Study abroad reflections – Why you should keep a journal abroad

By Lynn Hausman, API Seville Peer Mentor

Lynn is a student at Marist College and studied with API in the Spanish Language, Business, and Applied/Social Sciences program at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, Spain.

My study abroad journal

My first one was bright, blushing pink-colored and much too glittery even for a 6 year old girl. It had an image of Cinderella singing her heart out on the front and a small bronzed lock on the side. My first diary ever sits in my bottom dresser drawer to this day, just waiting to be reread. The outside of it may not be the best reflection of my personality now, but the words inside are hilariously honest and true to my childhood persona. At my disposal is the opportunity to read what my 6 year old mind thought, the ideas it created and the secrets it kept. Needless to say, it is an irreplaceable resident of my bottom drawer.

A diary really seems like something we just have as children; somewhere to spill the secrets we want to keep from everyone and to write down our dreams and ambitions that we are too shy to share. And while most of us insist on replacing our diaries with the “more mature” option, journals, as we grow older (same idea, just without the princess or Power Ranger on the front), we must not forget that the beauty of writing down your inner thoughts, experiences, and secrets is not a concept to be left behind as we age.

Unfortunately, instead of replacing diaries with journals, some individuals stop writing altogether. Even though my love for writing is still a guiding aspect of my life, the closest to a journal I had in the years before studying abroad was a notepad of to-do lists. Heeding the advice of numerous study abroad catalogs and articles, I decided to revive the greatness of keeping a journal to document my experiences abroad.

Two days into my trip and I was two for two. I wrote on the plane ride there (with a hand shaking with nervous excitement) and as soon as I arrived in Madrid. The following evening, I raved about all the newness, the warmth and the sights that I found myself in the midst of. I was determined to remember everything. But then, as the week wore on, I only wrote here and there, when I “got around to it,” and soon, my journal spent more time gathering dust in my desk rather than being tickled by my pen.

If there was one thing I wish I did more while I studied abroad, it would be writing. Whether you study abroad for two weeks, a semester, or a year, your experiences will probably be more than your brain can handle. A song or a smell can trigger a memory, and it can be the most wonderful feeling. But sometimes, when I’m missing Spain, I want the power to find memories on command, and there’s nothing better than being able to just open my journal to discover them.

I am well aware that not everyone loves to write. Not everyone even likes to write. Some people hate it and that’s fine. But you don’t have to be a self-proclaimed writer to be able to write down a funny quote your friend said over dinner or to scribble the name of an amazing restaurant in Prague you don’t want to forget (for when you go back one day!). On top of all the advice and suggestions already being thrown your way before studying abroad, people will tell you to take a journal with you and write, write, write! In your state of extreme excitement mixed with finicky nerves, you may let this one piece of advice slip your mind. Or you may remember, but quickly forget about it, leaving it lonely and blank in the bottom of your suitcase. Everyone’s priorities are different. Just trust me when I say that the two seconds it takes to write down a word or a phrase, or to draw a silly sketch, will be worth you being able to relive a memory whenever you please.

Okay, maybe you’re a guy, never had a diary or journal and regardless of what anyone says, you never plan on having one. I accept that (but it’s not an excuse). Write in your school planner. Write on sticky notes. Write on a napkin (haven’t you heard any of those stories about famous people coming up with genius ideas on the back of a cocktail napkin?). If something funny, sad, poignant, or memorable happens, WRITE IT DOWN!

On my seven hour flight home from Spain, I found myself to have come full-circle. Again, I sat with my journal in my lap, but this time my hand shook from the reverse culture shock I could feel coming over me. I literally wrote down everything I could possibly remember from my trip; I wrote down everything I didn’t take the time to record while I was actually there. I have quotes, inside jokes, recipes, restaurants, and bars written down in my journal that all truly mean something to me. Some entries are scribbled and rushed, others are clearly written with careful neatness, and some others even have small drawings next to it (I suffered from a mild Haribo candy obsession while I was in Spain). My journal will always allow me to travel back abroad whenever I want (that is, until I finish devising my plan of when I can actually go back). When you’re abroad, you will have unforgettable experiences. However, in years to come, you may encounter the frustrating experience of drawing a blank when reaching for a certain memory. Write down whatever you can, whenever you can, to fill in the blanks before it’s too late.

…in case you’re interested, here are a few random excerpts from my journal:

August 30th

“approx.. 2pm: officially in España! so so tired, no sleep at all on the plane, gagging baby about 2 rows behind us. first meal= baguette w/ bacon + cheese, it was cold and kinda hard- I’m not a huge fan… BUT still despite the drooping eyelids and slight feelings of overwhelmedness (?) I am so excited!! on our way to hotel regina-woo!”


“BAGEL BAKERY* astronomical clocks- first time trying duck! w/ orange slices, and goulash + potato pancakes! Thai massage= so rough… pulled my head up to the sky, wanted to laugh, walked on my legs… put my body in really awkward position that hurt at first but felt good after, yummy cup of tea for the end-“


“Toledo is waiting, for us!”

“It was an entwisting weekend”

“I don’t think French people wear deodorant… I kinda like it!”

Dec. 19th 2009- 12pm

“I miss Sevilla already ☹ ☹ ☹”

^^See what I mean? Nothing special! It all may not mean much to an outsider, but to me, these words will always evoke the tastes, smells, sounds, sights and feelings that bring me back to my second home.

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  1. Jeramy Johnson says

    Thanks Lynn – great advice!

    If you are an API alum who kept a journal or blog while studying abroad, please feel free to post some of your favorite memories or posts here in the comments section – we may even do a feature post on them!

  2. I kept a journal & blog while abroad! I love being able to look back now at my journals because though I remember the general experiences abroad, it’s the details I read about in my journal that spark a whole new set of memories I had forgotten about over time! (=

  3. Also…if you’d like to start a journal abroad but have a bit of writers block, here are a few prompts to get you started! (=


  1. […] wrote her laments about not keeping a better journal during her time in Seville, Spain. In “Study abroad reflections – why you should keep a journal abroad,” posted on the API Blog March 1, 2011, Hausman wrote of her earnest intentions to record […]

  2. […] Decide how best to keep some type of journal.  Write down thoughts, phrases, emotions, facts, and names throughout each day in a notebook or on a mobile device.  Take photos or videos that will remind you about the moment and help the writing.  (But don’t let photos and videos take over your experience. Put the camera down and look around with your eyes, not through the camera lens).  Sketch what you see and feel. Find a quiet moment during the day or before you go to bed to write and reflect.  You really need to set time aside and be diligent. Sometimes it will be difficult, but keep it up. Even if you skip a few days, get back at it. You won’t regret it.  Need another perspective? Check out Study Abroad Reflections—Why you should keep a journal abroad. […]

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