Trip to Africa an "Adventure" for Mule Runner

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If Melanie Tramontina tells you she saw things on her summer training runs that none of her teammates did, she ain’t lion.

The rising junior on the Muhlenberg cross country and track teams recently completed a unique experience in East Africa. Tramontina, a biology major who plans to become a veterinarian, learned about the opportunity from a presentation given by a representative from the School for Field Studies (SFS) during her freshman year.

Center for Wildlife Having a desire to study abroad but not wanting to miss one of her athletic seasons and more interested in fieldwork than lab studies, Tramontina applied online last December and found out she had been accepted in February. From June 2 to July 1, she and 33 other students from schools all over the country (and even one from China) spent a month in Africa.

Here is her summary of the trip:

My trip was absolutely amazing ... I don’t even know where to begin. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.

The course I was taking was Wildlife Management and Conservation, but it felt way more like an adventure than a class. We focused a lot on human-wildlife conflicts in the area. Much of Tanzania relies on agriculture, so its land has been segmented into farms and grazing areas, which are often invaded by wild animals. The wildlife is then hunted by the people to try and prevent losing their livestock and crops, which just makes the situation worse. We had field lectures with guest speakers who talked about how the people have been trying to manage these issues, and we even created our own management plans.

wildlife We visited several national parks where wildlife are preserved such as Manyara, Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, and we went for a five-day expedition in the Serengeti. At all of these beautiful parks we got up close to the wildlife. We observed the behaviors of many animals and had specific assignments on baboons, elephants and carnivores and also did bird-mapping exercises.

Another major issue in Tanzania is the loss of natural resources. We learned a lot about how the people can better preserve the land, including the use of alternative fuels since their forests are being destroyed for firewood. We actually presented research completed by previous SFS students to a local village’s government board, which was awesome.

Sundays were our non-program days, which we used to basically explore the local towns and parks. We did a lot of shopping in markets, which was a crazy experience. We also biked in Manyara National Park and went on breathtaking hikes. The people were all very welcoming and their culture is amazing.

Melanie Tramontina It was very eye-opening to see such a different way of life. We did a really cool home-stay with local families for a day. We got to help the families cook, clean, take care of the children and basically just see what everyday life is like for them. Community service was also incorporated into our trip. We helped with maintenance work at a local primary school and played with the children there too.

I ran most every morning; our day started at 7:30, so I had to wake up pretty early. There was a small group of us who would run together, but we had to stay close to camp. It was really difficult because of the high elevation and it was also extremely hilly, but it was gorgeous – sometimes we would get to see the sunrise. We ran on dirt roads and sometimes local children would just jump right in and join our run. It was a lot of fun. We also played a lot of soccer, which is really popular there.

The only time we couldn’t run was in the Serengeti, so we did ab workouts. One time there was a herd of wildebeest literally less than 50 meters away, and I thought, doing abs in America will never be the same!

Overall, it was an incredible trip and I have completely fallen in love with Africa. I can’t wait to go back!

Melanie Tramontina The trip came at the end of what was already an eventful year for Tramontina. She was the No. 2 runner for the cross country team in the fall, earned a bronze medal at the Centennial Conference Championships in the winter and qualified for ECACs in the 5,000 meters (an event in which she owns the indoor school record) in the spring. She was named to the CC Academic Honor Roll all three seasons.

Outside of athletics, she worked as a career assistant in Muhlenberg’s Career Center, helping to answer questions about resumes and cover letters as well as edit the Center’s newsletter. Tramontina found that the job brought her interests together, as she was able to advise Mule athletes on how to market their athletic abilities in their job searches.

And then it was off to Africa.

“Our school offers so much no matter what you’re interested in,” she said. “There’s definitely opportunities for everyone here.”