Why college students should keep a journal while studying abroad

Keeping a journal while studying abroad is a great way to reminisce on your adventures. (Credit: Government of Thailand)

Keeping a journal while studying abroad is a great way to reminisce on your adventures. (Credit: Government of Thailand)

Ready for your semester away, and prepared for traveling abroad? In Ginny Gaylor’s January 10, 2014 post on Cengage Brain, she offered “Tips for traveling abroad—how to blend in,” so you know some of the dos and don’ts of foreign study. While you’re away, it’s a good idea to keep track of your experiences by writing a travel blog or diary. You may not expect to go into travel journalism after college, but there are plenty of reasons why you should keep a journal. Read on for some tips on recording your study abroad experience and some travel journal apps that will help you on the go.

Keeping a travel journal

Journaling may be a requirement of your study abroad program. It might be part of your grade. Or it may just be a way to keep memories of your experience for posterity. Lynn Hausman, a peer mentor for Academic Programs International (API), wrote her laments about not keeping a better journal during her time in Seville, Spain. In “Study abroad reflections – why you should keep a journal abroad,” posted on the API Blog March 1, 2011, Hausman wrote of her earnest intentions to record everything, and the way her efforts dropped off in her experience. “If there was one thing I wish I did more while I studied abroad, it would be writing,” she confessed. “Sometimes … I want the power to find memories on command, and there’s nothing better than being able to just open my journal to discover them.”

Hausman recommended jotting notes – a quote, a restaurant name, a sketch, anything you might want to remember. Those brief records of your thoughts in-the-moment might prompt entire memories to surface years later. And, if you’re planning a return trip, you’ll remember that great bakery where you had those phenomenal croissants, or the boutique shop you got killer boots at.

If your program requires a more formal record of events than a collection of funny or memorable quotes and illustrations, consider these tips:

  • Don’t try to write about everything. There’s just not time. Decide the types of things you’ll record in advance so you know how to narrow your journal’s scope.
  • Despite your pre-determined structure, be flexible to accommodate things that become important to you only after you arrive in your new country.
  • Carry a pocket-sized notebook (or digital device) if you don’t want to carry your journal everywhere. This allows you to take notes on the go.
  • Consider using chapter headings by topic (music, places, food, etc.) to organize your thoughts rather than keeping your journal strictly chronological. This helps you focus your material.
  • Record your first impressions, then, at the end of your stay, look back at those impressions and reflect on them.
  • Write in a letter style, as though you are composing a note to a close friend. Translate words, describe with adjectives and adverbs, and include context for your stories.
  • If you are practicing your foreign language skills abroad, use journaling as an additional way to practice your new vocabulary.

Journal or blog?

You’re more comfortable typing than using traditional paper and pen? Welcome to the digital travel world! The University of Iowa study abroad program, on their International Programs website, outlined ways to determine whether you should keep a blog or a journal in “Blogging & journaling.

You should keep a blog if you are:

  • Interested in writing for a public audience.
  • Considering submitting stories or posts for publication; periodicals like Glimpse and Native Foreigner accept work from study abroad students.
  • Hoping to be an official study abroad blogger for your school or program.
  • Looking for ways to share both text and pictures with friends at home.

You should keep a journal if you are:

  • Interested in writing private thoughts and experiences.
  • Collecting scrapbook-type souvenirs that can be pasted into a book as mementos.
  • Hoping to create a record of your own experiences for your future self.

Some apps that can help you include:

  • Chronicle for iPad (a journal program that keeps your entries private or allows you to export them for sharing)
  • Worldwide Guide & Travel Journal (a free app for journaling and photo sharing)
  • Road Trip Journal (which also helps track your expenses)
  • Trip Journal (a geo-tagging program for thought and photo sharing)

If you have iMovie, a Google device with a webcam (which you can use to automatically share over Google+), or another video program, you can also record your experiences and thoughts on camera. In this pre-study-abroad video diary entry by Kayley Hyde, “Study abroad diaries: why?” Hyde shared on YouTube why she was keeping a diary of her experiences. Despite also being a blogger and an active social networker, Hyde wanted a video record of her experiences for a different audience than might be reached by her writing.

Have you ever kept a travel journal? Tell us in the comments.

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