The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The full name is "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". England, Wales and Scotland together make up Great Britain (GB, or just Britain). Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which is also known as Eire) together make up Ireland. Britain and Ireland are sometimes known together as the British Isles.
These are some of the features of the UK which you may want to consider when deciding if you wish to study here:
Note that there are good and bad sides to each characteristic, and there are many exceptions to these stereotypes.
There is a wide mix of cultures in the UK. In London there are foreign communities from most parts of the world.
British people are usually tolerant of foreigners, and respect the freedom to have different opinions and beliefs.
People usually feel free to express their own opinions and wear what they want. Don't expect people to agree with you all of the time.
British people have a strong sense of humour, but it can be hard for foreigners to understand when someone is joking.
People often avoid talking to strangers until they have been introduced, partly to avoid any possible embarrassment.
Individual ideas are encouraged. Arts and music are creative. British people are often not so good at working as a group.
People are quite modest. They do not like to complain directly: life is peaceful, but when there is poor service it is not challenged and changed.
The UK is where the English language developed. There are more people using English as their first language in the UK than in any other country except the US (the countries with the most English speakers are the US: 230 million, the UK: 60 million, Canada: 20 million, Australia: 15 million, Ireland/New Zealand/South Africa: 3 million). British English is easily understood in many parts of the world. Many people like British accents, although it can take some time for a foreigner to get used to some of the regional varieties.
It is easy to travel to the UK. There are flights to London from most parts of the world. You can travel around the UK by trains and bus, although the services are not very efficient. It is usually not necessary for a student to have a car. The country is quite small, so it is easy to make day-trips or to go on holiday to other parts of Britain. The UK is close to the many different countries of continental Europe. If you come to work or study in the UK, you may have the opportunity to experience a variety of different cultures of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, Spain, Portugal and other countries.
If you are on a course for more than 6 months, you should be able to obtain free health treatment if you become ill. However, the public health service is not especially efficient, and there can be delays seeing a doctor or obtaining treatment (unless you are seriously ill).
The UK is a relatively safe country. The police do not usually carry guns, and there are strict controls on the ownership of weapons. However, crime rates have increased in recent years, partly due to an increase in the use of illegal drugs. There are pickpockets in busy areas, so hold on to your belongings carefully. There are not many insects, snakes or dangerous animals in the UK. There is very little risk of earthquakes, hurricanes or other natural disasters, although flooding sometimes occurs in low areas. As in many other parts of the world, there is some risk of terrorist attack.
If you are given a student visa when you enter the UK, you are allowed to work part-time. The cost of living in the UK (for example, accommodation and food) is quite high, so many students want to find part-time or holiday jobs so that they can afford to stay longer. Employment opportunities exist: unemployment is quite low in many parts of the UK, and there are shortages in certain professions such as nurses and teachers. Voluntary work has a long history in the UK and is usually well-organised. The number of holidays people can take is quite high compared to some other countries, and members of staff are usually encouraged to take them.
The British educational system has a good reputation. Accredited qualifications obtained from British schools and universities are recognised in most parts of the world. There are courses in a wide variety of subjects, including many which are open to international students. Language teaching methods in the UK are well developed, although the quality of teaching at language schools can vary a lot. If a language school is recognised by the British Council, it is regularly checked to check that general standards are high.
British food does not have a good reputation overseas. However, there is in fact a very wide variety of food available (both traditional British food and international cuisine), especially in the bigger cities. There are many fresh ingredients, which are delicious when cooked well. However, many busy people don't pay much attention to preparing food well and prefer instant meals.
Britain has an interesting history and is good at preserving its traditions and old buildings and gardens. There are many museums and art galleries.
There are many green areas, including beautiful parks, gardens and public footpaths. There are many coastal areas, but only a few of these have sandy beaches. The bigger cities sometimes appear dirty and polluted, but usually this isn't bad enough to cause any serious problems for visitors.
The British weather is quite moderate. In general the summers are not too hot, and the winters are not too cold. Days are short in the middle of winter (it gets dark before 4pm in December), and long in the middle of summer (it remains light until after 10pm in June). There is usually more rain in the west of the country, and more sunshine in the south. Britain is not an ideal location if you want to sunbathe on a beach or swim in the sea, but the weather is pleasant enough for studying or working, especially between the spring and autumn.