United Kingdom is a diverse and multi-ethnic society, where students of all backgrounds are welcome and their involvement in local communities is valued. Here are some general considerations about aspects of UK life you might want to investigate before you arrive in Edinburgh.



If English is not your first language, it is a good idea to get used to the Scottish accent, which sometimes can be difficult to understand, even for native English speakers!  You should be able to listen to Scottish radio channels on the internet, and there are lots of useful resources online for listening to different accents, for example:

At first, you might be mystified by some of the words and phrases local people use. Don’t worry, this is completely normal and you will soon be fine. We have compiled a useful list of the most common Scots and slang words here.

It is also highly likely that will come across other British accents while living in the Edinburgh. If you don’t  understand what someone is saying, ask if they can repeat themselves slowly – you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when you do not understand someone. Do not be surprised if other people ask you to do the same – your accent will be new to many locals.


UK Etiquette

  • Timekeeping: being late for a lecture or an appointment is seen as bad manners. If your delay is inevitable and you arrive late, it is usually sufficient to excuse yourself with an apology. If, however, you are running more than a few minutes late, you should call ahead to apologise and give an indication of how long you will be.
  • Queuing: queuing, or standing in line, is incredibly common in UK culture.  Jumping a queue is considered to be very rude. If there’s a queue… join it!
  • Small talk: when you first meet someone it is sometimes considered impolite to ask people personal details (this can include questions about their age or their political beliefs). It’s best to avoid these subjects until you are friends. Until then, you’ll find students often talk about the local area, activities at the University, and the weather!
  • Politeness: generally, people are very polite and will expect you to be the same. You should say ‘please’ if you want something and ‘thank you’ if you receive something. If you wish to interrupt someone, you should say excuse me and if you accidentally walk into someone then you should say sorry. When you are in a restaurant or waiting at a bar you should never click your fingers for attention – if you do then you might find that you are ignored completely for the rest of the evening!
  • Drinking: you will find that many UK students will go out socially for a drink quite often (pubs, clubs and the Student Union bars being popular destinations!). Remember it is perfectly acceptable for you to go into a bar and not drink alcohol – there are many alternative soft drinks available.


The UK is generally a welcoming and friendly place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.In the UK it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or sex, and many international LGBT students study in the UK on the understanding that their rights will be respected. Here at the University, you can contact the LGBT+ student society for further help and support: You can also visit and


Coping with Culture Shock

You should accept that it’s natural to feel a bit homesick or anxious when you move to a new country. There will be a period of adjustment, but it will be worth it in the end. The British Council has some great information on how to cope during the first few weeks. Keep reading to find out what our top tips are!

  • It is important to keep healthy – make sure to eat properly, and exercise will always make you feel better.  You can join the University’s Centre for Sport and Exercise or join a sports club.
  • You will miss your family and friends, so you should arrange to talk to them regularly.  Skype or Facetime is usually a better way to connect than phone or email, as you can see them, so you will feel closer.  You should also bring photos of them that you can put around your room.
  • Making friends while you are here is one of the most important and worthwhile things you will do. If you want to meet new new people, you could join one of our societies, or you could visit the International Student Centre – run by students, it deals with the social aspects of the international community in Edinburgh.

Your should remember that culture shock is entirely normal – it is not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage – there are very positive aspects of culture shock. The experience can be a significant learning experience, making you more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the new culture you have entered. It will give you valuable skills that will serve you in many ways now and in the future and which will be part of the benefit of an international education.


If you have any questions please contact us at You can also connect with us via Twitter. We advertise lots of useful links and events throughout the year via our Facebook page . This is also a great way to chat to other students!


Categories: Practical Guides

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