By Alice Wang, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, winner of the 2017 Stories from Abroad Scholarship and a member of the BC Study Abroad Writer in Residence Team
I have reflected long and hard about what sort of advice/suggestions/recommendations I could give to someone going to study-abroad whom I have never met and never will. So far, I have deftly averted that task tacitly imposed onto me as a Writer-in-Residence by focusing on anecdotal stories from my personal experience that I would not dare extrapolate as “life-lessons” to impart on anyone. A whole constellation of events would have to fall into place for me to insist that my idiosyncratic history should bear any weight on how you should create yours. In short, I have never felt qualified to give advice.
Recently out of boredom I picked up one of my two travel notebooks that I took with me during my trip to Europe. As I leafed through it, a whole series of events washed over me with lucid clarity. I was reminded of the complex emotional nexus that marked my arrival in Paris. That unique mixture of excitement, anxiety, and relief when my phone failed to restart and I had to rely on my friends to navigate the transit system from the airport to the hotel. I went on for pages describing the precise chronology of events: purchasing the train tickets, transferring between platforms, emerging like gophers from underground. Each step felt like a small victory as we moved incrementally closer to the metropolitan. The very medium of the written ink also became indexical of the circumstances in which I wrote. The bumpy train-ride to Germany was registered in the sudden, chaotic increase in the amplitude of the letters; the serenity of the Tuileries Garden channelled one of the smoothest calligraphies. Going back to the notebook, one discovers a special kind of archive. One that is different from the public imprint left on social media. The private, personal space of the notebook elicits greater honesty and self-consciousness. There, both positive remarks and moments of insecurity will find a listening ear. Thoughts that do not belong on social media must absolutely be caught and accrued in personal records because who we are in the darkest hour of the night is as true as who we are in the light of day.
Where ever you go, make sure to have a way of marking down your momentary sensations, however fleeting, mundane, or unsensational they may seem. The more profound, complex mixture of who you truly are is much bettered symptomatized by the writing you do for yourself than the captions you write for others. You do not have to be a writer to capitalize on the medium’s indexical capacity to archive the becoming of your journey. Writing is you; only you can write what you write. So as you embark on your study-abroad experience, I have only one advice for you: write more.