Skip to Content


The biggest "culture shock" moments I had after moving to Belfast

Queen's is an international university with students from all over the world studying here. But even so, there are sometimes a few unexpected "culture shock" moments to adapt to. Jia Xin is sharing hers, as well as her new found love of tea!

I was raised in a conservative Asian family, but I found it much easier than expected to adapt to the culture in Belfast. However as easy as it seems, there are still a few ‘culture shock’ moments I encountered when I first moved here. I can’t deny that some of them definitely perplexed me a bit at first! No matter how confident you are about moving away from home, I am sure as international students we have all had our ‘culture shock’ moments. Let’s see if any of mine resonate with you. 

They are genuinely friendly to strangers 

Before I moved to Belfast I expect locals here to have that typical ‘city people attitude’ as Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland. However, when I moved here, I was wrong. Turns out people in Belfast are very friendly. It is not uncommon to have a quick chat with someone you've never met while waiting for the bus or in the queue at the shops. This is something that is unlikely to happen back in Malaysia and that makes Belfast so unique. 

Do they really wear shoes at home? 

It is the Asian norm to take off our shoes whenever we enter our own house. The same applies to my British relatives in London and I once thought that it is common for everyone to not wear shoes at home. So I was really surprised when I saw most of my Northern Irish housemates wearing shoes in their room. But to them it seems to be something really normal! 

Confession: Even though I have already been in Belfast for more than a year, I still take off my shoes whenever I am in my dorm room. 

Northern Irish ‘Slang’ 

When I first moved to Belfast and I was in a restaurant staring at the menu trying to choose what to order, the waitress asked me “You alright?” I was confused for a minute, wondering why she was not asking “What can I do to help you?” instead. 

After living here for a little while I can now actually ‘de-code’ local phrases like this. I realised that most of the time – or all times – people don’t mean it literally. They are not asking you if you are alright because you are physically or mentally hurt, in fact, that can be translated into “May I help you?”, “What would you like?” or just a simple “Hello!” 

There are a couple more unique phrases that I noticed people here use a lot. For instance, “That’s me”, that can be translated into “That’s everything I’m ordering” if you are ordering food in a fast-food restaurant, or “I have finished my shift/work of the day”. Another popular Northern Irish phrase is “Give me a shout” - you are wrong if you choose to read this phrase literally! “Give me a shout” means “Inform me if you need any assistance” or “Tell me if you need anything.” 

There are so many more unique Northern Irish phrases I have picked up from living here, I could even make a full blog post about it! 

Drinking Alcohol 

Alcohol is an accepted pastime here and it is not uncommon for people to hit the pub after 5 pm on a Friday to celebrate the end of a working week. Coming from a Muslim country and being raised in a conservative household, I was not brought up to drink alcohol. At first, I was surprised by the difference in cultures with regards to alcohol, but I soon realised that there are plenty of things to do here that don’t involve drinking too.  

Being Outside on a Sunny Day 

This is a very distinct and unique trait I have noticed in Northern Irish people. But it is understandable because the weather is frequently cold and rainy here– not to mention during winter where it gets really dark. Especially compared to Malaysia. The green fields in Botanic gardens and even the City Halls grounds will be packed with people on a sunny day, people will literally sit or lay on the grass while having a picnic with their friends or family. 

However, it is the complete opposite in my home country as it is summer all-year and when it gets really hot everyone prefers to stay indoors because it is “too hot to go out”. 

“Do you want a wee cup of tea?” 

The Northern Irish are very obsessed with tea. It is a norm in the office to get tea every 15-20 minutes and no one will judge you for getting tea so frequently (especially when the weather gets cold it is a good idea to warm yourself up with a hot cup of tea too!)  

It’s fascinating how quickly you get used to the different culture in such a short time. I had never even tried a cup of tea before I came to Belfast but now I drink it almost every morning! 

Do you have any ‘culture shock’ moments in Belfast that are not mentioned here?

Jia Xin Chang

LLB Law| 2nd year |Malaysia

I’m a 20-year-old Law student from Malaysia with a weird accent. I’m occasionally talkative, however, I’m a natural introvert. I’m a lone ranger who enjoys her solitude and calmness, but I’m not anti-social. I’m a music lover and I play the piano, and constantly regret not picking up a second instrument when I was younger. I love singing but I’m not vocally trained. I don’t listen to any other music except rock - the heavier the better! Sometimes called weird by my friends, but I prefer to think of myself as unique. I have had an immense passion for writing ever since I was very young, and I write in both English and Chinese. I was the editor of my school bulletin and a student journalist during my high school days. I’m now a casual blogger and I enjoy my job (despite suffering from writer's block all the time). Welcome to my space. 
Jia Xin Chang


Photo: Jia Xin Chang
Jia Xin Chang
Guest Blogger