Study abroad experience in Tanzania takes one student to new heights

January 25, 2024
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Many people fly a flag at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate climbing their way to 19,341 feet, but Jackson Sargent ’24 might be the very first person to ever fly his Saint Michael’s College sweatshirt on the peak of Africa’s highest mountain.

The St. Mike’s senior completed a semester-long study abroad program in Tanzania in fall 2023 studying wildlife conservation and political ecology. After four months of studying in Tanzania, he stayed a bit longer to conquer one final goal: Mount Kilimanjaro.

Sargent at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with his Saint Michael’s Sweatshirt. (Courtesy)

Sargent says he soloed Kilimanjaro because he didn’t climb with anyone he knew, but it’s government-mandated that all climbers must have a government-approved guide. Sargent’s team included a guide and four porters who helped carry gear and set up camp. His Saint Michael’s hoodie became a shared source of comfort for all of them as they took turns wearing it on the climb.

Sargent comes from a family of mountaineers. His father is a mountaineering guide in Vermont and was in the army for 26 years. Sargent climbed Cotopaxi in Ecuador, which has an elevation of 19,347 feet, with his entire family when he and his younger sister were around ages 16 and 13 respectively.

“We’ve always been really into pushing the limits in climbing all over the world,” Sargent said, who was raised in Cambridge, a town in rural northern Vermont.

Sargent said he went into his semester abroad with the plan to climb Kilimanjaro and “packed accordingly.”


“You really feel like an adventurer,” he said, recalling the monkeys and Cape buffalo he encountered on the climb. “I just really remember the stars…. You’re above the clouds. There’s little to zero light pollution where you are in Africa.And the detail of the stars was absolutely incredible. I’ve never experienced something like that before.”

Sargent said he went from car to summit in three days and spent a fourth day descending. He paced himself on the climb up and drank lots of water to avoid altitude sickness. He said he only experienced mild symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue.

“Whenever you’re mountaineering, you really have to make sure that you respect the mountain, and you respect people that have done it before,” Sargent said. “Don’t think you know everything.”

After the climb, Sargent emailed the picture of himself at the summit of Kilimanjaro with his St. Mike’s sweatshirt to Saint Michael’s Biology Professor Declan McCabe and asked if “this qualified for extra credit.” Sargent said McCabe had helped him spearhead the study abroad program and wanted to surprise him with the photo.

Sargent said the study abroad experience in Tanzania alone brought him to new heights. During his time, he went hunting with the Hadzabe tribe, one of the last tribes in Africa that speaks in clicks. The tribe nomadically hunts throughout Tanzania.


“It was absolutely amazing being out there. If I could go back right now, I would,” Sargent said. “I really love the adventure of being out in the bush.”

Sargent has his sights set on Alaska’s Denali next, which is the highest peak in North America. He graduates from Saint Michael’s on May 12 and said he will be on a plane to Alaska the very next day. After that, he plans to enlist in the army with a long-term goal to work as a game warden and a state biologist in Vermont someday.

“My family has fought in every U.S. conflict in the army since the Revolutionary War and before, so it’s tradition, but also, that sense of country and serving a purpose higher than yourself,” Sargent said.

Thinking about his time in Tanzania and conquering Kilimanjaro, he added, “If you really want to do something you’re passionate about, go and do it.”

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