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How to make the most of your international life?

A guide to getting the most out of your international life through reflection. Here is a way to learn and absorb more from your journey as an international through journaling.

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Aina Masood

Living abroad is a breathtaking experience, and many Danes tell me that it is also courageous. I happily accept that as a compliment as I realise how strong and courageous all internationals are to leave their homes, comfort zones, and a lifetime of familiarity to jump into the choppy waters of this new life. I believe navigating through these tempestuous waves to be the ultimate challenge of being an international.

How can you make the most of it?

A simple answer to that question is through journaling. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” And that is precisely why journaling is so essential.

Moving to a new place consists of heaps of new moments, some sweet and some bitter. There are ups and downs and a lavish amount of ‘firsts’, and as you juggle, some of them are bound to slip from memory. However, living abroad can also be discouraging at times, and those are the times your journal can come to the rescue. So often, it is easy to forget where you started your journey or where you are headed; a journal can serve as a friend who reminds and reassures. Moreover, reflective journaling has been linked with boosted cognition, improved memory, and learning. Writing something down makes it more likely to remember things and helps you process your feelings, thoughts, and behaviour patterns. It also helps in self-expression and discovering your voice to narrate your own story.

As moving abroad can be heavy on the pocket, it is gratifying to have means of self-care that do not cost you a ton. Journaling is one of the cheapest ways of taking care of your mental and emotional health. First, it is you showing up for yourself and listening through writing. Second, it is cathartic and helps in managing stress as it has the power to shift your perspective, promote action, prioritise, and make informed choices. Last but not least, it brings your attention and awareness to things that otherwise go unnoticed, like small moments of joy or the feeling of relaxation as you put the weight of the world from your shoulders to the paper and as Anne Frank said, “Paper has more patience than people”, it allows you to share your burdens.

"Paper has more patience than people." - Anne Frank

Journaling also gives you a chance to be creative. Although I love writing by hand in my journal, the options are as vast as your imagination. Research suggests that writing down with a pen and paper is very beneficial, but it is not limited. If you do not want to keep a diary/journal, you can write on your mobile phone, iPad, or laptop. You do not have to keep a paper journal if you are not keen on it. For people who are more visual, a picture log can be a great idea. Any form of journaling can work if it helps you record your experiences, reflect, process your emotions, and do something regularly.

It is essential to start small and keep your expectations realistic. If it is hard for you to write, schedule it in your day and set the mood. Sit in a park or a café, or if you are home, light candles or put on soothing music. There are no instruction manuals for journaling; it is all about finding what works for you. Make it personal. Make it yours.

Lastly, ask yourself, what do you hope to get out of journaling? What does it mean for you? Then, analyse how it is working and if it is not, what are the blocks and how can they be resolved. Being mindful while embarking on a journaling journey is essential.

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