Your personalized travelogue can be published without a need for a printing press and your followers can be updated without you ever sending a letter.
So you decided to study abroad.
Your bags are packed, your goodbyes are made — maybe you’re already weeks into orientation — and like many students who have stepped over the international threshold, you have probably resolved to keep some record of the experience. Your aspirations are high — you’ll keep everyone updated every step of the way.
And what does that mean in this day and age? Simple. You’ll start a blog.
There are lots of ways to blog and lots of audiences to blog for: your future self, your worried parents, your friends at home, the purveyors of a grant, even random strangers in the mood for a bit of armchair travel.
Ideally, the tools of the web will help enrich your experience abroad, affording you an immediacy and convenience that was not available to students even 10 years ago. Your personalized travelogue can be published without a need for a printing press and your followers can be updated without you ever sending a letter.
These regular updates can help you communicate with loved ones, process your experiences — even build a resume.
Here are a few guidelines to help you make the most out of your brief stint as a travel writer:
Keep it clean, and have a journal on the side.
You will come up against frustrating situations during your time away, and it’s healthy to parse them out in writing. Just maybe not on the web.
“While it is acceptable to vent about a frustrating situation or person in a private journal, the same does not hold true for a blog,” said Nick Gozik, director of the office of international programs at Boston College. “Without much effort a student could damage someone else’s reputation, and quite likely damage his or her own in the process.”
Write often and record things as they happen.
A little discipline makes a big difference when there is so much going on. Your blog can be a big asset, allowing you to record experiences in real time and stock them up for later reflection.
“You want to try and avoid long patches without posts,” said Anirudh Saraswathula, a junior at Duke University. “This gets hard sometimes, but it’s critical to keep the blog going.”
Cara Rousseau, social media manager at Duke, suggests aiming for two blog posts a week at minimum, and keeping them at 3-4 paragraphs. Interspersing your writing with photos or video can be a good way to keep a reader’s attention and ease up the burden of writing about everything.
“Make sure to insert lots of images, and video is a gold star,” she said.
Filter your content, and consider your audience.
Think about whom you’re writing for, and tailor your blog accordingly. This is an opportunity to share your insights, but you want to make sure the people reading your blog can keep up, and that you can keep their attention. Avoid using local terms without explanation.
“A blog post is not like a calendar or a schedule,” said Jeanette Cheng, a junior at Duke. “It’s more like a review or critique on the events that happened. When others read it, they should leave with some food for thought.”
A little extra effort will not only benefit your readers. Editing can be an opportunity to process your experiences and gain context on what you have seen.
“My teachers in high school used to tell me that the best way to understand something was to try to get someone else to understand it,” said Connor Cotton, a junior at Duke. “I hoped that through trying to explain what I was doing and what was happening to me to other people, I would somehow be able to understand it better myself.”
Always remember to spell check — and fact check as much as you can.
“In the world of texting and e-mailing it has become common for writers to forget all rules, feeling that they may be antiquated,” said Gozik. “However, a poorly proofread blog reflects badly on the student.”
Give some consideration to your future boss.
The previous guideline is particularly important when you realize future employers could look to a blog for clues on your personality and experience. A blog is a chance to show that you can write well and produce content on a regular basis.
“Blogging is becoming an extremely popular way to set yourself apart from the rest of the pool in situations like job interviews and admissions applications,” said Nathan Nault, author of the Study Abroad Blog. “People are able to get a picture of who you are, where you’ve been, and what you learned from your experience before you even step into the office.”
Rousseau encourages students to think “about that blog as an online portfolio, where they will point those future employers to,” she said. “I have a number of students who have used their blog to actually secure job and internship opportunities.”
Remember, you could be the blog’s greatest beneficiary.
“Your readers are there because they are interested in you as a person and what you are doing. So just be yourself,” said Cotton.
Your time abroad will be filled with thoughts and events you want to remember, so aim for a modernized version of an avid diary-keeper in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest:
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
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