Audrey Hanson’s family and friends in the United States didn’t have to wait for her to return from Ghana to learn about her challenging, yet exhilarating six-hour trek straight uphill to Wli Falls, the highest waterfall in West Africa.
While studying abroad during the spring of 2013, Hanson kept a blog, Going to Ghana, which allowed her to share her experience with people around the world just days or even hours after her adventure.
“I tried to blog every weekend or every time I went on a trip to explore the country,” says Hanson, a senior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison majoring in international studies and pursuing certificates in global health and African studies. “I also knew that this was one of the main ways to share my experiences, so knowing that people were reading it kept me motivated.”
Many UW–Madison students who study abroad discover that keeping a blog not only can keep loved ones informed of their daily lives in another country, but also serve as a diary to reflect upon when they return to the United States.
However, maintaining a personal blog when living and studying abroad comes with certain challenges.
UW–Madison junior Paul Davidson, an economics and environmental studies major, is currently studying in Brazil and blogs about his experiences as one of the International Academic Programs (IAP) study abroad correspondents. He is obligated to post at least once every two weeks on IAP’s website.
“I like that it makes me reflect and write about my experiences,” Davidson says. “I have also never done a blog, so it is good for me to try out this type of writing.”
Davidson says the one aspect of blogging that he dislikes is that he often feels that he can’t share his full experience on the blogging platform he uses.
“Some things may seem inappropriate to share because it is a blog for UW, but they have been significant and fun experiences,” he says, pointing to “Carnaval block parties and some experiences going out.” He adds, “Other than that, I enjoy writing [a blog].”
Senior Karen Hill blogged while on the spring 2013 study abroad program in Brisbane, Australia.
While Hill liked keeping a blog, she struggled a bit to find the motivation to post regularly, especially after she got settled into life abroad “and everything seemed more normal.”
“I did it mostly for my family since I am the only one in our rather large extended family who has studied abroad or been to Australia,” says Hill, who is majoring in music performance and conservation biology major and pursuing an environmental studies certificate. “They were what motivated me, as well as some emails from my mother reminding me that Grandma wanted to know what I had been up to.”
Jessica Seline, a senior majoring in Spanish and anthropology and pursuing a global health certificate, blogged while studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the 2012-13 academic year.
Seline posted frequently during her first semester abroad, but maintaining her motivation to post regularly during the second semester became a challenge.
“I got kind of tired of keeping it, mainly just for the time commitment of writing a post,” she says.
Seline was able to revive her motivation to post on her blog during the final stretch of her time abroad because she was an IAP study abroad correspondent.
“I slacked off a little toward the end, but it generally helped me consistently write one,” Seline says of being a study abroad correspondent. “IAP helped me set everything up and helped me with video and photos in my posts, too, which was great, because I had no previous experience.”
IAP Peer Advisor Hannah Roliff draws on her experiences of blogging while in Paris, France, to run IAP’s Digital Diary Blogging Workshop. She and other advisors address common concerns about starting and maintaining a personal blog while overseas.
Besides attending IAP’s blogging workshop, Roliff recommends that students interested in blogging “tell everybody and anybody that you are starting a blog.”
“Share it in emails to your family, post it on social media! Get as many followers as you can,” says Roliff, a senior majoring in French and social welfare. “They will be excited to be connected to your travels!”
However, she also cautions students not to get too caught up in making their blog the central part of living abroad. She says, “A blog should come secondary to your life and your adventures abroad. Also, if you don’t find a reason to have enjoyment in blogging, it will feel like a chore or an assignment.”
To keep blogging from becoming a chore, students should remember that variety is the spice of life, Roliff says. “Write a poem, tell a specific story. You can find plenty of blog prompts for study abroad on the Internet. Mixing it up will keep it more interesting.”
Hanson, Davidson, Hill and Seline also recommend doing a bit of research before starting a blog to see what kind of platforms and formats are best suited for a student’s experience and time commitment.
“I would try to find other blogs of friends and students and check them out,” Davidson says. “What do you like about theirs, what do you not like? Then contact them and ask what they have done. I know a lot of people use WordPress and Blogger and they seem to like the layouts.”
“First and foremost with your blog, definitely stay consistent about writing in it,” Seline advises. Also she suggests talking to students who have returned from studying abroad.
“I look back and wish I would’ve had more posts from second semester,” she adds. “If I go abroad again, though, I’m definitely going to make another blog.”
To read the blogs of former and current IAP Study Abroad Correspondents, visit blog.studyabroad.wisc.edu.
— by Haley Henschel