Words by Hannah McNamara, a CAPA London alumna and public relations major from SUNY Oswego.
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I know the idea of keeping a daily journal sounds tedious and time-consuming when the beauty of a foreign city surrounds you. Most of us don’t have enough time to make ourselves coffee in the morning or read a chapter from the book we bought six months ago, so why should you spend your spare time scribbling in a journal while you are out exploring a new city?
Well for starters, after a while the pictures you collected won’t evoke the same emotions you felt while you were away. The pictures will stand as complacent memories of your favorite coffee shops and tourist outings, but they will not always have the power to take you back to an exact time and place.
However, the notes you took in your journal about the time you took the wrong subway in the opposite direction of your hostel while visiting Paris alone will still have the power to make you feel anxious even years after your study abroad trip is over. And I promise, the idea of you getting lost in Paris alone minutes before the last subway left the station will be a lot funnier the second time around.
These are moments that challenged you and forced you to grow while you were abroad and these are moments that you don’t want to forget. The notes you write inside of your journal will be able to bring these memories to life over and over again each time you read them. It will allow you to relive moments you may otherwise forget through the eyes of a wanderlusting wanderer.
If you’re worried about finding the time to write in your journal among the million other things on your study abroad bucket list, you’d be surprised how often your hands will be free. During that 45-minute commute to your internship or class when awkward eye contact is impossible to avoid, you’ll wish you had a journal at your convenience. Instead of taking a nap during a Wednesday afternoon, treat yourself to lunch at a new coffee shop and write about what you see.
Little observations that you make abroad will slip away from your mind considerably quickly if you don’t document them. I promise you never want to forget the way your first international coffee tasted or the way the lighting in a traditional pub hit your face just right. You’ll always have time to write on the weekend mornings when the time difference back home becomes extremely evident and no one is answering your text messages. There is no better time to crawl back into bed and write about the night before.
I’m not suggesting that you set aside an hour a day to lock yourself in your bedroom and write, but during those small breaks when you have the time to look around and realize where you are, write it down. Scribble some notes. Become an observer for at least a few minutes a day so you never have the choice to forget the best time of your life.
Take your journal everywhere. It can serve as more than just a written vivid image of your study abroad experience. Write down restaurants you have to try before you leave, museums you need to get lost in, and parks that you need to walk barefoot through. Observe the way people sound, the street art that you find when you make the wrong turn, the interactions you have with strangers. These are the parts about the culture you are absorbing that matter more than anything. The image of Big Ben will never disappear from your mind but the confusion you felt the first time you went grocery shopping will.
After just a few weeks you will adjust to the culture shock that seeped through every pore in your body when you got off the plane. Adjust to the culture but never take it for granted. With your eyes wide open and a blank journal in hand, you will have the power to relive your study abroad experience over and over again even years after you return home.