12 Ways to Adjust to Life in Another Country as a School Student

Image shows travellers with suitcases silhouetted in front of a window at an airport.Settling into a new school is daunting at the best of times, but it’s especially nerve-wracking when your new school is in a completely different country.

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If you’re heading off to a new school overseas, you not only have the usual things to worry about – making friends, adjusting to a new timetable, workload, teachers, and so on – but you also have extra concerns to contend with, such as adjusting to a new culture and dealing with feelings of homesickness. In our opinion, the best way to adjust to life in another country is always to throw yourself into it with gusto. In case you’re wondering how to do that, the tips in this article will explain all, and should hopefully help you cope with the culture shock you may experience when you come to study in Britain.

1. Get your English as good as it can be before you go

Image shows a pen on a dictionary.
Take any opportunity you get to practise your English before you travel.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make you feel isolated when you’re trying to settle into a new country, it’s not being confident in your use of the language. Your English skills will, of course, have to be superb in order to secure a place at a top British boarding school, but the more advanced and fluent you can get your English before you go, the better. It may help to take extra lessons with a native English-speaker prior to leaving your country for Britain, as they’ll be able to help you learn colloquial English that will help you converse more easily with your peers. Gaining an understanding of British slang and idioms will be essential; we’ll suggest some more tips for developing your knowledge of this a little later in this article.

Image is a button that reads, "Browse all English Schools articles."2. Read and understand as much as you can about the UK before you arrive

Image shows a man and his daughter, both wearing silly Union Jack hats.
If you come from a patriotic culture, you may be surprised at the generally irreverent or mocking attitude the British have towards their country.

As well as honing your language skills, it would be beneficial to read as much you can about the UK and its customs before you head here. This will help minimise the culture shock, because you’ll understand more about what makes British people tick, and you’ll have more of an idea of what to expect. Read up on everything from British food to famous UK celebrities so that you familiarise yourself as much as possible with British culture.
Along the same lines, read about British etiquette, so that you don’t inadvertently make any faux pas or cultural blunders. For example, British people take queuing very seriously indeed; if you don’t respect a queue, for instance by pushing to the front, you will offend those around you. What’s more, we Brits have strong views on other small gestures of politeness, such as holding doors open for people, and starting a conversation with “how are you?” Knowing as much as possible about this sort of thing will stand you in good stead for life in the UK.
Understanding the British sense of humour will also help when it comes to interacting with your peers. For instance, many Brits favour a heavily sarcastic form of humour that may be lost on a non-native speaker, so getting a sense of what sarcasm means may avoid the awkwardness of your missing the point or taking something literally. Our next point will help you get to grips with this.

3. Watch British television and films

Image shows the inner courtyard of the BBC television centre.
The most-watched programmes on the BBC are a good place to start.

Watching television and films produced and set in Britain is a good way to pick up on UK culture, customs, manners, humour, and much more. You’ll grow familiar with the television programmes most people in the UK watch, and in doing so, you’ll start to feel more like a native Brit. The One Show is quite a good television programme to watch to get a sense of UK culture; it’s a magazine-style show on BBC1 at 7pm each weekday, with features on all kinds of things that British people are interested in. Other popular programmes that many people in the UK watch, and that you can watch to get a sense of British humour, cultural background and the way British minds work, include the motoring show Top Gear, the costume drama Downton Abbey and ‘reality’ shows such as The X Factor, Dragons’ Den and Strictly Come Dancing. There should be plenty of clips on YouTube to give you a flavour of these, and they’ll also help build your knowledge of British slang, idioms and other aspects of informal spoken English, which will help you understand colloquialisms you’ll hear at school.

4. Look out for relevant internet forums

Internet forums can be a useful place for meeting others who are in the same situation as you, so have search on Google to see if you can find any forums for students who are also about to start at your school. This allows you to share the experience with others, which makes it seem less scary, as well as meeting people in a virtual environment before meeting them in real life. This is also a place to share your concerns with those who’ll understand them, particularly with international students, who will be going through the same process as you.

5. Pack sensibly

Image shows a young woman leaning on a fence with a suitcase.
British weather can be very variable – pack a variety of clothing.

Before you head to the UK, make sure that you’re equipped with everything you need for life at your new school. In particular, this means packing sensible clothes for the UK climate, which may take some adjusting to if you’re coming from a warmer climate. Your first term will begin in the UK’s autumn season, which means that the mornings and evenings will be chilly, but it may be warm during the day; make sure you have adequate clothing to cater for both. It will rapidly become colder and wetter as the term progresses, so packing warm winter clothing – a thick coat, gloves, scarf, woolly hat and so on – is advisable. It may snow over the winter, so some thick boots would also be a wise purchase if you don’t already have some.

6. Do some sightseeing

Image shows the Houses of Parliament as seen from the London Eye.
Exploring London is great, but not all of the UK looks like this.

To help you acclimatise to the UK, it would be good, if possible, to arrive a few days before you’re due at school so that you can get your bearings – perhaps by exploring the local area with your parents before your term starts. This will be particularly beneficial if you’re coming from a very different time zone, as you’ll have time to get over the jetlag before school begins.
Part of settling into a new country is getting to know your local area, as this will minimise feelings of being lost in an alien environment. Seeing some famous British sights will help you to understand the country in more depth, but it’s also a good idea to explore the more everyday aspects of British life: the towns and villages, high streets, supermarkets, restaurants and parks that people visit on a day-to-day basis. This will give you a much better sense of what real life in the UK is like; after all, contrary to what many tourists may believe, we don’t all live in Buckingham Palace, or even London!

7. Your first day at school

When the big day arrives for you to start school, you’ll have a thorough induction process to show you where everything is, meet teachers and settle into your boarding house. It will help that you’ll immediately have a school routine to settle into, which will give your days some structure and stability, as well as keeping you busy enough that you won’t have time to miss home too much.

8. Talk to as many people as possible, not just international students

Image shows four young men sitting together on a beach.
Try to socialise with a wide variety of people.

Once you arrive at your new school, try to talk to as many people as you can, both fellow pupils and teachers. This will enable you to make friends quickly, which will immediately help you start to adjust to life in the UK. Being friendly and approachable will enable you to make friends easily, and your peers will soon become like your extended family, giving you a sense of belonging that will help alleviate feelings of homesickness and isolation. It may be tempting only to talk to the other international students, particularly those from your own country, as they are going through the same thing as you, and you have your country in common and can converse in your mother tongue. However, it’s advisable not to get yourself into an international student enclave if you can help it; try to mix with students from the UK as much as you can, as this will enable your English skills to come on in leaps and bounds and make you feel more at home in the UK.

9. Take up a new hobby

This point could alternatively have been called “keep busy”, but the value of hobbies goes beyond simply keeping busy. For a start, taking up a new hobby when you join a new school is a great way to make new friends. Most British boarding schools have a fantastic array of extra-curricular activities for you to get involved in during your time off, and getting involved in things that interest you will help you meet like-minded people with whom you can enjoy your spare time. What’s more, hobbies will enable you to develop life skills that will be useful when applying for university and jobs.

10. Get into the right mindset

Image shows someone jumping in front of a mountain.
Think positive!

When you’re in a foreign country, you’ll naturally be comparing everything with how it’s done in your home country, at least at first. This could be anything from food to public transport to television to the climate, and the temptation may be to compare it unfavourably with your own country. Getting out of this negative mindset (“it’s better back home”) is key to adjusting to life in a new country. Rather than automatically jumping to the conclusion that something isn’t as good as in your home country, keep an open mind, reserve judgement, and who knows – you might end up loving the way things are done in the UK once you get used to them.

11. Coping with homesickness

No matter how busy you keep yourself, no matter how many new friends you make, and no matter how much you enjoy your new environment, some feelings of homesickness are inevitable when you’re settling into a new school in a new country. You need to have some tactics in place to combat it before it has too much of an impact on your work, productivity and well-being. The following tips should help you cope with homesickness when it strikes – and it can strike at the most unexpected moments, so be prepared for this.

  • Communicate regularly with your parents, family and friends back home.
  • Take some things from home to comfort you, such as favourite books, your own bedding, photographs of friends and family, comfy pyjamas and so on.
  • Talk to a member of staff if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed; the pastoral support at UK boarding schools is excellent, so you don’t need to suffer in silence.
  • Reading expat blogs written by people from your own country living in the UK may also help you cope with the culture shock and homesickness, as it’s a way of sharing the experience with someone who understands your perspective.

It may also help to remind yourself that this is only temporary: you’ll be going home for a few weeks at the end of term. Try to make the most of it and enjoy it, in the knowledge that this isn’t forever.

12. Summer school

Image shows a student on an Oxford Royale Summer Schools summer school.
An Oxford Royale Summer Schools summer school may help you settle in.

Finally, another good option for preparing yourself for studying in the UK would be to attend an English as a Foreign Language summer school, ideally in England, as this will allow you to make excellent progress through immersing yourself in the language and culture 24 hours a day, rather than just in the occasional lesson. Here at Oxford Royale Summer Schools, you can study English on a residential course that will help you get to know the country as well as improving your linguistic skills ready for use in both the academic and social sides of the school environment. What’s more, it’s a great introduction to life in the UK that will mean that your move to a UK boarding school will be much easier to adjust to. Find out more by browsing our courses.


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Image credits: banner; dictionary; British culture; BBC; suitcase; London; conversation; jump.

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