Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Journaling and Traveling

With time winding down for me here in Florence, it's extraordinary to think back and realize that we have now been abroad for over three months. That cliché "where did the time go" has never been more relevant in my life. When you first arrive abroad, your mindset maintains that there will be plenty of time to do the things you want and need to do while here. Traveling plans begin to take shape and you start to realize there might not be as much time as you thought you had originally. Weekends become a blur, as you leave Thursday night for the weekend, arriving back in Florence late Sunday tired and weary. No time for class work at that point, and if your traveling on back-to-back weekends, there's four days of class during that week until you repeat the process. This cycle can force you to blink an eye and watch an entire month of study abroad go by in a split second. How can you make sure all your memories from this experience, both good and bad, will last through time?

Many people have different ways of etching the memories of this experience and creating keepsakes. In my personal experience, I have decided to journal, and also take a couple thousand pictures. Some people I know blog (as I've also succumbed to), some people collect a certain object (pins, postcards), and some don't do anything at all (photographic memory?). Here is why I recommend journaling, but keep in mind that everyone has a personal preference and my main tip is just make sure you DO SOMETHING. Your future self, your future family, your spouse will thank you for having something to look back on from your time abroad.

My journal was given to me as a gift, a small black notebook with a good binding. It's plain and durable, two things that were probably necessary to get me to even consider writing in it. The number one thing that I like about journaling, its private. It's yours. Whatever you write in that notebook, whatever you put in as a keepsake is for you and only whoever you want to share it with, if you choose to do that. A public blog is just that, it's open to the public. Therefore, you write with a different mindset, your writing for someone else, your writing with an audience in mind. In a journal, you are writing without these constraints and any feelings or thoughts you've had throughout the day can be jotted down carefree. For an abroad experience, you will be having plenty of new thoughts and feelings, some you may not want to write on a public blog. So if your goal is to have a more in depth look at what 20 something year old you was thinking while being abroad, while traveling, a journal is better than a blog. If your goal is to show off to others or broadly portray your experience to the public and your friends back home, go with a blog.

Another positive of keeping a journal is that you can paste in your ticket stubs, everything from train tickets and boarding passes to museum tickets and special receipts. This adds a layer to your journal and a tangible object that you otherwise could not save. It also gives context to your entries and will allow you to look back in awe. Someday there might come a time when everything is digitalized and passes and receipts no longer are printed, you'll have yours saved from "the good ole days". You can reminisce on the eight euro train you took while you step into a driverless car.

One downside of journaling, it can become very tedious. Trying to get those thoughts running around in your head onto paper is a greater task than you would imagine, it's also time consuming. I'm constantly reminded of Mark Twain's quote from his own book of travels "Innocents Abroad", something along the lines of, "if you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year." There are times when you are too exhausted to write or are just flat out not in the mood to sit down and write. That is okay! Do not stress over writing daily or having a certain writing schedule to maintain. Simply write when you can, if you have downtime on the train or on a flight home, write a bit. You might enjoy it more than you think, and a little writing is better than none at all. However, if there is a way to schedule in a quick 15 minutes of writing a day, say maybe before bed, that might entice you to write more. It's worked for me and I can't stress enough that everyone is different. You need to find what works best for you, are you a morning person? Write when you wake up. You can make it work.

So there's my treatise on journaling while abroad. It's worked out well for me and I am even going to consider continuing to journal when I return back home in May. Even now, to be able to go back to an entry from my first week in Florence and re-examine my first impressions of the city, of my roommates and how things have changed. Imagine how it nice it will be to look back on down further the road from now. Remember, it's not for everyone. If you want to collect postcards instead, do that. Ultimately, just make sure to do something that your future self will thank you for. There is only one study abroad experience in a lifetime.