6 Things About University Life That Will Give You a Culture Shock

You’ve heard right — secondary school and university life are worlds apart. Here are 6 things about university life that might give you a culture shock!

Updated 08 Jan 2020

Why University Life Will Give You a Culture Shock - Feature-Image

Going from your adolescent heydays in secondary school to the unfamiliar surroundings of university can be disorienting, triggering an onslaught of homesickness, helplessness and withdrawal, otherwise known as culture shock.

If you’re a wide-eyed school leaver about to step into university, here’s a heads-up on what to expect and how to deal with these fresh and intimidating challenges so you aren’t caught off guard when you get there!

#1. The brand new social life

Culture shock at university - 1 The brand new social life

Staying out 15 minutes past your 10pm curfew and sneaking into an 18PL movie might have been the highlight of your teen years, but socialising in university is a whole new ecosystem.

For starters, you may find your newfound friends to be overly enthusiastic about constant late nights out, frequent bouts of binge-drinking and other forms of debauchery.

If the party-animal lifestyle isn’t your cup of tea, don’t feel pressured to conform for the sake of “fitting in”. Hang out with friends who enjoy the same things as you do or take turns to plan a fun night out, whether it’s bowling, a midnight movie or a simple pizza party at your place.


If you do find that your friends are pressuring you into things you aren’t comfortable with, it’s best to cut ties and move on. University is teeming with bad influences so set your boundaries and avoid anything that could jeopardise your future.

#2. The challenge of a new learning environment

Culture shock at university - 2 The challenging new learning environment

The learning structure and environment at university can be a drastic change to what you’re used to in secondary school.

Always had the safety net of teachers spoon-feeding you the answers in school? The keyword in university is independent learning, where you’re expected to apply what you’ve learnt instead of regurgitating from textbooks. Coming to university with a string of As and feeling confident of your academic prowess? You may find yourself humbled by coursemates who seem smarter and more articulate than you.

Although these challenges can be intimidating at the start, don’t let them bog you down. Figure out a game plan, take advantage of consultation hours with your lecturers and work consistently throughout the semester. Once you have a rhythm going, you may find that it’s not so bad after all.

#3. Your newfound financial freedom

Culture shock at university - 3 Your newfound financial freedom

Can’t imagine how this could be a bad thing? Don’t be too quick to rub your hands together in glee. Having complete control over your money will fast become a burden if you struggle to make your moolah last throughout the month.

Living on your own will mean having to budget for things you took for granted when you were staying with mum and dad (who knew dishwashing liquid and toilet paper cost money?). You will also have to keep track of your expenditure or risk crying into your Samyang noodles 7 nights a week for the rest of the month.

If you find yourself on a tighter budget than the rest of your pals, come clean about your budget and suggest alternative makan places a.k.a ditching that Instagram-worthy cafe for a lowkey hang out sesh at the mamak instead. And if there’s a big outing on the horizon, plan your budget carefully and make sure to save a little cash each day.

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#4. ‘Adulting’ on your own

Culture shock at university - 4 ‘Adulting’ on your own

Moving out for the first time may be cause for celebration at first, but the novelty will soon wear off when you’re bogged down by your workload, while in the middle of exam season or when you fall sick.

Having to take responsibility for “adult” things like ensuring your rent is paid on time, making sure you have food in the fridge and that your living space is generally clean and safe for human habitation can be daunting.

But you don’t have to go through these things alone! When you’re living away from home, it helps to form a bond with your housemates or take the time to get to know your other friends a little better. As time goes by, you’ll form your own family away from home and will have someone to count on when you’re feeling down and out.

#5. Warming up to strangers

Culture shock at university - 5 Warming up to strangers

Making friends in a new environment is no easy feat — it will take time and patience to adjust to the various new personalities you’re bound to meet.

As you navigate this strange new space, you’ll likely come across people who are unfriendly, rude and unhelpful, not to mention those who intentionally speak in a different language in order to exclude you from the conversation.

While dealing with such people can be disheartening, it’s important not to let it discourage you from opening up to others as networking with your uni mates and lecturers will prove to be invaluable when you enter the workforce.


Consider yourself a perpetual wallflower? Here is an introvert’s guide to mixing and mingling.

#6. Navigating the dating scene

Culture shock at university - 6 Navigating the dating scene

In the time of Tinder and other dating apps where you can suss out prospective love interests without the hassle of face-to face rejections (or any actual socialising for that matter), you may be jumping at the prospect of finding your forever-ever-after at the swipe of a finger.

If you are blessed with the God-given ability to balance both relationship and studies, we say go ahead! However, if playing the field starts to take a toll on your grades, it’s time to step back and focus on your priorities.

While it’s also not uncommon to hear of friends taking things to the next level in their relationships (read: sex) or boasting of their conquests, don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re not ready for! There is no shame in saying no and it’s more important that you make informed and responsible decisions about your sexual health.

That being said, simply knowing what to expect ahead of time is different from actually experiencing it. If this new environment starts to get the better of you, don’t be afraid to confide in a friend, family member or counsellor. University life takes some getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

School is great, but it’s time to move on to bigger and better things! Here are 7 tips to keep in mind as you enter the next stage of your life.

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    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Self-proclaimed pun-meister 6000. Kant stop, won't stop.