We recently had the pleasure of catching up with the charming, intelligent, and beautiful Sheryll Donerson, founder of The Wanderlust Project. In addition to taking her to new locales around the world, her travels have led to a tremendous amount of self-exploration and discovery. We hope that you enjoy her insights as much as we did.
On your blog you talk favorably about your time London, which was your first time abroad. Were you expecting the trip to be such a powerful experience?
I definitely wasn't expecting the trip to be such a life changing experience for me. I was 20 at the time, and even though I was a good 8.5 hour drive away from my family, living and working alone, I experienced a different kind of freedom in London. It was my first time booking trips on my own, my first time going to a bar where I was able to drink, my first time going to a club until 6am, my first time sneaking into a dorm at an international university, etc., the list goes on.
What apprehensions did you have (if any) prior to that trip?
Weirdly, one of my main apprehensions about the trip was drinking beer. Prior to the trip, I wasn't much of a drinker, and I HATED beer. Of course, London is a beer capital, and I was just really afraid of being forced to drink beer all the time. Thankfully, I acquired a taste for it and it's one of my favorite drinks now.
Talk a little about the "sexual awakening" you had in London. What do you think contributed to that?
Traveling to London was the first time in my life that I really experienced freedom. I was studying, but even our professors said school work came second. They wanted us to really experience a different culture, to travel, to talk to people and experience things we'd never seen before. I really took advantage of that. I frequently traveled the city alone, went to the areas other people didn't want to go to. I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I think living in London made me more comfortable with myself. I think it was the time that I really grew up and became an adult.
Now you're in Korea, a society that some may call rigid, or ceremonial. What do you think about sexual expression here? Does it make Salt Lake City look like the Amsterdam?
To me, South Korea is a bit prudish. Then again, I feel like if I read/spoke/understood Korean, I may have a different opinion. Porn is illegal here, and most websites are blocked, yet S. Korea is one of largest consumers of pornography in the world (more than the US!), so that's definitely saying something. Sex is seen as something that is reserved for marriage, and most adults can't move out of their parents houses until they marry. So of course, couples go to DVD bangs (private rooms where you can watch a DVD...and do other things), or they rent a love motel for the night. Love motels and DVD bangs are everywhere, and everyone knows what they are for, but no one talks about it. It's all seems very hush hush.
I feel like S. Korea is a country that is incredibly technologically advanced, but I feel like a lot of the opinions of the citizens are stuck in the 50s. It's a very old-fashioned, traditional way of life here. And of course, the introduction of Christianity here definitely doesn't make matters any better.
You're big on cosmetics.
I'm a huge beauty junkie. Some may even call it borderline obsessed. I'm always browsing the latest magazines and blogs for the newest trends, watching YouTube videos, making notes in my journal.
When I buy lotion in Korea I'm afraid I'm going to accidentally bleach my skin or something.
Korea is one of the cosmetics capitals of the world, so I did a bunch of research before I moved here to make sure I'd be able to use the products. Of course, when one thinks of skincare in S. Korea, they think of white, crystal clear skin. Like pretty much every expat that moves here, I had my reservations about using any of the products here in fear that I'd end up looking like Sammy Sosa. I've learned that pretty much all products used for whitening are clearly labeled as such, and most of the heavy duty stuff is available by prescription. Pretty much all of your basic cleansers and moisturizers will be free of bleaching agents. As Korean cosmetics are starting to become a global phenomenon (thanks to the ever ubiquitous BB cream), many of the products have labels in both English and Korean. If I'm ever unclear on the nature of the product, I do a quick google search on my phone for other reviews. Lots of women in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have Korean cosmetic blogs that are wonderful resources. Don't be afraid!
I feel like a lot of Korean women are trying to fit into a very narrow range of what beautiful is, rather than embracing what they have. What's your take?
I taught middle school last year, and I did a lesson with my female students on beauty. At the end of the lesson, they stood up and clapped. They thanked me for telling them that they were beautiful the way they are, that all of the stuff we see in magazines and TV and movies aren't real, that celebrities don't even look like themselves by the time the photoshop is finished. I really don't think people realize that all the people we idolize and look up to don't even look like themselves in "real" life.
I think it's cool that you grew to embrace yourself— your curves— during your transformational time in London.
Sadly, women all over the world are held up to ridiculous beauty standards. There are plenty of times I look at myself in the mirror and wonder why I don't look like Rosa Acosta. Women in the US and S. America are so desperate for bigger butts that they are letting people inject who knows what into them. Women in India and Nigeria are bleaching themselves to have lighter skin. Women in Korea are going under the knife to get 'double eyelids'. It makes me sad. Of course, to each her own, and I'm all for women doing what they want to do to their bodies. I just really hope that one day, women all around the world can love themselves as they are.
How have you and Johnny's (your best friend and boyfriend of 7 years) relationship evolved through your travels? You can definitely learn more about someone by traveling with them. You learn a lot about yourself too.
Johnny and I have definitely grown into a much stronger couple through our travels. He's literally the only person in the world I can imagine traveling with. He's not only my partner, but he's my best friend. I'm the planner, the researcher, the reader. I'm more of the type to stay by the book and to be honest, I'm not the most adventurous person on the planet. My idea of exciting is going shopping. But Johnny has an adventurers spirit. He pushes me out of my comfort zone. He makes me try food that I would never try on my own, makes me see movies, museums, art shows that I would never see. I'm very careful, and he's definitely more spontaneous. We balance each other out very well.
You said that you were trying "to fit into the mold of a travel writer" and that kind of created some inertia. How did you cure that problem?
I've definitely been struggling with trying to "label" myself as a blogger. One of the things that they always tell you that you must have in order to be a 'successful' blogger is a niche. At first, I did consider myself a travel writer and my blog was a travel blog. But I feel like I want to blog about so much more than travel. I have many passions: travel, fashion, design, food, wine, the list goes on.
After the success of my hugely popular Korean cosmetics posts, I decided that I don't need a thought that I wanted to switch and be a beauty blogger..but I realized I didn't want to be confined to that mold either. So, after some heavy journal writing, I decided that I wasn't going to push myself to fit into a specific mold. It really was as simple as telling myself that I can do and write about whatever I want. Plenty of bloggers are popular and they post about whatever is inspiring them at the moment, so why can't I?
As a foodie, what is your favorite (international) dish to date?
To date, my favorite international dish has to be my meal at the Tekksen restaurant in Penang, Georgetown. I had the mapo tofu, chicken in plum sauce and spinach sauteed with eggs. It was so simple, but SO delicious. I've never had Chinese food that good in my life. I still think about it. A close second would be the cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita in Rome.
What destinations are on your travel list?
After we leave Korea, Johnny and I are planning to go to Vietnam to teach for about 6 months. After that, we're going to travel through S.E. Asia, and then it's on to Central and South America. I am dying to go to Brazil, and I'd love to be able to go before the Olympics and World Cup madness.
What's your travel philosophy?
Go big or go home.