It’s all Greek to me: 5 Misconceptions about going to a British University

So, England is pretty different to most countries. Even after 5 years living in the UK, I am still surprised at the particularities of British life.

As a Greek student studying a Sports Science course here in Portsmouth, I’ve had the privilege of learning about the British lifestyle through a few hilarious blunders and misunderstandings. Though some may seem surprising to you English students, they are an integral part of the classic international student’s ‘fish out of water’ experience.

What follows is an honest account of the lessons I’ve learned, and the sometimes embarrassing stories that lead to these revelations.

1) Libraries aren’t all books

When I arrived on campus, my first thought was ‘Okay, cool place let’s check out the surroundings’. Having spotted the library, I walked my naïve self and went to see the endless tomes of literature that lied within.

Instead, I saw a bunch of students studying on their laptops or the library computers, having coffee, chilling on sofas and beanbags, and relaxing in the park outside. Where are the endless wooden desks and fussy librarians?

‘Where the books at?’

I didn’t know what to think of it, but I liked it. Upstairs was still packed with books and journals that could be loaned, but almost half of the building was a modern study area. Not bad. And to be honest, the library being so comfy really helps when you are revising (ahem… cramming) before an exam period or essay hand-in.

2. A hug and two kisses on the cheek ISN’T the way to make a good first impression

As a bit of backstory for this one; I was raised in Greece and first came to the UK for my first year at University. And as my first year flatmates would later find out, I did not know kissing acquaintances was not a thing here. Like not a clue.

In Greece it’s the equivalent of saying ‘hey nice to meet you, I’m Ioannis’ and is generally accepted and met with laughter. In my first day in Britain it was met 4 very confused faces and a very surprised flatmate (sorry Tom!) who visibly flinched as I went for the kill. Well, you live and learn.

‘Yes, a handshake is more than sufficient’

3) 1st year is not a year off

Back at home, university lasts for 4 years. In a sense your first year is more about figuring out how to be an adult, and the lecture and assessment schedule is pretty lax. With this mindset, I was reluctant to spend a year in a foreign country that would be of no great academic benefit.

Safe to say I was wrong.

While not really difficult, your first year is an important and interesting academically. I got to test athletes only in my second semester, and was expected to not sit on my butt but actually begin my education. Call me strange, but that was so refreshing to me, as I felt there was a goal and reason for me being here.

4) It’s not always raining

Not gonna lie, I was guilty of this assumption.

Before I got here I packed 3 jackets, 2 umbrellas and a raincoat. Though definitely a rainy country (yes, I get England is not Greece), the weather in Portsmouth was actually pretty mild. Gone were my fears of weathering a rainstorm just to get to a lecture at 9 am. We even spent a few days on the beach when the sun was shining in September. Hallelujah!

‘My umbrella and hat still came in handy though’


5) Brits like to get down

Though we are avid bar-goers and partiers, a night out in a typical Greek city is much more about meeting new people and getting lost in conversation. Not boring at all, but pretty casual. Rarely do we dance the night away, and when we do, we’re pretty mild.

Conversely, British club culture is hilaaaarious. The Brits can dance, or at least try to. Going out with other students often ends up in the club, where everyone is game to enjoy the tunes and look a little silly. Its endlessly fun, while also burning the calories of the kebab you’ll have later (stay healthy, kids).

It is safe to say, I can now rock a dance floor.