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10 British Facts that all International Students should know

Whether you are going to settle in the UK or not, it is wise as an international student to know a little bit about the country, its people and its culture. This will prepare you for any surprises or unexpected cultural shock that awaits you. These are the ten things I think you should know:

1) Know the Language

English is the main language spoken in Britain, although there are different accents. English is spoken monolingually by more than 70% of the UK population and is in fact the official language. As an international student, you may find it hard to comprehend some of the accents; but you would certainly get use to it in no time.

Other native languages to the Isles include Welsh, Irish, Ulster Scots, Cornish, Gaelic and British Sign Language

2) Know The difference Between English and British

The terms ‘English’ and ‘British’ do not mean the same thing. ‘British’ denotes someone who is from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. ‘English’ refers to people from England. People from Scotland are called ‘Scots’, those from Wales  are called  ‘Welsh’ while those from Northern Ireland are ‘Irish’. Please do not call Welsh, Scots, or  a Northern Irish person an ‘English’ man!

3) Know the Name of the Country

The United kingdom is a small island country between the North sea and the Atlantic ocean with an area of around 243,610 square kilometers  It is just about as large as the African country of Guinea or the American state of Colorado. The country’s official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain  and Northern Island.  The Island of Great Britain comprises of England, Scotland and Wales.

4) Know the Government  and the political Parties

On paper the UK is a monarchy , ruled by a King or Queen. You will see the royal insignia on most government document. However, this is not the case in practice.  The prime minister is the real head of government. Voters elect their members of parliament to the House of Commons at Westminster in London who in turn select a Prime minister.

There are three main parties in the UK: The Labour party, the Conservatives, and the Liberal democrats.

5) Know the Country’s Geography and Size

England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi) while Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering about 20,779 square kilometres(8,020 sq miles). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales.

Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi). Northern Ireland is the area in the North eastern corner of Ireland, an adjacent island.

6) Know the  Weather and the Climate

The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. Although it has a milder climate than most of Northern Ireland  and Eastern Europe owing to the warm gulf stream in the Atlantic Ocean, It is generally referred to as a wet country.  The country experiences Summer, Spring , Autumn and winter.

The weather is the favorite topic of conversation in the UK and you will probably hear it mentioned several times a day. The weather is unpredictable and it can rain and be cold in the summer and  there are some pleasant days in the winter.

Summer lasts from June to August and is the warmest season. Generally, summer temperatures rarely exceed 32 degrees, which happens more frequently in London and the South East than other parts of the country. Scotland and northern England have the coolest summers (average 12.2 °C (54.0 °F) to 14.8 °C (58.6 °F)).

Autumn in the United Kingdom lasts from September to November. Coastal areas in the southern half of England have on average the warmest autumns, with mean temperatures of 10.7 to 13.0 °C (51.3 to 55.4 °F).

The weather in spring can be mixed. The end of March is often windy and April is known for its showery weather followed by sunshine. Right up to the end of May or into June spring nights can be frosty and cold. Days can be sunny and warm.

Winter in the UK is defined as lasting from December to February. The season is generally cool, wet and windy. Temperatures at night rarely drop below −10 °C (14 °F) and in the day rarely rise above 15 °C (59 °F).

7) Know the People:

The British are very reserved and private people. Privacy is extremely important to them. A British man will not necessarily give you a tour of his home and, in fact, he may keep his doors closed. Friendships take longer to build; however, once established they tend to be deep and may last over a long period of longtime.

As a nation, the Brits tend not to use superlatives and may not appear terribly animated when they speak. This does not mean that they do not have strong emotions; it merely means that they often do not choose to put them on public display. They are generally not very openly demonstrative, and, unless you know someone well, may not appreciate it if you put your arm around his shoulder.  To know more about British customs, read my detailed post on 10 British Customs and Etiquette you should know.

Be aware that Britain is a multicultural place and  people in the UK are open-minded, well educated and very tolerant . As a foreigner you are covered by the Race Relations Act of 1976. This Act makes it illegal to discriminate against any person because of race, nationality, colour, or origin.

8) Know the Country’s History:

Most people in England are English, descendants of Anglo-Saxons–  the term usually used to describe the German and Scandinavian invading tribes in the south and east of Great Britain starting from the early 5th century AD, and their creation of the English nation, lasting until the Norman conquest of 1066. The Irish, Welsh and Scottish  are descendants of the Celts (pronounced Kelts) who invaded Britain  before the Anglo

The ethnic minorities in  Britain are Asians, Arabs, Africans and Caribbean islanders,  and people from Eastern Europe.

9) know the Country’s Currency

The Currency in the UK is Pound Sterling (£).  There are a 100 pence(p) to a pound and  the coins come in denominations of 1p, 2p, 10p, 20p, 50p , £1, and £2. Note that all coins bear the Queens head on one side, but have different flip-sides, marking the different countries of Britain. Three lions for England, or thistle or Forth Bridge for  Scotland and a leak or dragon for Wales etc.

Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Bank in Scotland and Northern Ireland issue their own currency in denominations of £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100.

10) Know the Culture

The UK hosts around 600 professional art festivals each year. There are loads of professional theaters producing plays all year round. Britain is home to the Beatles and many famous bands and musicians.  Some of the world’s best libraries and museums are to be found in Britain, mainly london.  The British museum, founded in 1753,  is the first national public museum in the world and is distinguished for its extensive and diverse collections, from Egyptian mummies to important historic documents. From the beginning it granted free admission to all ‘studious and curious persons’. Visitor numbers have grown from around 5,000 a year in the eighteenth century to nearly 6 million today.

The National gallery features a vast collection of British and European paintings dating from the 13th Century to modern times.

       The British Museum

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