Today’s guest post is by Maria Snyder. Maria is a Melibee intern who provides our team with unique insight as an American living abroad. Here are her thoughts about why the written word is the most powerful tool of all.
While packing for my semester abroad in Spain my junior year I went downtown to buy a travel guide and a map. I also optimistically picked up a journal although I had never consistently kept one before and got it more because I liked the cover. Eagerly I wrote the first entry in the airport during a layover. Then I wrote again in the Madrid airport. Then I found myself writing every two or three days. My intentions were to record every little travel experience, new food tasted, and place investigated; I hadn’t foreseen that the journal would provide both an escape from the pressures on splashing headfirst into life in a different place and a place to open up my mind.
Keeping a journal provided me a tool to observe myself and a new culture. I hadn’t been much of a coffee drinker at home but when I tried Spain’s strong coffee and experienced the well developed cafe culture writing gave me a way to take advantage of both. With the journal tucked in my bag I would search out new cafes and bars around town, situate myself in the corner and figure out what was happening around me and in my new daily life. Often the entries were lists of what I had done that day, or new foods eaten, or notes about class. But there were also times that I could work out the frustrations of culture shock and language confusion. By writing in a journal I was purposely giving myself time to process what was going on, how I felt, what I observed. Anytime and anywhere would be fine for keeping a journal but the particular challenges and growth that going abroad present need special attention. It’s so easy to let it flash by without truly thinking about how living and studying in a different context can push your limits and expose you to different mindsets and worldviews. This specific experience deserves the time set aside and contemplation that journals require. I’m not saying that every entry will be an epiphany, but in some future when you reread old entries you can see changes, growth, or at the very least a picture of who you were at the time of your trip.
Of course back when I went abroad was another time, technologically speaking. Now students and travelers can blog, tweet, and post all about their experiences. And those are also helpful tools, particularly to share with family, friends, and a wider audience. But I would strongly argue that they are insufficient at best and dishonest at worst. In a public forum like the internet you are not afforded the same opportunity to express doubt or even stupidity as a private writing. In private you can write how you want, whatever you want without holding back and self editing. The comments on a blog or Facebook post can be addictive, which distorts posts to the goal of inducing reaction. At the same time there is an unfortunate need to look like a super world traveler and hold up some jet setting stereotype of perfection, or even ridicule towards the host culture to come off as clever. In a journal entry you can be deathly honest and reveal that not everything about going abroad is romantic without looking for applause or approval.
In fact, journaling can be done any way you want. You can draw, make lists, respond to prompts, fill in a calendar, or attach photos. Just recently, I took out a journal and made a list of adjectives for how I was feeling that day (as I have lived abroad for the last ten years I find cultural adaptation a continuous adventure.) It helped me sort out some things and reminded me that taking time to write things down is a special opportunity and a great way to reflect.
About the Author: Maria Snyder is an English teacher in Spain and a strong believer in the power of international exchange. She adores the Spanish language and writes her own blog too.