“International affairs is essentially about relationships.” In one sentence, this is how you might sum up the core message of this past Youth Diplomats Institute Social Hour. The woman who spoke these words was none other than Katherine Brown, the President and CEO of Global Ties U.S., who stopped in to share a few remarks about her experience pursuing a career in international affairs.

After specifically giving each participant an opportunity to share what town they were in during our Zoom meeting, she shared her story into international affairs. If there was a traditional route into the field, Katherine didn’t take it, but she made it clear that she wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her first gateway to international experience was a study abroad opportunity in Denmark during high school, which convinced her that international relations was the path for her. There were certainly setbacks, including failing to get admitted to her colleges of choice – something that has certainly been on the minds of many of the Youth Diplomats in attendance. However, Katherine said that this setback made her ‘resourceful,’ and she slowly came to see that there were many different routes to a career in international affairs. “Work hard, be kind” became her motto, and she shared how this mantra pushed her to contribute and bring value at each stop along her journey.

As her career matured and her experiences grew, she told us about how she became fascinated by the story-telling aspect of international relations. Thus, she came to increasingly value establishing cultural influence and connection abroad, which is referred to as soft power, while hard power refers to more militaristic and economic influence. In no small part, this led to her passion for exchange programs, which she claimed are the “most important thing we can do in international diplomacy.” As she framed it, these programs are vital because they provide opportunities to build personal relationships between people from different countries.

Now, her hope is that she can both continue to build up global exchange programs and that she can encourage and help young Americans get involved with citizenship diplomacy, which Katherine described as the idea that everyone has the right and responsibility to be involved in international affairs.

“International affairs is essentially about relationships.” She may not have realized it, but even as she made the personal connection of specifically asking where each of the attendees were from before saying those words, Katherine was helping do exactly that. As our Youth Diplomats headed into their next activities, a time for networking and reflection, they undoubtedly took these words with them. And compared to Katherine’s journey into international relations, if they adopt her motto of “work hard, be kind,” these globally curious young students from Kansas and Missouri may have even gotten a head start.