Thoughts and Feelings? Ugh.

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

Take the Time to Write, Reflect, and Remember!

                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