So you find yourself in some exotic country as a Lean Volunteer. You’re toiling away on the hours you’ve promised your enterprise, and when you’re not toiling, you’re doing a lot of tourist-ing, checking out the local culture and environment. Very very busy! But you will have down time, time to reflect on your experience and what you are learning about yourself, and how you fit in to this world. If you’re a reflective type, this will come naturally. If you’re not, then you may want to push your boundaries here a bit. I mean, you came on this journey to get out of your routine and possibly to change your life, or at least think about how your life may go in a different direction.
A travel blog is a great way to do this, whether it’s text based writing, video, or audio files. Or a mix. Now, it seems like everyone who travels writes a travel blog. Mostly they look like “this is what I did and wasn’t it cool?”. Nothing wrong with that at all. No judgment! However, for a Lean Volunteer, you have the opportunity to use your blog to get more personal growth than that.
This week’s post explains how you can use your travel blog to help you transform yourself. Next week’s post shows you how I set my travel blog up relatively cheaply.
(Check out my Around The World 2014 blog to see what I did in 28 countries)
Reasons to Write a Blog as An International Volunteer
- For Fun. Let’s just get this one of the way. Showing your friends and family what you’re up to on your adventure is self-indulgent and fun. As you write you get to relive the experience you just had, and chances are that you’ll notice new details that your brain captured but you hadn’t really had time to notice. It’s weird how that happens. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re a good writer, or whether you take or record professional looking photos or videos. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. No one is paying you, right? So just have fun, and take on whatever voice you want. Be the rollicking adventurer! Be the heartfelt nature lover! Be the astonished gourmet! It’s okay. Just. Have. Fun.
- To Surface Your Biases and Assumptions. When you travel to a new culture as an international volunteer, you bring with you all of your home-based biases, assumptions, and expectations. We all tend to get corralled into a narrow cultural experience at home, and live under those assumptions. They’re almost invisible to us. A blog is a great place you can surface those belief systems and write about how they are different in your new “home”, why they exist, and what good (or bad) they mean for you. For example, for many Westerners, the idea of bartering for everything from food, to clothing, to taxi rides is unfamiliar and challenges our biases about “fairness”. If you’re unskilled at bartering, then you lose some of the power that you have as a consumer in economies with fixed prices. You can write about these to understand them more clearly.
To show how my assumptions did not serve me well… in Beijing I wanted to buy a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book. The powerful symbol of Chinese communism. So I found a streetside vendor who had a copy, and I thought I was shrewdly negotiating a good deal for this book. Well, I didn’t have the right currency conversion factor in my mind so I ended up paying $20 for the thing, assuming that this was a “fair price” to this street vendor. When I showed the purchase to my guide, he looked aghast and, with no small degree of exasperation with me said, “you shouldn’t have paid more than $2 for that!!!” Oops. So in my blog I wrote about the irony of getting ripped off by a capitalist street vendor for egalitarian-aspiring book. My assumption was that I would get a fair price. My reality was that “fair” depends on who you talk to.
- To Clarify What You’ve Learned. As you’re doing your lean volunteer project, you’ll learn of many different ways that organizations deliver on their goals, depending on their circumstances. You’ll learn leadership styles, values, and practices that you’ve never even thought of before. Write about these. And as you’re writing, write about how you might adapt these “foreign” leadership and management techniques to your own life back home. In their book, Innovator’s DNA, Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen explain how innovators have 5 skills. In clarifying what you’ve learned about leadership and management, you’ll be exercising at least two of those skills: Associating (connecting odd combinations) and Observing (learning how things actually work rather than assuming). Doing a Lean Volunteer project is an incredibly rich context for you to learn out-of-the-box thinking. You observe what is actually going on, (mostly) unclouded by biases, and then associate what you’ve learned to what you want to do in your career. Use your blog to explore these, and then invite comments from others to learn even more.
- To Change Attitudes and Beliefs of Others. Think about how you fit into the world. If you’re the kind of person who will pay with time, effort, and money to help underprivileged people in foreign countries, then you probably are exactly the right kind of person who can change the attitudes and beliefs of your community “back home”. You have the stature, you have the privilege, you likely have the communication skill , and you’re having the experience to help your readers see their connection to the rest of our world, both human and natural. One of the amazing transformations I had was the depth of realization that every single human I met, in all 28 countries I visited, had a similar desire: to live a productive, peaceful life with their family and friends. But very few people are born into circumstance where they get an honest chance to live that. I also noticed how much plastic is floating around in otherwise pristine ocean waters, which woke me up to the impending environmental disaster we’re heading into. If you believe, like I believe, that our world can only get better if we can all feel more compassionate for and connected to each other, then your blog will give you a platform to play a role in that. I’m not talking about being heavy handed. In your blog, just write about your personal experiences with the people you meet, and try to bring that humanity to your readers. Write about what you’re seeing happen to the environment, and your reactions and thoughts. No need to preach. Just witness with your authentic voice. This is really important, if you can do it.
- To Remember Your Experiences. Face it, time will FLY as you go through your international volunteer adventure! Our brains can only remember so much, and with every new day a whole new flood of experiences will wash over our memories from the previous day. Writing in your blog each day, or as frequently as you can, without editing much or worrying about what it looks like, will let you record many more details and impressions than you’ll remember even a week later, much less by the time you get home. Get it written now, and then later you can relive it, with the details of each post calling out the memories that otherwise would be lost. Not only is this helpful for you to remember the lessons, but it’s just plain fun to relive that time you were chased by an mother elephant trying to get to her distressed and bleating baby (my experience, Chiang Mai Elephant Refuge ).
- To Visualize New Directions You Can Take In Your Life. You arrive at your lean Volunteer project with a desire to help, a desire to check out the world, and probably a curiosity about what new directions your life can take. Maybe you’re worn out with your career, or just feel like you need a new set of beliefs and inner stories to help guide you through the next phase of your life. Write about this in your blog. Ask yourself questions, experiment with possible directions. If you get clarity, state it. Why do this in a blog? Because the people who read these kinds of posts can’t help you make it happen unless they know it’s the path you’re on. It’s very simple. Let’s say that you’ve realized that you feel a strangely persistent curiosity in rural African girls having the opportunity to go to school. Or that you realize that you actually do care in leadership styles that support the dignity of workers in ways that make a workplace more enjoyable for everyone. Your travel blog is a great place to test these ideas out on your people, partly because doing something publicly ramps up the meaningfulness (and personal risk, which is how growth works) of your thoughts. It’s also a great place because, again, if someone reads how you want to be an integrity based leader, then maybe they have a connection to a company that is looking for that for a new position. You just don’t know where these things go. So use your travel blog to visualize and experiment with new directions you can take in your life. It may be scary to put it out there, but if it’s real to you, then there really isn’t much downside, and a whole lot of upside.
A travel blog can serve you in many more ways that just a piffle of a thing (first time I’ve used “piffle” in a sentence). The very fact that it’s public puts and edge to your writing and reflecting. It makes your work just a bit more important that just writing in a journal, so you have to give a bit more effort to what you’re expressing. This is good!
How do you use your travel blog to grow yourself?