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To Record or to Remember?

March 22, 2018

While abroad, one of the biggest non-problems I’ve faced is figuring out the best way to keep my memories of my time abroad, as well as how and how much to share with friends and family. I’ve been an avid journaler for years—my pen and (fourth!) little Moleskine notebook are always in my pocket—and like to keep my Instagram feed updated and looking nice. Nevertheless, I hesitate to take pictures for fear of ruining the moment, would never in a million years share my journal with most of my friends and family, and hate the self-absorbed feeling of posting on Facebook. While I still have no concrete answer for how much to photograph, post, or otherwise share and record, I’ve found that honestly considering the purpose behind my choice to write about, photograph, or post something has helped me feel less pressure to record everything, but feel more confident when I choose to do so.

For me, the biggest step in distinguishing between what I wanted to remember and what I was recording for the sake of recording was logging out of Facebook. I had a friend back home change my password a month ago, and these four weeks without it have been great. Without my grandma and aunts always asking about when I’d post photos next or seeing giant photo albums and lengthy posts from friends studying abroad elsewhere, the pressure to “perform” an amazing study abroad experience dissipated almost immediately. I no longer had to take a picture of this-or-that so that Aunt So-and-So could see it on Facebook the next week, or so that nobody would forget about the fact I’m having a great time in Spain! In addition to saving a lot of memory on my phone, it’s also made what I choose to share with my friends or family a lot more meaningful. I find myself sending specific people photos with captions like, “hey, I think you’d like this building I saw last weekend!” as opposed to posting a massive, impersonal photo album on Facebook and calling it a day. A lot of great conversations have been started from these intentionally-shared photos, and I think I’ll probably stay logged out of my Facebook until I get back to the U.S.

The other important part of finding the purpose behind what I was trying to record and remember is that my journal is for me. There are so many beautiful Pinterests of travel journals and lovingly designed travel blogs that it can seem like the point of journaling is to gain the internet’s approval. Even though I kept a journal for years before studying abroad, I was unable to escape the idea that my “abroad journal” had to be beautiful and special, and that it would be a waste of time, ink, and paper to journal about my time in Spain the way I journal about my daily life in the States.

That’s a lie.

Journaling the way I know, want, and like—the same way I approach journaling in the U.S.—is the best way for me to journal abroad. If you keep a journal at home, continue your style when you go abroad! And if you don’t, don’t be afraid to try out different styles and focuses. For example, I tend to focus on my interactions and reactions, and I like to paint when I have time. When I first arrived here, I thought I needed to switch to a factual, detailed account of what I was doing abroad, but I quickly became discouraged and switched back. However, different things work for everyone, and many friends I’ve made who didn’t journal before studying abroad like keeping a record of what they do so they have an objective way to remember what happened! Whether your focus is factual or emotional, or whether you write, draw, paint, or scrapbook, journaling is an amazing way to figure out your priorities and memories abroad because it’s just for you—no likes or comments involved. If you don’t hate writing, I’d recommend journaling—plus, you can always tuck in plane tickets or polaroids, and have an amazing collection of memories. (Side note: I’ve also found journaling to be a great way for me to practice my Spanish—since I’ve arrived, only about 20% of what I’ve written has been in English and is decreasing every day!)

Studying abroad is for you to enjoy—not your friends or family—so remember that as you write, post, or take pictures, you don’t owe it to anyone. Always put your own happiness and learning first, and take pictures of what you think is pretty, and what you want to remember!

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