Check out this interview with Tristan Schreck, a 2005 alum of our summer community service program in Tanzania who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his leader after their month spent in the village. Tristan graduated from Drexel University with a degree in International Business and is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.
You participated in a summer high school Community Service program in Tanzania with Putney in 2005, can you tell us a little bit about your experience?
I wanted to do something different. Most kids in my high school were leaving to go on their Senior Week trips. I, however, embarked on a life-changing experience. I made new friends, learned some Swahili, and learned a lot about myself.
What sort of things stand out most in your mind from that summer program in Africa? What do you feel you gained from the volunteer travel program?
Working with local people on a project that benefits a community is one of the best feelings in the world. Admittedly, I got addicted to it on this trip. I gained self confidence and I learned to be more open-minded.
Tell us a little bit about your decision to stay in Tanzania following the community service program and summit Mount Kilimanjaro with your leader.
I remember it all very well. We were on a group walk during the program with the rest of the Community Service Tanzania students. Lee, one of our leaders, mentioned in passing that he was going to climb Kilimanjaro afterwards and kind of jokingly asked if anyone would like to join him. I told him I would love to! He seemed surprised but was excited to have a companion on the trip.
I had to work out a lot of the details with my parents, but everything went perfectly smooth and a week after the program ended I was going on another great adventure.
What was the ascent like? How did it feel to successfully reach the summit?
I did not know much at the time about Kilimanjaro, apart from it being the tallest mountain in Africa. Lee was very knowledgeable, however. Among many things, he explained that there are six zones. We started in Cultivated Areas then hiked through Rain Forest, Heath, Moorland, Alpine Desert and finally the Summit. My favorite part was the Moorland and the trees that had been shaped by the strong winds.
We woke up around two in the morning on the day we were to summit. The plan was to get to the top just before sunrise using flashlights. As we got higher up I started to feel the onset of altitude sickness. The classic headache and nausea set in. I remember sitting down for a minute thinking I was not going to make it. Our guide came up to me and just smiled and held out his hand to lift me up. That was all it took to get me back on track.
I have tried many times, to no avail, to explain to friends and family what it was like to see the sunrise at the summit. No words or pictures will ever do it justice. You really have to experience it for yourself.
What are you up to these days? Can you connect the dots between that high school summer program and today?
After that summer trip I went to college at Drexel University and majored in International Business. After that I applied and was accepted into the Peace Corps in Ecuador. I am currently working in Ecuador and will be done with my two years in August.
I can definitely connect the dots between the Tanzania community service trip and where and who I am today. I would not be the same person I am today had I not gone on the trip. Writing this is bringing back a whole lot of great memories.
I hope to make it back to Mlangarini, the village where we worked, to see the tree I planted before we left. I told the people I would come back some day and that is a promise I intend to keep.
Do you have any advice for high school students about to embark on their first summer program abroad this summer?
Be open-minded and try new things. This is the best time to break out of your shell and find out who you really are.
I almost did not drink the goat’s blood that was offered to me. It’s a Massai cultural tradition, and there was no pressure from them to try it. I was grossed out by it at first, but eventually I gave it a shot and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I am glad I have that memory instead of not trying it and wondering, what if I did try it?
And remember, HAVE FUN! You will remember the trip for the rest of your life.