Experiencing the Extraordinary: My Summer in Nicaragua

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

By Nicole Larson

You would think by having a waterproof, shockproof camera that your pictures would be safe. Well, not from a little girl who doesn’t read English. With the pressing of just a few buttons she managed to delete the 1,000 pictures documenting a month of my time in Nicaragua. Luckily, I found a program to retrieve photos that have been deleted from a memory card and I am thankful that, in my whole summer of traveling, that incident was the closest thing that could be considered a disaster.

This past summer I traveled to the rural community of Jucuapa Occidental, Nicaragua, to build a bridge with the University of Iowa student group Continental Crossings. During my time in Jucuapa, I was also able to collect data regarding the watershed of the area to determine the amount of run-off from the land before farming, how the conversion of more land to farm land will affect the river and the possibility of increased flooding in the future. I will continue to analyze this data over the following semester to reach conclusions.

All of this gave me great, real-world experience related to my degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. I was able to gain construction skills, learn surveying skills and explore theories related to hydrology, and I plan to continue to analyze the data I collected over the next semester. It also gave me invaluable experience practicing my Spanish speaking skills with my host family and many amazing Nicaraguan people.

One of these amazing people is the little girl I mentioned previously. Her name is Maider and she became my best friend this summer. The nights were spent playing cards or teaching her how to make friendship bracelets. During the days that she didn’t go to school, she would help me shovel sand or pick up small rocks to help build the bridge. As we did this we would make up riddles to each other. One day she took me to her friend’s birthday party where I was able to meet many of the community members. Everybody was extremely friendly and would offer food even if you had just eaten lunch. At this party I was forced to take a swing at the piñata, which had to be done while dancing to a mariachi band. The last night I was in Jucuapa Occidental, Maider decided she would do my makeup. I ended up with a pale face, rosy red cheeks, globs of lip gloss and bright turquoise eyelids.

In my future, I would like to continue working in developing areas of Central America. I am already discussing with other classmates about getting involved in an Engineering Senior Design project involved in possibly El Salvador or the Dominican Republic. This time I spent in Jucuapa has allowed for a practical application of engineering theory but it was so much more than that. Even if I had ended up losing all my photos from Maider deleting them, it would have been impossible to forget the memories that were created during my time spent in Nicaragua. I’m thankful I was able to have that opportunity. I encourage everybody to step out of the comfort of their life and experience something extraordinary.

Nicole's trip abroad was made possible through a Stanley Undergraduate Award for International Research. The award is given annually to outstanding University of Iowa undergraduates for the pursuit of learning activities in international studies that are not available on the UI campus. Learn more.