The value of journaling both during and after your abroad experience
Whether you realize it or not, as you prepare for your service learning experience, you are setting expectations. You have pictures in your head, likely from photographs used to market the trip, about what the community you visit will look like. You have likely thought about how you will feel when you first start your volunteer project and how you will feel when you leave the community to return home at the end of the experience.
This guest post is by Elizabeth Leonard of Blue Bridge Project high school volunteer abroad program
All of this will change. And that’s part of the “learning” in service learning.
Journaling helps you really think through you expectations and compare them to the realities of your experience as you live it, every day. Even if you have never kept a journal before, even if journaling brings back bad memories of middle school homework assignments, keeping a journal will help you maximize your service learning experience.
Why keep a journal?
1. Writing builds in much-needed “alone time”
As a volunteer, your days are packed with activities, interactions with the local community and meetings with your group or supervisors. Often, you have very little alone time. Writing in a journal on a daily basis forces you to carve out small periods of time, even 15 minutes is sufficient, for you to spend some time alone to think. Sometimes you will want to jot down a hilarious misunderstanding that happened when you confused your Spanish vocabulary. Sometimes you will want to jot down a few “to-dos” for the following day. Regardless of what you write, having a few minutes to sit and think will give you some much-needed alone time to absorb the experience.
2. Your journal becomes a time capsule of your experience
As with any memory, the recollection of your service learning trip will fade with time. When you return home, you’ll feel full of memories and excited to share everything that you’ve experienced with your friends and family. But, as the routine of your life gets back into full swing, your trip will start to feel more and more distant. Your journal becomes a reference for you to remember not just the day-to-day activities, but also the excitement, frustrations and learnings from the trip.
Additionally, at the end of the trip, it is often difficult to see how you have matured throughout the experience. Yet, a glimpse at your earliest entries will show you how you progressed in a very personalized way!
3. Writing about your experience helps you think through critical issues
Even if you don’t consider yourself a Writer and you’ve never kept a journal before, the act of writing down your thoughts will naturally guide you to consider what you are experiencing in a more structured way. The exercise is especially helpful if you are guided by some prompts like “I am most surprised by…” or “I don’t understand why the community does…” Understanding the critical issues that underlie your service learning trip is crucial for you to apply the experience in the future.
Whether you are traveling for 2 weeks or 2 months, don’t forget to pack a journal. A “hardback” will withstand all the jostling in your backpack (remember those black and white speckled composition notebooks you used in first grade? Those work perfectly!) You will find that both the act of journaling and the use of your journal after the trip will be invaluable to your personal growth!
Elizabeth is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project. BBP is the first international travel program to partner with local non-profits and offer post-trip guidance to help high school students apply their summer experience to their individual goals and future endeavors. Elizabeth has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below!