island hopping in indonesia by Shelby Robinson

It’s taken me awhile to write this and to finish editing all of my photographs from January and February. I think it could have something to do with the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so things take me ages. Or maybe that I changed the way that I edit photos (I finally, finally made the switch from Photoshop to Lightroom, holy efficiency!) so I was nervous to share those changes. Or it could also be that it was a little bit hard to look back at these photos.

Anyways, most of this was written a week after I came home. Edits made today at the B in Michigan (as per usual).


I’m sitting here on the ground, my travel journal in front of me, with all of its contents ~ dried flowers, banana leaves, airplane stubs, etc ~ sprawled out every which way.

I’ve got so much to say, that I don’t know what to say at all.

I’ve got so many emotions, stories, thoughts, experiences I want to share, write down, remember forever.

I’ve got this twinge of anxiety that if I don’t write everything down exactly as it happened, it will be lost.

But, I’ve got equal parts peace in knowing that my journey is already ingrained in my heart forever.

I’ll start with a small story.

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“Oh my gosh it’s so good to be on this plane,” you said with a hand full of Pringles and your laptop on the tray in front of you.

“I know. Can you believe it? A whole year. We did it.”

I was silent most of the flight.

It felt surreal. I was actually leaving, after finishing a full year of teaching in Munsan, South Korea.

This flight, the next chapter, was one of those monumental moments that was on my mind all year. One of those distant dates that I thought would never come. The event had so many emotions tagged to it: joy, peace, relief. Sometimes I thought I’d never make it.

And I guess I’m a little guilty of that. I always have been. Of looking towards the future and wishing, hoping, dreaming for something newer and more exciting. When I really should be cultivating that same joy and peace and bliss right here. Right now.

I was sitting next to the girl who quickly became my best friend during those 12 months we spent together. I was sitting next to this amazing, strong, hilarious girl who not only knew me better than most people, but who literally went through the exact same thing that I just through: chaos, highs, lows, low-lows, adventure, etc.

There’s always an overwhelming comfort in her presence.

“Sae, I don’t think I’ve cried in probably four months. Isn’t that weird?” I asked while staring out into the clouds.

“Even on your birthday? Or near Christmas?”

My mind wandered for the remainder of the flight: memories with this girl, memories of home, the trials of the year, the bliss that was to come.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and it was time for her to leave Indonesia for California. I had a permanent pit in my stomach at the thought of traveling alone for the next four weeks.

The day before she left, Sarah wrote the most eloquent, precious note in my journal, encouraging strength and the courage to live my truth over the next few weeks.

My heart was so heavy the day she left.

But her confidence in me instilled the same confidence in myself: I traveled and experienced and met people with ease. I swear my heart expanded with each sunrise, each new friend, each smiling face, each ride through the mountains.

Like that morning in Amed, when I woke up and saw the mountains to my left, the bursting tropical trees at my back, the sea and sand under my toes, the sunshine in my face. As I took in all of creation, I was absolutely overwhelmed by all of the goodness, I began to cry real, actual tears - tears I hadn't really felt in months. It hit me harder in this moment than any other moment in my life: that we are a part of this. Part of this glorious, perfect, beautiful place we call home.

And from that day forward there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for the change in my mood. Gratitude for the small joys in front of me each day. For the ability to come back to nature and all of creation which ultimately brought me back to myself. It was like something inside of me was released. I shed all the layers of sadness I held within me in Korea. All of the walls I built to numb and protect myself were destroyed. I was free. Free to laugh, to cry, to feel.

I was no longer numb to my emotions. And it was a beautiful thing. 

Things I want to remember forever n ever: the afternoon we were chased by monkeys at the Uluwatu temple, the waves that lulled us to sleep, our Dutch friends and our spontaneous beerz and games on the Gilis, late-night swims on Lombok, that cheap pizza n wine place in Ubud, the sunrise at the top of Mount Batur (and the kinder volcano monkeys), the Balinese family that took me in and made me dinner and treated me like their own, every single amazing traveler I met on the road.

Honestly, I'm just so freaking grateful for the little bout of traveling I got to do post-Korea. Grateful for its profound healing it brought me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually... I could read and re-read and share and thumb through picture after picture just because I'm so in love with the memories and with what it means to be a part of all of this.

Endless n endless thanks to all the pals I met, even if for a few days, a day, a few hours. You left a small little imprint on my heart and I think of you often. Endless thanks to Indonesia for being such a lovely, blissful, freaking photogenic place.

I'll see you soon, for real.

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*

strange trails by Shelby Robinson

And it feels like I've been away for an era,

but nothing has changed at all.

And it feels like I was with you,

but what did we do and where have you gone?

///

Lord Huron, Frozen Pines

a new year in taiwan by Shelby Robinson

Whoa, this little island is so good.

Despite it being winter in Taiwan, I was greeted with warm, humid air and green lusciousness. Taiwan was filled with foggy mountains, the most colorful array of fruits and veggies, the best vegetarian food I've had in months (especially Lewis' homemade dinner Saturday night), sprinkled with inspiring design, architecture and adorable children.

Yummy tofu pudding, rice cakes filled with goodness, sesame soy blended drinks, veggie hot pots, fresh juices filled our stomachs. Goodness around every corner.

Lindsey and Lewis, thanks for being so hospitable and warm. Missin you already.

fo ~ real (pt 1) by Shelby Robinson

FO ~ REAL:  A MINI SERIES

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a space to be raw and open. a space where i don't have to put so much damn thought into how i share what i create. mostly, just a space to clear my mind via my hand n my heart.

the best place in korea by Shelby Robinson

IMG_3205.jpg

Ulleung Island: easily the most beautiful, blissful place I've been in Korea. So fresh. So clean.

Ulleungdo, formed 9,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, is located about three and a half hours from the Jeodonghang port in the East Sea. Among allllll of its insane natural beauty, the island is also known for its pumpkins and squid. Tiny squid and pumpkin characters are scattered throughout the island to remind you of this, cause it's Korea. And everything is cute.

We were lucky enough to spend four days at the end of September over Korea's Mid-Autumn Festival, or Chuseok, on the island. Koreans celebrate by gathering with their families, eating and bowing to their ancestors, whereas foreigners usually use the long weekend as an opportunity to travel and explore.

Our days started around 5 am to walk the coastal path for sunrise. Afterwards, we'd get coffee together and enjoy traditional Korean breakfasts served by the most smiley ajummas I've ever met. And the food, oh my god. Bibimbap, sesame noodles, steamed egg, soups, and all the side dishes you could want filled our stomachs. The breakfast alone was a good enough reason to get out of bed in the morning. The remainder of our days were filled with hikes, bamboo forests, makkgeoli and oceans swims.

Some of the things that stood out to me the most about the island were the turquoise blue waters, the endless blue sky, that dark volcanic rock against the pine. The scent of the sea and the hanging squid. The gusts of ocean air on the coastal path hikes. The fog that seemed to engulf the mountains. The locals who were so surprised to see so many foreigners on their little island. Their kindness and their "good mornings!" and smiles when we passed on the paths. I love Koreans.

I always feel so rejuvenated after coming off of weekends like this. I can't stress enough how healing it is to take a few steps back from your life to see new places, meet new people and do some soul-searching. One of the biggest reasons I came to Korea was to do just that ~ and I'm always so thankful for the weekends and mini trips that allow me to come back to this intention.

Special shoutout to Seoul Hiking Group for always being so coo and attracting the most down to earth, mellow people to travel with. Best adventure group in Korea <333.

w.a.y.s. by Shelby Robinson

If there's one thing that I learned while in those county lines, it's that everything takes time, you have gotta lose your pride, you have gotta lose your mind just to find your peace of mind, you have got to trust the signs, everything will turn out fine, so... why aren't you smiling?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Life lately: a lil spontaneous trip to Vietnam, self-reflection in the form of journaling, a 21-day meditation challenge and Jhene Aiko lyrics equally (**see above**). Also, hibernation preparation. Ready for ya, winter.

how to edit your phone photos by Shelby Robinson

Everyone can take quality photos with their phone these days. No, you don't need a DSLR or fancy lens or expensive equipment, you just need two hands and a smart phone.

One of the most fun parts of sharing the photos though, is the editing process: tweaking the photo to make it look a little bit better than before, adding filters and acquiring a certain style that speaks to you.

Over the years, I have tried various editing apps and techniques and slowly ~ through a process of trial and error ~ discovered the ones that I like best. I've spent some time reflecting on the things I've learned and wanted to share a few tips on how to polish your photos and find your own unique style.

1. Download VSCOcam and Snapseed.

Really? Yea. Snapseed is like a mini Photoshop at your fingertips. In Snapseed, you can tweak the colors, play with dodging and burning, and use both spot repair and selective brightness. I usually open my photo in Snapseed first, tune the image as needed and then save it to my gallery. Then, I open it up in VSCO to add my filter and share from there.

Tip: In Snapseed, don't save the photo as a copy. It will just take up space on your phone. Instead, select the *save* option and your phone will modify the original for you.

2. Adjust the photo before adding a filter.

The contrast, saturation, exposure and ambiance should all be adjusted and saved before you apply the filter. This makes sure that the filter's tones aren't getting in the way and affecting the colors that your eyes are seeing. If you're not familiar with editing and tweaking photos, a simple auto-adjust will help.

Tip: Try upping the contrast and lowering the saturation for a more natural effect.

3. Play!

Play around with an image for awhile ~ adjust each differently, save them to your gallery and open up the different edits in VSCO to play some more. Apply different filters, adjust the warmth, contrast, brightness. Editing should be like a mini experiment while training your eye to see what looks and feels best. You're the artist here and there are no rules ~ just play!

Ehhh actually, I lied. There is one rule I always try and abide by: don't overdo it. Never apply more than one filter and don't go overboard on the contrast and clarity tools. That's a quick way to make something look too over-processed. The more natural the better.

Tip: I don't even like to apply the entire filter in VSCO. Try toning it down to +8 rather than the full +12.

4. Stay consistent.

Once you've experimented and discovered a style you like, stick with one or two filters (preferably of the same family). For example, I always use the F2 (mellow) filter in VSCO. However, when I first started editing and sharing my photos, I'd use three or four filters... and my Instagram feed looked like a jumbled mess. Stay consistent and your feed will look clean and mindful.

Tip: But on the real, don't be too hard on yourself. You're learning. Your style and eye will change over time (as it should). And honestly, even the most famous photographers / Instagrammers still have no idea what they're doing.

Mostly, have fun with it. It's so good to sit and play with your photos and it feels great when you have a beautiful finished project that you're proud of. Keep exploring and experimenting!

hello fall by Shelby Robinson

Fall is in the air. I can feel it. The cool mornings and evenings, the rice fields changing from forest green to yellow-green to golden hues, the foods at the market slowly disappearing to be replaced with other seasonal deliciousness.

I've always been a person to really enjoy the change in seasons. To need them. To ignite an excitement deep within my bones, a gentle little reminder that as the seasons are changing, I'm changing too. A reminder to allow the change to flow through me rather than against me.

I feel especially lucky that I am in a place that has four seasons and that I am here long enough to experience all of them. It's been really magical. And now I'm ready to witness what my final season in Korea is like. Here are a few things I am looking forward to most:

  • Drinking ~ Hot chai teas and morning coffee while the sun peaks through my window.
  • Eating ~ Warm, slow cooked meals (especially this lentil soup).
  • Learning ~ More in-depth about the technical side of photography. You can take loads of free online classes here.
  • Writing ~ Weekly. My worries, happiness, action. Taking time to note each in detail.
  • Anticipating ~ Lindsey's arrival. She'll be here for 10 days in November (!!!).
  • Listening ~ to Lord Huron's Strange Trails. The lyrics and vibes are so perfect for the season.
  • Practicing ~ Meditation each morning. I've been saying I'd do it for months, but I finally have a good groove going. I'll keep you posted.
  • Enjoying ~ Long bike rides, Sereoksan hikes, and sunny blue skies. The bluest I've ever seen.
  • Remembering ~ That life isn't perfect. Sometimes it's a chaotic mess. Sometimes I feel empty and just wish I could be home, on my couch, head in my mama's lap. And sometimes it's fucking beautiful. Sometimes I'm surrounded by amazing, hilarious friends enjoying Korean food, engaged in inspiring conversation, and I'm just like yea, this is it. The highs and lows are inevitable. And that's okay. I'm remembering to embrace it all.
  • Traveling ~ To this insanely gorgeous island next weekend.
  • Planning ~ Post-Korea travel adventures. Southeast Asia, bits of California, back home to Michigan. I'm stupid excited.

Goodbye, summer. I enjoyed your lusciousness and hot, hot rays, your cucumber, apple, avocado smoothies and bingsu binges. But fall, I'm so ready for you.

What are you most excited for?

good things lately by Shelby Robinson

Eight months.

It seems so silly to me that this amount of time has gone by. But then when I really think back to my first, second or third month here or I read old journal entries I think, oh my god I was a completely different person. I feel like I have grown more here in the past eight months than I would in four years back home. No joke. And I think it's because I was forced to. Forced to change and adapt and figure myself out loads more. It's a really lovely thing to know that when my contract is up in four months, I will be completely different from who I am now. In a good way.

Eight months ago I wrote a post about my first week in South Korea. Coincidentally, I had met up with Kate in Seoul that weekend too. Meeting up with her sporadically throughout our Korean journeys has been such a pleasure. And comparing both sets of photos from then and now was such a joy, too.

Anyways.

Here are a few good things I'm grateful for lately ~

+ Exploring new parts of Seoul. I haven't spent too much time in the Myeongdong and Bukchon areas, and I'm so happy I did on Sunday. This city has so much more to offer than I realize.

+ The views in this country. They constantly blow me away. You can be in the heart of the hustle and bustle and look up to see a giant, beaming mountain in front of you. It's so good.

+ Friends and family, near and far, who send me love on my birthday. This weekend was so special to me and I'm convinced it's because you all made it that way. Even though I wasn't home, I felt everyone's love and presence. And for the people here who made it special, you are such beautiful souls. Thank you.

+ Rooftops and wine. It's funny when Kate and I get together because we not only catch up on life in Korea, but we are also reminiscent of our home lives and our friends and of college. I love having her here.

+ Street food. Oh my god, especially egg bread. The one Kate's holding in the picture is an egg bread with almonds and sunflower seeds and peanuts on top. It tastes like a mix between an egg mcmuffin and cornbread, but better. And for $1.

+ Korea. Because sometimes I can sit and complain and hate on it because dammit I just want fresh avocados and cheap wine and Mexican food at my fingertips, but it's such a beautiful place. The people, the nature, the mountains, my kids, the kimbap and side dishes and tteokbokki.... I'm remembering to love it even when I don't. Because I know I will miss it when I'm home.

What are you grateful for lately? I'd love to know....!