Writing to Make Sense of the World
I never thought of myself as a writer until I lived abroad. I majored in the Social Sciences in college, so was therefore forced to write many essays. I even started keeping a daily journal in college, but this was done as a way of remembering my school days, and through wanting to limit my over-analysis of everything from pissing off my friends.
It was only after graduation, when I took on the challenge of teaching English for one year in the small town of Znojmo, Czech Republic, that I realized that writing is not just something that I can do or have to do, but it is something that I need to do to make sense of the world around me. Traveling inspired me to write, and writing became an important way for me to process the new experiences of my travels.
For the first time out of academia and miles away from any familiar face, or even a native English speaker, writing became my self-prescribed cure to feelings of confusion, culture shock and loneliness. My decision to keep a daily journal became a reminder to take this 10-month stretch way outside my comfort zone one day at a time. Each night I would take the time to unplug without wi-fi in my room and recap the surprising adventures and pitfalls of each day. This became especially valuable when I realized that for the first time, I was living without roommates or family, with whom I usually could count on to be a soundboard for my daily debriefings of all that happened in my life. Now, I am grateful to have this in-depth collection of my thoughts, as a reminder of the deeper revelations of living abroad, beyond the snapshots I posted on social media.
Writing is not just something that I can do or have to do, but it is something that I need to do to make sense of the world around me.
Like many travelers, I also decided before leaving for Znojmo that I would keep a blog about my experience. I had never kept a blog before, and even admitted from the start that I had no idea how frequently I would post or if the blog would slowly fizzle out. Once I arrived in the Czech Republic, my blog, Zivot v Znojmo (“Life in Znojmo”), became the perfect solution to my large and often lonely time spent outside of teaching, when I longed for the analytical Liberal Arts environment of university life.
Surprisingly, writing for my blog became a welcome way of structuring my free time, by giving myself deadlines to publish a new post. Beyond my journal to track my daily activities, my blog also became a way to draw connections when looking at my experience through a wider lens. Two years later, I still enjoy travel writing on my blog and here on Pink Pangea, because of the opportunity to zoom out on my daily life and look for the themes that exist as I travel on.
As well as writing for myself and for my friends and family, writing for the organization Reach the World has been a great way to look at a travel experiences from a new angle, and to hone my writing skills. With this organization, travelers post structured weekly updates that are read by a classroom of American students over several months. As a Reach the World travel writer, I was forced to structure my writing around different topics and themes, and also to write them in a way that was engaging for young readers, who may have never left their home city.
While one week I found it easy to write about the food in my school’s cafeteria, another prompt drove me to think more seriously about managing my budget and how to explain this to young students. The most rewarding part was that I knew my writing was directly impacting and inspiring a new generation of travelers to start and share their future journeys.
I learned the importance of writing once I arrived in Znojmo, but when reflecting on my entire travel journey, it was writing that was the gateway to my experience in the first place. Nowadays, so many opportunities for jobs, studying or teaching programs abroad start with an application or a personal statement. I remember the dozens of drafts I wrote all summer before submitting my application to teach abroad.
As a teacher, and now while working in the field of international education, I am constantly reminded of why writing is such an important skill, whether reflecting on where you are or expressing where you want to be in the future. Writing continues to be a way for me to stop and think critically about my life and the world around me.
Writer’s Life: Writing to Make Sense of the World