How to survive as an international student in the UK

We have all listened to the 80’s “Staying Alive” hit by the legendary Bee Gees.  And if you are an international student in the UK, who finds it hard to immerse yourself in the new culture, you might want to belt out the following line as loud as you possibly can: “Life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me”.  Good news everyone – your prayers have finally been heard!

With this student survival kit, you will forget the insecurities and explore all the funny things you should NEVER do throughout your stay in the UK. Try it out now!


Rule 1: No proverbs allowed

If you have ever thought witty sayings like “Lovely weather for ducks”, “It’s raining cats and dogs” and “Every dog has its day” will win you extra points with your UK friends, you should think twice. Don’t get me wrong, your Eastern European teacher would definitely be impressed with this colourful vocabulary. But if you ask a 20-year-old “How do you do?” instead of “Are you alright, mate?”, the chances are you are practically screaming “I am old, don’t talk to me”. What you could do instead is have a look at the urban dictionary, practise some English slang and “keep it chill”. Thank me later.

Rule 2: Laugh when you don’t know what they say

Almost every international student has been caught up in funny situations asking themselves: “Can I even speak English? Was it English I have been studying for the past 12 years?” So, in case you cannot keep up with the pace and inside jokes of a native English speaker, or their accent is so strong you feel like crying, just remember to laugh awkwardly, nod your head and pray they don’t ask you: “What about you?”. In this case, well… good luck.


Rule 3: Accept your foreign accent

There is no easy recipe on how to embrace the British accent. But if you try and surround yourself with English speakers to practice your pronunciation and maybe watch some movies, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work in the long run (I hope it does). Just remember not to put too much pressure on yourself and stress over every word that comes out of your mouth. You might end up sounding like a Russian terrorist. And if you do, simply check what Harriett Jackson Brown Jr. had to say: “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.” So, bonus points for you!

Rule 4: The name struggle

As an international student, you might be thinking: “If I got a pound every time someone spelt my name wrong, I would have paid my tuition fees by now.” Truth be told, you shouldn’t feel offended answering to a completely different version of your name. Bear in mind this could be a real tongue twister for a teacher who does not speak the same language as you. And believe me, it is as uncomfortable to them as it is to you! But admit it, you bask in bliss every time someone gets your exotic name right!


Rule 5: No £50 notes

In 2018, the UK was the country with the most cashless payment transactions. So, if you are planning to live here, Apple Pay and contactless cards will definitely be your best allies. In any case, avoid carrying £50 notes with you unless you want to feel like a criminal while spending it. The £50 pound note is one of most likely to be counterfeited, which explains why shop owners feel defensive when they see it. Keeping this in mind, you can spare yourself the uncomfortable waiting while the cashier checks if you are using fake notes or not, and reconsider switching to cashless payment instead. It is all easy and fun (until you lose your card of course).

Rule 6: Don’t get too obsessed with your bank account

Stop converting everything you buy into your own currency. Spending £20 on a Dominos order might sound like the perfect plan until you realize this amounts to 1/3 of your grandmother’s pension at home. But if you keep on doing this maths, you might realize there are not many things you could actually afford. Just try to control your spending, be reasonable and avoid dipping into your savings unless you really need to.


Rule 7: Keep calm when your country is making headlines everywhere

There is no such feeling as the embarrassment that spreads in your body when you hear someone mentioning your country and the words murder, fraud or racism in the same sentence. It definitely puts you in the spotlight and the responsibility to prove everyone wrong about your nation lies with you. It was definitely bad luck for me to be the only Bulgarian student in a UK journalism course, while everyone was discussing the abuse English footballers experienced from Bulgarian fans in a Euro 2020 qualifier. Awkwaaaard.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s