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Once You Arrive in Paris

Whether you are a first-time traveler, or an experienced globetrotter, it is important to understand that there will invariably be a need for arrival for study abroad adjustments at least during the initial period. Students can expect the adjustment period to last from one week to a month or more. There is the physical adjustment to jet-lag but also adjustments to cultural issues, large and small, that may take more or less time to adapt to.


An issue for all travelers who cross multiple time zones, jet lag cannot necessarily be avoided, but taking a few simple steps before, during and after your flight can ease its effects.

  • Before your flight, make an effort to sleep well for several nights ahead of your departure day so you can be in prime form for the sometimes difficult adjustment to a new time zone. If possible, begin to shift your internal clock closer to the time zone that you will be traveling to (France is 6 hours ahead of the East coast in North American and 9 hours ahead of the West coast), by moving your sleep/wake schedule up or back an hour or two before you depart.
  • While in transit, be conscious of staying hydrated with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks and lots of water. Be sure during your flight to periodically stand up, stretch your limbs and walk around, particularly on flights lasting over three hours. Try to eat several light meals throughout the flight, which are low in sodium (watch those peanuts!) and high in protein. And don’t forget to reset your watch to the Paris time zone.
  • Once you’ve arrived in Paris it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new city and forget to give yourself some time to adjust. A few simple tips will help you overcome jet lag quickly and help you be on your way to new adventures:
  • Establish a sleep/wake routine that fits Paris time. Go to bed each night at a regular (evening) time and set an alarm to wake up at the same time each morning. Taking brief (less than an hour) naps may initially help you shift your internal clock.
  • Continue to stay well hydrated. Drink lots of water (the tap water is safe in Paris). Refrain from alcohol while you are managing jet lag. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make you feel even more fatigued and lethargic.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, including plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates. These foods will help you maintain your energy level, as will eating small, frequent meals each day.
  • Daily exercise will fight fatigue, increase energy and improve your sleep patterns as well. Walking in Paris is an excellent way to build exercise into your routine while learning your new surroundings at the same time. Just be sure to bring a map—and a friend!

Culture Shock

Regardless of how much you have traveled or how familiar a location may seem, you should anticipate some type of culture shock when you arrive in your host country (this includes English speaking and Western countries). According to psychologist Dr. Carmen Guanipa of San Diego State University, there are several phases of culture shock that travelers may experience:

  • The first phase, known as the “honeymoon phase,” is characterized by feelings of euphoria and wellbeing. Like falling in love for first time, travelers in the honeymoon phase are full of wonder and excitement. Difficulties are minimized and students are typically caught up in the excitement of experiences in their new country.
  • The second phase of culture shock may bring with it feelings of moodiness, irritation and the unwelcome “thud” back to reality. During this phase, you might feel anxious or blue for a while as you get used to a new country’s rhythms and culture. You might feel frustrated by simple tasks, such as making a telephone call or managing a bank transaction, or teary when speaking to friends and family from home.

The following symptoms are typical of the second-phase culture shock:

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
  • Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
  • Changes in temperament, feeling vulnerable or powerless
  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
  • Lack of confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Longing for family or friends

This uncomfortable phase of culture shock usually resolves itself within the first few weeks. However,if you find yourself feeling out of sorts or emotionally unstable for a longer period of time, let someone know. Tell the program director or one of the program staff members. They can help you determine if you need additional support as you adjust to living abroad.

Once the shock of the second phase has eased, you should begin to develop a sense of comfort and understanding of your life in Paris. This is the third phase of cultural adjustment. Less about “shock” and more about adjustment and regaining a sense of equilibrium, this third phase is marked by an acceptance of cultural differences and the ability to critique the positives and negatives of your home country and your host culture. Highlighted by personal growth and the integration of disparate ideas, thoughts and values, the majority of the study abroad experience takes place within this last phase.

For more information on preparing for cultural differences in your host country, check out the online cultural training resource guide What’s Up With Culture? Designed at the request of the U.S. Department of Education, by the School of International Studies/University of the Pacific, What’s Up With Culture? has been used by over 2 million students globally to prepare for study abroad. This self-directed program is packed with useful information, so give yourself several sessions to go through the material. We strongly recommend it for anyone preparing for international travel.

Laws, Customs and Safety

When traveling abroad one must keep in mind that France (as well as other countries you may visit during your stay) has its own laws and customs that are not always identical with those found in North American countries. What is common and acceptable behaviour in North American culture is not always so in France and European cultures. Take time to watch and observe how the locals behave and interact. Pay attention during your orientation period for tips and suggestions on what to expect.

Some basic safety tips and a healthy dose of common sense will go a long way toward keeping you safe during your study abroad experience:

  • Be sure to travel with a map as you get acquainted with Paris (or other cities you may visit during your travels)
  • Be aware of your new surroundings. Learn where you can go safely and at what time. Find out if it’s safe to travel alone.
  • Secure your personal possessions. Lock your doors whenever you leave your room or apartment.
  • Be extra vigilant when using public transportation as pick pocketing can happen. Keep purses tightly closed and in front of you where you can watch over them. Be alert to teams of people who may crowd your space and attempt to distract you while someone else attempts to steal from you.
  • Don’t carry much cash in your wallet at any given time.
  • Pedestrians in Paris and France often have legal priority when in crosswalks and on sidewalks but always be careful when crossing streets as not all cars (and especially not all motorcycles, scooters and cyclists) will yield to pedestrians.
  • Determine appropriate dress, especially if you are female.
  • Travel with a buddy and always let someone know your plans or itinerary.
  • Always carry U.S. student abroad identification

Alcohol Use

The legal drinking age in most European countries is 18 but you must exercise caution, especially as you adapt to different cultural values and codes of behaviour. The importance of caution and common sense when using alcohol remains a constant. Keep in mind that excessive alcohol use can impact your judgment and impair decision-making.

Unfortunately, incidents of assault, sexual molestation and other violent crimes occur abroad each year due to alcohol intoxication. While the frequency of such incidents is low, especially compared to many American college campuses, it is important to be aware of the laws that govern alcohol-related crimes in your host country. Likewise, driving under the influence of alcohol and public intoxication  are illegal activities in most countries that will result in imprisonment.

Illegal Drug Use

Let’s be clear here: Do not travel with, buy, use or have illegal drugs in your possession while you are abroad. Penalties for the purchase, use or possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia can be severe and unyielding—from imprisonment without bail to sentences ranging from fines and jail time to years of hard labor. The U.S. State Department cautions:

Obey the local laws of the country you are visiting. An arrest or accident during a trip abroad can result in a difficult and expensive legal situation. Your U.S. citizenship does not make you exempt from full prosecution under another country’s criminal justice system, and the U.S. government cannot bail you out. Many countries impose harsh penalties for violations that would be considered minor in the United States, and unlike the U.S., you may be considered guilty until proven innocent. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so be informed. (

Health Services Abroad

The most important thing to remember when managing your health abroad is communication with the study abroad program staff. Pay attention during on-site orientations and learn how to access routine medical and mental health care before you need it.

If you have a pre-existing medical or mental health issue, make sure that the PICA director is aware of your needs. Will you need access to a physician or therapist while you are abroad?  Will you need access to a pharmacy for filling prescriptions?  What other types of medical or mental health support services are available?  A private, honest conversation with your program director or advisor can help you access the services you need.

Open communication with your study abroad staff will go a long way to insure that you have access to individual health services. However, unforeseen circumstances can always occur. Make sure you know your program’s health emergency protocol. Does your host country have a local or national emergency number, the equivalent of the U.S. 911? If so, what services can you expect by calling?

The PICA director and staff have years of experience in France; take advantage of this expertise. They are there to help.

Study Abroad Safety and Security

The Paris Institute of Creative Arts takes every possible measure to ensure the safety of our students while studying in France. Students on the PICA program will receive information on safety and security before they leave and during their period of study.  We ask that students notify program staff of any travels away from the program site. Any student who chooses to leave the program before completion may jeopardize their chance of receiving credit for the semester’s work.

In case of an emergency after office hours, please call the PICA emergency telephone number at (33) 06 02 50 46 88

Other PICA pages which may interest you: