My First 6 Months as a Freelancer (Part 1)

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As my time in the US is coming to an end, I thought I would recap what life was like as a freelancer in the past 6 months and the assignments I booked.

My first interpreting assignment was between an American investment firm and a Chinese securities company. The Chinese company had invested in a fund with the American company and sent a delegation to learn more about the American investment scene. I was contacted by the American client through LinkedIn but I later found out that I was recommended by a friend in Shanghai. He met the American client while providing simultaneous interpretation at a business meeting between the two sides in Shanghai. The American side had arranged for the Chinese delegation to attend presentations at four different investment firms. I was to follow them and provide consecutive interpretation for the presentations.

This assignment was super challenging and I was really nervous going into it. I actually wasn’t anxious until I met up with a friend from grad school and told her about the nature of the assignment. And she replied, “Wow, you’re taking on such a hard topic for your first assignment!” And that’s when I thought, “What did I get myself into??” I dreaded the drive to the first location. The firm was on the street right next to Santa Monica beach. I was taken into the conference room which had an AMAZING view of the coast.

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As it turned out, the contact for the American client was bilingual and well-versed in the business deal between the American and Chinese firms. Whenever there was a term that I struggled with, she would jump in and help me. And since she knew the industry so well, she would also add additional explanations or comments to the English-speaking presenters. She was also very sweet and encouraging to me. After each firm we visited, she would tell me what a great job I was doing and thanked me repeatedly. She spoke extremely well to the other firms of my performance and called me a “lifesaver.” I really like hearing all of that, not to stroke my own ego but because it gave me a lot of confidence and helped my interpreting.

The three day assignment was an eye-opening experience. Not only was it my first real assignment out of school and in a field that I was unfamiliar with, but the caliber of the firms that I interpreted at were top-notch. They managed assets in the billions and had some posh real estate in the affluent parts of LA. And it felt good that I was able to provide my services and serve as the linguistic and cultural interlocutor for firms of this level.

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At one of the firms, they served lunch during the last speaker’s presentation. As I sat right next to the speaker, the catering staff served me as well. But one rule that we were always taught at school was: never eat in the middle of an assignment. But the aroma of the three course meal kept wafting up to my nose as I took my consec notes. It was sheer torture. And by that point, it had been a good five hours since my breakfast and my stomach was complaining. Luckily, I made it through and the American client was kind enough to make sure that I got food to eat before we went to our next location.

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A month after this initial assignment, another delegation from the same Chinese company paid a visit to the US and I was asked back to interpret. The experience was a little different from the previous one. Participants of this delegation were much more interested in the technical details of the fund that they had invested in with the American firm. And since I was not privy to any of the details, it was very frustrating for me to interpret the questions they had.

There was also one point in the conversation when the two parties were on completely different pages, not due to any linguist misunderstanding, but because of very large cultural differences. After much back and forth, one of the Chinese clients said something along the lines of, “Stupid Americans don’t know how the Chinese do business.” This was made as an offhand remark to me, but the American clients looked expectantly at me for an interpretation. I was mortified; there was no way I could interpret that into English.

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But all in all, it was awesome experience. I learned a bunch about the investment and financial industry. I did something I love and I got paid doing it. I thoroughly enjoyed the adrenaline rush (one of the best perks of the job!).

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