Life Lessons

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2007

This issue, our annual education report, is filled with stories about preparing young people for the new global market, with plenty of evidence that rushing off to a four-year college may not be the best career path.

I wholeheartedly agree. My idealistic 19-year-old son, Isaac, just returned from Nicaragua where he spent six months working on an organic farm, translating at a small museum and teaching English and guitar. Although he was accepted last year by several good colleges, he kept putting off making a final decision. My husband and I realized he needed something college couldn't provide right now, and we could see the relief on his face when we told him to find something else productive to do. He got on the Internet and found an internship with the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

Of course, I fretted about his health, safety and happiness. He was placed in a small town in northern Nicaragua where no one else spoke English. He had taken some high school Spanish, but couldn't understand anyone at first; and he also struggled with loneliness, with bathing in a bucket of cold water and with daily power outages. But by the time we visited him in December, he was fluent in Spanish and at home in the village. All the children knew him and adored him. How had he adapted so quickly? "I had to learn. I had to put myself out there or face isolation," he said. He was our guide as we traveled around the country and showed a confidence and independence he didn't possess when we said good bye last September.

He's home now, wiser and a little less idealistic about politics and his own desire to live a life without creature comforts. And if I don't count the day I found him and his sister watching Tom and Jerry cartoons in the middle of the afternoon, he's setting his own ambitious schedule for work, exercise, music and friends. His time in Nicaragua was the best education he could have received. And he's ready and enrolled for college next fall. Does he know what he'll be majoring in? No, but he knows he has the internal resources to get there.

We're learning, too. After three years of pronouncing our nine-syllable name, we've decided we need one that's shorter, smarter and more direct. Next month we'll come to you as Biz941, a name we think communicates, with spirit and energy, that we're all about doing business in the area code of Manatee and Sarasota. We hope you'll like our new name.

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