UK: Introduction and Key Facts
At its height around the end of the 19th century, it was the largest empire in human history. To this day, the English language is accepted as the global lingua franca and is being taught and understood in nearly every country worldwide. Thus, the UK left an indelible mark on the world we live in today. Of course, its appeal still continues – the UK is still one of the most popular destinations for expats, exchange students, immigrants, and tourists.
If you have only ever heard a single cliché about the UK, chances are it made fun of either British food or the local weather. No matter the topic, the popular opinion in both cases is: it’s bad. While we do not want to make any judgments about British cuisine (you will have to come to your own conclusions), the UK might not be the ideal place for sun worshippers. Thick fog, overcast skies, wind, and plenty of rainfall are the norm here, with more than half of all days being cloudy. Due to the regulating influence of the Gulf Stream, you can expect rather mild winters and warm summers. There are, however, obviously some notable differences between the various regions of the UK: while the climate of the Scottish Highlands, for example, tends to be rather harsh (particularly in winter), Northern Ireland is the most temperate region and has the least extreme seasonal differences in temperature. The southern part of the UK, where most of the population – including expats – is concentrated, is the warmest region on average. Let us stress again, however, that you can expect copious amounts of rain. Rubber boots recommended!
Though the UK is a popular destination for both expats and immigrants, and the many citizens from former colonies such as India, Pakistan, or Jamaica notwithstanding, it is not as culturally or ethnically diverse as one might expect. Granted, you will not come to this conclusion living in the UK’s large cities and metropolitan areas (London alone is home to more than 40% of the UK’s minority population), but statistically speaking, the UK as a whole is rather homogenous, with 85% of the population belonging to the White British ethnic group. Sizeable ethnic minority communities (country of birth notwithstanding) include people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Jamaican, Kenyan, and Chinese origin. Of course, a large part of the minority population practices their respective religion, making for large Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist communities. The UK is also home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. To find out more about the population of the United Kingdom, we recommend having a look at the 2011 census results. For more on ethnic diversity in the UK and the challenges minority groups can face, see our article on discrimination.