Many SIETARians speak fondly about the amazing impact that SIETAR USA conferences had on their lives, careers, and intercultural competence journeys. Katerina Salas-Natchova is no exception. She became involved with the organization when she attended the 2017 conference in San Diego, California. Katerina first heard about the organization two years earlier thanks to her now fellow Board member, Julia Gaspar-Bates. Throughout her career in international education, Katerina had a strong interest in the intercultural competence and cross-cultural communication side of the field. Her attendance and experience at the 2017 conference confirmed her instincts – that she found a great organization with which she wanted to get involved, and a very unique community of like-minded people with whom she could connect and learn. At the conference, she also attended enlightening and insightful sessions that brought a lot of clarity to her identity as a multicultural person.
Attending the 2017 SIETAR USA conference was a pivotal moment for Katerina. It was then that she felt drawn to the field of intercultural communication and training, heard her “calling in life”, and began looking for ways to get more engaged within that community. She attended the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) as a Fellow in 2018 and participated in the 2019 Winter Institute for Intercultural Communication (WIIC). There, she met Sandy Fowler while attending a workshop on Developing Cultural Humility. Sandy, as well as other members actively volunteering at SIETAR USA, encouraged Katerina to get involved with the organization. They shared their knowledge and let her know about the many different opportunities for volunteering. Katerina served as the Co-Chair on the Sponsors, Advertisers, and Exhibitors Committee as part of the 2019 Conference Planning Team. She had a wonderful experience in contributing to the organization, the conference and the field itself. Serving on the committee was a great opportunity for her to learn more about SIETAR USA and to meet and connect with different people including Members of the Board, the conference team, other fellow SIETAR USA volunteers as well as many seasoned professionals in the field. She learned that the Board had open positions from Julia Gaspar-Bates and was encouraged to join the team. Katerina’s interest led her to ask what roles were available, about the team, and what help was needed by the organization. Her conversations and what she learned from others further confirmed her desire to join and become even more active within SIETAR USA. She felt excited about the new opportunity to serve on the board and to continue her growth in and contributions to the field.
Katerina was welcomed very warmly to the Board and soon learned that the Board membership consisted of amazing, extraordinary people with different personalities and accomplishments. She appreciated how much everyone supported each other and adapted to different interpersonal dynamics. One of Katerina’s most cherished memories of her time on the Board occurred during one conversation on the “anti-racism initiative” in which she had an open, insightful, and important interaction with her fellow Board members. When discussing the question, “how can we as an organization fight and dismantle racism,” Board members had the opportunity to talk about their identities, cultural and racial backgrounds, and their experience with racism in a safe space. This gave Katerina the opportunity to “speak her truth” and share more about “who Katerina is” with her colleagues. She felt it was a great opportunity to share, be more vulnerable, have her voice heard, feel seen, and feel comfortable saying, “there’s some things I feel comfortable sharing and some things I don’t feel comfortable sharing yet. But this is a great first step to building that relationship and establishing that trust.” It was eye-opening how much Board members knew yet also didn’t know about each other. That interaction and conversation demonstrated to her how much everyone appreciated that their colleagues shared and wanted to hear more.
One of Katerina’s proudest accomplishments was implementing the initiative to review and revamp leadership role descriptions to ensure that they were clear, accurate, polished, professional, and consistent with the SIETAR USA brand. She created a position description template including the scope of the role, main responsibilities and objectives, time commitment and expectations, and the ideal candidate profile. This new tool has made the recruitment process more effective and transparent for Board members and volunteer engagement. The template has created a space that helps volunteers ask questions and get accurate answers from the Board. It can also help leadership figure out what kind of additional support volunteers might need when they begin in a new role. Katerina advises SIETARians thinking about volunteering to talk with the SIETAR USA leadership as well as with members who are currently serving to get information about the different opportunities available and the realities of volunteering (I.e., time commitment required, the team etc.). Speaking with current and past Board members and experienced volunteers also allows SIETAR USA members to start building relationships through personal connections, and learning more about the organization, the SIETAR USA community and its needs, and the field in general.
Katerina’s experience on the board also confirmed her capability of leaning into uncomfortable situations and conversations with courage and compassion, while also remaining true to herself and speaking her truth with kindness. As practitioners in the fields of intercultural competence and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it is important to feel comfortable doing this despite personal feelings of discomfort and to see it as a learning and growth opportunity.
Katerina’s intercultural journey, vocation, and volunteering have all been underscored by the themes of collaboration and positivity. One of her favorite quotes by which she lives her life is by Brené Brown: “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, and at the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I contributed more than I criticized.”
Katerina will complete her term at the end of this month and decided not to extend her service on the Board so that she can focus on starting her independent intercultural training and coaching practice, a dream she’s had for many years. She is very excited about this new chapter in her life and the opportunities it will create to collaborate with colleagues in the intercultural field and to guide and support people around the world as they navigate their own intercultural journeys.
Written by: Emily Kawasaki