UCLA International Institute, April 2, 2018 — The Global Studies Program of the UCLA International Institute attracts students from across the U.S. and the world. For many immigrant and foreign students, the program resonates with their lived experience. When you grow up in one culture and then find yourself immersed in another, your life itself becomes a microcosm of the forces of globalization.
Katherine (“Katya”) Balan (UCLA 2008) was born in Moldova, but moved to the Bay Area as a child when her father, then dean of the engineering school at Kishinev Polytechnic University, was offered a research professorship at UC Berkeley.
“The opportunity [to move] was life changing,” says Katya. “Moldova was and continues to be the poorest country in Eastern Europe, where the main export is human-trafficking victims.
“We moved to the Bay Area, where I spent the remainder of my childhood,” she continues. “I chose to attend UCLA because of how international and diverse the student population is and because of the fantastic opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate.”
Now a mere 10 years later, Katya is the director of systemwide executive recruitment and search for the University of California, a job in which she recruits all senior executives across the system, including chancellor and provost positions. She traces her success directly to her education in Global Studies.
Katya (center) and her parents at UCLA commencement.
Acquiring intellectual and interpersonal skills
“I knew I wanted to have a global career and I knew that no other university in the world compared to UCLA in terms of academics and diversity,” says Katya.
“I wanted to study globalization and was motivated specifically by topics such as human rights, which were a major issue in my home country of Moldova,” she relates. “I also loved how comprehensive the fields of study were and the professors. I’m still in touch with one of my teaching assistants from the program!”
Like many UCLA undergraduates, Katya pursued an ambitious educational agenda: a Global Studies major, a Russian Studies minor and intensive study of Russian and Romanian. Not to mention a four-week Summer Travel Study Program in New York City that focused on global governance and the United Nations system. She ended up writing her Global Studies thesis on how globalization has affected human sex trafficking, a topic she to which she returned in graduate school.
Katya (second from left) and fellow students in the Global Studies Summer Travel Study Program.
“Looking back, I’m not sure how I was able to graduate in three years instead of the traditional four,” she reflects. “The best part of my program was the focus on Russia and the former Soviet Union, which is actually the reason I am where I am in my career today. I can’t fully express how much I enjoyed my studies,” she shares.
One of benefits of pursuing Global Studies at UCLA is the strength of language instruction on campus. Katya studied Russian with Professor Olga Kagan, who directs both the UCLA Russian Flagship Center and the National Heritage Language Resource Center, which specializes in the pedagogy of teaching heritage language learners (i.e., students who grow up speaking one language at home, while being educated in another). “Like so many students who speak Russian at home, I could barely read and write in the language, and I certainly couldn’t converse appropriately in a business setting,” she explains.
“Additionally, although I was born in Moldova, where the official languages are Russian and Romanian (the Moldovan dialect), I couldn’t speak Romanian at all,” continues Katya. “Thankfully, I also had the opportunity to learn that language throughout my program, as taught by Georgiana Galateanu. The chance to learn both languages was incredibly influential for my future career.”
Despite a heavy course load, Katya was very active in undergraduate life, co-chairing Bruins United and serving as vice chairman of the ASUCLA Communications Board (which oversees all student media, including the Daily Bruin, all student magazines and Bruin TV).
“During my time at ASUCLA, Daily Bruin was named best college newspaper in America,” she relates. “I think that is the other real benefit of UCLA: there are so many opportunities to learn and be involved on campus. Those experiences are just as transformational in preparing you for a successful career.”
From graduate school to a global career
Through a Russian film class taught by UCLA Professor David MacFayden, Katya discovered that his alma mater — the University College London (UCL) School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies — was one of the world’s premier institutions for the study of Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Explaining her decision to pursue a graduate degree abroad, Katya says, “I felt that in order to fully become a scholar in globalization, I needed to really live a global academic career. And that meant continuing my globalization studies at a university abroad. I would highly recommend that path to anyone currently studying Global Studies at the International Institute.
“Thanks to Professor MacFayden and the recommendation letter he wrote me, I received an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to complete a master’s degree in Russian studies at UCL,” she relates. “I’m certain that his recommendation letter, combined with my UCLA coursework and study of both Russian and Romanian — and letters from both Professor Kagan and Professor Galateanu — were the reasons I was accepted into such a prestigious program.”
While studying at UCL, Katya worked on a National Health Service project where she conducted interviews with London sex workers in their native languages. She attributes her selection into the project to her coursework and language classes at UCLA.
Once I graduated from UCL,” says Katya, “I was immediately recruited by an executive search firm to establish a team to conduct executive recruitment for Russia and the Former Soviet Union in the energy and engineering industries. That’s how I began by career in executive recruitment, in which I continue today.”
After working in London for a few years, Katya moved to Houston, where she created the first U.S. office of a start-up executive search firm — “now one of the best energy recruiting firms in the world,” she says. She went on to do recruitment work for two of the world’s biggest energy and engineering services companies. Ultimately, her passion for higher education led her back to academia, starting at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, where she led its strategic executive recruitment program.
“I was able to make a significant impact in the hiring of diverse candidates for leadership positions, including faculty leaders within academic medicine,” she says of her work at UT. “I enjoyed my work there so much that there was only one positon that would surpass the one I held, and that was the opportunity to lead a program not just at UCLA or at a UC location, but across the whole UC system.”
Global Studies lays the foundation for success
Happily back in California and now Katya Balan Daniel, this UCLA graduate is thrilled to be giving back to the education system where she started. “Like many students at the International Institute,” reflects Katya, “I had a unique childhood. It’s interesting that my life should come full circle with me working at the University of California, when UC is the reason my family was able to immigrate to America.”
“I credit my entire career to the preparation I received in my Global Studies program,” she says. “If it wasn’t for that program, there is absolutely no way I would have been prepared to move to London alone at age 21 to begin graduate studies and to continue to live there and begin a career as a young expat.
“At age 22, I already had a M.A. degree and was in the British workforce conducting executive searches across all of Eastern Europe,” she relates “If it wasn’t for my study of globalization, I would never have been prepared for my future career, not just academically or in terms of linguistic capabilities, but rather, in terms of the subtle nuances of working with different cultures,” she says.
“I believe that is the true value of the program and of the UCLA International Institute. Of course, academically, it’s unparalleled, but the experience you gain studying among such a diverse student population and being taught by such a diverse faculty is what really prepares you to succeed in a global career,” she emphasizes.
“As someone who works in the field of recruitment and is tasked with determining which candidate should be chosen for a leadership position,” she observes, “it is the broad understanding of the modern globalized world and the understanding of history, politics and economics that you learn in this program that will set you apart from other candidates.
“International recruiters are looking for candidates that understand the value of agility, cultural nuances and etiquette, flexibility and who have a growth mindset. These are the very core pillars of a global studies education,” she concludes.
All photos provided by Katherine Balan Daniel.