How to Enjoy Life in the UK: Part One

Uprooting your life and moving to a foreign country is a daunting prospect for anyone.  We understand just how overwhelming a relocation can be, but we also know that there are ways of easing this transition.

Over the coming weeks we thought we’d focus on some of the key areas which cause concern for expatriates moving to the UK.  We want to share some of the tips we’ve picked up from our work in assisting migrants with their move. 

In this first blog we’re going to focus on the topics of language and cultural differences, as these are two of the most commonly recurring areas which crop up when expats tell us they have had problems with settling into life in the UK.

In the next blog in this series we’ll cover the practicalities of the relocation itself and then we’ll move on to explore other issues such as the struggles foreign spouses face when seeking employment once in the UK, and ways of improving their chances of getting a job.

Language

Being unable to speak English can be a large source of concern for expats who move to the UK.  Those who do not speak any at all can sometimes feel isolated and lonely, particularly if they are not employed and remain at home while their spouse goes out to work.  Therefore, it really is an excellent idea to try and attend some language classes before you leave for the UK.  Having a basic grasp of English will be a great help, as you will feel more confident and able to handle the practicalities of moving your family and possessions to another country.  It will also help you to meet and interact with new friends, and once you begin socialising with English-speaking people your grasp of the language will rapidly improve.

However, if you aren’t able to pick up any English before you leave your home country, there are plenty of ways of learning it after you have relocated.  Use the internet to search for language schools, and you could attend classes in person, or if this isn’t possible take an online course.  You can also order language CDs or tapes and play them at home as part of your daily routine.

Cultural differences

Having an understanding and awareness of a country’s laws and customs in advance is a great way to help you feel more secure and settled once you arrive there.  We don’t mean that you should be well versed in all of laws and diverse parts of British society, but it’s good to have some knowledge of what behaviour is deemed acceptable and what is not.  Guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet series offer useful detail about different areas of the UK and summarise legal information to be aware of.

A lot of expats we speak to find that the cultures and traditions in the UK are very different to their own.  Don’t be alarmed if people refer to you as ‘love’ or ‘darling’ when serving you in shops – these are common forms of address in the UK!  Again, it’s a good idea to browse some tourist literature on the UK, and you can find blogs online written by foreigners who are now living in London or other parts of the UK.  Have a read through these to get some idea of what life will be like.  You’ll pick up useful information, such as the fact that in restaurants in the UK a 12.5% service charge is added to your bill, but if you are unhappy with the service you can request not to pay it, and that our public holidays are referred to as ‘bank holidays,’ and many shops have reduced opening hours on these dates.

Some expats who work in the UK find it a struggle to make new social acquaintances because of their different cultural beliefs.  For example, if you do not drink alcohol it can be upsetting to find that all your new colleagues socialise after working hours in a bar or public house.  However, it isn’t necessary for expats to feel they must compromise certain values or beliefs by spending time in an environment they don’t enjoy, in order to try and integrate.  You can speak to your colleagues, explain that you do want to socialise with them and make their acquaintance, and suggest other activities such as a meal in a restaurant or at your home, a theatre trip or doing group sports such as tennis or badminton.

Additionally, there are great resources on the internet now which make it far easier for expats to find and meet their fellow countrymen.  You can use www.meetup.com to locate nationals from your home country, or English conversation groups or simply like-minded people who are interested in the activities you enjoy.  These groups are normally divided by location so you can find the one nearest to you, and if it does not exist then start a group of your own!

An extremely valuable site for international professionals and their families in the UK is http://www.focus-info.org/.  You can connect with other expats and they offer seminars on informative and useful topics such as ‘Relocating Relationships,’ ‘Technology in the Classrom’ and ‘Top Tips UK’.

We hope this blog will be of some use to our readers and help to ease any fears about relocating.

 If you’re an expat in the UK or any country across the world, please do write to us and share your experiences.

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