Advice on making a video to share your travel experiences. Even though it was written with a focus on Peace Corps, the insights should be helpful no matter your subject or destination.
“We have a story here,” Don José said to me. We stood deep into the traditional handshake— right hands locked, left patting the other con cariño. “Go tell it.”
I’d stepped into San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia, at sunrise, wheat grass green. Don José was immediately good to me. He taught me Bolivian history, music, art, and culture and he saw that I learned all things Chiquitano: food, dance, even how to make rope and take fish with the poison of a vine. Two years later, I left those same dirt roads at sunset. It couldn’t have been scripted any better, I suppose—a coming of age story and all that.
Back in the U.S. I realized that although everyone wanted to know “what was Bolivia like,” they could only handle the Reader’s Digest abridged version before their eyes glazed over. So to hone my story, I made a video and tested it on friends. The difference was immediately clear: It left them asking for more.
Since then, I’ve shared the video a thousand times. Whether at a formal event or a bit of coffee-shop camaraderie, the build up always goes something like this:
“I thought about doing Peace Corps. Where were you?”
“How was Bolivia?”
“You got twelve minutes?” I ask. They prepare themselves before the computer. Spanish guitar and haunting melodies call them through the headphones and then the narration begins.
This is where they enter my world—the sounds of sunset in a village without light; the giggles of children returning from the evening river bath, birds calling, and the herrrrr-wiissssst of donkeys freaking out unprovoked. Guarayo children go round and round beneath an Amazon canopy—would-be thieves of the orange soccer ball at my feet. They are there with me and they can nearly taste it. Then, lost memories of their own home soil or sidewalk pour over them. And there it starts— their eyes broad with questions and their own burning stories. That whisper of Bolivia sparks hours of discussion. The friendships have lasted for years.
For me, the Third Goal was once as foreign as machete-fishing at midnight; but nearly every day since leaving Bolivia, I have shared some version of my Peace Corps experience. And the video has played a huge role in that. It’s been a gateway to the imaginations of children, professors, family, and colleagues. Some ask for copies and I happily oblige. A few have applied to the Peace Corps after our talk and one even asked for a letter of recommendation; she’s awaiting news of her placement.
The pursuit of the Third Goal is much like the Peace Corps experience itself: You’ll get far more out of it than you can imagine. By creating a video, most importantly, you’ll better understand your own story. Then someone will better understand the world because of you. That’s quite a thing.
Whether volunteering with an organization such as Peace Corps, studying abroad or simply backpacking, you already have a story. Below are ten steps to get you get started with putting it into a video:
1.Take stock of all your photos and videos.
2.List the most memorable moments of your experience. How do your pictures align?
3.Create a story board on note-cards with a beginning, middle, and end. Use actions or topics, not chronology. Aim for 8-12 minutes.
4. Construct the story on your computer. (Easy-to-use software is readily available and often free..)
5. When will you choose your soundtrack—before or after the writing? Remember: music sets mood, will guide your writing, and is in a three-legged race with your words. (If used for commercial purposes, be sure to secure rights to any music. Consider composing your own or using local music from your country of service.)
6. Watch your silent film. Jot three-word talking points. Note the time between transitions.
7. Watch again and again, talking through your bullet points. Record yourself just talking from one transition to the other. Memories are more natural than scripts. Refinement comes through repetition. Freestyle—that way, you’ll mean what you say and sincerity connects.
8. Take your time. You’ll know when it’s ready. If you do this for yourself, people will love it. Guaranteed.
9.Once you have the recording you like, make finishing touches (volume levels, fades, or captions).
10.Having finished your video, the out lets for your story are endless, so get creative. Post your video online. Share with schools. Make CDs, cover art, and put it in the hands of anyone who’ll take it. Above all, save a copy for yourself. You’ll need it. The whole process may sound a little overwhelming. But it is worth it: People need to hear what you have to share.
You lived the story. Now, go tell it.
(Originally published June 15, 2009 in Peace Corps Hotline)