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Wellbeing Issue in Detail: The Weather

By Campuslife 18 Nov 2021

British weather is notoriously unpredictable, with mild, sunny days quickly turning cold and overcast in a matter of minutes. Most people who live in the UK have learnt to expect the worst and be prepared for those rainy days.

But it can be too easy to underestimate the weather’s impact on someone who hasn’t been exposed to a climate like this before.

Our research shows that a lot of international students are often surprised by the weather in the UK, and arriving at the beginning of the academic year does not help this. International students typically get here towards the end of summer, when temperatures are mild and (if we're lucky) there are long summer evenings. 

But once October and November arrive and the clocks go back, the daylight hours suddenly shorten and the temperature drops. Even those of us who have lived in the UK for a long time know the effects this can have on our emotions.

a person wearing a costume

For students coming from warmer climates, this can be especially distressing and it isn’t a change that should be taken lightly as the colder months can have a big impact on a students' mental health.

It won't come as a surprise that the weather has been shown to have a direct link to mood, which is why getting out of bed on those rainy days is all the more difficult. But if you aren't used to the British seasons, then finding day-to-day motivation can be much more challenging. 

As well as bringing a host of mental health issues,  this seasonal transition can actually cause a number of physical health issues for these students. These include things like the common cold but also more serious problems like joint and respiratory problems.

a mug sitting in front of a window

The students we spoke to helped us to identify other problems caused by experiencing a new climate by pointing out that because they haven't experienced weather this cold before, they had never used things like a heating system before, and did not know how to deal with the colder temperatures. 

One student said that she was continually cold until a friend showed her how to turn on her radiator in her room. While this seems like a minor issue, it also shows how different this way of life in the UK is for some international students.

After speaking to international students, we were also reminded of how much of a shock 'daylight savings' is for students during the winter months. At its worst, it can start to get dark at around 4pm during November and December, which is pretty extreme even for those of us who are used to this change. 

a clock that is on a table

Just like with the weather, the less exposure we have to the sun, the more our mood can be affected. For international students who might not have experienced anything like this before arriving in the UK, this can come as a big surprise and can take a big toll on a students mental health.  

Dealing with a sudden cold and dark evening whilst already trying to adjust to other aspects of like in the UK will be difficult for international students. But doing this alongside their degree makes this adjustment even more challenging.

All this isn't to give the UK weather a bad rep, there are some warmer days in the summer months. But with students arriving just after summer ends and with semester one assessments beginning around December and January aligning with some of the coldest and darkest months in the UK, the bad weather can have a significant impact on an international students' wellbeing. 

Now there's not a lot that universities can do to change the UK weather, but they can help to prepare students in advance for the change in climate particularly during the winter months.

1. Peer-to-Peer Preparation 

One way to do this could be by using current domestic and international students to talk about their own attitudes to British weather and relay this information back to international students. This would prepare international students for the UK climate from two different perspectives:

  1. Students that are used to the British weather
  2. Students who have had to adjust

This content could be delivered through various social media sites and signposted to through email newsletters and university websites.

2. Inform students on how to deal with the cold weather

The example of a student not knowing how to use a radiator is exactly why university comms needs to provide information that is informative to someone with little or no information of life in the UK. How to use a radiator is knowledge we can very easily take for granted. Instead, universities should make sure they're providing information on how to use everyday appliances provided in accommodation, particularly for international students. 

a hand

This information could be delivered through simple printouts in accommodation, or through animations that are accessible through QR code scanning. Whatever way this is done the key is that the information is easily accessible! 

It's important to remember that beyond a students' university experience, there's a wide scope of challenges that come with adjusting to life in the UK, with British weather being a key example. We need to be mindful that what might just be 'typical British weather' to us, is something that can have a big effect on an international student's wellbeing, especially if they have never experienced these conditions before.

So, making sure that students are prepared, and have the tools to deal with the British seasons is essential.