If you’ve attended a Study Abroad 101 session or a Pre-Departure session at the Office of Internationalization (which, if you’re studying abroad with us, you should have…) then you’ve heard our spiel about the importance of writing a blog or journal while you’re abroad. And most of you probably had the same reaction that I did when someone first told me that: ‘Are you kidding? I’m not keeping some touchy-feely journal while I’m there. That’s a complete waste of time and totally not my style, but thanks.’ Before I went abroad to Switzerland for a year, I had no intention of writing a blog or a journal. All I had ever heard about blogs was that they were kind of fluffy and proper and something you sent to your grandmother. I didn’t have time for things like that. However, once I got there, and started to go through serious culture shock, my mind changed.
I don’t tell people that I wrote a blog; what I wrote was a rant. The online portion ended up only being three separate entries, spaced out at very interesting times throughout the year, and none of them are particularly flattering or supportive of the whole study abroad experience. And let me just remind you all: I ended up loving my year in Switzerland. The good times completely outweighed the bad and by the end of my time there, I did not want to come home. But reading back through the blog reminds me of how difficult it was to assimilate and get used to a new culture. It’s a nice reality check for me that things weren’t always perfect, but I overcame challenges and became a part of a new culture and absolutely fell in love with it.
I also carried around a journal. No, the entries didn’t start with ‘Dear Diary, today I am feeling pensive…’ Sometimes I didn’t even put words in it. I might pull it out of my bag on a lazy Sunday afternoon in a park and start drawing things that I saw around me. Or I’d copy down a really cool phrase that I heard in French, or slide a memento in there for safekeeping. It wasn’t a journal in the formal sense. It was my own interpretation of a journal. Just like my blog was my own interpretation of a blog. That’s the most important thing to realize about keeping a blog or journal or written record of your time abroad: there’s no specific way you have to do it. It’s not something that’s going to be turned in. You don’t even have to tell your relatives that you’re writing a blog online. For that matter, just keep it on your computer, so you’re the only one that has access to it. It’s whatever you want it to be. Once I got over the idea that it didn’t have to be five pages of perfect English, full of profound thoughts and mushy feelings, it became a lot easier to just use it as my own personal outlet.
Now, five years later, it’s really wonderful to be able to look back at my blog and journal. Pictures are great souvenirs as well, but the thing about photos is that in twenty years, you may forget what you were thinking in that moment. With prose, or poetry, or whatever it is that feels comfortable, it actually allows you to preserve your thoughts, which I find is far more powerful than a photograph. While my thoughts weren’t terribly positive all the time (here’s my Rant, if you’re brave: http://thelonelyyodeler.blogspot.com/) it’s a nice reminder of my time abroad.
So if you’re against fluffy feelings, that’s fine. Just write about something…whether it’s food or a really cool sign you saw or pages and pages of rants, like what I did. In five years, when you’re where I am, you’ll be thrilled to have the memories.
Kat Cosgrove, OIE Graduate Peer Advisor