Blogging Abroad Changed Me.

This is my story. Let’s start at the beginning.


I began blogging at sixteen. I’d come home from a monotonous day at school, get onto Blogger, and pour out my thoughts. Starting with a relatively shallow thought often led to a magician’s knotted ribbon rope of idea after idea, conclusion after conclusion (and even, albeit rarely, epiphany after epiphany.) I could start writing about an ordinary college visit and culminate with a glowing discourse about how the magic of falling leaves was a reminder of our extraordinary existence, a small piece of an unconscious well of big thoughts waiting to be dug up. Blogging helped excavate and organize my jumbled, teenage mind in ways that discussing or writing could not. For a period like adolescence, this tool proved invaluable.

In high school, I trusted a carefully chosen group. They included my closest friends, family members, and a couple of community members. I knew my thoughts were interesting and full of ideas. I would’ve loved for my peers to “read up” on this reserved, brainy redhead. The only issue? Come on, you know this too well: I couldn’t trust them. Recruiting just one unstable ally into my cohort could have disrupted my thankfully uneventful bullying record. My blog’s contents weren’t your daily diaries or unrequited crushes. They were far more risky: a typical post might explore the possibility of hermithood or reveal the extent to which I loathed school but loved education. Being a geek in school is already an obstacle to social stratification. Adding a naive, idealistic dreamer to that public image could have borne devastating consequences. So, although I dearly wanted to engage with my world at large, I decided to can it until it was safe to come out of my philosophical hiding spot.

I continued blogging in college, writing my way through seas of inspiration and troves of questions sparked by class material and peers. My reader base remained the same but my thoughts were developing in form and content.

By the time December 2014 rolled around, I was preparing to study abroad in London for a semester. I realized how beneficial blogging could be for this trip but felt that my hidden blog wasn’t the right setup. I began anew on a different platform and made an effort to inform my family, friends, and even Facebook friends. I solicited feedback and comments from the first post. Having pared down my Facebook friends to a list of folks I’d actually say hello to if passing by, I decided to make this blog a relatively transparent lens into my life abroad. Those who didn’t care wouldn’t keep reading, and at this point, I had no fear about readers manipulating my writing to hurt me (a very teenage issue.)

Having a place to posit my thoughts while in London was essential for growth. I experienced both an increase in respect for my feelings and greater ease in trusting others by giving them access to those feelings. For the first time, I took great joy in laying bare emotions onto a public platform. Some, like my family, knew me very well but learned some of the aspects that don’t often appear in their company such as meme humor and Millennial wit. Others, like my college friends, were also able to adjust their idea of Sophie by reading the thoughts that aren’t the best conversation topics at parties or walks across campus but are critical to my identity. I’m truly humbled that so many took me up on my offer to hear about my life indirectly and therefore indulge my persistent belief that few truly know me (then again, I’m still figuring out who I am too.) The funny thing is that I’ll usually take great interest in other people’s stories but have little patience for telling my own; I get self-conscious and trip over my thoughts, feel uncomfortably vulnerable, or both. Being perceived as narcissistic is one of my worst fears.

Living abroad and writing about it taught me some invaluable lessons. Here is a small sample:

  1. It pays to be vulnerable. Abandoning a bit of my ego did me very well. When I blogged to the blogosphere (my world) that I felt lonely, I received warmth and care. A post bursting with enthusiasm for octopi did not compel my friends to write me off; they embraced me for it. I look at vulnerability as the currency of friendship (or any relationship.) Offering a small, tender piece of information will often put your partner at ease and make them feel comfortable to share their own stories with you. Many “secrets” only have as much power to hurt you as you allow them.
  2. It’s a way to discern who truly cares about you. When I moved to London, the only ways to reach me were via email, my blog, mail, Skype, or my British phone (only used by my parents.) That meant Facebook, Snapchat, texting, calling, and all other forms of social media were out. Family members had no problem reaching me, but to my Millennial friends, I may as well have camped on Mars. No one emails to keep in touch anymore; it’s all school-related now. Hardly any of my friends blog. However, the extent to which some friends worked with my elected way of life astounded me. It really did function as a test of friendship: Some passed with flying colors, and some came up short. I know for certain that those who put in effort to stay in touch will be the ones who stick with me.
  3. It can be an element of self-care. My blog functioned as a place for me to swim around in my delight, curiosity, adventurousness, loneliness, and homesickness (to name just a few feelings) during my five months across the pond. Rereading my words proved that those emotions were real, valuable, and worth exploring. I embraced what I felt and oftentimes surrendered them to the public, willing my readers to respect this gift of trust and myself to recognize them as oftentimes universally felt and therefore shameless to admit. Just as bitter enhances sophisticated cuisine, a meditation on being alone enriched my log and therefore overall experience abroad.

A potential obstacle of a study abroad blog is your desired level of publicity. While I did feel comfortable sharing about 90% of my thoughts with my readers, there was some information that, while memorable, was better kept for fewer eyes. My solution? Creating another private blog. Other easy solutions? Writing in a journal, making a personal video, or documenting it a different way. It’s a bit disappointing to realize that both my blog and scrapbook don’t fully envelop my experience. On the bright side, it would be even more disappointing if they could. The bottom line is that this blog is a valuable resource for remembering a transformative period of my life, complete with stories, reflections, pictures, comments, and the unreplicable catalogue of emotions that appeared daily. I can’t wait to take another trip to 2015’s London years from now, only this time through my 21 year-old perspective. It’ll be a trip like no other.

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Discovering the US from the UK

They say a memorable aspect of living abroad is realizing how your own country compares to the rest of the world. And they’re right. Studying in London has given me an incredible vantage point from which to judge and analyze America. Confronting the assumptions I held in the US is especially interesting. For example, when comparing post-college plans with a new friend here (originally from Lebanon, moved to the UAE, now lives in London), I mentioned how I’d like to take a year off before grad school. His facial expression divulged a little incredulity, some amusement, a pinch of envy, and a whole lotta enthusiasm: He said something like “You Americans and your gap years!”

He went on to explain that here (meaning in UK and his culture), people go to uni for one area of study and then get a job afterwards. But Americans have liberal arts colleges that enable us to learn oenology in addition to our majors, we have colleges who worship their sports teams (at QM you have to pay to join a sports team- they’re not funded by the school), and we have a little something called Spring Break that fills many a Brit’s imagination with ideas of every American student stampeding to Florida to do the thing that probably 10% of us actually do.

I think that a lot of factors cause Americans to hang out in an adolescent state of mind much longer than the British. But to veer back to my point, travel educates you about new places and where you’re from. It’s all about reflection. And that’s why reading Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, an impeccably chosen recommendation from Mary and Hug, is unmeasurably enriching my London experience.

I’m worried about this moving into high-school-English-teacher territory so I’m keeping most of the book’s meaning inside the book and not splayed out like a massacre of literature for all to see (was that passive aggressive?)

Anyways, the book follows Steinbeck, who is on the cusp of entering a new era that seduces some into excusing themselves into old men. He rejects this call of the man-child (see what I did there?) and instead turns his eyes to the American roads on a journey through the states. He does it to reacquaint himself with his homeland after living abroad for a few years, but moreso to discover the a country whose distinctive people, ways of life, mannerisms, and landscapes create the vivid, undescribable mosaic of American culture. He embarks just as the 1960s are beginning. I’m only about halfway through, but whispers of that era don’t seem to enter into the book much.

As the title suggests, Steinbeck brings along his canine pal Charley. The way that he describes his companion is heartwrenchingly dear, especially when he dually anthropomorphizes and condescends him. Charley acts as a liaison for introducing Steinbeck to characters he meets at roadside stops. And much more.

The reason why I’m talking about this book is because it’s given me so many new angles to compare experiences across time and space. It’s a reverse culture shock teaser. I can relate and reflect on Steinbeck (1) rediscovering America, and (2) when he’s undergoing momentous change in his life, and (3) at a revolutionary time in history.

I love knowing that he’s driving by default on what are modern “back roads” but in his time were the typical routes. There’s a section where he writes of the horrors of the highway. I feel for him. There’s another poignant moment where he realizes that “when we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing”. It’s so sad because he was right: that time is now. This prediction was true in more than just the literal interpretation: we’re often so focused on getting from A to B that we bypass beauty. You can fill in your own heard-them-all-before examples here but before I finish, one last interpretation. Picture-taking.

We see artsy graffiti: click. Busker playing a spunky song in a tube station: record it. Where’s the joy in leaving something beautiful where it came from and having your memory of it be enough? Why must we nervously take and photograph things we know we won’t bother to look at let alone appreciate much after the fact at the cost of breaking the beauty of an unscripted moment? I’m all for documenting memories but can’t your own knowledge that you saw a pretty thing be enough? To this end, I’m stating why I’m leaving some of the most amazing pieces of London in London.

I guess this is leading into facebook/ insecurity/ fomo etc. territory. I guess I’ll digress.

But ok to finish, if you appreciate lyrical writing, vivid imagery, and having your heart busted out from really sad but beautiful depictions of change and a romanticized America, try out “Travels with Charley”. This book has made a real impact on me and my entire study abroad experience. Bam.

Steinbeck and Charley ❤


In other news, I recently went to London’s BOARD GAME CAFE! Went on a Wednesday afternoon/evening, and by 7 pm, the place was packed! Enjoyed a Hackney cider and some jenga all while feeling the hipsterness coming at me from all angles. We finished with some very Anglocentric Trivial Pursuit that left both the American and the Portuguese at a disadvantage. All in all, very fun. Worth a visit if you still can’t shake your love of board games (honestly why would you ever dream of such blasphemy?!)

from Draughts’ website

And finally, on the academic studying circuit, for all your synapsid, Cambrian Explosion, and zygapophyses-related queries, you know who to call!