once around the sun / by Shelby Robinson

This is ~really~ from a February 18th journal entry. Edits made today at the B in Michigan.

I'm sitting at a cafe in Bali, after a five and a half week trip that provided the most insane amount of clarity, perspective and peace. And I'm sitting here thinking and reflecting on what the hell just happened in 2015.

On the road, after you go through the whole what's your name, what do you do, where do you come from? questions, naturally the topic of Korea would come up. People always seemed both interested and surprised: "Omg, Korea?" "How was THAT?" "I've always wanted to do something like that!" And at first I'd reply with the whole, "Oh it was great!" "A great experience!" "I loved it!" and then I realized that I no longer needed to bullshit and pretend like it was this exciting and happy experience. Because truthfully, it wasn't.

Now don't get me wrong, there were a lot of really lovely things about life in Korea. I enjoyed the food (so, so freaking much), the weird quirks (like the matching couple outfits and the permed n floral panted ajummas and the cuteness overload of my students!!!) and also the people that I met and spent joyous weekends with.

But overall, life in Korea was a relatively lonely and isolating experience for me. The work, work, work and superficial culture wasn't totally my vibe. I lived alone, in a small town an hour north of Seoul, far from other foreigners. I was one of the only native speakers in my area. Often times, I'd go days without speaking "real" English. As a person who craves social interaction (don't we all?!), the lack started making me feel really lonely and depressed. I started to feel extremely awkward in social interactions. And I had so much freaking time on my hands that I started to over-analyze all of these interactions: "Why did I say that?" "Have I forgotten how to speak proper English?" "Will I be this awkward forever?" These questions and thoughts started to consume my mind and cloud my vision. So then when I would spend time with others, I felt like I wasn't even having the conversation at all. Like I was literally an outsider who was watching the whole interaction take place. Too focused on myself and what I was going to say, I missed what the person was saying. I was completely missing the joys of conversing. Like what the fuck.

And it wasn't until I went to Indonesia that I realized how unhappy I was in Korea. On my travels, I'd wake up happy with a permanent smile on my face, I'd find myself in joyous and life-giving conversations with strangers, and I kid you not, there was a series of blissful days where I'd actually cry tears of joy (that vibrant sliver of light peaking over the volcano during the sunrise, the mist from a waterfall trickling down my face and into my mouth, the wind in my hair from a bike ride in the mountains). All of these small, sacred moments (that I was actually experiencing in my own body!!!), coupled with the drastic shift in my mental, emotional, spiritual well-being, made me feel more alive than ever. It was as if a year's worth of layers of sadness and anxiety and stress were lifted. I was finally free. Finally feeling like myself again.

When I reflect on my year 'round the sun with Korea, I've realized this: how deeply I need other people. How we all need each other to share the joy and pain and challenges of life. Really, Korea just taught me the importance of human beings and our relationships with one another.

So now my response to the "how was it?!" question is this:

It was hard.

It was beautiful.

I wouldn't do it again.

But I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

*This is just a small, small peek into what Korea was like. S/O to all of my Korean pals who made life kewl. You know who you are <33*