Hi, I’m Mi Chelle and I’m from Malaysia. If you’re an international student, you’ll most likely have experienced culture shock. Culture shock involves surprises, both positive and negative, and it can be a lot to take in. Read on to find out about what culture shock actually is, and how different students at York have experienced it.
What is culture shock?
Culture shock happens when one moves into an unfamiliar culture, and it can affect anyone. It’s the disorienting experience of adjusting to a foreign living environment. You also notice the differences between all aspects of life and culture in comparison with your home. Some of these aspects include food, weather, social rules and language.
An effect of culture shock is homesickness, which you can feel when you miss the comforts of home. Experiencing this in your first few weeks at university can lead to feelings of immense isolation and helplessness.
Culture shock is an unavoidable phenomenon if you’re entering a new place for the very first time. It can be more difficult if you’re coming to the UK all on your own, with no familiar faces or comforts. When you overcome it, culture shock can transform into a positive learning experience. You interact with people from different backgrounds and immerse yourself into a new environment. Also, you emerge from your time studying abroad more independent, having come out of your shell and gained great experiences.
My experience with culture shock
One of the biggest things that takes a while to become used to is the weather. Back in Malaysia, the weather is sweltering hot and humid. It doesn’t snow, and it either rains or it doesn’t. So I grew up with the hot sun and monsoon seasons, not used to dealing with freezing cold weather. Now I need to remember a coat whenever I go out, as well as wear layers most of the time.
One thing that often features in discussions about culture shock in the UK is the drinking and partying culture. I didn’t drink much and had never set foot in a club when I first arrived in York. So, I was quite anxious about making friends. I did feel a bit left out in Freshers’ Week and joined non-drinking events. But I have since made lots of lovely friends in my course as well as clubs and societies. Some of them have even become my housemates. Peer pressure was something I worried about at first, but it turns out, most people are very understanding if you tell them you’re not a big drinker.
My experience with food
With regards to food, I’ve had both positive and (somewhat) negative surprises! I’ve been able to try lots of delicious dishes and meals like authentic fish and chips, a full Christmas dinner with Yorkshire pudding, stuffing and roasted potatoes, as well as incredible vegan food.
There are a surprising amount of Asian supermarkets and restaurants in York. This made it possible for me to still have some familiar food from home. Although I can still get specific dishes like you tiao (Chinese fried dough) and char koay teow (stir fried flat rice noodles) from restaurants here, they taste different from what I’m used to. I find myself missing my grandmother’s home cooked meals.
What surprises international students when they come to the UK?
I asked several international students at York about the things that surprised them the most upon coming to the UK. As you read on, you’ll see that they all come from different backgrounds and as such have different observations when it comes to life in the UK.
I’d say it’s the work ethic in customer hospitality. In Malaysia, especially in the food industry, it’s a very curt and quick process. There is the usual ‘welcome’ and ‘thank you for coming’ greeting but it just feels forced and not genuine. In the UK however, I feel as if I am truly appreciated in the store. Sometimes, the waiter/waitress will come again to ask if everything was good with the food and experience.Malaysia, Music Production
I think I was most shocked by the variety of accents and how different each one sounded. I speak fluent English and had studied abroad before, so I wasn’t expecting myself to struggle with understanding others! I’m shocked that a reserved pronunciation was what I thought everyone would sound like!Taiwan, Film and Television Production
I was surprised by how polite people are, e.g. they say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ way more often than I was used to. There are also loads of people from all around the globe in any city in the UK. This was one of the reasons I decided to study here and which I’m really happy I get to experience. With regards to York, I had no idea about it having the largest amount of geese. So, it was a huge surprise and very unexpected and unusual and even sometimes a bit scary and intimidating when faced with them on the campus while in a rush!lithuania, psychology
Do you know why t-dropping is common in British English ? ‘Cause they drank it!! The obsession with tea English people have has always surprised me. After spending nine months here, making myself a cuppa when I get home after a long day has become a reflex action!hong kong, english language and linguistics
There are many differences between Asian and British cultures, which make it hard to pick the biggest surprise…but I guess it’s quite confusing to me that British people usually shower in the morning while we Chinese do that mainly in the evening. It’s hard to name happy “surprises”, but there have definitely been quite a few happy moments brought about by the differences, like trying new food e.g. mint choc, Marmite, black pudding etc., and teaching each other idioms in English/Mandarin.china, english in education
What surprised me quite a bit was the massive drinking culture at university in the UK. There are two sides to this: it can be very fun and easy to socialise, but it can also at times cause a split between those who like to go out every night and those that don’t.malta, english literature
Finding so many Asian supermarkets scattered around the city was a pleasant surprise! I could find everything I needed or missed from home in these stores, including a Thai-language newspaper. This was a big comfort to know that there was a community of Thai and Asian residents in York aside from University of York students to support each other, especially during Covid-19. I was also surprised by how British desserts are almost always accompanied by custard. I really didn’t like having custard with things like apple crumble, but now I can’t have it without custard! Another popular dessert that initially shocked me was rice pudding, as it was very different from other rice-based foods that I am used to such as congee, but it eventually grew on me and now I really enjoy having the dessert.thailand, english LITERATURE
Read more about international students’ experiences at York