While abroad, you are going to learn so many things about cultural differences. The exposure to new perspectives and unfamiliar, yet heartwarming demonstrations of humanity will begin to shape you in ways that a lack of travel experience could never replace. Through all that you see and all that you do, you will expand your way of thinking, your capacity of feeling, and your method of vision in carrying out your goals and dreams. This is, perhaps, going to be your biggest growth experience yet. What better way to document these personal reflections than to blog or journal? Or even both?
Of course you know I’m a blogger because here I am, writing to you from the Go Global blog! But let’s start with journaling — actually something that I did not do while I was abroad, but had every intention of doing. LEAD Cape Town student Taylor Moody, a Special Education major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is so passionate about writing, traveling, and Global LEAD that she wants to give you a glimpse into her journal from her time abroad. Here’s an excerpt of one of her journal entries:
“day 10: one person can change the world, tuesday june 3
…it’s one thing to just hear a story, it is another to bring it to life. Kevin made the story of amy biehl a reality as we took our first visit to the townships. at first, it felt like we were plowing through a zoo, sitting high up in our coach buses, taking pictures of the people and views below. our faces were pressed to the windows, wide eyed with disbelief. but regardless of how in shock we were, how embarrassing, acting as if the people were exhibits in an interactive museum instead of the sweet, humble, and selfless human beings they are. I was ashamed, sinking in my seat and wishing I wasn’t a part of this reaction.
we were so undeserving but they welcomed us into the first school with open arms. I was blown away by how talented these kids were- showing us the dances they had been working on, playing like experts on their instruments, and I swear the voice of an angel came from one young girl that brought me to tears. the excitement and passion that they filled the room with was breathtaking.
our second stop was primarily older children and focused a lot more on dance. I found myself in a trance wondering if this was something I was meant to do. Kevin mentioned something about an opportunity to volunteer with the foundation and teach for a minimum of two months. it’s something that’s been weighing on my heart, and I’ll be praying to see if this is the direction God takes me in. I know He has something great planned and I’m starting to see it unfold bit by bit in each adventure we go on and in each person I have the pleasure of meeting.
how wrong our judgements were. how beautiful these people truly are. how much their hearts pour out to those around them. how much they give when we view them as having nothing, when in reality, joy is their greatest and most wide spread possession. Ubuntu.”
I also had to opportunity to ask Taylor some questions about her journaling experience while abroad to further understand why it’s a good choice for students to document their trip.
Anna: Why did you choose journaling?
Taylor: I’ve always had a passion for writing, and it’s the best way I know how to convey myself and my thoughts. I enjoy writing things out like a story, so I can document what I’m currently experiencing in all of it’s glory, and have it all at my disposal later. It’s fun and exciting and brings me back to those special places. I wanted to be able to look back in ten years and not have to spend the time racking my brain for the details, but instead for them to be displayed throughout the pages of my journal.
Anna: What advice do you give to prospective students about how to journal while abroad?
Taylor: Even if you’re not a writer, write something down! Anything that you can, so when you read back through it’s almost like you’re reliving the trip of your life once more. You don’t realize at the time how powerful words can be when it comes to describing and bringing back a memory.
Anna: How often did you write in your journal?
Taylor: I was adamant about finding the time to journal once a day. I tried to take notes throughout the day so when I had a free moment to compose my thoughts into my journal, there wasn’t a single moment forgotten. this meant that no matter now small, big, important, insignificant, boring, or scandalous…it’s all in there.
Anna: How detailed and personal did you get in your journal?
Taylor: To be honest, there’s some pages I’d share in a heartbeat, some that I’d laugh about amongst close friends, and then there are those few that I hope are never scanned by any eyes but my own.
Anna: Do you ever reread your journal now that you’re home? How does it make you feel?
Taylor: I’ve reread my journal once since I’ve been home, and I’ll leave it at that for a while. I cry happy and sad tears about africa all of the time, and going through the journal brings a whole lot of both!
Anna: Did you include anything in your journal such as pictures or ticket stubs, or did you stick solely to writing?
Taylor: Stuck solely with writing! I lose everything, so there was no chance of keeping anything extra.
If you have any questions about journaling or you’d like more tips or ideas, Taylor is the perfect person to contact! As for me, I think I’ll be journaling on my next trip after reading about Taylor’s awesome experience with it. Here are a few suggestions from me to you of some cool journals you may want to look into … my personal favorites are the “Ticket Stub Diary,” the “My Travel Journal,” and the “Embossed Leather Journal.”
In the meantime, let’s talk about what I did do to document my trip — blogging!
Before I went abroad, I had already been writing on my personal blog, a website that I titled “Love All Things Britney.” I didn’t want to create an entirely new website because A.) I thought it would be easier to run one website with multiple pages than to run multiple websites, which it was, and B.) I thought that sharing my study abroad experience with my primary blog readers would add depth to my personal blog, which it did. So, if you currently run a website, I recommend adding a blog page onto that website and keeping it all together in one. If you do not currently run a website and you’re interested in doing so, here is my suggestion on creating one for your trip:
1. Go to www.weebly.com
2. Create an account (I find this site-builder to be incredibly user-friendly!)
3. When designing the site, add a blog page, and use this page to house all of your writing about your travels
4. Use tutorials on YouTube and Internet articles as a helpful resource (or, you could always reach out to me personally and ask for help!)
5. Update as often as possible, in as much depth as possible — pictures, feelings, thoughts! Voila!
My entire study abroad blog can be found at this link, but here is a small excerpt from one of my favorite posts:
“Today was one of the most powerful, eye-opening days of my life. We had a speaker named Kevin Chaplin, the head of The Amy Biehl Foundation, come in to give us an incredibly motivational speech about life, business, relationships, and of course, the foundation itself: what it does, what it stems from, and what it stands for.
He shared a word with us that he learned when he came to Cape Town. The word is “ubuntu,” which is a universal concept that enhances the self-realization of others. The African phrase, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabanye abantu” means “people are people through other people” or “I am a person because of my people.” Amy’s story helped me to understand this concept and this phrase. We must learn to practice healing energy through combining independent hearts and spirits as a whole community in order to grow.
Today I went to the township where Amy was killed, and I visited two of the schools of The Amy Biehl Foundation. It was the most amazing thing ever. We actually saw the spot where Amy was murdered…it was chilling.”
A few things to consider …
- While the point of a study abroad blog is not to give a play-by-play, don’t be afraid to do so. If that’s what helps you recreate the scene in your head, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll forget the play-by-play as time goes on when your trip is over, so as long as it’s not “then, I brushed my teeth,” a little play-by-play will help you to remember what you actually did. Ex. = “Kevin Chaplin came and spoke in our classroom, then we went to the township to see for ourselves where Amy was killed and see the foundation in action.” Somewhat of a play-by-play, without telling you anything useless.
- Get personal. Talk about your thoughts and your feelings. When you reflect on your blog, you’ll want to remember why you blogged about that guest speaker. Was it just because that’s what you did that day and you felt obligated to say so? Or because it impacted you in some way, and you wanted to remember that? Ex. = “Amy’s story helped me to understand this concept and this phrase. We must learn to practice healing energy through combining independent hearts and spirits as a whole community in order to grow.”
- Get interactive. Include pictures, videos, links to websites, anything that can add a multimedia dimension to your blog to be aesthetically pleasing, more interesting, and as informational as possible. Ex. = The link I shared to Amy’s story, the video I shared of Kevin Chaplin speaking, the picture I took of Amy’s grave in the spot where she died.
- Share your blog on Facebook. Blogging allows you to not only recreate your experience on paper (per se) for yourself to relive, but it allows everyone back home to keep up with what you’re doing while abroad so you don’t have to send individual emails to all 600 family members and friends. There is actually a feature on Weebly that allows you to automatically publish your posts to social media accounts.
- Skipping a blog post < skipping a nap. Don’t skip a day of blogging (or, couple of days) out of laziness. That nap can wait! Try to write while everything is fresh in your mind, or you’ll have difficulty remembering when you finally get the motivation to sit down at the computer. You might miss something really important! Thoughts slip away quickly!
- Write about a broad variety of things. Don’t just write about what you did today and how it made you feel. Write about what you learned in class. Write about the dinner you ate, how delicious it was, and how great your conversation was at the dinner table. Write about the strange experience you had at the grocery store. Write about the weather. Write about anything that is going to help you relive this experience when it’s over. Think about ways to incorporate all of your senses in the writing experience. Every moment is important; and most of them will slip away from you sooner than you could ever imagine …
Of course, this was a fun post for me to write — blogging about blogging, my favorite hobby! I love to share my own stories, and I love interviewing and reporting other people and helping them share theirs. Now it’s your turn to share your story. So go ahead and play around with Weebly and buy yourself a nice travel journal. You don’t even have to wait until your trip begins — start now! Write about what you’re looking forward to, what you really want out of your experience, whether or not you feel nervous. Your journey begins right now, and it’s up to you to document it as much as you can. Just remember to look up from your paper and your keyboard and really enjoy each moment, too 🙂
-Anna and the Go Global team