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August 22, 2019

A love of teaching, discovered at FGCU, leads to Peace Corps

Alum who found her passion through service-learning will teach English in Thailand

You might be one volunteer opportunity away from an epiphany that could reshape your life’s direction. At least that’s how it happened for Krista Kihlander, who recently was accepted into the Peace Corps.

When Kihlander first came to FGCU, she was thinking of a career in elementary education. She had volunteered as a soccer coach and classroom assistant before, so she knew teaching suited her.

She decided to major in communications and get her minor in education because she felt the things she learned in communications could help her give a voice to unheard populations, such as children and animals. Between her teaching and public relations skills, she had set a course for working within the Florida educational system upon graduation. But that extra spark—that driving passion for teaching—had not yet fully ignited within her.

photo is of FGCU alumna
Krista Kihlander

Then she took FGCU’s civic engagement class and a few things happened. To begin with, the course inspired her to volunteer for an internship doing social media for a large animal rights nonprofit. This gave her the professional experience and workplace skills she needed to land her current job as a social media coordinator for Sentient Media, a nonprofit animal-rights-focused news organization.

But it also introduced Kihlander to the International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) program. With a grant from the Honors College, where she served as a mentor to other honors students, she went to Bali for two weeks to teach English and environmental education to fourth-graders. And that’s when everything changed.

Kihlander had never traveled overseas before. And being in Indonesia awakened her to new possibilities. She found she loved learning about different cultures. And she also discovered that, even without knowing any Balinese, she could teach effectively. None of this had occurred to her before.  There she was, awake and alive to exciting new options for her future.

She had always known she wanted to teach, but this two-week journey confirmed it in a way she had never experienced before. And she also knew where she wanted to start. In January 2020, Kihlander will embark on a two-year assignment for the Peace Corps, volunteering to teach English in Thailand. She has no idea where that journey will lead, but she’s confident she’s following her purpose.

[ Learn about FGCU’s Peace Corps Prep program ]

Kihlander found that the dreams we have for ourselves are limited to what we know is possible. And when her knowledge of the world expanded, so did her possibilities. She learned that there was so much more needed in this world—so much more that was available to her outside of Florida and the U.S.

“I highly recommend service-learning to people who want to discover the things they love. It’s risk free. If you find you don’t like something, move on. But trying different opportunities is one of the best ways to pinpoint areas of passion within yourself,” she says.

For this 2019 FGCU Hall of Famer, service-learning delivers benefits beyond the way it makes you feel about yourself. Amassing 575 hours of service-learning — and far exceeding requirements — opened her mind to new possibilities, revealed more of what she is capable of doing, helped develop her professional skills and reshaped her plans for her future.

“I have always believed that if you’re able to help, you should”, she says. “From speaking to friends at other schools, I know service-learning is something not many universities require. Some will always see it as a chore or a box they have to tick off. But FGCU should continue doing it forever. It positively impacted both my college experience and my life.”