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Capturing a Moment: Travel Writing Inside Out

I have often thought – and I’ve heard other teachers repeat this truism – that I never really know a work of literature until I have to teach it. The same may be said of genres of writing. After writing travel essays for sixteen years, a few years ago I had my first opportunity to teach the genre in “Writing Ireland,” course students at my college could take to prepare for a study tour of Ireland led by myself and another professor. The process of writing about travel experiences had to be turned inside out and broken down into steps that students, some with little or no experience in creative writing, could follow. What are the principles that make travel writing work, I asked myself? What do newcomers to this genre need to know?

People who know that i write travel essays will sometimes say to me, “Why don’t you write up your trip to Chicago?” or “I’ll show you my Lake Lanier, and you can write it up.” Neither a canned tour nor someone else’s trip provides the appropriate materials or creates the impulse to write a travel essay. “A destination is not an article,” as travel editors like to say.

The writer has to know a place well enough to achieve the authority to write but also needs to have an idea or a perspective – something very much like a thesis statement – that represents an original approach to a place or some aspect of travel. The fact that you loved the National Gallery, Disney World or Madrid doesn’t necessarily mean that you should write an article, though love for a place is certainly a step in the right direction.

What made you love it? What was your special experience?

capturing momentsTrusting your experience and perceptions is an essential ingredient to formulating a good travel essay idea; pulling in personal interests and information you’ve collected give the idea originality, resonance and character. After practising on subject matter close to home-the Agnes Scott College campus, Decatur, metropolitan Atlanta, and their home towns-the students in my course successfully brought this approach to their writing about the most unfamiliar country of Ireland. For example, Rachel Lackey drew on her love of astronomy to write about Neolithic structures connected with astronomical events and the myths that each generation used to explain their presence. Andrea Yeaman analysed the contemporary statues she saw in Dublin and Belfast and the controversies surrounding them; she used this topic to discuss Irish cultural life and politics. Kelly Bernazza captured the Irish obsession with their struggle against British rule by examining political monuments in both the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. Cassandra Castillo wrote about the miles and miles of stone walls she saw all over Ireland. As she told me, “I thought if I could understand those stone walls, I could understand Ireland.” These students translated their passions into multidimensional ideas that sprang from their original experiences of place.

As my students learned, travel writing is always about cultural encounters, even when you are only venturing as far as the next town. A writer should be wary of posing as an all-knowing authority on the place she visits and should always recognize that her point of view is just that-unique, valuable, thoughtful, but as much a story about the writer as about the place. If I just want the facts about Hong Kong, I can read a guidebook; I read Jan Morris’s travel book on Hong Kong to bring the city alive in my mind through the eyes of someone with personality, opinions and ideas. Great travel writers strike a balance between evoking the place they are writing about and letting their readers get to know the traveller.

To evoke a place or a travel experience in writing, your knowledge of it has to go well beneath the surface, even if not everything you know shows up in the actual text. In the travel writing course, I emphasized the importance of research, of knowing your travel subject in some depth and of going out of the way to find information about it that may not be widely known.

The students’ early drafts tended to replicate the research papers they might write for history or anthropology. I soon realized that we needed to study how to recreate a place in words-not only by devising exact, thoughtful descriptions that cover sights, sounds and smells, but also by reproducing the trip for the reader. Describing the facts about a street in Tuscany won’t make it come alive; the reader must be able to walk down that street, participating in the experiences recreated on the page. To make this happen for your reader, you must notice everything when you are at the place and write it down. Later when you are writing an essay, you’ll need to know how the bare trees looked against the late afternoon sky, whether the bridge arched or went straight across the river, what the inscription on the war memorial said, exactly how the woman in the market threw her head back and laughed.

In describing people and places, the writer is often tempted by the comfortable generalization or the cliché-a dangerous tendency that may lead to mundane or even insulting assumptions. In my early travel writing days, I once claimed that the people of a certain country were “friendly,” even before I fell victim to the editor’s ridicule, I had realized the meaninglessness of the phrase. Though largely a positive stereotype, “friendly” is a stereotype nonetheless and no replacement for a lively encounter that could give an essay the distinctiveness of real experience. The questioning of generalizations is, after all, what travel is all about. Travel writing deserves a similarly resolute quest for what lies beneath the surface, both in observation and in words.

Whether the end result appears as lines in a journal, an e-mail, or a magazine article, travel writing is the final stage of a trip, the moment when the writer gathers the fragments of experience and memory into something like a whole. And every piece of travel writing is its own journey, too-one more small exercise in finding our place in the world.

By |September 22nd, 2016|Categories: Other Destinations|0 Comments

Your Study Abroad Experience

Many students return from studying abroad on fire with new insights and new perspectives. There’s a place for fresh ideas gained from unique vantage points—the op-ed pages of local, regional, and national newspapers.

If you’ve ever worked for a student newspaper, you know that the search for good copy—for solid, interesting, unique stories about the news and about other subjects—is neverending. Editors of major newspapers must fill many pages each day, and they hold even more articles in reserve in case a big story falls apart or events shift in a new direction. Professionals write most of these articles, but on the op-ed page (the page opposite the in-house editorial page) guest writers deliver brief opinion pieces on topics they know better than anyone else. The expansion of news on television and on the Internet has only increased the vitality of this part of the newspaper—the page where debate and controversy reign.

Did your study abroad experience prepare you to be one of these guest writers?

study abroad experienceFor an editorial to be successful, the writer must have a compelling perspective that transforms mere opinion into informed insight. Residence abroad is a wonderful starting point for such insight: you’ve lived, studied, perhaps worked in another culture, learning its outlooks, understanding its particularities, and absorbing its rhythms. Whether the issue is an international one involving your country or a local one specific to your village or town that has larger implications, you will have a perspective that most readers won’t have, an outlook that will expand most Americans’ view of the world. Everyone knows that there has been tension between France and the U.S. over the invasion of Iraq, for example, but someone who has lived in a French town where there is a large population of Muslims might have a very original way of looking at this controversy. That story could become an editorial.

A unique perspective or a clear opinion is only a starting point for an op-ed piece. The goal of an editorial is to persuade readers to change their minds on an issue, or to take action, or both. Mere opinion is unlikely to lead to those results, however; editorial writers must hone their knowledge of the situation, making sure that they have assembled facts and other concrete evidence to back up their main ideas. An editorial essay presents opinion, but it is always informed opinion—clear arguments that spring from solid facts. Your ten months in Seoul will give you an angle on relations between North and South Korea, but don’t forget to find out what’s happened since you left and to corroborate everything you learned while abroad. Once you’ve thoroughly studied the topic you want to write about, think about aiming your essay at one well-defined part of the problem. It’s tempting to blurt out everything you think about healthcare in Ghana, for example, but more reasonable to focus on one health issue.

Are you ready to join the debate?

Editorials tend to follow a fairly standard structure. Unlike research or other types of papers required in most college courses, editorials build from beginning to end toward the most dramatic and complete version of their main point, which is usually stated in the last paragraph. The first paragraph of an editorial announces and defines the problem and suggests the direction of the main argument. Subsequent paragraphs present supporting points and refute key opposing points, building a convincing case with the best argument saved for last. The concluding paragraph makes the clearest and most eloquent statement of the author’s point of view: ideally, readers should look up from the editorial with those last powerful words echoing in their minds.

Another expression of opinion, letters to the editor respond specifically to an article, an editorial, or even another letter published in the newspaper during the previous week. Cite the earlier piece in your letter’s first or second sentence: the letter should spring from that reference but move on to present its own well-defined perspective. Letters are shorter than editorials, of course, and since newspapers publish lots of them every day, letters offer the best chances for breaking into print. To insure that your letter is current, send it by email and include a phone number; if your letter is chosen, the editor may call you to confirm your identity and finalize the agreement to publish.

Start by studying the op-ed page for several weeks. What are the characteristics of the best work? Most newspapers are looking for editorials of about 700 words and for letters of about 100 words. Check the paper’s Web site or call the editorial office for guidelines. The closer your work adheres to the published form in length, structure, and format, the more likely it is to be accepted.

Putting your ideas out there in published form is a bold but very satisfying step that usually generates responses. While you are likely to hear from people who agree with you, you might also inspire others to write letters or editorials that attack what you’ve said. That dialogue is what makes an op-ed page great. Turning you study abroad experience into an editorial or a letter to the editor creates an opportunity to reflect on what you learned and to engage others in discussion. It’s also an exciting way to bring your experiences home.

By |August 30th, 2016|Categories: Other Destinations|Comments Off on Your Study Abroad Experience

Amazing Western Australia South East Region

In the Southeast of Western Australia, you will discover an abundance of activities just awaiting you to participate. Should you be seeking to leave the city for a number of nights, there are great deals of things for you to do no matter your age, physical fitness, or interests.

Cape Le Grand National Park.

a random beach in WA south WestVoted number 2 in Australian Tourist Magazine’s 100 Finest Towns in Australia, Esperance is a great little town to invest a number of days in. If you are in the mindset for a little fishing, there are so great deals of areas to choose from that you might not fish from each if you had a month to spare. Fishing from the rocks at any among the beaches surrounding Esperance will yield salmon, skippy, herring, salmon trout, gummy shark, & shark.

If you are in the frame of mind for a little outside camping, Cape Le Grand National Park simply can not be beaten. Throughout the day, you can either take advantage of the beautiful beaches or attempt your hand at some rock climbing up at Frenchman’s Peak or Mount Le Grand. There is similarly a number of treking tracks for you should rock climbing up be out of the issue.

Charming Esperance

At 110 meters long, and 14 meters high this granite rock face makes up the north side of Hayden Rock and lies within the Hayden Wildlife Park. Fishing from the rocks at any one of the beaches surrounding Esperance will yield salmon, skippy, herring, salmon trout, gummy shark, & shark.

The Excellent Wave Rock

Its name gets from the reality that the rock looks specifically like a big wave getting ready to crash into the bush listed below. At 110 meters long, and 14 meters high this granite rock face makes up the north side of Hayden Rock and lies within the Hayden Wild animals Park. Situated near Wave Rock are Hippos Yawn, a virtually 13-meter cave opening, in addition to Mulka’s Cave.

wave-rock WA

Hope you will enjoy your vacations there.

By |May 18th, 2016|Categories: Other Destinations|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Amazing Western Australia South East Region
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