I’ve always enjoyed writing. I started journaling when I was twelve years old, and I will still occasionally look back on what I wrote back then. Obviously, a lot has changed since I was twelve, and it can be entertaining and enlightening to reread my thought processes and ideas.
The same is true with my time abroad. While in South Africa, I kept several different forms of journaling or blogging going at the same time. Though the vast majority of my memories from my time abroad are incredible, there were times when I felt lonely, homesick, or I just needed to think through a new cultural experience. When those moments came, my journal was my best friend. I could be totally honest and open, without the fear of anyone delving into my deepest thoughts (yes, living in a single room has its advantages!). And when something awesome happened, I wanted to make sure that I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it! Journaling allowed me to share every aspect of my time abroad, while keeping those thoughts and experiences fresh in my mind.
I also enjoyed keeping a public blog going at the same time. Your time abroad is unique to you – no one will share your exact experience or your same thoughts. Keeping a blog is a great way to keep people updated on your various adventures and thoughts on living in a new environment. I experienced so many things while in South Africa, and I also changed a lot! Through my constant blog updates, people were better able to keep up with me, therefore deepening their understanding of my experience. This proved to be very helpful when I got back home. I experienced a high level of reverse culture shock, but it was nice that many of the people closest to me had an idea of what I had experienced abroad. Because of that, they were better able to support me as I readjusted to my life back in the States. (You can still read my blog at http://www.christinainsouthafrica.blogspot.com!)
Another form of blogging that unintentionally evolved during my time abroad was the emails that were sent and received. Because talking on the phone was expensive (and inconvenient with the time difference!), a lot of my correspondence with family and friends was via email. As the semester wore on, I realized that these emails were a special way of documenting my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I decided to keep them all in a folder on my email account, and I still read them from time to time.
Lastly, when I got home I made a giant scrapbook of all my pictures. I visited so many beautiful places, was involved in some incredible things, and met so many amazing people; I felt that it was important to compile all of those photos into one place so that I could reference them and share them with others. It’s always fun to pull it out for friends when they ask about South Africa!
Studying abroad is a special experience that is unique to you. There are so many ways to document it; find a way that works for you! It really is once-in-a-lifetime; make sure that you find a way to remember it forever!
Christina Hunter, Office of Internationalization Staff