Reverse Culture Shock and Study Abroad Identity Crisis

It has now been exactly a month since I left Paris and first I would like to apologize about my absence here at my blog. I've spent the last month seeing my friends and family and making what was my home feel like home once again. Now this blog post will not be a typically happy blog post; this blog post will not share with you the joys of coming back home because frankly most stories I've heard from people who come back from studying abroad have been happy ones. Reconnecting with family and friends, being happy to be back in a familiar place, and well just resuming life as normal. Yeah, that's not my story.

As most of you knew, I did not want to leave Paris. Just like when I was a kid dreaming about going to a United States, I dreamed of going to Paris as a teenager and early adult- to basically get a fresh start. I can honestly say that my year abroad was the best year of my life. Of course I missed my friends and family, that was my first time being by myself and when things got rough, I didn't have my family to just comfort me. I had to be strong for myself. I learned the most outside of school. I watched and studied the French, even when I was in the metro listening to music with my big headphones. I became used to my surroundings, and the streets that I once knew from the movies had become the streets that I would walk just to go get a gelato on a cloudy afternoon. I find it crazy how one school year can affect a person so much, but it can. I know not everyone in my program was in love with Paris and I accepted that as much as it would bother me, because I can't think of why anyone would not like Paris. I became attached to the city that made me learn to appreciate even the smallest things like the joys of a freshly baked baguette or catching the right Noctilien after getting out from a concert. I'm not saying that neither the French nor Paris are perfect and I'll write a post about that in the near future, all I'm saying is that I learned to love the city and its inhabitants.

The week prior to going back to San Diego was a bittersweet one. I was happy to spend my last few days with my boyfriend, explore Barcelona, and document what was left of my journey in pictures but walking down the streets of Paris would just make me so sad because I honestly don't know when I'll be back. I hope it will be soon though. The day I left I didn't have time to think about leaving Paris, I just went through security carrying a 30 lbs carry-on and a backpack that was stuffed to its full capacity. I thought I was going to cry on my plane ride back home as I had done during my last week in Paris but surprisingly I didn't since I knew I was going to see my parents and brother. The reunion wasn't dramatic at all, it just seemed natural which was good but the reverse culture shock began right after our reunion. During dinner as much as I wanted to be excited to tell stories of my year abroad, I was just quiet. It seriously seemed like there was chaos at the Cheesecake Factory but in fact I had forgotten how loud restaurants here are. Even the waiter who was nice just seemed overly nice and fake to me. The fact that he completely butchered mademoiselle ticked me off so bad as well, I was just not in the mood. When I got to my room, it just didn't feel like my room anymore. The following day Walmart just overwhelmed me and the fact that you can't go anywhere in San Diego without a car just made me feel like if I was trapped in the suburbs. These huge changes were just coming at me so fast that I reached a point that I had to isolate myself in order to process what was going on.

The past few weeks I've spent remodeling my room and catching up with people. I've also spent them trying to figure out who I am because I honestly feel lost. I feel like an outsider in my hometown. This past month has not been the easy transition back to normal life as I had hoped for. I keep getting irritated by how happy people seem to be in California, which is not saying that the French are always serious or anything but it just seems like too much for me. Also it seems like my social skills (which were bad to begin with) have gotten worse, I don't feel like meeting new people and even less telling them that I just came back from studying in Paris. When people ask me to tell them about my year abroad, I don't know where to start. All I'm thinking is how can I summarize 10 months in 10 minutes or so? Its impossible.

People are naturally interested in knowing how things went but all I'm thinking is that they don't understand. Unless you studied abroad, you really don't understand. Maybe some study abroad students won't understand what I'm going through either. You come back and people have changed. You don't realize how much you've missed out on until you're back. You're in a familiar place but everything just feels foreign to you. It is very strange and I'm still trying to figure all of this out myself. I have been reading about the "study abroad identity crisis" and have found that factors contributing to this are personal growth, new knowledge, and change in relationships. And yeah, I agree with all of that and have now accepted that fact that adapting to life back home is going to take some time and effort in my part and I'll let you guys know how it goes because I haven't seen anyone else do this before. I realize that I am sharing my vulnerability to the world but if it can help at least one study abroad student then my mission has been complete.

If you're a study abroad alumni that went through similar things feel free to comment or send me an email, I would love to hear what you guys think of this. I will still continue to post study abroad related posts since there were many topics that I did not get to cover during my time in Paris and I will get started on editing the last vlog which was from May 9th.

I hope you're all doing well and sorry for not updating the blog in a while.

See you all very soon.


  1. Hi Laura,

    Thanks so much for posting this! I just recently posted an article called "5 Reasons Family and Friends Don't Understand Your Reverse Culture Shock" (

    There are so many study abroad students and travelers in general that can relate to your experience. It's amazing how an international experience can completely change your outlook on life.

    I went through the same thing – twice, actually. First after studying abroad in Italy and then again after living in Costa Rica for 1.5 years. This past January I launched a digital magazine called Native Foreigner to address the issue of reverse culture shock. Feel free to check it out, as there may be some helpful advice for you.

    Also, if you are interested in sharing your experience with other travelers like yourself, feel free to contact me and I can send you some additional information on how to contribute to the magazine.

    I truly wish you the best of luck as you continue to adjust back to life in San Diego.

    Lindsay Hartfiel

  2. Hi Lindsay,

    You're welcome and thank you for sharing the article, I just shared it on my update post. Your posts about reverse culture shock are incredibly accurate and beautifully written.

    I'm seriously amazed at how much an international experience can change you. Study abroad is one of the best decisions I've ever made and I hope to live abroad in the future.

    Thanks for sharing the article and reading this post.


  3. Even high school students now have the chance to learn new things from other countries.

    high school study abroad

    1. Most definitely. Anyone can start learning from other countries starting at a younger age. :)