7 reasons why you should keep a study abroad blog
An AFS study abroad participant joins the Polar Bear Club by ice bathing in Norway.
April 9, 2014 - Last month, we attended the Women in Travel Summit, a killer travel blogging conference known affectionately as "WITS." Hosted by the Go Girl Travel Network, this multi-day event convened hundreds of established and aspiring female travel bloggers to talk shop and share best blogging practices. It was an eye-opening weekend, and not just from a female perspective. Good bloggers are good bloggers, regardless of gender, and there were plenty in attendance at WITS.
One of the most powerful takeaways from this 48-hour inspiration fest was the fact that blogging pays, and were not just talking dollars (though turning your blog into a moneymaker is definitely doable long-term). Establishing a thoughtful online presence that depicts you and your unique experiences can be enormously beneficial, both personally and professionally.
As a past, current or future high school study abroad participant, you definitely have (or will have) some incredible experiences to share. How you choose to share them is up to you, but we seriously hope you'll consider these seven WITS-inspired reasons why blogging about your study abroad adventure will be the second-best decision you'll make (because the first-best was deciding to study abroad…obviously).
1. It's the perfect form of documentation
Study abroad is said to be an "unforgettable" experience, and in many ways it is. You never forget the big moments, like meeting your host family for the first time. But several years down the road, many of the day-to-day details start to get fuzzy. Keeping a study abroad blog that you update regularly will help you preserve memories big and small so that you'll never lose track of the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of daily life in your host country. And unlike the shorthand you scribble in your private journal, your blog posts will be written for an outside audience that requires additional back-story and contextual info. As a result, ten years from now, your blog will be a treasure trove of nearly forgotten details.
2. It gives you a reason to seek out interesting experiences
Again, as a blogger, you're writing for an outside audience, and that audience requires a steady supply of interesting content. Your readers may be curious to hear what you munched on after classes one day, but a running catalog of local snack foods won't sustain them for long. Good blog content requires even better experiences.
"But isn't high school study abroad automatically filled with incredible experiences," you ask? Of course it is, especially during the "honeymoon" phase when everything is new and exciting. But as the daily novelties wear off and you fall into a steady routine, it can be tempting to embrace your new comfort zone and never let go. Fortunately, the threat of authoring a boring blog can provide the extra push you need to keep exploring, which will help you make the most of your time abroad.
3. Establishing your blog's angle helps you narrow down your interests
The most successful travel bloggers have a clearly defined purpose. They don't just write about "Travel" generally, but instead focus on a unique angle of the globetrotter experience. For example, Kate McCulley - a keynote speaker at WITS and author of the highly successful blog Adventurous Kate - explores the benefits of solo travel. Legal Nomads author Jodi Ettinberg, on the other hand, documents good eats worldwide. The great bloggers establish a compelling angle, so why shouldn't you?
As a high school exchange student, you may be thinking that this sounds excessive, particularly if your only goal is to keep friends and family updated while you're away. But you never know what your modest study abroad blog might become (see #7 for more about the long-term potential of a study abroad blog done right). And to be honest, a daily recap can get old, both for you and your readers. So to keep things exciting, consider writing about topics like cultural differences, culinary adventures, or the local art of music scene. Then gradually narrow the focus of your blog based on what your host country has to offer and where your interests take you. Doing so will help you to both maintain a flow of interesting content and discover what you're truly passionate about. For example, if you set out to document local artists but find yourself repeatedly writing about cultural norms instead, you may want to rethink pursuing that art history degree.
4. Blogging empowers you to shape people's perceptions of a place
As a study abroad participant, you are a window to the world for your family and friends back home. They'll be looking to you – and more specifically, your blog - to tell them what life in your host community is really like. That means you have the unique privilege of shaping their understanding of a place and its people.
But with any great privilege comes responsibility. Fiona Millar, author of the blog TripTeased, gave a stellar talk at WITS on the need for bloggers to be accountable for the images they present to the their audience. Blog-based storytelling can dispel, but also reinforce, negative stereotypes about a place and its people. Even something as simple as cropping a photo can paint a very different picture for your followers. To avoid doing more harm than good, Fiona recommends reviewing your words and images carefully to be sure you're telling the right story – i.e. the one your subjects would want you to tell.
As a high school study abroad participant living with a host family, you're in a unique position understand the local culture on a deeper level. So think about what you want to convey; Do you want to tell a story that's been told 1,000 times, or will you be the one of tell something new – something real?
5. Blogging establishes you as an expert on a topic
We've already acknowledged that, as a high school study abroad participant, you're in a unique position to have a better-than-average understanding of your host country and culture. But now imagine that, instead of just telling people you know a thing or two about Indonesia, you can point them to a really awesome blog filled with insightful details and insider knowledge about the country – authored by YOU.
Documenting your learning process makes it real to other people. As a result, you become a subject matter expert in the eyes of friends, family members, educators and even potential employers.
6. Blogging helps you craft your personal brand
These days, practically everyone has an online presence. Social media has made it nearly impossible to escape the tentacles of Google search, which means that each and every one of us has a publicly visible "brand." Like it or not, posting 4,500 photos of your puppy brands you as a dog lover, and tweeting links about recycling brands you as an environmentalist. With that in mind, consider this: What does your online "brand" say about you?
Keeping a study abroad blog is a great way to inject some quality content into your public profile. It will brand you as an adventurous, independent and capable young person who has the foresight to curate their online presence wisely. You'll be more than just a GIF-loving teenager to schools and employers, and that's a big deal.
But don't worry too much about the need to develop THE perfect brand from scratch. In speaking to professional travel bloggers at WITS, branding expert Catrice Jackson stressed that you are your own best asset when it comes to creating a captivating personal brand. Authenticity is the best policy here, and staying true to your passions will serve you well – just as long as you present your true self in a mature and thoughtful manner.
7. Your Study Abroad Blog can be morphed into your own enterprise (or whatever you want!)
Despite what the term "study abroad blog" implies, your blogging days don't have to end the minute your programs does. Lots of people use their study abroad blogs as a launching pad for a long and fruitful blogging career, and some of those people even make a living at it.
A blog is a living document that can evolve just like you do. Once back home, you can shift its focus to cover "international lifestyle" topics, like language learning or hosting exchange students. You could dedicate it to reviewing international recipes or documenting future travels. Essentially, you don't have to know exactly where your blog will go when you start out. The key is just to start somewhere, and once you have 5-10 months worth of content, you'll be motivated to keep it alive.