I know this generation is plugged in almost 24-7, updating friends and family on social media sites, playing online games, and texting, oh the texting. While away, these outlets can be important touchstones for students. Also, a number of schools now host sites for students to blog about their time, issues that come up, daily life, and things learned. This is a great tool for urging students to observe, reflect and report on the experiences they are having, not to mention being great advertising for the offices running the programs. Despite this technological move forward, I think there is still a place for good old fashioned pen and paper journaling.
Blogging wasn’t as prevalent when I was studying abroad. I kept a journal. I found it a way to unwind from the stresses of school, of annoying flatmates who never remember to buy more toilet paper, of a recent encounter with culture shock, or of just needing to download my thoughts. And it was a place to share breakthroughs, happy moments and memorable events.
I was already spending so much time in front of a computer for course work that the thought of typing up a journal didn’t bring the same feelings of comfort and release as having the pen and leather-bound journal in my hands. The silence except for the turning of the page was and is much more soothing than hearing the keys being tapped. My mind could reflect more deeply in the quiet. If I was angry, the situation was more private in order to let loose. If I was über-happy, I had a place to keep that moment all mine, and mine alone.
This idea may seem a bit romantic. And I’ll admit that it may be, but so what? I know that if I’m traveling out of a bag for a weekend, I’d much rather carry a journal with me than anything that might get broken or crushed or wet, or prove to be taxing due to the worry about it getting broken or crushed or wet. Plus, I can’t imagine the calluses on my thumbs from typing on a phone, for example, let alone the cramping of fingers.
Before two of my programs my mother bought me a journal and wrote a little note of encouragement to me in the front. I still have both of them and I take them out from time to time. Being able to read them now offers the same unplugging benefits as when I was writing in them. They also remind me of forgotten memories and provide me with insights as to who I was and how the experience away changed me.
The University of Iowa’s Office of Study Abroad has some helpful comments on journaling about your experience. What I particularly like about the page is that they discuss journaling prior to your departure and after your return. I think these are very key components for those wanting to capture their entire abroad experience as the preparation to leave and the re-entry shock are just as important as the time away. There is no better way, in my opinion, to get the most out of your experience (at the time and down the road) than to journal.
If you are also interested in travel writing/travel journaling, stay tuned for my post about Dave Fox’s Globejotting; How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip).