For those of us who are not international students, we can barely imagine how difficult it must be to not only live in another country, but to actually study and cope with the stresses of Uni life in a different culture and (probably) a different language. Living with three international students has really opened my eyes to that difficulties of actually living in a brand new culture.
Let’s face it, British culture is weird. Student life is also weird. So for those brave International students out there, I salute you! Not only do you have to deal with trying to make sense of Britain’s mish-mash of strange adapted cultures, but you also have to deal with the strangeness of University life and the weird trials that this brings- such as coping with the strange insular universe of Fresher’s week. British culture is unlike anyone else’s, we are a country that’s top selling dish is not native to our continent (Chicken Tikka Masala) and where we are obsessed beyond measure with how to make a good cup of tea. So imagine trying to understand our culture as an international student. How would you understand why we like to queue so much and are obsessed with our boring weather?
Life at Exeter University is about so much more than simply the degree you are taking. It is about integrating yourself into a connected hub of opportunities and social interactions. Whilst most Fresher’s are in the same boat- being absolutely clueless about the sudden independence and different life of students- international students also have to simultaneously navigate the strangeness of British life and University life!
Talking to many international students, it appears to me that one of the largest troubles with moving here, is the often overlooked random aspects of British culture. How on earth do you explain a Cheeky Nandos? How do you explain that for ten weeks at 8pm on a Wednesday over the summer the entire nation obsesses over amateur bakers who do nothing other than bake? How on earth do you explain the agonising pain of British politeness in social situations?
International students often come prepared with the language skills that most people would see as enough to equip them with their transition. Although difficult, it is achievable to learn English. However, no one gives you a dictionary on British culture and behaviour. No one warns you about our obsession over the pronunciation of ‘scone’ , the very strict north/south divide and no one tells you that if there are two things with which the British are good at, it is moaning and queuing.
Then of course, there is the adaptation to becoming a British student. Many international students cannot believe the binge drinking culture that appears to play a large part in Uni socialising. Others cannot believe that the clubs shut at 2am or that our socials start ridiculously early (but to be honest, we are in Exeter) and many cannot believe the tiny amounts of clothes that many of us wear out to nightclubs even in our coldest of weathers. Having attempted to learn French and German (only to GCSE level to be fair) I understand that when you learn a language you get good at saying that you live in a house in the town, or that you have a pet dog called Michael. However basic language skills do not teach you that Germans eat cake for breakfast (something I was both disgusted by and delighted by during my German exchange) or that a nap in the afternoon is an often obligatory occurrence (something I approve highly of.) To truly learn about a culture, you have to immerse yourself in it. I therefore feel increasingly sorry for the international students who have chosen our confusing and strange Island in which to immerse themselves. I think I am right in saying that most Britain’s don’t understand our culture, so why do we expect others to?
Meal times and our currency appear to be two areas that International students appear to find most baffling. For the typical Britain’s (if such a thing exists) Lunch is at 12-1 and Dinner is at 6-7 (obviously with some variation.) To us, it seems inconceivable that anyone other than night shift workers would have lunch at three and have their main meal at ten or eleven at night! That is bed time! But for my two Spanish flatmates and my Romanian flatmate, British meal times are strange and early. Our currency is also something that I had never really considered. But after examining closely our coins I realised just why my international flatmates were having a hard time adapting to British currency. Our coins make no sense! 2p coins are bigger then 1ps, whilst £1 is a different shape, colour and size to 50p’s and 20p’s are yet another shape and colour, and our 5p’s are the smallest but heavier then copper money. Gosh I am getting confused just thinking about it! Many other currencies around the world are difficult to adapt to but British coins make no sense at all. So I wish to apologise to all International students for England not aiding you in your transition to Uni life by making the currency a strange and confusing notion.
However, before we completely differentiate British culture as strange and foreign to all International students we must remember that many cultures share similar characteristics. There are MacDonald’s everywhere and University life is similar in many countries. Also, because we are a nation that likes to take parts from most other cultures In the world (sorry for stealing Tea and pretending it’s our thing India) it is likely that most International students will find some areas of British University living to be similar to their original cultures. But I still wish to congratulate and cheer on all International students for having to face the Changes University brings in a foreign country and in a very confused and unique world that is British culture.