Every year, thousands of people travel to a small town in Central Pennsylvania to experience the cracking of bats, baseballs whizzing through the air, the spectacle of celebration and children from all over the globe competing to be the best.
The sights and sounds of the Little League World Series helped kick-start Sarah Kistner’s interest in international studies — a path that has opened new opportunities that will leave a lasting impact on her life.
“Little leaguers from all over the world would come to my little town, and I would always go, and I was so intrigued. I had so many questions,” Kistner said.
Kistner is a senior international studies major at Shippensburg University, from the quiet town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Kistner’s interest in different languages and cultures would carry over from her time as a student at South Williamsport Junior/Senior High School.
“We had some exchange students from Taiwan and Venezuela, and I immediately became friends with them in high school,” Kistner said. “I was like ‘there’s so much and I got to keep going. So how can I get there?’ International studies.”
In addition to her major, Kistner was one of the first students to participate in SU’s new Peace Corps Prep Program, an initiative that prepares undergraduate students to volunteer in the Peace Corps. Kistner will be joining the Peace Corps in September to be a secondary education English teacher trainer in Colombia.
“Joining the Peace Corps was something that kind of evolved while I was in my undergrad,” Kistner said. “I studied abroad in Peru, and that was the first time I started hearing about the Peace Corps and what exactly they do. I’d hear it from word of mouth. I started to research it on my own, that’s when I was like ‘Oh, this could be interesting.’”
Kistner did not know what she wanted to do within the Peace Corps, but she knew it had to be education-related. Education and helping others are things that Kistner is very passionate about. She previously taught in the Dominican Republic — an experience that was eye-opening due to the differences between schools there and in the United States.
The Peace Corps would previously send volunteers wherever they thought their application fit best.
However, the Peace Corps has recently changed this, allowing volunteers to apply to be placed in specific countries. Kistner decided to apply to Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Belize and Paraguay. Her love of South America and her unused Spanish skills led her to choosing Colombia.
As a teacher trainer, Kistner will be tasked with bringing an outsider’s perspective to the classroom. She will work with English teachers in Colombia to keep the students academically active and help wherever she can.
To add to her list of accomplishments, Kistner served as president of the International Studies Club and is currently president of SU’s Reach Out program.
Reach Out is a service-learning project that takes its members to help the Pathways of Learning School in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic every year. As president of the program, Kistner uses her leadership skills to help fellow students develop theirs.
“Reach Out is a group effort, so when I think of my role, I think of a guide, because I’ve been there since my freshman year,” Kistner said. “I’ve been, and I’ve seen, so I’m kind of guiding them all so they can figure their own leadership skills out.”
Kistner will talk about her experiences with service learning and her involvement with Reach Out on April 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the John L. Grove Forum. She will also inform students on how to get involved with service learning, and how it can help them professionally.
Kistner’s on-campus involvement over the past four years has given her numerous connections with friends, faculty and her fellow international studies students. These connections have helped shape Kistner as a leader, and have assisted her on her academic journey.
“As a first-generation student, I was kind of lost. I’ve just met some awesome mentors, advisers and professors that really helped me through my way,” Kistner said. “I think that kind of reflected on how I wanted to start my career.”
After her time with the Peace Corps, Kistner’s long-term goal is to get her master’s in international studies. She would also like to direct or run her own non-government organization, so she can continue to help others.
As this semester’s commencement ceremony draws closer and Kistner prepares to ride off into the sunset, she does have one piece of advice for undergraduates who will continue their academic careers next fall.
“Take every opportunity available to you. I think Shippensburg does a great job at giving different opportunities to students, and if you don’t take them, then you’re missing out on a lot that could help you professionally, personally. So, take them all,” Kistner said.