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Ways to emotionally prepare yourself for university life in the UK

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

by A.V.


Previous research has indicated that international students might suffer from mental health issues a little more than other students. In this article, I present some tips on how to fight something called “culture shock”, as this can have a profound impact on your mental health (without you even noticing).

Do let me know in the comments what has helped you cope with "culture shock" when you arrived in the UK!


Worldwide friends can help you fight culture shock

We all come from different countries and have different cultural backgrounds. Even the most basic things that are normal in the UK might be feeling weird, unusual or even shocking for students from other countries. Based on research, there are multiple ways of how one can psychologically cope with changes in surrounding culture, for example, reject the new culture completely or reject your own culture and lose yourself in the new one.

Research on migration showed that the most productive way of coping is to accept bits from both cultures and ‘mix’ them together.

I know a lot of us prefer sticking to people from our own country, and that can certainly be helpful to make you ‘feel more like home’. However, the best thing to do to facilitate easier and faster integration is to acquire a wide variety of international friends.

For example, my very first group of friends consisted of three people: an Eastern European (as we had a very similar cultural backgrounds and experienced the Western culture shock together), a British-born Indian (who taught me everything I now know about ethnic minority religious and cultural differences) and a Chinese student (who had a different cultural background and so experienced the culture shock too). Through these different perspectives, the four of us found a common ground and helped each other through our journeys.


Be open-minded

Following from culture shock, one of the leading causes of mental health difficulties’ persistence in international students is cultural factors particularly regarding mental health. Mental health is a topic that is quite widely and openly discussed in the UK, but in many other countries it is still taboo.

Many students need extra support, but feel embarrassed, scared, and uncertain about asking for help. I want to reiterate once again that if you are really struggling, you can always reach out to your university, NHS or other services for mental health support.

Due to some difficulties with my PhD in my first year, I was referred to counselling services in my university. I felt uncomfortable because, as a psychologist myself, I thought I am ‘not allowed’ to struggle. After a few sessions with a therapist at university, I felt thousand times better and was able to continue with my research and life more productively.

Reaching out for help, at least in this culture, is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Your well-being should always be your priority, and this is one of the first cultural things you might want to integrate into your worldview.


This one you’ll love: watch more Netflix

One of my major anxieties before moving to the UK was my level of English. I’ve studied English since I was 3-years-old so it never occurred to me that I don’t actually speak it. “Blimey mate, you aight?” – I heard from my newly acquired British friend. I had no clue what she was trying to say.

Through many failures, I realised that the best way to truly prepare yourself for living in the UK and interacting with native speakers is through watching more British TV shows. When I mention this to people, everyone usually says “well duh, I’ve seen all the best series in English, you know, Friends, How I Met Your Mother”.

American TV shows can be very useful, but they will not prepare you for the specific slang and, more importantly, accents in the UK. I would highly recommend shows like Fawlty Towers or Only Fools and Horses for a more old-school English or Peep Show / Fleabag for a modernised version (spoiler alert: the latter might cause you a lot of culture shock).

This way, not only will your English significantly improve, but you will also get more in touch with the British culture, and learn to understand their humour and lifestyle. All of this can yet again prepare you for less culture shock when you finally arrive to the UK.


Stay in touch with your home

Lastly, don’t forget to try keep in touch with your friends and family back home regularly. Again, this is something I’ve learnt the hard way, because I didn’t follow this advice properly.

The longer you spend in the UK, the more your values and knowledge of life will change. Keeping in touch with people back home will allow you to stay grounded in your own culture (like I said, it is crucial to be mindful of both your cultures) and will prevent you from getting a reverse culture shock. In other words, experiencing a culture shock when you go back to your home country as you assimilated in the new culture too much.


This article covered some of the most ‘crucial’ in my opinion parameters of staying in touch with yourself and your new and old cultures. Comment below if you have any further ideas to share with fellow students!


A.V. is a Psychology PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London working on student mental health. She previously completed a BSc Psychology and an MSc Clinical and Mental Health Sciences at University College London. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and an aspiring clinical psychologist, currently working as a crisis counselor.

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