Reflections on Nicaragua: A life-changing experience

By on April 1, 2018

Lauren Bolton and a spunky local named Stephania, who was attached to us from the first moment we rolled into Los Fierros to the minute we left the village. (Ben Douglas)

This is the second in a series on College of the Albemarle’s first-ever Study Abroad program. COA Dare student Lauren Bolton describes her experiences as part of a required essay students submitted after the trip concluded. Bolton works full time at a Dare restaurant, and has since been accepted into the COA School of Nursing.

By Lauren Bolton

Last fall, I caught a glimpse of a poster on a bulletin board, in a stairwell, while rushing to Anatomy class.

It was a flier for a study abroad program at COA with a picturesque image in the background.

I thought to myself, “Oh wow, Nicaragua…that sounds nice!” and kept on up the stairs not giving it a second thought.

I automatically assumed as a half-time student and full-time waitress, I could afford it neither monetarily nor did I have time for such an extravagant excursion. The weeks went on and I kept passing that same image over and over again fantasizing about the poster paradise and still, I just knew I couldn’t go.

Little did I know, that in just a few short months, I would, in fact, be in Nicaragua on a trip of a lifetime that would challenge my perspective, and create a new appreciation for the blessings I have.

Flashback to something serendipitous happening, leading me to inquire about the trip and the rest is history.

The dates were set for December 28 through January 5 and I couldn’t have been happier to escape yet another brutal OBX winter.

What I was most excited about, however, was that this was a service trip. This experience seemed like the perfect bridge to explore our world and myself.

Not only is giving back to those who are less fortunate one of the greatest things you can do as a human, it is an excellent opportunity for personal growth.

I have always wanted to participate in a program like this due to the core nature of it; I’ve just never been presented with the chance to do so.

The Nicaraguan people were my favorite part. Not a place or activity – the people.

They are deeply rooted in their community, family, and faith that despite having next to nothing, they have everything they need to be content. They were so welcoming and gracious, that I felt at home anyplace I went. Everywhere I traveled, I was greeted with a warm smile and a curiosity I’m not used to in the States.

Back home, we are all trapped in our bubbles…our houses, our cars, our phones, communicating with family, neighbors, and strangers minimally. But there are no comfort zones in Nicaragua.

“Beggar dogs” were ubiquitous in Nicaragua – hanging around villages or staking out territory in plazas, with each dog claiming al fresco seating at one or two restaurants and aggressively keeping out other canines. (Ben Douglas)

Merchants approaching you at every turn, tightly crammed chicken buses bustling through on their commute, and the many feral beggar dogs meandering around the masses looking for food.

Everyone and everything comes together creating a vibrant landscape of community and kinship. People spend real time with one another here, not because they must, but because they want to.

All over I saw gatherings of people and tables lining the streets and sidewalks for blocks at a time to share food and conversation.

‘Community’ was a big theme that kept flashing in my mind, and I think we could all learn and benefit a lot from this custom of joining together more often.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many facets to appreciate.

The weather, the weather, lots of plants, and the weather. This climate is ideal, for me anyway. I’m not enthusiastic about seasonal changes. Hot all the time is perfect, and that’s exactly what Nicaragua is. Hot.

Sometimes, due to the high altitude in places like Monte Tabor where we spent most of our time, it got quite chilly in the late nights and early mornings.

Greenery is everywhere you look. Hills, mountains, even volcanoes. Clouds tend to hug the mountaintops. (Russ Lay)

The mountainous terrain was breathtaking with all the diverse, lush greenery and rolling hills, I couldn’t believe it was real sometimes. While the Outer Banks does have a palm tree or two, it cannot compare to the tropical beauty Nicaragua radiates.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This adage, while cliché, is a pensive statement regarding the overall feeling I got while abroad.

Despite the garbage peppered streets and landscapes, I saw paradise; Despite the overwhelmingly destitute population, I saw happiness.

Despite all the undesirable manifestations, I saw the opportunity to make a difference. There was beauty in all of these unexpected places.

Seeing Third World conditions for the first time was a powerful, humbling experience.

You know these situations and people exist from reading about them or seeing it on TV or National Geographic, but to hear their stories, see their smiles, and feel their embrace, you realize that these people are just like you.

Had they have been born in the same ZIP code, they’d be your neighbors, family, and friends. This experience has really opened my eyes to different possibilities for my future and strengthened my resolve.

I’ve always wanted to help people but lacked the skills and resources to do so.

As I continue my education as a prospective registered nurse, I hope to graduate soon with the intentions of traveling to developing countries and using my medical skills to aid those without access to basic medical care.

Offering our time is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give, and I don’t plan to waste any of it.

There are still openings for the next trip, but time is running out. Students and parents who might be interested should contact Brian Edwards at to find out about summer course pre-requisites, costs, and scholarship opportunities to help make the trip more affordable for students.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Todd

    I fully agree with the author that the Nicaraguan people are wonderful and generous people, as are many other Latin American citizens. She observes that the population is overwhelmingly destitute and there are no comfort zones in Nicaragua. The reason for the poverty and the garbage peppered streets is because Nicaragua has had a Communist government for the last 20 years. They call themselves Sandinistas but they are Marxists pure and simple. Compare Nicaragua with neighboring Costa Rica with it’s democratic traditions and absence of any standing army and you can easily see why democracy politics wins every time.

    Monday, Apr 2 @ 5:04 pm
  • Martha

    To blame Nicaragua’s poverty on the Sandinista party shows a very narrow understanding of the causes of poverty and supports the long running misrepresentation of the country and it’s people to the world.

    For a broaders understanding of the topic of poverty in Nicaragua consider additional reading and the influences of not only the Sandinista government (which has had limited reign) and is much more market oriented today but also
    -The political influences by the powerhouse countrys around it (USA anyone), armed invasions, war, …
    -It’s geography and ecosystems, and natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes
    -History of dictatorship
    -Market access, etc etc

    Read more:

    Tuesday, Apr 3 @ 12:12 pm
  • David

    I am happy to compare Nicaragua with neighboring Costa Rica, where the cost of living is about three times as high and the influx of foreigners makes for a land of all-inclusive enclaves. In Nicaragua there actually is an indigenous population with a sense of identity and pride. The government in Nica is a fascinating mix of socialism and consumerism, which has provided newly paved roads and new roofs for the rain as well as encouraging private enterprise. and “no comfort zones” was a reference to the way we north americans like to escape and wall ourselves off from our neighbors, which is not the custom in Nicaragua.

    Friday, Apr 6 @ 9:15 pm
  • Michael Mars

    Funny, I have lived in Central America for the last 15 years, I am no way a Communist. Having said that, all the countries are very beautiful. But the top three have to be Nicaragua, Panama, and lastly Costa Rica.
    Nicaragua for the beauty, people, life style, and safety. Next would be Panama , for the same reasons, but getting a real commercial feeling , wall to wall malls popping up from east to west.

    Costa Rica may be one of the most beautiful but feels more expensive than the States, and the least safest country of the 3 . Most of the expats I met in Nicaragua or Panama have very little positive things to say about Costa Rica. I agree.

    Friday, Apr 6 @ 9:44 pm




    BILL R.

    Monday, Apr 16 @ 1:10 pm