Living in the UK

Adapting to life in a different country can be difficult and many people will experience a period of transition while they get used to their new surroundings. This sometimes overwhelming feeling is often known as 'culture shock' and can lead to 'homesickness'.

If culture shock and homesickness are affecting you, you are not alone. Here is some information about what to expect and some ideas for helping you to adapt to life in the UK.

Differences that might contribute to culture shock:

  • Social roles: such as the way in which people interact with one another.
  • Rules of behaviour: for example, timekeeping and queuing.
  • Academic expectations: different methods of teaching and learning.
  • Language: such as coping with regional accents.
  • Climate: the British weather can be very unpredictable and very wet and cold.
  • Food: you may find British food quite bland and boring.

The effects of culture shock

You may experience health problems such as headaches or stomach aches. You may also find it difficult to sleep and concentrate and to focus on your studies. Some people also find that they become more irritable or emotional. All of these effects can increase your anxiety.

Some tips on how to deal with culture shock

Culture shock is a normal reaction. Remember you are not alone; Cardiff University has thousands of international students who may have also felt the same way you do now.

  • Reach out to your Students’ Union International Student Officer, academic School, course mates or Student Societies for support.
  • Keep in touch with family and friends at home. Advances in technology have enabled people to talk to their relatives and friends regardless of whether they’re next door or on the other side of the world. A five minute facetime with a friend or relative may help you to feel better.
  • Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning. If you have photographs and ornaments display them proudly to make yourself feel more at home.
  • Keep healthy. Try to adapt to a new routine. Regular exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep may help you to adapt to the UK and your studies much faster.

Covid-19 is likely to make settling into the UK even more difficult. It is important to monitor government guidance to keep yourself safe, but we have outlined key considerations for you below.

Work at making friends with other students, both from your own culture and others. Talk to other international students. They will understand how you are feeling.

Take advantage of the help and support that is on offer at the University: from the Student Support Centre; the Chaplaincy; the Students' Union and your personal tutor.

If it is important to you, find out about local faith communities and how you can get involved.
Take a look at the events and activities run by your Students’ Union that might interest you.

Have a read through the Cultural Values that we have highlighted below to help you recognise and adapt to typical UK behaviours.

Find a supplier of familiar food if you can. We have a list of local international supermarkets below, or a student society might be able to suggest local shops.

Local international supermarkets:

  • Al Sheemal Halal Foods - 15 Salisbury Rd, Cathays
  • Albany Halal Food Stores - 57 Donald St, Roath
  • Almamlaka – 34-38 City Road, Plasnewydd
  • Clare Foodstore - 45-47 Clare Road, Grangetown
  • Eastern Chinese Supermarket - 26 Tudor Street, Cardiff
  • Jing Xing Express – 155 City Road, Plasnewydd
  • Makkah Continental & International Food, 133 Woodville Road, Cardiff
  • Manfung Retail and Wholesale Store – 113 Penarth Road, Cardiff
  • Vegetarian Food Studio - 115-117 Penarth Road, Grangetown
  • Xquisite Africa - 146 City Road, Cardiff, CF24 3DR
  • Zem Zem Mini Market - 12-14 Wyverne Rd, Cathays

Local large supermarket chains:

There are hundreds of local supermarkets around Cardiff City Centre and your most and convenience store is likely to vary depending on where you live. The companies listed below are the predominant grocery chains in the UK:

Co Op
M&S Food

These companies do tend to vary in their prices and in the selection of products that they carry. Make sure you keep an eye on how much your groceries are costing you so that you are confident that you are getting the best deal.

The majority of local food markets now offer loyalty cards for regular customers. Loyalty cards when used regularly can unlock rewards for regular customers, such as deals on items and produce, or money back. If you are shopping in the same place regularly, you may be eligible for a loyalty card. To find out more, we would advise you to ask someone in store.

Internet Food Shopping

Most UK supermarkets will offer an online order and delivery service, which allows food and other items to be delivered to your door for free or a small fee. Take a look at the webpages linked above to see if this is a service you can use.

If you’re keen to buy online, but you’re only buying the basics take a look at the CO-OP’s On-demand groceries or Sainsbury’s Chop-chop app for a quick delivery.

Be wary, owing to the current circumstances and the impact of Covid-19, delivery slots may be competitive so it is sensible for plan orders a few weeks in advanced if possible.

Covid-19 Government Restrictions

The UK Government has established specific guidance for people arriving in the UK. 
The UK Government insists that everyone living in the UK must:

  • Wash their hands regularly
  • Cover their face in enclosed public spaces
  • Stay at least two meters apart from people outside your household
  • If you are presenting symptoms of Covid-19 you should get a test as soon as possible and certainly within five days of the symptoms occurring. The symptoms of Covid-19 outlined by the NHS are:
  • A high temperature
  • A new, continuous cough,
  • A loss of change to your sense of smell or taste.

If you have symptoms or test positive for Covid-19 you must self-isolate for at least 10 days. When you are self-isolating, you must not leave your home, even for University, work, purchasing essentials or exercise.

Currently, you cannot meet with people from outside of your household socially in groups of more than six. This includes going to another individual’s home where there will be more than six people present.
Places of worship, education settings, restaurants and hospitality venues are exemptions to this rule, as long as their operations are Covid-19 secure.

The Welsh Government Guidance also states that organising an unlicensed music event of more than 30 people is a specific criminal offence. A breach of this legislation could result in a fixed penalty notice for £10,000, or can be punishable by conviction and an unlimited fine. We understand that upon arriving in, or returning to, Cardiff there are lots of people to meet or friends to catch up with, and there may be a lot of temptation to host a housewarming party. Unfortunately, this is currently prohibited by the Welsh Government and you may be subject to legal action, in addition to disciplinary action by the University.

Keeping your Housemates Safe

It is our current understanding that Covid-19 is spread mainly through close person-to-person contact. Ultimately, to avoid spreading the symptoms to those you live with, it is important that you try to stay away from them as much as possible for the duration you are self-isolating.

This could include:

  • Staying in your own room with your door closed;
  • Avoid using shared spaces at the same time;
  • Avoid using shared furniture such as sofas, beanbags or beds.
  • Use a separate bathroom, or if this isn’t possible, clean the bathroom every time you use it.
  • Use individual towels, including hand towels and tea towels.
  • The cleaning of communal areas in University Residences has been paused while restrictions are in place; it is important to keep your accommodation clean to prevent illness. Please see our ‘Keeping Your Property Clean’ advice below.

Staying Hygienic

To reduce the spread of infection in your home, we would advise you to follow the NHS guidance and maintain the following hygiene measures:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards (See cleaning advice below)
  • Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (such as door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products (See cleaning advice below)
  • Keep windows open in the room you're staying in and shared spaces as much as possible
  • Consider wearing a face covering when in shared spaces
  • Government guidance states that in most cases face masks must be worn in all public areas except from in bars or eating establishments.

Keeping Your Property Clean

If you are concerned about the risk of contracting coronavirus, you may feel more inclined to keep your property clean and tidy. You don’t need to purchase niche, top-end cleaning products to keep your property safe during this time; your average detergent and bleach should be enough to remove the virus from indoor surfaces.

During this time, it is sensible to regularly clean surfaces, especially those that are touched frequently, such as door handles, handrails, remote controls and kitchen surfaces.

If possible tenants should use separate bathrooms, but we realise for most students this would be a luxury. Instead, we would advise you to clean a shared bathroom every time you use it. Be careful to wipe down the surfaces that you have touched regularly.

Important Cultural Values

Here are a few other topics that you may find interesting. We hope that being aware of these cultural values will help you settle into the UK more quickly:

  • Timekeeping: In the UK being late for a class or formal meeting of any kind is seen as bad manners and being on time is valued very highly. If you think you are going to be late for a formal appointment with someone, try to let them know in advance. Always aim to arrive five minutes early for any lectures, seminars or meetings. Social events are less formal and it won't matter if you arrive a little late.
  • Queuing: The British are famous for queuing for all sorts of things such as getting on buses and trains, to be served in shops, and even to enter lecture theatres. As with good time-keeping, queuing is seen as being polite and respectful of others and failing to queue may result in people becoming annoyed with you. It's good to remember that if someone was there before you allow them to go first.
  • Gender issues: Men and women in the UK are entitled to equal respect in all areas of life. You may find that relationships between men and women are perhaps either more or less formal than you are used to, and there may also be differences in the way people interact depending on their age and status. You may find it difficult at first to adapt to the differences in the way in which men and women interact here in the UK compared with the way they do in your home country. However, you should gradually become accustomed to and accepting of these differences.
  • Making conversation: When you first meet somebody it can be difficult to know what to talk about, especially if English is not your first language. As a general rule you should ask about people's interests but avoid asking any personal questions. In the UK it is considered impolite to ask someone about their age, religion, political views or how much money they earn. So these topics should all be avoided.

Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410