The Best Travel Companion: Your Journal

I studied abroad for the summer in Dijon, France followed by a fall semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary. Before embarking on my seven-month stay in Europe, I made a promise to myself that I would write in a travel journal every day — no skipping days and no excuses. I wanted to remember as much as possible about my experience and decided that writing in a journal would be the best way to preserve my memories.

Budapest, Hungary (photo credit:

Below are some of the reasons why writing in a journal is helpful (especially for those of you thinking about study abroad) along with some (hopefully) useful advice regarding journal writing.

  1. The entries do not have to be extensive. Some of my entries were only two sentences. However, writing these brief entries not only helped me accomplish my goal of writing each day, but the items I did write down added valuable details to the journal.
  2. Writing can complement your photos. Pictures are always a great visual representation of places you have visited. However, after I returned to the US, I forgot the significance and  history of certain buildings and monuments. When I read through some of my journal entries, I was able to recall important details which enriched my story telling for my friends and family.

    McDaniel College, Budapest (photo credit:

  3. Write down key words. If something significant happened on a particular day, I wrote down a title for the journal entry. This way, whenever I want to reread a specific detail about a trip, instead of browsing through each entry, I can simply look at the titles of certain entries.
  4. Reread the journal entries. Every month while abroad, I read through past entries. Not only was it fun to reflect on my random thoughts, but I was able to notice some changes in the way I wrote and thought. The progression of the entries demonstrated that my views were consistently changing; reading this was pretty rewarding.
  5. Write at a specific time each day. At first, I struggled to write each night at 11 pm. After about two weeks of writing at this time, I discovered that I could not fall asleep without writing. There were times where I forgot or was too busy to write. However, I made sure to catch up with the entries the next day in order to reach my goal.
  6. Make it personal and special. On random pages throughout my journal, I listed some inspirational travel quotes. Whenever I came across a page with a quote, it was a bit of a surprise, and each one seemed to connect to my journey at the time.
Semester in Budapest (photo credit: Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl)

Semester in Budapest
(photo credit: Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl)

In all honesty, my journal is the most valuable souvenir from my study abroad experience. It traveled with me to ten different countries and contains a written record of my thoughts, worries, concerns, beliefs, and experiences for my seven months abroad. I would recommend journal writing for any situation, but if you are going abroad, it might be one of the best decisions you make. It was for me.

-Leanna, Peer Tutor

Internships, fellowships, and scholar programs

Applications for internships, fellowships, and scholar programs often can feel intimidating Applications can feel arduous, extensive, and there is the chance that the long hours of dedication can seem futile. However, this is a detrimental way to look at applications and there are ways to help make the process less intimidating and more constructive. To complement the “Application Checklist” that many fellowships offer on their websites, here is my own checklist to follow before you begin your dream application:

1. Go to information sessions. McDaniel is offering an increasing number of presentations with tips on how to complete applications. If you look at campus announcements or notice the posters in academic buildings, there is at least one session a month dedicated to revising a cover letter or filling out an application on a specific fellowship (such as the Fulbright Program or the Critical Language Scholarship). In addition to taking advantage of these McDaniel opportunities, many major programs offer webinars with valuable advice. These webinars are free information sessions presented by the very same people who will be looking at your application- sign up for these! You can ask questions through the webinar and the presenters often give tips that are unique to their application. Research your scholarship/fellowship as much as possible!

2. Look for examples of successful applicants. Researching examples of successful essays or cover letters can help you take a first step in your application. Don’t plagiarize- this is wrong. However, it is interesting to look at the vast variety of essays and this might inspire you to find your essay topic. For example, when I had an annoying case of writer’s block, I read by friend’s essay about her trip to France and her memory of looking at the Eiffel Tower for the first time. This sparked my memory about my trip to Australia. My writer’s block was “unblocked” and I began to write my essay on my tete-a-tete with a random Australian on the street.

3. Think outside the box- While the most famous programs such as the Truman Scholars Program or the Rhodes Scholarships are phenomenal, they are also extremely selective and competitive. If your dream is to be a Rhodes Scholar, I will not discourage you from applying. However, make sure to look at other opportunities that are less well known; they might even be better suited for your major and interests. I pride myself in my professional Googling skills and I have spent hours on a peace and conflict professional forum finding links to fellowships with a focus in this particular field. However, if you do not want to spend this amount of time and energy invested in online research, ask your professors for ideas. In addition, at McDaniel, the wonderful CEO Office spoils us. If you visit the amazing staff at the CEO, you will find that they have already completed the research for you (there is even a comprehensive book with a list of fellowships complete with deadlines and instructions). Capitalize on these resources.

4. Visit the Writing Center! I might be a little biased, but the Writing Center is a fantastic place to visit for each step in the application process (and I hear the tutors are pretty cool). Whether you need help brainstorming essay topics or want one more pair of eyes to look over your final draft an hour before the application’s deadline, the Writing Center is always here for you. You may also want to politely ask professors, friends, and family look over your application in order to receive as much feedback as possible.

5. Do it for the experience. Think of the application process as an experience; don’t be negative! This is an opportunity to talk about your favorite class or discuss the volunteering event where you stapled papers for a non-profit organization and interacted with the president of the organization while reaching for a whole punch. The applications do not have to be boring and even have the potential to be enjoyable. Even if you have difficulty enjoying the application, think of it as a learning experience. If you do not receive the scholarship or fellowship, you have essays and the experience for future applications. And who knows, maybe the next time you apply, you might surprise yourself.

Leanna, peer tutor