Approaching international relations from the standpoint of cultural awareness
A summer stint working in a Russian orphanage helped Kathryn Eberhardt become clearer about her life’s purpose. She understood that such suffering as she saw there exists the world over, but in this case, “the strong hand of communism” had left children and pensioners begging on the streets for food and money. They lived in collapsing homes without running water, and many parents turned to alcohol as an escape, leaving children abused and abandoned. Interestingly, she found that many Russians overlooked this terrible situation, yet saw all Americans as rich, ignorant, and close-minded. Kathryn’s summer objectives focused on the children, but an equally important part of the experience required her team of seven Americans to work closely with fifteen local students, all speaking mainly in Russian. Jointly, they sought ways to enrich the lives of orphans aged six to sixteen. Kathryn was the team leader for the Americans, tasked with daily meetings with her Russian counterpart. In the end, the orphans and the staff praised the group activities arranged by both teams working together.
Initially, Kathryn thought that when other people heard stories of her experience, some momentum might drive a concerted effort to help, yet even her friends responded with token sympathy only. She believed that all people needed to be much more culturally aware. Working at an elementary school, she decided that interest in other cultures should start at a young age. She initiated an “Around the World” club once a week, picking a different country and introducing her students to a sample of the languages, religions, artwork, historical sites, and the cuisine—the highlight of the experience. Children began asking, “Will we have club today?”
Kathryn also worked for the YMCA, attending training meetings on leadership, cultural awareness, and large and small group dynamics. Through college courses, she’s studied communication, especially benefitting from a class in small group communication, focusing on team-building skills. Still, she found practical experience to be the best training, such as when she was responsible for younger staff members and twenty children over the summer, and as the Site Supervisor of an after-school program, monitoring ten staff members and over a hundred children, in addition to constant interactions with the school staff and the parents.
In addition to the academic theories behind leadership, Kathryn’s daily experiences developed her ability to look at each individual, assess specific assets, and use them to the group’s benefit. She further learned how to maintain quality control while guiding diverse groups of people to work together toward the timely completion of a goal. Though she has mainly worked with children, Kathryn finds the intercultural work to be the most satisfying and after graduating from San Diego State University, hopes to find a career in US foreign relations.