Documenting Your Adventure: Writing About Living Abroad
The beginning of your new life in a strange and foreign land can be thrilling, life-affirming, or sometimes downright terrifying. Even if you’ve moved to a country you have a long history with, making the permanent move can be very different from the occasional holiday. One of the best ways to acclimatise to your new surroundings is to write. Describing your experience is great for processing emotions as well as sharpening your observation and creative skills.
Start with the bare necessities. We all send letters and postcards from time to time, and when living abroad it becomes more important than ever. Rather than texting, take the time to sit down and write a proper letter – or start with a shorter postcard. Not only will your friends and family appreciate the personal touch (reading your handwriting is always better than reading impersonal letters on a screen), but it will sharpen your writing skills. Thinking before you write, editing, and describing are all things which will enrich your experience.
Start a Blog
Blogs are everywhere on the internet, and a large majority of these are written by expats. If you’re looking for inspiration, there is an expat blog for nearly every country you can think of. Websites like WordPress allow you to create a blog for free and have tutorials on getting started. The more you write, the more chance you’ll have of your words being read by other online readers. This can lead to building friendships and online communities, many of whom will be going through the same process you are.
There is a wealth of magazines and publications – both online and in print – that focus on the expat experience. Even regular travel publications are sometimes interested in the ‘Englishman abroad’ type article. Global Living Magazine is a good example of how you can sharpen your writing skills enough to have your experiences published for a wider audience to learn from. Feedback from professionals will also improve your writing; when you get published it acts as a calling card for your next article pitch.
Keep a diary
Diaries can take on a variety of forms. You can do anything from the classic ‘Dear Diary’, to simply writing the date, to just writing straight onto a blank page. Diaries are a private part of your writing experience and don’t necessarily need to be shared. This writing exercise is more for you to digest your experiences, put some thoughts into words and generally put your burdens onto the page instead of carrying them around with you. Alternatively, if you feel up to sharing your thoughts, an edited diary makes a great first-hand account of living abroad.
Take your notebook everywhere
You never know what will inspire you to write. Even if you need help getting inspired, a cheap travel-sized ring binder can work as a scrapbook for postcards, pictures, bus tickets and a napkin from that little restaurant you found the other day. All these little scraps can lead to a piece of writing. If you find a few minutes for a coffee in a local bar, or while you’re waiting for a train, take a moment to scribble down a couple of sentences about it. Remember, practice makes perfect.
Travel writing relies on the writer’s emotional journey, but it also requires some facts about the country you live in. If for example, you want to write about a local festival you attended, read up on the history of it, and include little details like some of the particular ingredients used in the food. Travel writers accumulate a library of guidebooks, leaflets and even pictures of information boards that they came across whilst visiting historical buildings or particular cities and towns. These bits of information will inform your readers but also develop your knowledge of your new country.
Writing has been used by countless expats to ease their transition into a new country and culture, as well as to develop their linguistic skills. Whether you write with the intention of getting your words published, or to simply make sense of your own experience, writing can be calming, stimulating and, above all, enjoyable.