re·flec·tion, n.
1. the act of reflecting or the state of being reflected.
2. an image; representation; counterpart.
3. a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration.
4. a thought occurring in consideration or meditation.

T.S. Eliot had it right, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

As 2011 draws to a close, I find myself looking back on a year that has taken me far from where I started. Last year at this time I was sitting at a 9-to-5 planning my escape from the American rat race and not really knowing where the path would lead. I bought the ticket. I took the ride. And a riiiiiiiiide it has been! I cannot possibly recap it all here. There have been so many rewarding experiences and highlights – working in human trafficking prevention, teaching Burmese migrant youth, ziplining through northern Thailand, trekking to remote hill tribe villages in Burma, longtail boating up the Mekong River, dancing at sky bars in Saigon, touring the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, taking in the magnificence of the Angkor Temples, venturing into red light districts in Bangkok and beyond, snorkeling in the unparalleled beauty that is Andaman Sea, meeting people from all over the world, and, of course, shutterbugging my way through six countries. *Note:  16,489 images shot this year! Goddamn!

Leaving my old life behind and taking the leap into the unknown was the best thing I could’ve done for myself. It reignited my spark; got me out of my comfort zone; gave me a rebirthing of sorts. That is not to say that living abroad is without it’s challenges. Language and cultural barriers; missing friends and family; trying to save face despite one’s Americanness; continually being reminded that you are indeed a foreigner; and all the comforts from home:  washing machines that work; wine that isn’t of the cooler variety; cheese that doesn’t come from a squirt bottle; hand soap and toilet paper in every bathroom. But there are amazing things here that one cannot get back home: Southeast Asian sunsets, exotic fruit, food so spicy it numbs your lips, the absence of road-rage and corporate culture, the ubiquitous Thai smile, monks chanting and collecting alms, vibrant green rice fields, children who captivate your heart, and motorbiking through cities and villages alike. It’s a way of life I’ve become accustom to.

The world has seen dramatic change this year.  The Arab Spring, the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi, the Occupy Movement, the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the end of the Iraq war, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and natural disasters in Japan, Thailand, Burma, Pakistan, Turkey and the Philippines. Oh, and the birth of the 7 billionth baby. As we are now three days from 2012, I can’t help but reflect on this year’s events – both globally and personally. No one knows what 2012 has in store for any of us. So I say live. Live your best life. Reinvent yourself if you want. Do what you always wanted to do but never thought you could. Say what you always wanted to say but were too afraid.  Take risks.  Be bold.  And help the less fortunate out along the way.


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