How Can International Students Bridge the Culture Gap?

bridge-the-culture-gapThe start of the new academic year is an exciting time and many international students will be using the first few weeks to get to grips with a whole new academic way of life. Even if foreign students have grasped English well enough to gain entry to a British university, they still face the obstacle of embracing a new culture and study style.

International students can feel frustrated, confused or out of their depth when facing not only a new country but a whole new way of life. Should universities be doing more to help foreign students bridge this culture gap? Read on for some tips on what to expect at a UK university and ideas on how to settle into university life more quickly as an international student.


New study methods for international students

Methods of study in British universities may not always be similar to study habits in other countries.

Foreign students have to adapt to different ways of researching, using the library, using textbooks, studying in groups and independently, taking exams, writing essays and engaging in discussion. All of these types of learning and study methods can be different and confusing for international students.

Attitudes to all areas of study and teaching can vary widely. And in this confusing context, what does it mean to be a good student?


University life in the UK

International students would benefit from more in depth inductions into university life in Britain and what will be expected of them in their studies. Lectures and seminar formats can be so different that they can feel quite intimidating.

Students may be wondering: how much contribution is expected in seminar? Is any contribution welcome in lectures? How much independent study is expected before both? There are countless other questions that often go unaddressed.

In English universities, seminars are usually intended as a discussion group, so do ask questions and get involved.

Lectures are normally more formal in structure and it is the lecturer who will do most of the talking. You will know the topic of each lecture beforehand, so you can read about the topic, but you will not normally be asked to contribute.

In contrast, seminars are much more interactive. It is recommended that you study the topic before each seminar because you will be expected to contribute to the discussion.

International student societies

English language proficiency is a primary concern for international students, but so too are all other areas of student life, such as lifestyle and study habits.

Cultural differences can often lead to feelings of alienation and loneliness. This is why it is important for international students to talk to someone if they are feeling the effects of culture shock.

There are international societies available at many universities to offer help and guidance about settling into a new environment. You can find others from your own country at various international society events and this is a great way to make friends.

Getting involved with the international society at your university is an excellent way to meet others in exactly the same position as you.

Make friends with home students too

It is also important that international students mix with home students as this is one of the best ways to feel ‘at home’.

Home students will be able to help you find your feet in the UK by helping you navigate through the strange trappings of a brand new culture.

English-speaking students can also help you with your English language usage, especially when it comes to English humour and English idioms and slang! They will most likely be excited at the opportunity to help you settle in and to perhaps even learn some of your own native language.


Combat homesickness by joining in with university life

One of the most important aspects of university life for an international student is to join in activities and take part in whatever is happening on campus. This can relieve any feelings of loneliness as you become part of the university life.

Homesickness can always be a problem for anyone living away from family and friends. But students should think of their international experience as a fun and valuable, positive time in their life which will bring lots of exciting new opportunities

International studentsAnother way to avoid feelings of sadness or loneliness is to continue with all your interests – go to the gym, keep playing your instruments, go to music concerts and the cinema, join the drama club, play on the football team or try a new sport – do anything you enjoy.

Find out how you can engage with your favourite hobbies in your new environment.

At the start of the academic year you can go to the Freshers’ Fair (where there are lots of fun and interesting societies and clubs to join) and ask at the union about opportunities to get involved in various activities. You might be able to work on the student newspaper or help with the running of the campus radio station.

If you are looking for ways to help your finances, you could ask about working part-time at the library, sports centre, cafe or behind the bar in the union.


Are you currently an international student?

If you are a current international student studying in the UK (or another English-speaking country), we’d love to hear from you.

Which areas of university life did you find most difficult to adjust to?

Did you find any areas of culture overwhelming or strange?

What advice would you give other international students coming to the UK to study this year?

Do you think universities do enough to help international students bridge the culture gap? What else could they do to improve the experience for new students?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments box!


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