How to Write about your Summer as an ‘Unofficial Ambassador’

One of my favorite things about summer – aside from the slower pace, longer days, and more welcoming weather – is hearing the amazing ways my friends and colleagues are spending their ‘break’ time.

On our EA team alone, Jennifer will be building a library in Tanzania, Chex is working at the World Health Organization in Geneva, and Meg has been studying abroad in Amsterdam, volunteering in India, and now working in Uganda with Keep a Child Alive! I know, I know, we have a pretty phenomenal team :)

We are also blessed to have amazing partner organizations here at EA: agencies who arrange volunteer and internship opportunities for service work globally, like America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA)AUA is a citizen diplomacy initiative that uses public service as a mechanism for social change. They arrange service trips for Americans to predominantly Muslim countries, like Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia, with the goal of fostering people-to-people partnerships that build cooperation between America and the Muslim World.

Ben in Zanizbar
AUA Founder Ben Orbach in Stone Town, Zanzibar, after helping his volunteers get oriented for their summer service trip.

A few weeks ago, I conducted a webinar with AUA about how to communicate more effectively about service experiences abroad. AUA’s 19 volunteers were just preparing for departure to their respective countries – to work as teachers, summer camp counselors, and communications officers –  and they were thinking not only about their goals for development impact through their service, but how they would communicate that work during and after their journey.

As I made suggestions, AUA participants chimed in with some powerful insights. Today I want to share our key take-away points with you:

  • Write before you take off.  Why are you going on this trip? Can you boil it down to one question you want to answer? (Of course there may be many!) Give your audience a statement of your purpose, and hook them with the question you’re seeking to resolve.
  • Follow up on that question as you write after arrival – but beware, humility is crucial. When we first step outside our comfort zones and familiar environments, it is easy to quickly identify what is ‘wrong’. But these challenges may be more intractable than we imagined. Express your immediate feelings, but don’t assume you have the right answer just yet.
  • As you build relationships in-country, introduce at least one other character to your posts, besides you. Weave in the story of a local friend or co-worker, and be sure to assume that person is reading what you write.  This will help you be a more precise, respectful writer, and forces you to confront assumptions and stereotypes.
  • Once you’re back: write, write, write! This may be the most important time of all. Sure, you’ll feel frustrated with people ‘back home’ who can’t understand everything you experienced, and with yourself as you strive to grasp what the trip means for you and your next steps. But pause. Breathe. Have patience. Oftentimes, the clearest significance of our experiences emerges gradually over time, a bit more with each effort we make to retell our stories.

I hope you will also be following AUA’s amazing “unofficial ambassadors” throughout the course of their summer experiences – we will be featuring a few narratives here on EA, and you can read their updates on the AUA blog as well.

With all the fulfillment that comes with living through each other’s stories, challenges, and inspirations, it’s just another thing to look forward to this summer!

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