Going abroad for an extended time can be a daunting experience. The idea of leaving your home, pets, friends, and-for most of us-anyone we’ve ever known behind can be scary. None of us knows what kinds of experiences we’ll have when we finally get to where we’re going, but we do know that we’ve been afforded an awesome opportunity to learn about different cultures and open our horizons to new experiences. Now, what I just said can sound overwhelming because how on earth are you supposed to process everything you see and do while you’re abroad? I found that while I studied abroad in Florence, Italy and made my way through Europe on my free weekends, that the best way to really understand my time abroad was to write it down. Here are just a few reasons why you too should keep a journal while you’re abroad:
- It helps you process everything that you see and do.
You’re going to see and do a lot when you’re abroad. You may not realize how much you’re truly experiencing until you sit down and think about all the things you did that day. Writing your experience down can help you think critically about your time abroad and reflect on what you’re learning about the world, about the culture you’re living in, and about how you are changing. Whether you believe it or not, the time that you spend in another country will fly by (after the initial culture shock and jet lag, of course). Taking the time everyday, or every other day, or once a week to write some thoughts down can slow the process.
Also sometimes you just need to rant. Maybe because of the time difference or other reasons you aren’t able to pick up the phone and call your parents or best friend at the drop of a hat. Having a journal provides that release when you just need to talk about something. No one said studying abroad was going to be easy. The initial weeks of your program might be frustrating from adjusting to the culture, to encountering a language barrier you just aren’t used to. These types of challenges are not uncommon and using a journal to write your thoughts can ease these frustrations.
- You’ll learn more about yourself.
Ask students who have studied abroad before one word to describe their experience, and many will say life changing. But how exactly is it life changing? I know that in my experience I became much more resourceful and independent. However, this change didn’t happen overnight and it took me my entire semester abroad to realize how I had changed. Keeping a journal with your thoughts from when you start your program to when it ends can help you track how you’ve changed over the course of your time abroad. It might be subtle changes or drastic ones, but it’s important to recognize that you have changed nonetheless.
- Once you get back to the States it makes for the best souvenir.
Coming back from an study abroad experience can be difficult to process. One day you were walking to class pass the Duomo, and the next you’re back in your hometown. Some people end up not enjoying themselves and wish they had just stayed put as to avoid the homesickness and the FOMO, but for most of us we’ll miss it terribly. Not to mention that anyone who knows that you studied abroad will undoubtedly ask you about your time, what you did, how it was, etc. etc. For this reason alone, I am happy that I kept a journal while I was abroad. Not only does it help me remember what I did during my studies and my weekend adventures, but I’m able to go back and share with other people what I did and how I felt. It’s hard to sum up in a couple of sentences you’re entire experience abroad, but a journal can help you bring back those memories so you’re answer is more than just, “It was awesome!,” or “I had the best time.” And even when you aren’t telling people about what you did, a journal can be a special souvenir for yourself. Not only does it hold your personal thoughts and feelings but, it will probably last longer than anything you could ever buy abroad. A journal will be something you can have for the rest of your life that allows you to relive your time abroad as much as you like.
Ava is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying anthropology at the University of Kentucky. She studied abroad in the Lorenzo de’ Medici program with API in fall 2015.