Things I wish I knew about the UK before arriving


It’s crazy to think I’m halfway through my semester abroad! So, I wanted today’s post to be a guide about UK customs and language differences that US students may not be familiar with, and how to navigate them. Think of this as “Studying Abroad in the UK 101” but with the kind of advice I wished I was given before coming here.

1) On healthcare/medications: Register with a GP *as soon as* you get here. It’s free to register and the appointments are also free! However, if you don’t register, you won’t be able to visit the doctor at all, and in case of an emergency, you’ll have to go to a private clinic near you, which can get quite expensive (if it’s even available in your area). Regarding medications, it’s super important to bring an extensive supply of your medication with you and the prescriptions if you run out. Every medicine goes by its official medical name here, not the brand name, so they won’t know what you’re talking about if you don’t bring a prescription. And also pack your go-to cold, cough, flu, stomach pain, etc. meds from home! There are most of the same medications here but some stricter restrictions in the UK. For instance, cough medicine isn’t as strong, or stronger ones may require a prescription.

2) On terminology: “You alright?” is used in lieu of “How are you?/How can I help you?” in most settings, whether that is customer service, restaurants and cafes, or a stranger on the street. It is also used if someone is asking you if you’re okay, so the tone is key to figuring out what is actually being asked! Another terminology difference is that “quid” and “pounds” are used interchangeably. For example, you would say something costs 40 quid instead of 40 pounds, but it wouldn’t be necessarily wrong to say 40 pounds. To quote my British friend, quid “just rolls off the tongue better.”

3) On introducing yourself to locals: I tell people I’m from “the States”, and New York specifically if they ask. Since college here describes your last two years in high school, I instead describe Wellesley as my “home uni” (short for university) and explain that I’m studying here for the term. Instead of saying I’m a junior majoring in X, I describe myself as a third-year studying X, since “course of study” is used here instead of major. In England, their university system is only three years so introducing yourself as a third-year can often confuse people who then think I’m in my final year and working on a dissertation (the same thing as a senior thesis back in the States, but “diss” is used more often here). Meanwhile, in Scotland, their university system is four years so they won’t misunderstand you when you tell them what year you’re in. It’s interesting to see these small differences between England, Scotland, and Wales, even though they’re all part of the UK!

I used this introduction a lot this past weekend when I visited Edinburgh and Glasgow and met locals there! Photos: my best friend and I at the Edinburgh Waverley train station and the University of Glasgow’s stunning campus.