Social Differences

Fitting in

Student life at U.K. universities is usually quite a bit of fun. Students often play a large role in the services and amenities offered on campus, from travel offices to bookstores to cafeterias to pubs.

Some universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Lancaster and York come to mind) are organized according to the collegiate system of living, in which students belong to a “college” for housing, dining, and social purposes. Think of Harry Potter at Hogwarts and you get the idea. Other colleges and universities more closely resemble U.S. institutions, and the amount of social integration you may experience as a visiting student will depend on the size of the university and the initiative you show in meeting British students and making friends.

British students tend to go out during the week – a lot. See the section about “Academic Differences” for a discussion of this phenomenon and why you shouldn’t conclude they are lazy. They also tend to go home during the weekend.

The “Greek system” of fraternities and sororities doesn’t really exist in the U.K. Neither does intercollegiate sports, in the sense that we think of it. (There is nothing remotely like “The Final Four” in Britain.)

What the Brits do have are “clubs and societies,” open to all students regardless of skill level. Clubs are often oriented toward sports or other competitive or fitness-related activities (although competing isn’t the object, really – having fun is usually the main purpose). Societies are what we would normally think of as “clubs” here. One U.K. university website puts it this way: As Societies are student run and student based they represent all areas of interest from our diverse student body. For example, our societies range from politically and environmentally active groups to those concerned with cultural and artistic development or educational and religious support. These are further complimented by an array of societies that develop student’s hobbies.

At the beginning of the academic year, British universities sponsor what is called “Fresher’s Week,” including a “Fresher’s Fair,” where clubs and societies recruit new members. It is a riotous, fun time, but don’t worry, if you study abroad during the spring semester you can still join a club or society.

Further reading

British Council UK Culture Guide: Student Life