Looking Over The Horizon

“Write a letter to your future self”

That was the task given to myself and more than five hundred classmates as we filed into high school orientation on a balmy late-August morning. “You’ll receive this letter back with your high school diploma when you leave Highland Park High School,” the instructions continued.

Like nearly everyone else, with the thought of graduation inconceivably far off and giddy to move onto the more exciting parts of the day, I hurriedly scribbled a few things out without more than moments thought. I quickly forgot about that slip of paper as I descended into the twists and turns of high school adolescence.

Nearly four years later, my eyes welled up with tears as I pulled the long-forgotten letter from my graduation packet. As I read on, my diploma in-hand, I was struck by the unexpected thoughtfulness of my goals, most of which had materialized.

The introverted and risk-averse kid who wrote that letter during high school orientation would be in awe of the adventure he would be embarking on a decade later to travel the world. That exercise taught me that there’s something inherently powerful about writing down your goals while on the cusp of a transformative new experience, full of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a place to continually return to, when that optimism gradually makes space for the adversity that inevitably evolves from taking risks. It’s in the spirit of that first orientation letter, hours before 75 strangers from around the world descend on Montevideo to officially kick off Remote Year Battuta, that I chart out my goals for this upcoming year.

Keep my eye on the ball: professional development
One of the very conscious promises that I made to myself upon putting down the deposit for Remote Year last fall was that I’d use this year to advance myself professionally. I was simply not content leaving a job that I loved so much to galavant around the world on an extended vacation (which conveniently happened to be an option I could not afford regardless). Instead, I spent the second half of 2015 furiously on the job hunt for a position that would continue to challenge me, much in the same way that the Sierra Club pushed me to a new frontier in my career. I’m excited to have found that with an awesome team at Green For All, where I’ll be working to fine-tune and execute their communications strategy amidst implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan over the next year.

Don’t get me wrong; traveling around the world for a year is glamorous. But working full-time in a demanding job based thousands of miles away will ensure that I’ll work for every second of down time that I have in the evenings and weekends. When I arrive in Europe and Asia, late-night and early-morning conference calls will become regular occurrences. Keeping my eye on the ball with my job is ensuring that I have the means to see the next year full through to its full potential – and return to the United States ready to immediately jump into whatever comes next.

Experiment with different writing styles
While engaging in my job search, I simultaneously undertook a brainstorming process to identify unique writing opportunities to share my experiences more widely than a personal blog. That led me to the two outlets I’ll be regularly freelancing for, Mic and CreativeMornings. Both of these organizations were excited about the context of my trip, and were willing to extend me a high level of creative freedom to tell the stories that I’ll want to find a way to tell. They have also both provided me with editors to work with in development of the respective series, ensuring that I’ll be getting regular feedback on my writing and learning as I progress. I’ve already downloaded some books on my new Kindle in order to study different styles of writing, particularly as they relate to narratology and rhetorical devices.

Hone my amateur photography skills
The cities dotting my itinerary over the coming year are characterized by vastly different cultures, landscapes and architecture. If there was ever a time to learn how to properly capture my surroundings with a camera, this would be it. Investing a significant sum of money in a new camera – the mirrorless and compact Sony a6000 with two interchangeable lens – was done with this goal in mind. I’m lucky enough to have a brain trust of both amateur and professional photographers on my trip, and I plan on utilizing their skills to learn my way around this new gadget. This blog will serve as a forum to showcase the photographs that I’m most proud of.

Explore global Jewish and LGBT communities

My identity as a Jew and gay man are two things that I’m eager to take a deeper dive into this year. Nearly every city on my itinerary has either an active Jewish community, gay scene, or both. There’s only one country, Malaysia, that still considers homosexual behavior illegal, though I’ve been told it’s not enforced and that are a number of lively gay bars dot the nightlife neighborhoods Kuala Lumpur. Finding these communities and getting to know the individuals that lead them are high on my priority list. Where possible, I’d love to attend a local Shabbat service at a Chabad or Jewish community center. Similarly, beyond going out to gay bars until the early hours, I want to see and tour the local LGBT centers that service residents. These community centers serve as the local hubs that have their fingers on the pulse of the population, and I’m excited to get a sense of how these communities vary in significantly different cultures around the world.

Get a taste of local music

There are few more powerful expressions of a local culture than music. One of my first actions at the top of each month will be to survey upcoming live music with local artists, and carve out time to attend at least one show (hopefully more). I’ve been curious to explore varying types of world music ever since I caught an The Idan Raichel Project concert in high school, a leading Israeli artist famous for his cross-cultural collaborations with other Israeli, Latin, Africa and Arab artists. I also have some major music festivals on my itinerary, including TomorrowLand Brazil and Lollapalooza Argentina.

Try local culinary dishes
I’ll be in a position with this trip to eat out at restaurants far more than I’m used to back home, due to the strength of the U.S. dollar abroad compounded by the weakness of many local currencies. I’ll be deliberately distributing my meals across the best of local restaurants and corner, hole-in-the-wall eateries. My goal is to use my new local friends to identify the most unique dishes and delicacies, some of which I’m sure will make their way onto this blog.

Put fitness at the center of my daily “routine”
“Routine” is in quotations since the entire structure of Remote Year makes it difficult, if not impossible to establish anything resembling a normal routine. Every month, I’ll be put in the position of getting aquatinted to a new home, new neighborhood and new culture. But one of the constants will be my fellow Remotes: the 75 individuals traveling alongside me. I’ve set a goal to not only maintain a regular gym schedule – beginning with finding a new gym in each city, no small task – but also experimenting with various forms of exercise. That means keeping things interesting, like taking a local parkour classes or trying my hand at a boxing gym. As a cautiously athletic adult, my shameful elementary school kickball days still at the forefront of my mind, this will allow me to push outside my comfort zone in a healthy and productive way. I know that I’ll be encountering yet unforeseen personal and professional obstacles, and there’s no better outlet to work through them than exercise.

Learn as much Spanish as I can
If I could possess any skill on earth, it would be the mastery of world languages. Unfortunately, my love for travel and cultures has yet to translate into any language other than English (and some horrible conversational Hebrew). With the next four months in South America, I want to take every chance that I can to obtain conversational Spanish skills. I’ll be taking classes multiple times per week, in addition to encouraging my new friends to force my practice.

Give back through local volunteering
Each city that I’ll be visiting will undoubtedly be enriching my life in different ways. I’m determined to be observant of the local pain points and find a thoughtful way to give back in each of these countries. My priority will be to do this in an organized capacity, such as volunteering with the local Jewish Federation to feed the local homeless population or assisting at a local nursing home. If that’s too difficult to organize or I’m strapped for time, I’ll take it upon myself to set up my own volunteer opportunity like spending an afternoon cleaning up a local park.