New Students: Adjusting to UK Culture

When you first arrive in Edinburgh, you might notice differences between the way things are done here and what you are used to at home. This can include anything, from the weather to the way people speak and behave, from food to language or accents, different manners, beliefs, customs, laws, religion, family structures and politics.

This can sometimes feel overwhelming but it’s very important to remember that ‘culture shock’ is completely normal.

It’s a process that most people go through when they experience a change of environment, leaving the comforts of familiarity to experience the unfamiliar. Everyone goes through a cultural adjustment process when they, for example, change jobs, move to a new house in a different town/city or move to a completely different country.

This can be disorienting at first, as even doing something as simple as buying a bus ticket can become a difficult task – can I buy it on the bus? Do I have to have the exact change?



As culture shock is a highly personal experience, the effect it has on your body and mind can vary. You could feel a bit lonely, a bit sad and sometimes you can feel frustrated with your new surroundings and how things work.  You might find that you are stressed or irritable, and could experience headaches or problems eating and sleeping.  However, the good news is that these feelings are temporary, and there are lots of things you can do to help yourself.


The most important thing you can do to avoid or minimise the effects of culture shock is to be prepared.

The more you know about what to expect, the less likely you are to experience culture shock.  You should research about life in the UK and in Edinburgh to help you prepare.  For example, you should learn about the food, the weather, and the clothes people wear. You can hear from our international students on their own experiences of adapting to life in Edinburgh on our website.

You should also learn what will be expected of you on your course, study methods and course content, although you will learn more about this during Welcome Week. These are not the only elements of culture shock: you might find that people have a different perception of time than you do; they may have different ideas about hygiene; they might act more or less formally than you are used to; they might have different expectations of personal space.

We have talked about UK etiquette in one of our previous blog posts. The British Council also have some great resources on their website.

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:

How to Help Yourself: Top Tips


Culture shock often doesn’t affect students straight away on arrival.  Most students will feel excited and elated during the first few weeks – you will be experiencing new things, meeting new people and you will be very busy.  It often happens after the first few weeks when you might feel a bit down.  The weather can affect many people, including locals, here in Edinburgh in the winter as it starts to get very cold, and darker early in the evening.  But there are still lots of ways to avoid or minimise culture shock.

  • Remember culture shock is completely normal, not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage. There are very positive aspects to culture shock: it 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
  • Keep in touch with family and friends in your home country
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet – like the saying goes, ‘a healthy mind is a healthy body’
  • Take regular exercise – research proves that sport makes us feel happier. It might also be a way of meeting new people and making friends. You can join the University’s Centre for Sport and Exercise (there will be more information about this during Welcome Week), or join a sports club
  • Investigate Edinburgh University Students’ Association Societies – there might be an opportunity to learn something new or continue an interest from home. You will, most likely, find a club or society at the University which suits your interests but if not you can meet people outside of the University by joining groups like ‘Meet Up’
  • Download the Welcome Week App to stay up to date on all the opportunities to join clubs and groups when you first arrive
  • You can also create a sense of safety and reassurance by bringing familiar items with you, like photos of family and friends
  • At first, you might find that a feeling for your own culture when abroad is always comforting – speaking your own language, eating typical food, reading a newspaper from home. Be careful not to rely on this too much, as it can be a way of resisting change, and resisting opening up to a new culture
  • Stay confident. Follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future

Support Available at The University of Edinburgh


International Student Advisory Service (ISAS)

That’s our team! We advise students on welfare matters as well as immigration, and organise a number of social cultural events that will hopefully catch your interest. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check out our Website and Blog to help you stay informed.

Edinburgh University Students’ Association Advice Place

The Advice Place offers free, impartial and confidential advice on pretty much everything! They can help with any questions you may have about accommodation, finances, the University, personal health, well-being and much more.

The International Student Centre (ISC)

The ISC is the student-run arm of Edinburgh Global, dealing with the social aspects of the international community in Edinburgh. Run completely by student volunteers, the ISC aims to make every student’s time in the University of Edinburgh an unforgettable one. They organise events and trips and advertise these on their Facebook page.

The Chaplaincy 

The Chaplaincy is for everyone – ‘all faiths and none’, as they put it. A warm, welcoming environment, they provide social spaces as well as opportunities for personal and spiritual development. They regularly hold events such as social gatherings, yoga classes, fundraisers, discussions and volunteering fairs.

Welcome Week

We would encourage you to come to International Day and to join in with as many activities as possible during Welcome Week.  If you can’t make it, don’t worry, there are lots of ways to make friends when you come.  You will make friends with the people you are living with and the people in your classes, and you can also join as many clubs and societies as you like.

We also offer a hospitality scheme called Go Connect that helps international students connect with local people. This can help you settle into life in Edinburgh and we encourage you to apply. It is very popular, normally with more students applying than hosts, but we do our best to match as many people as possible.

If you have any questions about any of the above, please email our team: You can find further advice on living in Edinburgh on our website and information for new students on the University’s New Students website.


Categories: New Students, Practical Guides

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