River Exe and Exeter Cathedral

Preparing for life in the UK:

What to expect

What do you really know about the UK? Maybe a lot, maybe not much! Much of what we understand of another culture is from the media; television, radio and the internet. You may have travelled to the UK before for a holiday but living here is a totally new and exciting experience.

Your main priority whilst living in the UK will be your studies! For more information on preparing for your degree see Language And Study Skills.

But what is it like living in the South West and what is important to the British? An impossible question! We are a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. The South West has a slower pace of life, people talk more to each other and it rains a lot! The city of Exeter has a population of around 122,000 and is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the UK. It is small enough to walk around and get to know quickly. Our Cornwall Campus is just a short distance from the lively, waterfront town of Falmouth. It has seven beaches, beautiful rivers and a world-famous marina.  


The British people are usually great believers in punctuality, and it is considered improper to be late for an appointment, a tutorial or even a social gathering. If you are going to be unavoidably delayed it is good manners to contact the person you are meeting and explain this.


Queuing is important in the UK! You will have to queue for service in most banks, post offices, shops, supermarkets and government offices.

‘Jumping a queue’ which means not joining at the end of a queue (especially at a bus stop) is considered ill-mannered and can often attract complaints from those queuing in a more orderly fashion.

Personal space

The amount of space you leave between you and a person you are speaking to is very culturally specific. In Britain, it is usual to leave one arm's length between you and the person you are speaking to.


Smoking is becoming increasingly unpopular. Smoking is prohibited in public buildings, on public transport (taxis, buses, coaches, trains, planes), in pubs and restaurants and in shops. You should always ask before smoking in someone else’s house or car. The University has a no smoking policy in all of its buildings.

Religious practices

Britain is a multi-cultural and multi-faith society.  If you have specific religious observances there are laws in place to protect your rights to do that. We have a Multi-Faith Chaplaincy at the University to support you.   

Please, thank you and sorry!

Often, international students are perplexed by the number of times the British say please, thank you and sorry!  You should say ‘please’ at the end of every request, ‘thank you’ each time somebody does something for you (and that includes holding a door open) and ‘sorry’ for everything else!

Getting to know the British

We have a reputation for being reserved and this can be true to a certain extent. But don't be put off! Try starting a conversation about your course with a classmate or make a comment about the weather to someone next to you in the bus queue and see where it leads you.

Look at our Get Involved page for tips on how to meet new people.

Culture shock 

Leaving home and travelling to study in a new country can be a stressful experience. Even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for, the extent of the change and the effects may take you by surprise. Click here to read the UKCISA briefing on culture shock.