Tips for Writing a Review of Your Time Abroad

Guest Posting By: Missy Gluckmann, Founder of MelibeeGlobal.com

Whether you have studied, volunteered, taught or been an intern abroad, the experience will have changed you and how you understand this diverse, beautiful and complex world.

It is natural to want to share your experience and provide feedback to others who are considering such a transformative journey.   Words like “life changing” and “awesome” almost immediately come to mind, ubiquitous for almost anyone who has traveled abroad to learn and participate in the world in a new way.  But these words don’t quite tell us about the depth of the international experience.  They give us a positive feeling, but aren’t particularly helpful when writing a review because they’re simply not reflective or descriptive enough to provide pertinent information to the next potential sojourner.

Here are a few tips about sharing feedback that will help others read between the lines of program materials and get a much better sense of how appropriate a program abroad is when considering personal and professional goals and dreams.

Tip 1: Reflect prior to writing

To be able to share feedback, one must take the time to practice the fine art of reflection.  Reflection involves looking back in the rear view mirror without interruption.  It is a period of time that is dedicated to putting down the smart phone or laptop and instead focusing on various memories that one experienced abroad – the little things such as what you ate for breakfast daily to the bigger things, such as when you interacted with a person from the host country and had an “a-ha” moment.  Reflection takes time; it is not a fifteen minute quiet period that you experience once. Rather, it is something that you do throughout your life.

Before writing a review, take some time to reflect.  If you wrote in a journal abroad, revisit it and take some fresh notes about how you now recall those memories, from the micro to the macro.  Look through your photos and videos too.  Talk with your friends in your home and host country about these memories and feelings.  Look for the new “a-ha” moments and jot them down.  You’ll start to connect the dots. This is when the words “awesome” and “transformational” begin to take more meaningful shape and can be expanded upon with much more depth.

Tip 2: Think Skills

Time abroad provides a new way to observe yourself and your home country, as well as the host country.  At times, it can feel like an “out of body” experience in that we realize we are seen differently than we are at home, that we have an identity that is reinforced or altered by experiencing another part of the world.

With reflection in mind, consider what you learned about yourself while you were abroad.  Does this feel like a difficult task? One method of tackling the enormous question of what you learned about yourself while you were abroad is to complete this sentence:  After being part of this international experience, I am more/less ______. Then ask yourself why that is.  Since many go abroad for academic programs too, it is important to ask yourself what you learned about your “academic” self also.  Try completing this statement:  After being part of this international experience, I am more aware of ________.  Once again, ask yourself why that is.

For example, “I am more aware of conversing at a low intermediate level of Arabic because I attended two hours of immersion Arabic five days a week with a very dedicated and supportive teacher. She took us out into the city via public transportation each week, forcing us to use our emerging language skills in a practical way. This accelerated my use of the language and inspired me to continue studying upon my return home.”

These kinds of insights are often a direct result of how the program you attended was structured.  This information can be invaluable to those who are reading your review and making those important decisions about where to apply – and it is much more descriptive than “My Arabic teacher was awesome.”

Tip 3: Avoid clichés

As alluded to in tip number two, we tend to overuse the following types of words and statements when describing how we feel about time abroad:

–        Awesome

–        Life changing

–        Amazing

–        Fun

–        It was great

While these types of words provide us with a warm and fuzzy feeling, they don’t provide enough detail about those particular nuances of the culture, program design, administration and so much more that people reading reviews seek.  By practicing the art of reflection and utilizing your vast vocabulary, you can turn a routine review into a more thoughtful, informative piece of writing.

For example:
“London was awesome! I learned so much about myself! I would do it again in a minute.”

vs.

“London’s architecture made me feel like I was walking through a film set every day. It inspired me to explore more books and documentaries about the Victorian period, which I learned about in my Victorian Literature 131 class.  We explored the various streets and buildings of London as part of our assignments, making the required reading come to life. This type of learning was much more experiential and it made me realize how much more I learn through this approach.”

Tip 4: Share Stories 

Reviews can be much more meaningful when they are shared through relatable storytelling.  While you don’t have the space to write a novella in a review, sharing a slice of those “a-ha moments” that you’ve reflected upon can be very useful in a review.  For example, when talking about social and cultural integration on your program abroad, you might share a vignette such as this, which offers a picture of an experience abroad:

“This program arranged for more than just the routine tourist outings.  For example, the coordinators took us to a small village outside of Otavalo, where we stayed with an indigenous family for two nights. We slept in simple cement block structures that were clean, and despite being basic, comfortable. We chopped vegetables for a  soup dish that is eaten at almuerzo (lunch) and learned to make bread with our host mother.  During the day we worked in the garden, fed the pigs and practiced our Spanish with the local workers. This type of social and cultural experience was included in the program fee. Other Americans  we met in Ecuador didn’t have this unique experience like our program.”

Tip 5: Be honest but constructive

While time abroad is typically extremely positive, there may be aspects of your experience that you were less than happy about.  When writing a review, it is important to take the emotion out of the experience and get to the facts.  It is also critical that you share recommendations or provide “work arounds” for others who may experience a similar situation.  Honesty is important, but so is fairness.  Share what you need to in a constructive way so that others can benefit from your feedback.  Diplomacy is key; your words will remain on the internet longer than you will be on this planet, so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully.

With these tips in mind, I am confident that you will craft a reflective piece of writing that others will rely on when making decisions about how to narrow down program provider options.   Your words can be the “game changer” for someone who is making those nearly impossible decisions about where to go. Thanks for “paying it forward” for the next generation of those going abroad!

 
About the Author:  Missy Gluckmann is the Founder of Melibee Global, which aims to elevate the discussion about education abroad, culture, diversity and the lifelong path to global citizenship by offering trailblazing toolsspeakers and professional development for the global education and travel communities.  Raised in New York, Missy has lived abroad three times and traveled to dozens of countries. Missy currently resides in North Carolina and experiences culture shock there on a daily basis! She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.