Study Abroad

What It's Really Like to Study Abroad in the U.K.

Photo of Eliana Silver
Eliana Silver
Topic Expert

Eliana is a Journalism student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. In her free time, she likes to write, sing, and travel with her...

What It's Really Like Studying Abroad in the U.K.
Photo credit: Jacob B., Adelante Abroad Scotland Alum

We all know that our time spent at university could be the best years of our lives. It’s often the time we find ourselves, discover our true passions, leave our comfort zone, and explore new places. Studying abroad gives us an even greater chance at this. Whether for a few months, a year, or even for the duration of your studies, studying abroad is an opportunity to learn about a new culture, to meet new people, and to create memories unlike any other.

The United Kingdom is among the most popular study abroad destinations for many American students. There is no language barrier and this makes it easier to meet people, make friends, and excel at university studies. I am studying in Scotland, and as an American, I’d like to offer some insight into what it’s like to study abroad in the U.K., and what I wish I had known before I arrived.

The Campus Experience

What It's Like Studying in the U.K. - Girls looking into the distance
Photo credit: Taylor S., Arcadia Scotland Alum

Depending on what you’ve chosen to study, your academic workload may vary from manageable to intense. Usually in the beginning of your time studying abroad, professors won’t put as much pressure on you because they want you to get to enjoy the social aspects of university life.

However, although you may not have as much class, if you join a society you will definitely be spending time at uni. Societies are a big part of your experience here. You can sign up for as many as your time allows and participate as often as you like.

The fee to join a society is normally no more than £5, which gives you a years membership. These groups can be dedicated to sports, fandoms, hobbies, etc. Sports can range from rugby to Quidditch, and more creative clubs can range from art to cheese appreciation! These societies do weekly meetups at the university, however they also plan activities outside uni, such as pub crawls, games, and even society balls! Societies are a great way to make friends and get to know your host campus life better.

Your Living Situation

Aside from your coursemates, many of the lifelong friends you will make at ‘uni’ (the U.K. nickname) are the people you live with while studying abroad. Student halls can either be university-owned or private and typically consist of shared flats between 6-8 people with one kitchen and two bathrooms. Living in the student halls is definitely a great way to meet people and make friends, and is usually budget friendly if you’re willing to have roommates or flatmates.

Food & Entertainment

What It's Really Like to Study in the U.K. - Girl at Loch Ness
Photo credit: Emma J., IFSA Scotland Alum

When it comes to grocery shopping, supermarkets in the U.K. offer a range of prices. Lidl, Asda, Tesco, and Aldi are more affordable while Sainsburys, Morrisons, and Marks and Spencer are usually more expensive.

U.K. universities do not offer meal plans and you will have to buy and cook your own food. University campuses have cafes, however, you will have to pay to get food there. In most university cities shops and restaurants often offer student discounts, meal deals, and even free entry to clubs and events with your student card.

You’ve probably heard that the legal age of drinking in the U.K. is 18, which means that you’ll be legally allowed to drink while you’re studying abroad there – this may be the first time you’re allowed to do that, depending on where you’re from! However, if you don’t want to partake in drinking or that isn’t your main focus, no one will think less of you – there are always groups that enjoy these activities to differing degrees. You can always find another society to join to fill your time instead.

The Honest Truth About the Weather

What It's Really Like Studying in the U.K. - Two Girls in Scotland
Photo credit: Annie R., CIS Scotland Alum

When it comes to the weather in the U.K., many people have the impression that it is always rainy, cold, and cloudy. Before I moved here I was convinced I'd never see the sun and I wondered if it'd make me miserable.

Once I arrived, I learned I didn't have to worry. Life in the U.K. is designed with rainy weather in mind and there are a lot of cozy pubs and fun coffee shops to frequent and plenty of activities to partake in. You won't even notice the sun isn't there! And don't worry about packing an umbrella – almost no one uses one, especially among students. A rain-resistant jacket with a hood is all you'll ever need.

Cultural Differences in the U.K.

What It's Really Like Studying in the U.K. - Boy Holding Up Hand
Photo credit: Nicholas H., IFSA Scotland Alum

You might be surprised to learn there are distinct cultural differences between the U.K. and your home country. You might even experience some culture shock, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit disoriented for the first few weeks you’re studying abroad here.

In addition to etiquette differences – you only say hello without a hug (like in the U.S.) or cheek kisses (like in Europe) – and language differences (be sure to understand the difference between “trousers” and “pants” before you go clothes shopping!), you’ll be surprised by the multitude of ways that people in the U.K. have their own distinctive approach to life.

You might even find that you love these differences, and learn to differentiate between the regional nuances (like the differences between life in Scotland versus down in England).

What It's Really Like Studying in the U.K.
Photo credit: Ryan S., IFSA Scotland Alum

If you’re thinking of studying abroad in the U.K., don’t worry too much – part of the fun of studying abroad is experiencing things for the first time and being surprised by all you discover.

You’ll soon discover that being a student in the U.K. might vary quite a bit from what you’re used to back home but that’s no reason to stop you from studying abroad. You’ll enjoy your studies, make new friends, travel a lot (you’re a short flight away from many European cities!), and who knows, you might even come back knowing how to play the bagpipes if you study in Scotland like I am!