Culture Shock in the UK
Ever wondered what it would be like to move to a different country? It is a wonderful experience that I recommend to everyone; it enriches you, helps you understand more about yourself and about the world. It is undeniably a challenging experience. But, fear not! In this article I will share my experience of how I dealt with culture shock and other major changes I faced.
A little about me: First generation Italian, I was born near Milan (Italy). My parents were from Pakistan and moved at the age of 23 first to Switzerland and then to Italy, where I grew up. At the age of 16, my family and I moved to England and then 10 months later to Scotland. It has been five years now, and I have met various immigrants who, like me, shared the same difficulties - getting accustomed to a new lifestyle and culture.
Here’s some of the challenges people might face, along with how you could overcome them:
Making mistakes in a new language
If you move to a country that speaks your language you are going to have more advantaged than others; but you might still end up in some weird situations. This is because the slang changes. If you are going to move to a country that speaks a different language, do not worry!
It is normal to make mistakes, so it will be a common occurrence. Take it as an opportunity to have a laugh!
It took me a while to get used to the idea that I would make loads of mistakes when speaking or writing in English, and at first was extremely frustrating, as I felt as if I could not fully express myself.
However, people were extremely sympathetic, no one judged me for making mistakes, people understood English was not my first language, and everyone who studied a foreign language in high school or for fun, understands how hard it can be. Once you acknowledge that it is okay to make mistakes, it will become easier to just shrug off those moments, instead of getting embarrassed about them.
Obviously, there will be times when you will say something terribly wrong, and so no one can avoid laughing - just laugh with them! It will help relieve the anxiety you might be feeling.
For the first three years I never understood what ‘neither’ and ‘either’ meant, nor when to use them. I felt quite insecure about it, until I decided to use the term, one day in class. I was talking to a friend, and I asked what year he was born, to which he replied ‘1998’, and then I brilliantly thought it was the right moment for me to say ‘me neither’ instead of ‘me too’. Obviously, the whole class found it hilarious. I simply asked what I said, and then laughed with them. If I had had the same attitude three years ago, I would have been more carefree and relaxed, which, ironically, improves language speech and reduces grammar mistakes. It is a win-win situation here; you get to laugh and to improve your language skills.
Sometimes it is unavoidable to make mistakes, and you might end up saying something very inappropriate. Do not panic, it happens to everyone; if I had a penny for whenever I said something extremely inappropriate without even realising it, I’d be a millionaire…
If you happen to involuntarily offend someone, just apologise and remember it is perfectly normal to slip every once in a while! If they are still offended even after you explained, well, that is their loss then.
Improve your language skills
To improve your English (or any other language), the attitude definitely helps, but we can use other tricks too. Ask your friends to correct you whenever they can or, ask people whose first language is the one you are learning, to explain what some terms mean. It will work both ways too; after a while, you will start noticing other foreigners making mistakes; if you are close to them, you can tell them either on the spot or later privately. They will appreciate you helping them, as long as you are sensible, and it will help you boost your confidence!
Other ways to improve your language skills could be to read in the target language. It might be overwhelming at first, but start with re-reading your favourite book in the new language. I read the Harry Potter books in English, to familiarise with terms and sayings that might come handy. You could also watch your favourite movie in English/the language you are learning, but it will probably be very alienating to hear different voices associated with the characters. With time, you will get used to watching movies in a different language, and it will become natural to watch them in one language instead of another. I now feel very weird when I watch films in Italian rather than in English.
Reading the lyrics of your loved songs can be pretty useful for improvement. It is also helpful for karaoke nights!
Get a break from speaking a different language:
Fear not if you get a day where you do not feel like meeting with friends and speak another language; multilingual people tend to get headaches much easier than others because of the continuous switches of languages (and thinking process too). Take a day to yourself and relax. Read or watch a movie in your native language, it will help your sanity. It’s good to have a break.
If you are friends with people who speak the same language as you, hang out with them. It will give you an opportunity to hang out without having to worry about talking in another language.
Another culture shock I did not foresee was how differently people make friends here compared to Italy. In my case, since I came from a very ‘touchy’ country (e.g. you kiss on the cheek to say hi to almost everyone… Or at least we did before coronavirus), the British feel much more reserved, and this obviously affects how you become friends with people. Try to see who’s around you; if you are in class or at work, make sure you are not overstepping other people’s boundaries. It should be a very basic thing to do, but a different country means different customs, so it might be what you feel is appropriate is not the same for them. They will most likely do the same for you, although my British friends still don’t kiss me on the cheek, but that’s okay. I can live with that.
They also might have customs you are not used to and find they are overstepping your boundaries; be understanding, and if it truly bothers you just let them know. In time, you will get used to it, you will find yourself adapting to new customs that you never thought you would. The trick is to be open to anything new; you never know if you like something until you try it.
Moving to a different country can make you feel lonely at times, especially at the beginning. A nice way to tackle this could be to subscribe to activities you might enjoy; sports, arts, whatever your interests are. You will be surrounded by people sharing the same passion as you; it will make it much easier to make friends, and meanwhile, you get to have fun!
You could consider moving to a shared flat, so you can meet new people and start building your friendships. If you decide so, keep in mind what kind of budget you are going for and what kind of environment you want to have at home. Are you very chatty or an introvert? Arrange a video-call with your potential new flatmates, to see if you get along.
Alternatively, school and workplaces are a great place to find new people. It can be scary to be the newbee, but the best tactic (for me at least) is to throw yourself in and start chatting. The more people you chat to, the more likely they will be for you to find someone interesting, or something in common. If you notice there are more people who are in the same situation as you, talk to them; regardless of whether you become great friends or not, it is always good to feel understood by someone else. You will automatically feel less lonely, which will help your mental health greatly.
Keep in contact with family and friends from home
It will be hard to keep in contact with your friends at home, especially at the beginning, when you are still not used to not being able to casually meet whenever you feel like. You will most likely have different schedules (at work, or at school) than your friends; if you were used to talking and meeting every day, it will be daunting not to do it anymore. However, make sure you text them as regularly as possible, so that even if your calls are once a week or once a month you will still feel like you are keeping in contact with each other! You will learn in time what works best, so don’t beat yourself if you feel you don’t have time to talk on the phone with family and friends from time to time.
How to deal with nostalgia
It is also inevitable to miss things from your home country. You can activate a VPN service to watch movies or tv shows that do not stream in the country you now live in. A VPN is a service that enables you to go online safely, as it bounces your location to a different country; they are usually very cheap and have plenty of discount offers too. There are also free ones. Check if your laptop already has a security system installed that includes the option of a VPN. With that, a friend of mine managed to watch the ‘Grand Premio’ (car race) online, which was a passion of hers that she could have not continued otherwise.
If you miss the food, search if there are any good restaurants that make your favourite dishes (shout out to Paesano and Sugo in Glasgow!). If you fancy cooking and need ingredients that you cannot find, you can order them online. Amazon, eBay, and all the mainstream services like that, might not have what you are looking for; however, smaller websites and local shops will do.
It would be pretty useful to research the schooling or work system before you start packing your luggage. Many shared the same traumatic experience of not understanding how bureaucracy works. Just as many say it would have been useful to research it in advance, as you will already be overwhelmed by all the changes happening in your life once you move. If something is unclear, you can ask people online. There are plenty of Facebook pages where people from the same country live somewhere else to help each other (they are also pretty good for finding jobs!). Your local council can be very helpful as well. When I moved to England, I was not aware of the fact I was too old for the English schooling system to enrol in high school (very different from the Italian system), but the council helped me find the right college for me.
The weather matters. In my case, I was not too shocked when I moved to the UK; I already knew it was going to be cold, and Milan is pretty cold in winter too, so it was not as shocking as one might think. What I was not ready for was, Scotland; not much the cold, but rather the fact that in winter Scotland gets dark around 3pm. That was truly daunting, and it is still very annoying. But I found ways to cope with it. Complaining helps (and here in the UK people seem to have a fetish for weather talk, so that’s handy), but besides that, it can be useful to have a good morning routine for wintertime. I believe that it is very important to do things during daytime, it is important for our mental health.
Final point: Be proud.
Now, most of all, have fun! To know other people and cultures is something not many have the opportunity to do, cherish these moments! A good-natured attitude will be an advantage; this is an adventure that should be lived with maximum energy! And, at the end of this, regardless of whether you choose to stay there for the rest of your life, or to go back to your country - you did a great job! Be proud of yourself.