“Melbourne” Matt Nickerson ‘24
The Holy Cross class of 2024 began their tenure upon Mount St. James by not being upon Mount St. James at all. For fall semester 2020, all classes were held online and students met their classmates and professors for the first time from their own homes. Even when we did finally move into campus in January 2021, we had to deal with Covid restrictions and virtual learning for quite a while. But now, in our third year, a vast majority of the class is or has gone abroad or to DC: a welcome relief for the class who have not undergone a full year of normal Crusader life. Students are dispersed across several foreign institutions and countries across South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. A handful of those students, after a careful application and selection process, have kept an enduring connection to Holy Cross by creating biweekly posts describing their experiences for the campus community to read. The office received a large amount of interest, leading to seven active bloggers compared to three from last year. On behalf of the Spire, I thought it would be enriching to reach across time zones and oceans and catch up with some of these bloggers, to see what they have to say about their new set of circumstances where they once again find themselves studying far away from Worcester, only having a virtual connection with those on campus.
In early December, the College Marketing and Communications Office reached out to students going abroad and asked whether they were interested in writing blogs about their forthcoming experiences. An extensive list of guidelines and requirements for students interested in operating a blog accompanied the email. However, several of the bloggers have said that the prospect of the blog as a whole outweighed any reservations they may have had concerning parameters or requirements. Some have cited the blog as a means to stretch their writing capabilities and explore documenting their travels in a creative, accessible manner. “When I first learned about the student blogging program, I knew it was something that I wanted to do! I am an English major with a Creative Writing concentration, [so] writing is something that I am used to and enjoy doing,” says Lily Smith, who is studying in Galway, Ireland. Julianna Mariani, who is studying nearby in Dublin, concurs: “…I love to write! It’s always been my favorite thing to do, and even though I’m taking three English classes while abroad in Dublin, I wanted to make sure I would have an opportunity to write about things I enjoy on a regular basis. Traveling is also a huge love of mine, and what better way to keep track of my adventures than by combining two of my biggest loves and blogging about them?”
Similarly, others have stated that they thought actively sitting down and blogging on a computer would serve as a means to actively reflect on their time. This is something that Ashley Sok, currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina, admittedly had to come around to: “As this is my first time traveling outside of the country, I was inspired to use the blog as a reflection to share with those at home and to look back on. Although I was hesitant to commit with the worry that it would just be another assignment, the blog has encouraged me to really slow down and savor what I am experiencing.” On the other hand, Maddie Sughrue, studying in Florence, Italy, had been eagerly thinking of ways to document her time abroad: “I was already planning on making an Instagram account dedicated to my travels abroad so that I could keep my family and friends updated, so when I received the email about the opportunity to blog about my abroad experience, I thought it was a perfect opportunity.” And she felt no anxiety that the blog might prove to be potentially distracting while abroad: a nice reminder of home, rather than an irritating tether. “I was never really worried about the commitment, as the requirement isn’t too demanding. I hoped that blogging would be in a way a type of journaling for me, to help me reflect on my travels and look at the highlights. It has been just that, and it’s been nice for me to take a pause, and appreciate the opportunities I have.” Lily adds, “The commitment is minimal and I do not view it as a distraction, rather as a way to reflect and share my experiences abroad. I do try to focus on being fully present in Ireland as I study here, so I utilize my blog as a way for others to follow my journey!”
Talking with everyone, it appears that all of the bloggers have a similar routine of taking a short time biweekly and writing a reflective post on their blog. Another aspect that everyone shared was that they were so busy, there was never any difficulty coming up with blog material. Owen Whaley, who is studying in St. Andrews, Scotland, discusses how he deals with the blog commitment when he is busy completing work or traveling: “I try to update my blog at least once every two weeks. With so much always going on at St Andrews, it is never too hard to find things to write about. I am taking rigorous courses, though, so it can be hard to find the time to make a post. When that happens, I’ll [make sure to] write a few sentences with updates from across the pond.”
Lily offers a different approach: as soon as she has returned from a particularly interesting trip or experience, she sits down and blogs to avoid forgetting any details. Additionally, both Ashley and Julianna have designated times in their schedule to update their blogs. Ashley aims to update her blog once a week, and sometimes travels to one of Buenos Aires’ many cafés, where she makes little notes and pictures of her experiences, both big and small, before writing. In Julianna’s case, she follows the patterns of the Spire process release schedule on Fridays, and notes that it’s often been difficult to pick just one subject to focus on, rather than having difficulty picking anything at all. Maddie describes a similar feeling: to make sure her new posts are fresh and interesting, she frequently finds herself workshopping different introductions, and testing new writing styles, when her biweekly reminder goes off on her phone.
As the bloggers watch their complete posts disappear to get published, their intended audience is never too far from their minds. Owen talks about how he hopes to encourage Holy Cross students to take advantage of the college’s “unparallelled” study abroad opportunities, arguing that although it’s certainly a difficult decision, for him it’s been a transformative experience. “I want to encourage students already at Holy Cross who may be hesitant about studying abroad to take the leap,” he says. “I was in that position last year but studying abroad ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
While Lily acknowledges the blog as a way to stay integrated with Holy Cross, as well as share her experiences with friends and family, she hopes most of all to reach out to prospective study abroad students and “persuade future students to get out of their comfort zones and study abroad, too!” She says that a number of her posts have documented trips outside of her chosen city and even country, a statement others have echoed as well. They do not necessarily view this as detrimental, however. “The main goal of the blogs is to give people that are interested in studying abroad or are curious about it, a chance to see what it’s like,” Julianna says. “I think it’s great that there are so many student bloggers this semester, everyone is writing about their own unique experience. Different countries, different schools, different stories to share.”
Reflecting on her location specifically, where she is joined by only a few other Holy Cross students, Ashley says, “I hope that my blogs inspire someone, family, friends, professors, students. Moreover, I would like to advocate for the underrated and underrepresented study abroad programs in Latin America. My wish for everyone is that you may experience what I am experiencing, and I hope that my blog inspires you to try something new.”Undoubtedly, the blogs will serve in their completed form as a wealth of information and assurance for any Crusaders pondering whether to study abroad during their junior year. As they stand now, they are also a great resource for anyone on the Hill curious to check up on a friend or classmate, and see how the programs work after the Covid-induced hiatus. Many of the blog posts cover fascinating milestones and intriguing cultural differences. Owen documents the time the latest season of The Crown was filmed on-campus. Maddie writes about adjusting to living with a non-English speaking host and having to speak exclusively in Italian. Lily reminisces over a frantic run around the city searching for a bar airing the Super Bowl back in February. Ashley writes about attending the commemoration of an Argentinian holiday. And Julianna’s blog was highlighted on the Holy Cross social media accounts! (“I got an email about an hour before they posted letting me know what was about to happen, but I honestly didn’t really realize that they meant the main HC Insta and not the smaller, study abroad account (with a lot less followers),” she admits. “I was a bit overwhelmed knowing just how many people were going to be seeing my pictures and potentially reading my blog, but it was also very special.”) Holy Cross’ webpage of student blogs includes the promise that the content will show “what life is really like at Holy Cross” and “offer a glimpse of life on Mount St. James.” The fact that the page also chronicles the lives of students away from Mount St. James, in such vivid and intimate detail, shouldn’t go underappreciated. The study abroad blogs can be accessed on http://me.holycross.edu, as well as through a link on the Study Abroad application portal at sa.holycross.edu.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels Free Photos
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