8 things you need to know as an international student in the UK

Anna Allgaier

Wise has an office in London, which so happens to be the office I work in. Please do not stalk me. I will not appreciate it.

As a foreigner, there’s a lot I had to learn about British culture, but luckily I’d lived here long enough before going to University, so I had a head start on understanding how the people of this fabulous nation operate.

It isn’t all Paddington Bear and Mary Berry. Some people here don’t even like Harry Potter. And if you’re going to get by, you will need to learn how to speak the lingo. No, I’m not talking Grammar, I’m talking code. We speak in code here.

So, if you’re considering moving to these shores to get all studious and stuff, here are some things you may need to know.

Bonus fact: don’t come here and start saying words like “cheers” or “mate.” I did. It did not suit me. I wish someone had told me to stop.

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1) You will go to Wetherspoons

I’m sure you’ll already know that we are a nation of pubs. Pub culture is a beautiful thing full of warm pints, pork crackling and “banter” (they define banter as humour but a lot of the time it is just making fun of people, I have cried). But as a student, especially if you’re studying down south, you’ll find that pubs can be expensive. In comes Wetherspoons to save the day. Also referred to fondly as “Spoons” this chain of pubs is sprinkled all over the UK, and god do they love a bargain. I spent many a lunch break at a Spoons, disappointed many a friend at being awful at a pub quiz, and questioned my life choices amongst their four walls. Ah, memories.

2) Eat like a British student

University is expensive, and for many of us, our uni days are the first time we’re expected to actually feed ourselves. Gone are the days of the fully stocked fridge.

Luckily, students of Old Blighty have hacked their way into a happy food existence with some gorgeous deals. A staple of British student culture is Domino’s Two for Tuesday. And you guessed it, every Tuesday you can tickle your taste buds with two pizzas for the price of one. Share with a friend, have it all to yourself. We won’t judge.

If you don’t feel like pizza, pretty much every supermarket here offers what we call “a meal deal.” This usually involves a sandwich, a drink and a chocolate bar or a pack of crisps at a fair price. While you won't be judged on your pizza bingeing, you will be judged on your meal deal. It defines who you are as a person.

Of course, if you’re a fancy student, the other half go to “Pret A Manger” for a bougie sandwich. You may now be realising that we love a sandwich, and we will pretty much entertain anything that is hugged by bread. We put crisps in bread, we put chips in bread, we’d even put bread in bread.

Loads of restaurants and take outs do student discounts across the country, so keep an eye out because there’s always a way to eat well on a budget.

3) Freshers week

Freshers week takes place the week before your university classes begin. It’s a week of total and utter chaos, where your uni and student union organise a series of parties to get you acquainted with your new study buddies and what the campus has to offer. You’ll get the opportunity to join societies (they range from cheese & wine societies to dungeons and dragons), and you’ll probably attend some sort of student fair. But the real highlight is the parties.

You will meet a group of people and swear to live together and stick together forever. You will stop talking to them about a month later.

4) Learning English English

There are a lot of words that get thrown around here that took me a while to grasp, and I’ve lived here for 20 years now. Here are a few of them:

Pull: Unless someone is referring to opening a door, pull means to makeout with someone. “Did you pull?” for instance. Should this word not tickle your fancy (that’s brit talk for, be to your liking) then you can use Snog, instead.

Fit: Fit can mean in-shape, but it also means really, really hot. When discussing your uni love interest, this word can be used. Unless they aren’t fit, in which case, good on you for not being shallow.

Dodgy: If someone describes you as dodgy, this is not a good thing. Dodgy means dangerous, weird, a bit off, strange.

Gutted: If someone’s gutted, not to worry, they haven’t had their intestinal organs removed from their body like a fish. They’re just bummed out. Sad. Hurt. Disappointed.

Knackered: To be knackered is to be exhausted. If your British slang is advanced, you can step it up a level with cockney rhyming slang and refer to yourself as “cream crackered.”

Ledge: No, it isn’t a surface, it's a legend. If someone calls you this, you should be chuffed (happy). But honestly, if you’re hanging out with people who use the word ledge, and they think you’re a ledge, you’re probably not ledges at all.

Legless: When it comes to “wow, I’m so drunk” terminology, there's a lot of it. You’ll hear phrases such as “legless”, “plastered,” and “hammered.” But you can pretty much add “ed” to the end of anything and have it mean drunk. So get creative.

Skint: This means you’ve pounded the pounds and spent all your pennies. Wise Jars can help with that.

5) We speak in code here

One more language thing you may want to know about is that just because we say something doesn’t mean we mean it. Confusing, I know. If someone sends you an email with “kind regards” at the bottom of it, they don’t wish you well at all. If that is shortened to “regards” they want you dead.

Should someone say “interesting” to you, they do not find it interesting at alll. And finally, when asked if “you’re alright” nobody really wants to know. There are a lot more examples, but part of the fun is figuring it out for yourself. Enjoy. It’s awful.

6) A compliment? No thank you

Do not give compliments. They make British people very uncomfortable. And if you do give one, make it ironic or backhanded. That’s what ledges do. If you receive one - say somebody says “omg, I love your top”- then you must respond with “oh, this? I got it for a tenner.” If you don’t, people will think you’re arrogant.

7) We apologise a lot

We apologise for everything, even if someone bashes into us and we had no involvement. You must say sorry all of the time. For everything. Got it? Sorry.

8) There’s more to the UK than London

Finally, one thing to remember when applying to uni here in the UK is there is so much more to this wonderful country than London. So get your exploring hat on and take a look around before you make a decision. Unless you’re skint, then just hit up Google.


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