Personal Reflection is Key During Study Abroad

Written for & published by (Jan 2013) Wellness Wednesday column

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By Melissa Doman, M.A.

Happy New Year globetrotters!

I know you’re having so much fun studying abroad that you’re bursting at the seams, and it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. So, I wanted to take a moment to remind you of a very important tip. Don’t forget to write it all down! We often learn the most about ourselves during times of change and struggle. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

Self-reflection while you’re overseas is key for personal growth my friends. You know that saying about stopping to smell the roses? Well, you literally need to do that. Take moments regularly to stop and think about what you’re experiencing and how you feel.

The way I recommend to do this is by journaling.

Not only is putting pen to paper a good way to record what you’re seeing around you, but it’s also very cathartic. Counseling clients I’ve worked with have usually reported that by regularly journaling and taking time to actively reflect on changes they were experiencing, they felt more relaxed, a sense of resolve, and clarity on the current phase of life they were in. As a professional counselor, I’ve always recommended journaling and active self-reflection to clients to use during major life transitions. To stop and truly pay attention to what you’re thinking about, what you see, and how your perspective can change in a mere moment can change the very trajectory of what you do in your life.

Prettttttttttty amazing if you ask me.

By starting the habit of journaling when you’re overseas, you may find it to be a great tool to use when you’re back at home as well. Whether you’ve been journaling your whole life as a budding writer, or you’ve never done it before, the good news is that you can start anytime! Buy a journal that you’ll not only enjoy writing in, but find one you’ll want to keep forever and open up to read again in 40 years. Depending on the stories you write down – you’ll either keep it to yourself or share it with your future children and grandchildren.

Journaling is such an incredible tool to not only to record moments of your life that will never occur the same way twice ever again, but it’s also a great way to workout any internal conflicts you may be going through. Echoed by other mental health professionals at, here are 5 reasons why journaling can benefit you:

1.     Clarifies your emotions and thoughts

2.     Help to get to know yourself better

3.     Stress reducer

4.     Help you strategize to solve problems more effectively

5.     Resolve disagreements with people in your life

I decided to start journaling when I first studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia in 2006. By the time my semester abroad was over, I had written hundreds of pages. After that experience, I promised myself I'd always bring a journal with me whenever I traveled. In 2007, I was traveling in Spain, Italy, and France with my family. When I was in Florence, my father bought me a leather-covered journal with a beautiful fleur de lis symbol on the front cover. In it were gold tipped pages to fill with chapters of adventures to come. To this day, I carry that journal with me whenever I’m off to a new country, so I can fill its pages with new stories of my thoughts, what I’ve seen, and images I don’t want to forget.

Some of the most enhanced moments of my life were when I was journaling while laying on a beach on Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras, relaxing by a fire place in my hostel in New Zealand after climbing the Franz Josef Glacier, and sitting in a bus traveling around Israel.  These travel moments were integral in my personal development and I’m so happy I took the time to write them all down.

Just like in the movie Can’t Hardly Wait – these are memories frozen in time people!

I leave you with the famous words of Oscar Wilde who can sum this all up best, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

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