5 Africans talk about the culture shock of moving to the UK

Moving to a new country can be a life-changing experience in more ways than one. Having to readjust to a new way of life is one of the unspoken parts of immigration. Despite the world becoming a global village, there are still many cultural nuances that take some adjusting to.

Culture shock is defined as feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country. 

For this article, we spoke to 5 African immigrants who moved to the United Kingdom about the cultural shocks that they experienced.

Stephen Chapendama, Cybersecurity Engineer

I came to the UK when I was in high school. My mom had moved here a few years earlier and gotten a house in Liverpool. The regional accent in Northern England, and Liverpool in particular, is very strong and it was such a cultural shock for me. The North of England is very different from the rest of the country, and it has its own way of life. I was in school, and the teachers and students were all the same. They spoke so fast, and because everyone around me was from Liverpool, they didn’t notice. Even though I spoke English, it felt like they were speaking a different language. It wasn’t just the speed, it was the colloquialisms, the slang, etc.

Chidera Olibie, Software Engineer

My own cultural shock was that men expect me to split the bill on dates. [laughs]

More seriously though, I think the biggest cultural shock was the weather. During winter, there are days when it gets really dark by 3 pm. I remember the first time I noticed it. So, I typically close from work by 5 pm. On that day, I felt so tired, and when I checked outside it was really dark, so I thought it had to be very late. A few minutes later, I checked my phone and it was only 3 pm. Then there’s the Seasonal Affective Disorder (Winter Depression) that comes with the lack of sunlight. It’s usually recommended for everyone to take Vitamin D or buy bright lamps that feel like sunlight.

There’s also the diversity of living in a place like London. London is like a cultural melting point of different people. The team I work with is so diverse with people from all parts of the world. It’s great because it exposes you to a lot of different cultures.

Tunji Abiodun, Process Engineer

I think the biggest challenge for me was the weather. I moved to the UK during the winter, so it was really hard to adapt. My skin used to itch all the time when I just moved.

Another thing was the language. Coming from Nigeria, you’re exposed to a lot of American movies and, by extension, the American accent. The UK accent is quite distinct and can vary significantly depending on where in the UK you are. It has taken a while to adjust to all the accents. The Scottish accent, in particular, has been a tough one to crack. I still struggle to understand what a Scottish person is saying when I meet one. 

Peace Itimi, Growth Marketer

I moved to the UK last year without ever visiting first, so there was a lot of adjusting to do. Coming from an African country, I was shocked to find so many white people. For the first time, everyone around me didn’t look like me, and that was a bit to take in. In some way, it was a culture shock

Also, the technology is pretty much advanced especially with regards to payment. Here, contactless payments are the norm. I don’t need to carry cash or my card around. If I need to pay for anything, I can just tap my phone.

Kayode Akinwunmi, Startup Founder

I grew up mostly in Nigeria and moved to the UK when I was in high school. For me, the biggest culture shock was the change in respectability dynamics. I remember one particular incident from high school. We were given an assignment that I didn’t really pay attention to for some reason. I did a rush job and submitted, so I fully expected to perform badly.

The next day, when the teacher called me to her office, I already knew what was wrong. I got to her office and was fidgeting, but she spoke calmly and asked why I had performed poorly on the assignment. As I would normally do back home in Nigeria when speaking to an elder, I averted my gaze to the floor as I spoke with her. She was livid at that, she couldn’t understand it. She kept repeating “hey, look at me. I’m talking to you.” I also couldn’t understand why she was miffed. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to when speaking to elders.