Program: University College Dublin, Ireland, Winter 2022
Something that doesn’t get emphasized enough when you’re preparing to study abroad is that you’re going to want to record your travels. Maybe it’s kind of obvious — my generation in particular has an innate tendency to record things via photo and video. And photos and videos are great — definitely take them while abroad — but there are other ways to record the journey too. Photos and videos can capture landmarks and scenes, but what about capturing you? Unless you’re doing a video diary, photos and videos likely won’t be able to capture your feelings and inmost thoughts.
There are a lot of emotions that come with studying abroad — excitement, wonder, nervousness, joy, and, yes, homesickness. These feelings are an essential part of the study abroad experience. Unpacking these feelings can help make your time abroad more meaningful and balanced. A lot happens when you’re studying away from home — I can’t believe how quickly the time passed! The days and weeks are all a blur of traveling, learning, seeing new things, trying new foods, and meeting new people. While photos and videos can capture some of these experiences, I’ve found that writing things down helped me process and reflect.
There are a lot of different types of writing that can be used to record a trip abroad. One of them is keeping a travel journal. My mom gifted me a journal before I left; in it I could record the date, location, and any details I wanted to remember. I was not always able to take a photo or video of everything I did and saw, so reflecting on my travels in a journal helped me put all of the details together. I also liked to write down the names of the people I met. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet them again someday.
Since I was abroad for a whole semester, I mostly used my travel journal when I wasn’t in Dublin. When I was at ‘home’ at UCD, I liked to write letters to friends and family back home. I absolutely love writing letters, so I came prepared with envelopes and notecards. But if you’ve never written a letter before (or it’s been awhile!), studying abroad is a great opportunity to buy a few postcards from the places you visit, and document your adventures for folks back home. You could also collect and journal on postcards for yourself! By the end of your semester, you’d have a lovely compilation of all of the places you visited and your memories at each location.
When I was on the go or didn’t have a lot of time to journal, I liked to write reflections in my notes app. Some were really random observations (like that crocuses bloomed a month earlier in Ireland than at home), or just how I was feeling at any given moment. I recommend putting the date with each note! Sometimes I’d copy these notes into a Google Doc, where I can view all of them together. It’s neat to see all of my little musings together in one place.
Even if journaling isn’t really your thing, I recommend finding a way to write down your thoughts (whether it be every day, every week, or once a month). You’ll be glad you did. Other ideas include keeping a notebook (where you can write, tape in tickets and postcards, and doodle), creating a blog, or writing little stories about your time away. The possibilities are endless really – the point is to take a little bit of time to reflect while abroad. Like I said, it goes by quickly. Be present and make the most of it, but also reflect about the ways you’re growing and the things you’re learning. It’s easy to forget about little moments – the things like learning how to take the train – that don’t get recorded on camera. But these are little moments of growth and beauty, and they matter.
I’ll leave you with a few of my own musings:
Oxfordshire, UK: 3/10/22 (6:02 pm GMT)
I look at my reflection in the train window, and am surprised at the girl I see. She seems poised and dignified. She's got glasses and a long braid, with a journal in front of her and bag on her lap. She seems to belong here. I smile at her, and she smiles at me. Beyond her reflection the British countryside whizzes by, harder and harder to see as darkness settles over the fields and trees. I, and the girl I see in the window reflection, are at peace.
Dublin, Ireland: 3/18/22 (10:04 pm GMT)
This evening, as I walked out from a concert at O'Reilly Hall, the moist air of spring greeted me. The full moon gazed down on me, and the lights of campus reflected on the darkened lake. Stars peeked out overhead. Magnolia blossoms and daffodils graced my journey homeward. The still bare, but budded, branches of trees reached up towards the jet-black sky, making merry friends with moonbeams.
Questions for Bailey about her experiences abroad at University College Dublin in Ireland during Winter 2022? Contact her at email@example.com.