Getting to know our Custom Programs Director
We have an incredible team of staff here at the San Diego Diplomacy Council, without whom our programs and events wouldn’t be nearly so successful. In this series, we will be asking a few questions about the work and experiences of some of the Diplomacy Council’s key actors. Discover the faces behind the names, and the personalities that are the driving force of our success.
To start, we have our one-of-a-kind Custom Programs Director, Heidi Knuff. We were blessed with Heidi’s charismatic ways when she joined the Diplomacy Council five years ago. Since then, she has played an integral role in expanding our offerings and adding many brilliant tools to the Diplomacy Council’s toolbelt.
Heidi will soon be on to the next step of her career in international exchange, but before she departs SDDC, we were able to sit down with her to reflect on her time and experience. Our team will miss her dearly, but we wish her the very best as she embarks on the next chapter! She will always be a part of the SDDC family.
San Diego Diplomacy Council: Heidi! How are you? Thank you so much for agreeing to chat. I know how busy you are, despite the pause of our in-person programming. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to catch up face to face – how have you found the experience of working from home?
Heidi Knuff: I love it! It’s hectic, but it’s been a lot of fun (most of the time) homeschooling Luca, my second grader, during the day.
SDDC: Response. Ok, let’s start with the basics. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
HK: I am a San Diego native and have called San Diego home with the exception of two years in Boston. I’ve also spent a few summers in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Brighton, England. I love traveling. I’ve been to 39 countries and aim to travel to at least as many countries as my age – although I need a couple more to meet my current goal!
SDDC: 39 countries, what an achievement! Sounds like the travel bug got you good. What about closer to home – what can we find you doing on the weekend?
HK: One of my favorite things to do is ‘urban hiking’. I love setting out on foot without a firm destination to discover San Diego neighborhoods, restaurants, trails, and sights that I’ve never seen before.
SDDC: Sounds like you’re a true adventurer. You’ve been with the Diplomacy Council for five years. What was it about SDDC that made you want to join the team?
HK: When I first learned about the San Diego Diplomacy Council, I was immediately impressed by the number of international visitors that SDDC hosts each month. Right away, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I started as a contract worker, before joining as full-time staff.
SDDC: I agree, SDDC does very impressive work. 40 years and counting of hosting international delegates is no small achievement! Your title is Director of Custom Programs and Services. What exactly does this mean?
HK: I write grant proposals and design, implement, and oversee all of our non-IVLP programs. I manage about 15-20 programs per year which vary greatly from month-long business fellowships to protocol training sessions, outbound sports exchange programs to teacher training programs, and others. In this role, I collaborate with local and global partner organizations, develop and oversee budgets, and manage all program deliverables.
SDDC: Sounds like you’ve got your hands full! Yours doesn’t sound like the type of job you choose if you’re not passionate about the field. What was your thought process in deciding to work in international relations and diplomacy?
HK: My love of travel started when I was a kid. The more I traveled, the more I felt drawn to international relations. I also was a communication major. I enjoy debate and dialogue and believe in the power of sitting people down across a table to create understanding, so international relations and diplomacy feels like a natural fit for me.
SDDC: A love for travel is certainly a plus in this field. You’ve had such an interesting journey so far. If you could tell your Freshman self one thing, what would it be?
HK: I would tell my high school self not to worry too much about failure. I didn’t really fail much in high school, and I was proud of that. But ironically, it is through failure that you’re likely to experience the most growth and transformation. Once you fail, you realize it’s not as scary as it seems.
SDDC: That’s such great advice – I think we could all be reminded of the importance of failure. Growth and learning don’t stop when school ends, by any means, and I’m sure you’ve learned many great life lessons since then. Do you have a proudest achievement?
HK: Raising my 8-year-old son, Luca. He’s awesome!
SDDC: And growing up so fast! I know Luca’s almost as well-traveled as you are. What are some of the highlight travel destinations that you’ve been to, with or without Luca?
HK: My favorite travel destinations are those most different from my own life and culture – a Dalit village in India, a Santeria ceremony in Cuba, and a hill tribe village in North Thailand are standouts.
SDDC: Wow, those must have been so incredible to experience. Can you think of a particular instance that had a really positive influence on your life and how you see the world?
HK: Definitely spending a Semester at Sea. It broadened my world view and the trajectory of my life and career. It made me realize that we are all more alike than we are different. From that point forward, I couldn’t picture having a career that didn’t involve connecting people and promoting global understanding.
SDDC: What a unique experience – you would have truly been able to experience the world as your classroom. We’re so pleased that Semester at Sea bolstered your enthusiasm for diplomacy – it led you here! What’s your favorite thing about the Diplomacy Council?
HK: Definitely the international visitors I meet, and the opportunities I have to create and implement programs that I believe in, like our professional fellowship programs.
SDDC: Do you have a favorite memory with SDDC?
HK: Visiting a remote village in Laos with our high school volleyball players. One of them told me that the trip and the experience change her life and that she’ll never be the same.
SDDC: That trip looked like such a fantastic one. How rewarding to see your efforts pay off, and know that the players felt truly inspired by the experience. Heidi, one last question – what does the future hold for you?
HK: I don’t know. I’ve learned not to plan too much, but to instead take risks and enjoy the ride.