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Tanzania: A Nation Where Science Meets Society by Nina De Luna, Immunology and Infectious Disease Major

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Posted: December 18, 2018

“One of the greatest aspects of this program was its multidimensionality. It intertwined biological and social studies, which is a reality of life because neither aspect exists in isolation.”
The landscape in Tanzania was absolutely captivating. This photo was taken in Ndarakwai Camp, in northeastern Tanzania, during a game drive.

The landscape in Tanzania was absolutely captivating. This photo was taken in Ndarakwai Camp, in northeastern Tanzania, during a game drive.

It has always been a dream of mine to go to Tanzania. The incredible animals, beautiful landscape, and variety of cultures are simply unparalleled. I knew I would get there somehow, but I didn’t know when. Once I got to Penn State I figured college was a great time to go to Tanzania so I searched Penn State’s education abroad website for programs in Tanzania and I found the perfect one. I participated in a course called Biology of Eco-Health (BIOL 498).

Through this course, I spent three weeks in Tanzania living my dream of going on many guided walks and safaris during which I saw countless different species, including elephants (one of my favorite animals!) and lion cubs (so cute!). It was so incredible to see the inter-species interactions, which can only be seen in the wild. I also participated in lectures and discussions about human-environment interactions, regional ecology, and conservation of natural resources. 

Tanzania and its citizens were so unique to learn about because of how closely humans and nature are intertwined. People and their livestock interact very closely with wildlife, and these interactions come with the sharing of resources such as water and sources of food. Witnessing these interactions added great depth to our class discussions. As immunology and infectious disease major, I found it especially interesting to view these interactions from a biomedical perspective. When resources are shared and close interactions occur, the spread of disease is facilitated among humans, livestock, and wildlife. The transmission of zoonotic diseases was a big focus throughout the course, which made me even more interested in studying the prevention and treatment of these diseases. This would align with my interest of potentially going into the public health sector and conducting research.

One of the greatest aspects of this program was its multidimensionality. It intertwined biological and social studies, which is a reality of life because neither aspect exists in isolation. A result of the unique Tanzanian environment and history is the vastly different way of life of the people who live in this country. For me, a huge draw to traveling is meeting local people and understanding their way of life. I was able to interact with the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer community, and the Maasai, a pastoralist community. With both communities, we were able to ask each other questions to better understand one another. What really stuck with me was during our conversation with the Hadza they asked how we saw them. Our answers seemed to focus on their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and aspects about them that made them unique. When the Hadza answered the same question about us, they said that even though we may have different skin color or hair type, we are the same, with hearts that beat, a brain, and two legs that walk. The idea here is that regardless of what you look like or where you come from, inside we are all the same.

I feel that this experience gave me a better global perspective and understanding of other people. This is important because it will allow me to connect and understand other people more easily in my future endeavors, whether that be in my academic or professional career. Whether one realizes it or not, there is something to be learned from any conversation had with any person.

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania to see the wildlife and experience the culture. I hope that I will one day be able to return to this beautiful country to relive my experiences and learn some new things as well.