What I Learned From My Time Abroad
Jessica, Paris, Fall 2018
February 13, 2019

When I first arrived in Paris for my fall semester, I remember my roommate telling me how she had heard of Reverse-Culture Shock: Essentially, returning home was a more difficult adjustment than coming here. I couldn’t really fathom it – how could returning home to the place I had always been be so difficult? It wasn’t until I stepped off the plane into Newark Airport – surrounded by native English speakers, burger joints, and sports teams T-shirts – that I realized it was real, after all. I felt strange and out-of-place in my own home country. Of course, it’s not home itself that changes – it’s you.

I went to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland – the wind was brutal, but made my hair look nice here.

Prior to studying abroad, I never really took a break. Ever. My friends can attest to this, since there were more occasions than I could count where they tried to drag me out to a party on a Saturday night, but I stayed in to study. Sitting down and eating somewhere was a luxury – I usually would grab my food to-go so I could do my work and eat simultaneously at home. That all changed in Paris. Coffee “à emporter” (to-go) was a rarity that only the most tourist-y of places offered. In Paris, if you want a cup of coffee, you sit down, order a tiny cup of espresso, and spend at least the next half-hour drinking it. This was a foreign concept to me, but it soon became one of the first and most important things I learned in Paris: Take time for yourself. Whether it be at a party with your friends or even over a cup of coffee at a cafe, I learned that it was incredibly important to give yourself time to relax, decompress, and have fun.

Another thing I learned abroad was to try new things. For me, knowing I had limited time somewhere made me far more willing to try something I never thought I would. For example, I tried haggis in Scotland, which is defined as “a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach.” It sounds pretty disgusting, but was actually good when mixed with other meat – which I wouldn’t have known unless I took the leap and tried it. I overcame my fear of speaking French in order to get a library card at Bibliotheque Mazarine, a rare manuscript library in Paris where I spent countless afternoons reading or writing.

I took a day trip around Scotland one weekend and ended up at Loch Ness!

Which brings me to the last, and most important thing, I learned abroad: Don’t be afraid to fail. Being in a new environment – uncomfortable with the people, language, culture, etc. – was a challenge for me. The first time I went to Bibliotheque Mazarine, I absolutely butchered my French and misunderstood everything. The next time I went, however, I was more prepared and was able to communicate perfectly. Being abroad is a learning experience. You are constantly trying to understand the world around you, and sometimes, you misread a cue or don’t comprehend something. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it can make you afraid to put yourself out there. But being able to work past that – to get to the point where I had no fear navigating the city, or going to the library, or speaking to a local – is worth all the frustration and failure that precedes it.

My last night in Paris. About 10 hours later, I was on my flight home.

Adjusting back to the United States was, and is still a struggle. While in Paris, I was challenged to grow and change in ways I never have before. But I learned more than I ever expected I would – things I never would’ve learned, had I not left the United States. And for that, I am eternally grateful to Paris (and am counting the days until I can go back).

Jessica was an SAI Paris fall 2018 student from Pennsylvania State University.

Know Someone Who Would Be Interested?


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.