In 2008, we launched on a multi-year “Green Global Trek”. For years we had yearned for the freedom to sculpt a more nomadic lifestyle, once our four teen-age boys would be off to college. We prepared the terrain, gradually, by doing some research about potential launch points for our global trek and decided on Nicaragua as a starting point.
Why Nicaragua? Our criteria were three: We wanted to create an environment where our boys would come and visit (i.e. close enough to Chicago, our U.S. home base) and where they could over time develop some Spanish language capability which we deemed critical for their professional and personal development; We wanted an affordable place in the sun, rich with architectural beauty in the city and natural beauty in the surrounding countryside and beaches; And we wanted a country where we felt our skills set could be put to good use in some way – Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere certainly had plenty of opportunities for both social and environmental impact.
So in preparation of a future as “empty nesters”, we visited the country several times, bought a small property in the heart of the historic district, designed and built our dream house within 6 months, and started to travel there over a period of 3 years as often as we could get time away from our work and could afford the tickets, while the boys finished high school.
The very next week after our youngest graduated high school, we packed our bags, sold the bulk of our “stuff” accumulated over years, reached a deal with the bank that held our mortgage, bought one way tickets, and were on our way to Granada, Nicaragua, with our two dogs.
Ben is a strategy consultant and has spent the bulk of his professional life advising corporations in the aerospace industry about diversification and growth strategies. The core skills set he developed professionally would port well to an elaboration of personal strategies to make our move to living in Nicaragua a successful one. I am an artist with a psychology background and the ability to network, which would serve us well in the endeavor to form a new group of friends and relationships in our new home.
The experience of living abroad is exponentially richer as one engages directly with the community, rather than life on the periphery as detached “expats”. No longer tourists taking in the sights of our beautiful new town, we wanted to become actors, not mere observers.
We did a quick inventory of what assets we could bring to our new community in Granada, at relatively minor cost and relatively quickly. We settled on the idea of leveraging my skills set as a painter.
In our first week in country after our move, we therefore marched into a nearby high-school, met the Principal of the school, found out that he did not have an arts program, due to lack of funding and lack of time to organize it. We offered to kick-start an arts program. He was dubious but open minded, thinking we were tourists “playing at impact”, probably never to return. Clearly he didn’t know us. We returned that same week with boxes full of drawing and painting material and a potential Nicaraguan young artist who agreed to partner with us as teacher for a new arts program. The first class was offered within days and by the end of the term 7 students were enthusiastic participants. The Principal, recognizing that we were not “all talk”, asked us to think about how to expand this initial effort into a more robust arts program. I sold a few of my large paintings and used the funds to expand the arts program. Over the next 18 months, the program grew to include 7 courses on painting, drawing, tile making and photography, reaching 150 kids.