Journaling the Study Abroad Experience

I came to Santiago with a fresh blank-page journal, 150 sheets that would soon be filled with anticipations, prayers, frustrations, Chilenismos, and the rare instances I actually attempt to plot out my travel itineraries. The first page included just a couple of questions, which a mentor encouraged me to compile prior to my months abroad. He encouraged me to really think about what I wanted to get out of this experience, and that seeking those answers would result in a more fulfilling and purposeful semester. In one of those final nights cuddled up in my own bed (which I miss so very much), I put the pen to paper and somehow struggled to come up with questions. The spontaneous side of me wanted to waltz in blindly to this adventure. I thought that the best questions that could be answered were those that I didn’t even know I had. Three months later, here I am with a full journal of the many lessons and reflections that this experience has offered me, and even more questions to the questions I didn’t know I had.

For those who have traveled, you were likely encouraged to write about your experience. Although I have had plenty of phone calls, messages, and blogs to keep my family and friends in the loop, nothing compares to the pages that were written in solitude. They are filled with the lessons and experiences that are my very own, and that I can choose to share or not to share with whomever I want. From the outside, the study abroad experience looks like a pretty package wrapped in a bow, but if you were to open up to that journal, you would see a lot more than the highlight reel that appears on my Instagram. You would read the hard parts, mostly the loneliness and solitude that comes from 4-months of feeling like a foreigner. However, you’d also read the fruit of those difficult emotions and experiences, which have given me a sound understanding of my personal identity and values. I do love being able to publicly share the wonderful things I’ve done and seen, but if you really want to hear about my experience, ask me about some of the words that line those pages.

I once read a quote that said, “If you travel far enough, you’ll meet yourself.” I validate that not because the mileage between home and your destination changes who you are. Rather, it gives you the space to process without all the clutter and comforts of home. When you’re with yourself, are you content with the life you’re living and the person you are? These were some of the hard questions I asked myself when I was alone on a Friday night, or wrestling with that inescapable feeling of emptiness or un-fulfillment even after exploring yet another new place. Don’t feel like you have to study abroad or travel the world to meet yourself, but I will tell you that it sure does help. However, what helps is the solitude that exists beyond your comfort zone. Go to that place, bring a journal, and meet yourself!

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