The UK is well known for its rich history, steeped in vibrant social trends and local traditions and customs. For students who arrive in the UK wishing initially to learn the language, one of the best places to start can be to embrace the many diverse aspects of the British culture. There are many ways in which this can be done and the results are often so beneficial towards overall learning and a faster integration into society.
For a student with no prior experience of Britain, pre-conceived ideas about the local people and long standing traditions or customs can seem a little daunting. The best way to learn about the natives is to meet them! The UK has a very diverse culture and there are many different ethnic groups who have integrated well and are living and working in Britain. Bigger cities especially have large multicultural communities. A large number of UK residents are of Christian faith and so becoming involved in a local church group could be an ideal first step towards meeting local people and making new friends. Of course, meeting British people is an ideal way to learn more about not only the English language, but the many customs and traditions that define everyday life in Britain. There are regular church groups and meetings which are open to everyone and which may appeal to some students.
The biggest hurdle that students may face when they arrive in Britain can be trying to gain an understanding of social trends and behaviours. One way to overcome this problem can be to purchase a daily newspaper and use this to gain an insight into British culture. There are different types of newspapers and some are more serious than others. Newspapers such as The Sun and The Mirror tend to report a little more light-heartedly and often feature stories on British celebrities and sports stars. This type of information can be useful when starting everyday conversations, particularly if the people you meet are sports fans. Football is especially popular in the UK and so keeping up to date with the sport can be a good ice breaker in many social situations. Alternatively, some of the other daily newspapers, such as The Guardian and The Independent can offer a more in-depth look at current affairs, which can be vital in gaining a wider understanding of important events within the UK. Local newspapers are also useful in gaining a wider knowledge of community events and customs and often hold details of local events and social occasions which can be essential for meeting other people.
Another excellent way for overseas students to integrate themselves more fully into society can be to indulge in some of the rich British history, which is readily available in the local and national museums and art galleries. Some British museums are free of charge, although many may ask for a donation which goes towards the up-keep of the building and its artefacts. Local museums are an excellent place to learn more about local communities and can provide essential tools for learning not only language and vocabulary, but local customs and traditions too. The bigger national museums are also fantastic places to visit in order to learn a little more about British culture and many also exhibit modern displays which can be very informative about everyday life in the UK. Additionally, art galleries can be an ideal way to meet local people and to learn more about British culture through a different medium.
It goes without saying that television is another superb way of learning a little more about local and national history, culture and news. Local news programmes provide information about events near to you, whilst the national news covers both UK news and international affairs. The weather segment at the end of the news is often a good way of learning key words and phrases which can be used for every day conversations. It is also a good way of learning a little more about the British climate, which can be a source of distress for some students, particularly those used to warmer weather. British television also features Soap Operas, which are programmes that detail everyday normal life, specific to certain regions. The most popular are Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale. Watching these programmes may not only provide students with a little extra knowledge about British culture, regional accents and languages, but can also equip them with conversation starters and ice breakers too.
For some students, trying to learn all about British culture can be daunting and so it is important to only try to take on one thing at a time. Initially, students may want to stay with the host family until they have gained their bearings and feel a little more confident in venturing out on their own. It might be a good idea to always keep bus or train timetables handy so that travelling around is a little easier. Above all, it is essential that students keep in touch with those at home so that they are able to talk to a familiar voice should they feel the need.