Keeping a Journal
Many of the other techniques for continued learning presented in this module imply the regular use of a journal. Keeping a journal provides you the opportunity to reflect on your experience and, to stay in tune with your emotions and feelings. A journal illustrates the work-in-progress that is your Peace Corps experience, recording your deepening understanding of the culture around you and the changes that are taking place in you as you adjust to your host country. It is a record of your struggle to come to grips and make your peace with the strange, foreign reality that slowly becomes your home.
Most PCVs find they use journals for a number of different purposes:
- to make random notes;
- to think out loud (on paper);
- to record the events of the day;
- to record a conversation;
- to record observations, random or targeted;
- to record impressions and reactions;
- to relate events and experiences (to tell a story);
- to record thoughts and emotions;
- to record realizations and conclusions;
- to write poetry or fiction;
- to talk to themselves.
THREE COMMON MISTAKES
1. If you associate writing in your journal with an hour of serious thinking and literate prose, chances are you'll be too daunted to ever begin. Start simple, recording a few thoughts, ideas, questions in a 10-to-15-minute respite at the end of the day.
2. Don't think of your reader or your writing style. Write for yourself, not posterity; otherwise, you edit too much and stop the free flow of your thoughts and emotions while they're happening.
3. Don't delay your writing for more than a day. It's only when you haven't written for two weeks or so that you find yourself spending two hours, feeling exhausted and negative, towards what has become a chore. It's also better to write when things are fresh in your mind, and you can recall details.
If you haven't started already, in a notebook where you write nothing else, begin writing. For the first few weeks, just describe what's been happening. It's automatic and customary to interpret and categorize, but that can come later as you reflect on what you've written in light of what you now know about the culture. By their very nature, frustrating experiences are only understood in retrospect, upon reflection and analysis--and cultural adjustment is full of just such experiences.
You may want to organize your journal in this way:
On this side of the journal, describe what you saw. Anything that strikes you as different, funny, weird, sad, etc. is appropriate Feelings, emotions, judgments should not be expressed on this side. Just stick to the facts.
On this side of the journal, describe your thoughts, feelings, etc. about the event. Then try to analyze why you feel this way. What in your cultural makeup may be affecting how you feel? How is it different from whatever values or assumptions may be at work in the new culture?
For example; on the left side you may write that a woman you know does not share information with her subordinates and on the right side that she's insecure and power hungary. Or on the left side that a woman is cold and reserved while the analysis would be that stands three feet away from me while she is speaking.