By the time Kiera Eckhardt graduated from high school, she was eager to enter the Peace Corps. Her high school was an International Baccalaureate World School, so that helped spark her interest in different cultures. And, as a veteran Girl Scout and avid volunteer, she was itching to get out into the world, learn more about different cultures, and help people. But her mother had other ideas and talked Eckhardt into going straight to college instead.
Now, four years later, her dream is coming true.
Eckhardt is the first student from FGCU’s year-old Peace Corps Prep Program to accept a service-based placement in the Peace Corps. She will be traveling to Ecuador for a two-year assignment teaching English as a foreign language. As an anthropology major graduating Dec. 15, her fascination with different cultures and people will give her a strong foundation for success.
The Peace Corps Prep Program launched in January 2019. Through classes and volunteer work, Peace Corps Prep helps students build the key competencies they need to be considered for Peace Corps work. At the end of the program, students receive a certificate of completion from the Peace Corps, a competitive edge when applying for service.
“The Peace Corps Prep Program sets you up for success for traveling abroad and working for an NGO. You have access to faculty and it grooms and mentors you to pursue your Peace Corps aspirations,” Eckhardt says.
While the program is extracurricular, it does require three courses that align with a specific Peace Corps work sector and 50 hours of volunteer or work experience in that same sector. These are requirements most ambitious students would fulfill anyway. Entering the program as a senior, Eckhardt already had those requirements locked down.
She also had a history of international travel, having toured through Northern Italy, London, San Marino, and the Bahamas. But it was her three-month study abroad trip to Peru in 2018 that really added fuel to her fire. She volunteered in rural communities to develop the English and Spanish language skills of elementary-aged children. She has also done the same kind of language acquisition work as an intern at the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee.
“This is not just something to put on my resume,” says Eckhardt. “It’s something I want to spend my life doing. I have a desire to help people and contribute to something bigger than myself. My past experience just amplifies that.”
Looking ahead to Ecuador, Eckhardt is inspired. While teaching English will be her main focus there, she is looking for other opportunities to get involved with the community. She is adept at Brazilian Jujitsu, so perhaps there will be an opportunity to teach self-defense seminars on the side. Or maybe she can join a group of American expatriates there or get involved with the American Embassy. She wants to have the full cultural experience but also remain connected to her U.S. roots.
At the end of her two years, she’ll see where things stand. She may want to continue in the Peace Corps. Or she might return to school for a master’s and doctorate. Or, “I could wake up one day and want to pursue something else,” she quips.
When you talk to Eckhardt and get caught up in her passion, however, you know that whatever that “something else” may be, it will involve travel, diverse cultures and serving something greater than herself.