Spring, with all its sumptuous blossoming, makes me think of the ways that each of us is an artist, whether in the conventional sense or in the dynamic ways we live our lives.
Lately at Small Planet Studio, Cate and others have been sharing how creativity has enhanced their diverse experiences abroad. Today we’ll explore some creative ways you can enhance and remember your own intercultural experiences.
Here are some easy, fun ways to record your journeys:
- Written journals
- Visual journals
- Photo books or albums
- Video blogs or Vlogs
All of these tools can be used for different purposes. Choose what seems enjoyable to you, and let the creative process become part of your memories of a place. Sometimes these tools are very personal reminders of the important points of your journey and the ways you have grown as a result of it. And sometimes you know from the outset that what you are doing is creating a way to share your journey with others.
Personally, my own favorite ways of remembering my travels have been creating written or visual journals, and writing poetry.
I’ve found my journals to be particularly helpful when I am struggling with something about my time abroad. If I am wrestling with culture shock, feeling overwhelmed by homesickness, or wondering what on earth I am doing with my life, journals give me a place to rest. After journaling, I usually have increased awareness, a plan for action, or a greater sense of peace.
Writing poetry has most often been about honoring those I encounter on my travels. As a student in Spain, I created a poetry project that explored the perspectives of three generations of Spanish women—those who had been born before, during, and after the Franco era.
In Costa Rica, I worked in child welfare and witnessed countless examples of people who suffered through trauma and bravely moved beyond it. I believe that each of us has an amazing inner light that is sometimes hidden but never extinguished, and I write poetry about my time abroad to spread that light.
Here is some of what you will gain by creatively recording your journeys:
When you’re in the middle of an experience, it’s sometimes hard to understand it, especially if it’s an experience that challenges you. Getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head and into a medium that you can re-read, look at, or listen to can help you see what an experience has to teach you. Often your awareness of yourself and others changes over time, so having something physical that you can explore is a useful tool.
Your ability to appreciate an experience can be obscured by so many things. Having a physical reminder you can turn to during and after a journey can help you remember what makes you laugh, who helps you along the way, and how lucky you are to be having experiences that move you beyond your life before your travels.
The Opportunity to Witness
On every journey, you are bound to encounter people who shape your life, in small and large ways. Recording your memories of those people give you the chance to share what you’ve learned. Particularly if you are volunteering, working with communities in need, or passing through a volatile region, making some of your impressions easily accessible could inspire others to travel to that region or to support the work that is being done there.
Memories and Meaning
Of course, you know right now that you will remember every important detail of this journey. But your mind might be more easily distracted than you think. Having a concrete reminder of what happens during your travels means that your memories will be more easily accessible.
When you return from a journey, you never really know what role that journey is going to play in the rest of your life. Having an easy way to access your memories lets you keep finding new meaning in them.
Here, in the form of a poem, are my memories of, and hopes for, some of the young girls I worked with in rural Costa Rica:
Fernanda offers the quiet gifts of her smile and
the tiny yellow flowers floating in her hands.
Cintia is silly. She hoots at my dog and calls him Mu-la-Mu,
then falls laughing off her chair.
Ana, with her battle-ready eyes
and her determination,
gracefully carries cinnamon rolls in a pot on her head.
They splash in cool streams
where no tigers lurk, these girls.
They know how to throw a machete
on the ground without cutting anything.
Jazmin lives with her soft voice,
her drawings like fireworks,
and her uncles who never come home sober.
Karla wants to play dominos every day,
and scares me when she asks if my husband
allows me to have visitors in my home.
Marilis has a mother who tells her
there is no such thing as friendship.
She does a little dance as she puts her hand in mine.
These girls are twirling now, with their arms stretched out
and their eyes closed in the sun.
I want them to remember what they know in this moment.
They are brilliant, beautiful, brimming.
I want none of that lost in the sheer wash of years.
I wish for them to believe in every possibility they possess;
to be fierce, to be stubborn, to be brave.
I want them to leap always like they do today.
I want them always able
to wake at first light and sing.
Tell us: What creative tools have enabled your own travels to live on?