• Marine Conservation
  • Service Learning
  • Wildlife Conservation

5 ways to creatively document your service learning experience

Article by GVI


Posted: November 23, 2022

3 min read

We often record our experiences whilst we travel, but on a service learning trip the importance of documentation becomes more than simply a way to remember or share the events that have occurred.

Recording and documenting your service learning experience is a chance for reflection, interpretation and expression to occur. Of course, guided reflection will also be an essential ingredient of your service learning experience, but taking your own time to creatively process and record key moments is also necessary. Here are five different options that will hopefully inspire you to make personal reflection a daily practice.

1. Spend at least half an hour every day writing in a journal

The oldest, and possibly most effective, way of reflecting on and documenting your service learning experience – journal writing. The beauty of a journal is that it is for you, and only you, meaning that expression can take shape in any way that best resonates with your mood at the time.

Writing poems can be intimidating, but a poem bound within the leather covers of a book might free the Dickinson within. You may find essays spilling forth from your felt-tipped pen or journalistic style accounts of the day neatly transcribed on fresh white paper.

Whatever the style, the idea is simple. You’re turning your experiences into prose thus processing them through the filter of your own thoughts and interpretations.

Writing styles to try:

  • Poems
  • Essays
  • Fact centred entries
  • Letters
  • Lists
  • Dialogue
  • Completely unedited freewriting


2. Take short video clips of your everyday service learning experiences

Not much can transport you back to a place and moment quite like watching it again on film. Don’t worry so much about how all the events will fit together, simply capture the reality in front of you. Film street life, vibrant markets, engaged students, moments of solitude and moments of infectious energy.

Clips are easiest to compile when they are between 10-15 seconds. So aim for quick snippets that you can edit into a complete narrative when you get home. Magisto is one of our favourite online video editing tools as it is easy to use and allows you to apply unique filters to your raw footage.


3. Create a collaborative visual notebook

Sometimes words fail us. We might not be able to adequately describe the sense of possibility that the ocean instils in us or the message behind a smile. Visually recording events and emotions can both help us process and better express our experiences. Some of us paint, some of us draw, some might make collages, while others take to oil pastels.

Whatever your personal medium preference it’s also nice to let others add to your journal. Having community members that you work with or other students on your trip add their art creates a dynamic and inspiring representation of your total experience.


4. Take photographs that emphasise a story

Quite often we snap a picture of a moment that we want to remember. Being diligent about capturing a narrative is a wonderful way to make photography speak. Think about the details of the event, the personalities involved, the setting, and the actual events taking place.

Publishing photographs in a book, when you are back home, is an affordable way to memorialise and showcase your work. Take a look at Artifact Uprising for some incredible printing options.


5. Send yourself daily postcards

There’s nothing better than getting mail, so why not send yourself some? Each day record the essential moments from the past 24 hours.

Ideas of what to put on your postcards:

  • Record the hour-by-hour highlights in a schedule format.
  • Write down the top ten quotes from the day.
  • Chronicle four lessons learned that really boggled your mind.
  • Write a six-word memoir that captures your day.
  • Based on where your service learning program takes place you might want to leave home with a stack of postcards ready to go. Bonus: you get to keep the stack of stamps that will accumulate with the postcards.


Find a personal style that works best for you. We all create differently and expression can take on infinite forms. The idea is to find a medium in which critical thinking about your service learning experience can take a tangible form. 



Find out more about our international service learning programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.

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