My First 6 Months as a Freelancer (Part 2)

Hi blogosphere! I’ve recently just moved back to Taipei and am settling in quite nicely. Besides from running the usual errands that one has to run after being away from home for three years, I’ve also really dug into the book I’m currently translating. But I thought I would continue this three post series on my experience of freelancing in the United States. Click here to read the first post in this series.

At the beginning of May, I went on a crazy business trip to interpret at two events. A classmate of mine asked if I wanted to partner with him to interpret at Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. Berkshire Hathaway is a multinational holdings company based in Omaha, Nebraska and either wholly owns or has minority holdings in companies like GEICO, Diary Queen, See’s Candies, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo. According to Forbes, it’s the fifth largest public company in the world. The real kicker? The CEO, president, and chairman of the company is Warren Buffet.

Warren Freaking Buffet.

Did I want to partner with my friend and interpret at this event? Hell yeah, I did. There was no way I would pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The meeting was on a Saturday so we hopped on a flight to Omaha, Nebraska on Friday night. All the hotels in Omaha were already booked for the event so we had to stay in the next town over. It was almost 1am by the time we got to our hotel so we just went straight to bed. The next morning, the bus left the hotel at 6am to make the one hour drive to Omaha.

The Shareholders’ Meeting is actually a weekend-long event that takes place at the Century Link Conference Center in Omaha. Friday is usually an exhibition that features booths from all of the companies that Berkshire has shares in and shareholders are free to walk around and buy products. Since this year’s meeting was the 50th anniversary, there were also special dinners that were hosted at various restaurants around town.

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Saturday was the main event: the six hour Q&A with Warren Buffet and his partner, Charlie Munger, the vice-president of Berkshire Hathaway. This was the part we were supposed to interpret. The vast majority of the shareholders sit in the main arena for this event. There are also meeting rooms scattered around the building that provide a livestream of the event for those who were not able to find seats in the main arena. There was a special meeting room reserved for the Chinese-speaking shareholders that required interpretation services.

And so, it began. And oh my goodness, it was the hardest material I have ever interpreted in my life and it will probably remain the hardest material I will ever interpret in my career. Buffet and Munger, one in his late 80’s and the other in his earlier 90’s, are still sharp as knives. Not only that, they are truly geniuses. The way their minds worked was just incredibly fast and they talked about anything and everything. So it was extremely hard on the interpreters because we had to follow their train of thought. There was much discussion on the history of the company since they wanted to look back on the past 50 years and there was so much reference to things that I had never even heard of before.

After the conference, my booth partner and I compared notes and we both found the difficulty level of this event to be even harder than ALL of the hardest materials we ever worked with while in school combined. COMBINED. That’s how utterly crazy hard the material was. But it was a wonderful learning experience and it showed me areas where I needed to work on. Just being physically present and soaking up everything that was happening around us was so exciting.

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Immediately after we finished interpreting, we went straight to the airport to catch our flight back to LA. We got to LA and headed down to San Diego because we had another assignment for the next day. By the time we got to our hotel in San Diego, it was already 2am and we had gone 20 hours without sleep. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t be so bad, but we still had a full day of interpretation the next day.

The assignment we had in San Diego was the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Leadership Conference. Members from all around the world were sent by their regional chapters to attend workshops at this conference so they can learn how to expand their chapter. There were a few members of the China chapter that required interpretation, but they were in different workshops. Originally, the organizers wanted my booth partner and I to interpret separately, but we refused. Simultaneous interpretation requires us to rotate every 15-20 mins or else our brains would overload. So the organizers said we would be assigned to the workshops with the most Chinese listeners and a few of the Chinese-speaking staff members would interpret at the other workshops. I was skeptical this would work for them, but I couldn’t argue.

The material of this conference was much more straight-forward and everyday than the Berkshire material. But conference lasted two days and we were pretty exhausted by the end. We also had to deal with using portable equipment, having a hard time hearing the source, and having to interpret in noisy environments. We also experienced a speaker who spoke extremely fast and politely refused to slow down when we asked him to. At the end of the conference, the Chinese-speaking staff members that were interpreting at the other workshops came up to us and told us they didn’t realize simultaneous interpretation was this difficult until they had experienced it for themselves. I had to explain to them the rigorous graduate school training we had to complete in order to enter the field and also had to dispel the popular misconception that any bilingual individual would be able to interpret.

interpret_2_2jpgI personally felt that was one of the biggest achievements of the conference. Whenever we help clients realize that interpretation is truly a specialized profession and that we do more than just language conversion, we are helping the world to better understand what we do. And when clients better understand the services we provide, the more likely it is that interpreters will receive the treatment and compensation we deserve.

After three days on the road, I returned to LA exhausted but happy. I would never again be insane and book two back-to-back assignments but I was so grateful for this learning experience. Stay tuned for the third (and final) part of this series!

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!).

The Life of a Project Manager

Happy Hump Day everyone!! Now that I’m have a more flexible schedule as a freelancer, I’m excited to be able to blog more! Ever since I started my job in mid-June, I had meant to write a post about what it was like to be a project manager in the localization industry. But work and life got super hectic, and I never got the time to sit down and just write. So here goes!

My company is a small language service provider (LSP) or, in layman’s terms, a translation company. Our major clients are heath insurance companies. These companies are required to provide any written material in a member’s native language if it is not English. So these insurance companies turn to us to get all of their documents translated. The type of documents can vary. It could be information on the the types of plans that the companies offer. It could also be different types of letters that are going out to members, such as denial letters, notice letters, etc.

At larger LSPs, there are different departments, such as sales, computer assisted translation tools (CAT tools), desktop publishing, client relations, vendor management, etc. Since my company is so small (around 35 people) and the majority of the employees are projects managers, we are expected to take on all of these responsibilities.

When we receive a translation request from a client, we have to prepare a quote. To do that, we have to prep the file for analysis. To analyze the file, we run it through the CAT tool that we use, which is Trados 2007, SDL Studio 2011, or 2014.We use the analysis to come up with a word count that would in turn be generated into a quote for the client. After the quote has been approved by the client, the file is prepped for translation and sent to our linguists.

At my company (and most LSPs), the translation process actually consists of translation, editing, and proofreading (TEP). As we have many project managers in-house that have linguistic backgrounds, we do a large part of our proofreading in-house. For rarer languages, we send it to linguists for final review. After the file has been proofread and vetted, it is delivered to the client.

If the formatting of the file is simple (like a Word file), it is taken care of in-house. If the file is an InDesign file that is to be turned into a PDF, we usually send it to our designer. Sometimes, we get a file that has several different versions. What happens in this case, is we only have a master version of the file translated and formatted. Then we create the other versions in-house by modifying the master. This requires the PMs working on these files to understand the basics of InDesign and sometimes even Photoshop and Illustrator. After the file has been finalized, we send the project to our accounting department for invoicing.

The main responsibilities of the project manager to is make sure all the necessary tasks are completed within the time frame allotted by the client and facilitate the transition of the file from one stage of the translation process to the next. Sometimes, the clients ask for a quick turnaround time and we usually accommodate it. Being a PM requires a very clear head and great organization skills. I could be handling any number of files at the same time, all with different instructions, languages, deadlines, etc. I have to constantly keep track of my files and make sure everything is still on track for prompt delivery to the client.

This job requires a lot of emails, phone calls, coordinating, paper pushing, begging the clients for more time, pleading with linguists to deliver quicker, the list goes on… Sometimes, it’s a test of patience. It is very repetitive. While I learned some skills that were helpful, I feel the job quickly stopped being  challenging. And I’m someone that needs constant stimulation and obstacles to overcome. That, coupled with several other factors that are directly related to management and company culture, pushed me to quit my job after seven short months.

Are all LSPs like this? No, every company is different. LSPs work in different fields. There are different company structures that change the the environment and responsibilities of the PM. PMs could even be working client side and acting as the main contact person between that company and an LSP. If a company is large enough, like Google or Apple, they could run their own translation department and that could mean a different set of responsibilities for the PM.

Hope this post was helpful for everyone who wanted to learn more about the localization industry!

Third Semester Classes

I am an ambitious Asian overachiever. Apart from taking 20 credits this semester, I’m also working on campus 10 hr/week. AND I’m an executive officer on the Student Council. Yes, I know, I’m crazy. I don’t deny that, but I enjoy staying busy. If I’m not kept busy, I usually fall into a downwards spiral of TV show binge watching and just lying around in bed, reading tabloids. But I just wanted to share with you what my third semester classes are like.

Adv Consecutive Interpretation into Chinese

Most of my course names are pretty self-explanatory. This class is taught by Marsha. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this particular professor before but she is one of the toughest professors in the Chinese T&I program. She has high standards but she is extremely nice. I love her tell-it-as-it-is attitude. She doesn’t sugarcoat things and I appreciate that. Her Chinese language ability is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. She is so concise and accurate, it is amazing. I took consec into Chinese with her last semester, but the course material for this semester is just off the charts hard. We are doing even more economic and financial centered issues than ever before. We spent a good three weeks on central bank policies and manipulation.

Adv Consecutive Interpretation into English

This class is offered by Prof Bao, whom we had for the same subject matter last semester. The biggest problem I have with this course is the material. It’s not so much the speeches the prof gives us to work with, but with all Chinese speakers in general. It’s surprising how much one doesn’t think about a speaker’s logic and if the speech actually means something until you have to interpret it. Then, as you try to filter through all the nonsense and find the logic in things, do you realize how horrible Chinese speakers are. They are repetitive, they have horrible public speaking skills, and they have zero logic. A good Chinese speaker is extremely rare. We are extremely lucky to have Prof Bao because he used to work for the United Nations. You can see a picture of him here serving as the interpreter when former Chinese President Hu Jingtao came to visit the US.

Adv Simultaneous Interpretation into Chinese

Also taught by the one and only Marsha. The topics have been mostly financial based, much like our consec class. I can now rattle off things like macro-prudential policy framework, asset purchases, non-performing loans, broad money, capital account convertibility, etc. It gets a little tiring sometimes… But I love simul dearly, no matter how challenging it gets. Sometimes, it feels like you want to punch the inside of the simul booth, but at other times, you’re just in the zone which, for me, is almost an out of body experience.

Adv Simultaneous Interpretation into English

This is one of my favorite classes. Laura is a great teacher, not only is she a skilled interpreter herself, she really breaks down the process for you and gives wonderful pointers. There is a difference between great interpreters and great interpreting teachers. Laura and Marsha are both. We’ve also covered a lot of financial speeches in this class but as of recently, we’ve also forayed into the more friendly realm of environmental protection and climate change.

Adv Translation into Chinese

The translation classes this semester are OUT OF CONTROL. I thought I could handle it last semester, but this semester is just way over my head. There are a lot of metaphors at work and my Chinese level just ain’t cutting it when it comes to translation. The subject matter ranges in variety. We are dealing with more technical texts which may be more practical for the work field, but still hella hard.

Adv Translation into English

Like the translation into Chinese class, the materials are much harder this semester. But because I’m still working into my A language, I like the challenge and it is a lot of fun for me. So far, we’ve covered two different types of Chinese martial arts novels and some Chinese Communist propaganda. We’ve also done a crazy hard Buddhist text. For the second half of the semester, I think we are doing more academic texts, so that should be more straightforward.

Software Localization

This class fills my one localization per semester quota. And it’s HARD. I thought I was computer savvy, but oh boy, was I wrong. I do feel like I’m learning something from it though. We are going into Trados Studio in-depth, also touching on MultiTerm, Passolo, and a variety of other software. My only complaint about this class is that the professor moves way too fast. We’ve told him this but he still “nerds” out at times.

Practicum in Interpretation

This is the most interesting class I’ve had so far at MIIS. It basically offers Conference Interpretation students the opportunity to interpret at events outside of the classroom. The first few classes we had workshops on booth etiquette, how to do relay with the equipment on campus, and how to interpret for a video conference. Some of the events we’ve interpreted at include, Career Focus Day panels, Toastmaster’s meetings, various speakers that come to our school, etc. We also have multilingual practices with the CI students from other language programs. We usually do some form of relay where we really have to rely on the interpretation in order to generate our own output. This class has not only allowed us to gain hands-on experience outside of the classroom, but also allowed us to get to know interpreters in other language combinations.

Intensive Computer Assisted Translation

To be honest, after 2.5 semesters at MIIS, I have realized that Computer Assisted Translation tools are very essential. So I took an Intro to CAT class in my first semester but it wasn’t very impressive. I had the first part of this intensive CAT class yesterday and I can already tell it will be extremely rewarding. The only downside to this class is that it spans my four day fall break, so I essentially don’t get any break time at all 😦

Overview of Translation and Interpretation Studies

This is one of the two research classes we have to take during our four semesters here. It only runs for half a semester. The instructor is actually a well-known theorist in the field, Anthony Pym. In his first class, he emphasized that it was a class on research not theory. I have to give him props, he made some pretty boring reading materials interesting. I can now see how theory can tie in with practice. But am I glad that the class is over? HELL YES!

Contemporary Research on Interpreting

Like the previous theory class, this is also a half semester class. So I haven’t actually had it yet. But I’m expecting good things from it because the instructor is actually a Chinese T&I professor that I haven’t had since first semester. I think she’s a great teacher and I’m looking forward to seeing her again and having her teach!

MIIS: The Application Process

I received my acceptance letter to the Monterey Institute of International Studies on December 21, 2011. It was one of the best Christmas presents I have and will ever receive. I remember opening my inbox that morning at 9:30, only a few brief minutes before I had to leave my dorm room to catch the bus to another campus for my International Law class. The email subject was “Admissions Letter” and it took everything I had to stop myself from squealing too loudly as to wake my next door neighbor. Now that I’ve been through (and survived) the application process, here is a brief walk-through for those who are interested and some tips on how to get ready to pursue a T&I degree at MIIS.

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The Application Process

There are several application deadlines for the fall semester: December 1, February 1, March 1, May 1.
I suggest getting started on your application early and preferably making the December 1st deadline. Getting your application in early is always a good sign. If you are applying for the Chinese T&I program, there are a limited number of spots. So although MIIS says it has a rolling admissions policy, spots in the Chinese programs fill up fast.

Requirements:

  1. Undergraduate transcripts
  2. 2 Recommendation Letters
  3. Statement of Purpose
  4. Resume
  5. TOEFL/IELTS
  6. GRE (optional)
  7. Early Diagnostic Test (EDT)
  • The first four requirements are pretty self-explanatory.
  • If you are a non-native English speaker, MIIS requires you to show your level of English. In other words, if you are not an American citizen or if you did not go to undergrad in the US, you will need to show your level of English proficiency.
  • Taking or submitting your GRE scores is optional. MIIS encourages you to submit your scores if your undergraduate GPA isn’t up to par. But if you are thinking about taking the GREs, be prepared to spend some time studying. It ain’t messing around. I took the GREs the summer before I applied and I didn’t do too hot of a job. Hence, I ended up not submitting my scores.

The Early Diagnostic Test

I personally think this is the part of the application process Admissions looks at the most. It is a self-administered and timed test that is sent to you once you request the EDT package from admissions. On the test, they require you to declare your A (most comfortable) language and B (2nd most comfortable) language. The T&I program at MIIS requires that English must be your A or B language.
The EDT has:

  • Writing section
  1. Essays – you are required to write an original essay in both languages
  2. Translations – you are required to complete translations from both languages
  3. Abstracts – you are required to summarize an English article
  • Oral section
  1. Pronunciation skills – you are required to read segments in both languages
  2. Thinking skills – you are requried to speak about a current event
  3. Self-assessment – you are required to speak about your language skills

The oral section is to be self-recorded and submitted along with your writing sections. There are very specific and clear directions on how the EDT is supposed to be completed (timed and without outside help.)

For more detailed instructions on the entire process and requirements, visit the MIIS admissions site here.

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Tips on Preparing for the T&I Program

  1. Language skills: Your language skills will never be good enough, regardless if you are native, fluent, whatever. Continue to work on acquiring new terms, phrases, usages, etc. If you have the time, do some writing, preferably the analytic sort.
  2. Background knowledge: Once you get to MIIS, you, will find you lack knowledge in almost all areas. We cover a large amount of topics here, ranging from the mortgage crisis, to the financial tsunami, to AIDS, to smallpox, to public health, to fashion. You name it, we translate/interpret it. So, READ! while you still have the time.
  3. Computer/tech skills: You have to be good with computers. Microsoft Office is always a given but you will also come in contact with various translation memory tools. If you are looking to branch out into other areas of language services, you will also need to know some Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. There is an excellent Desktop Publishing for Linguists class that I am currently taking that will cover these requirements. But in general, you just have to be tech savvy and know your way around these devices and tools.

Here is list of ten ways you can prepare for complied by MIIS.

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I hope this helps! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions about the application process.

 

An Update

Currently in the throes of being a second semester T&I student, I’m majorly behind on my self-imposed blogging duties. After being back in Monterey  for five weeks, I realized I much prefer living on my own. Spending six weeks at home was great but I quickly fell into a vicious cycle of waking up late, eating unhealthy, and always having the TV on. My work level was zero and I had no motivation to do anything. But living on my own helps me settle into a routine, where I am forced to do things and schedule my time.

In terms of school, I’ve been pretty much knocked off my feet. In my program, there are no papers to write, no 300 page readings to do. Yet, there are hours and hours of practice on end. If you’re an overachiever like me, you take all 16 credit hours of classes that are offered in the T&I program. If you’re a masochistic overachiever like me, you also take an additional 2 credit class in the Localization program because it increases the chances of employment. So yes, boys and girls. I’m currently taking 18 credits of graduate-level classes.

Being in a program with 22 other overachieving Chinese students, pressure is constantly brought upon you to practice more. I’ll admit I don’t practice as much or as in depth as I want. A procrastinator at heart, I tell myself I need to just buck down. Not just in school, but in other aspects of life. It may be March already, but I haven’t give up on my New Year’s resolutions yet. Baby steps, sweetie, baby steps.

T&I: The Words of a Wise One

“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it (it was joy for someone else); to childhood illness that so strangely bean with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars-and it is not enough if one may think all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been inside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them. ”

– Ranier Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

This quote was one of the many stories that established interpreter, Nancy Du, told in her speech at NTU last week. For her, this quote captures the skill interpreters need to excel. It’s the ability to internalize knowledge; not just to know it but also to be able to use it at a moment’s decision. She talked about how her background molded her personality and how that contributed to her skill set as an interpreter. She also discussed what it means to be an interpreter to her.

Growing up, she felt she was a bystander; she was never able to fit into the conventional Chinese mold nor the privileged white South African mold she was educated in. She learned to constantly adjust her attitude and her culture to best suit her surroundings. There was never a true self, always a conscious awareness that she was trying to fit in. But it was precisely due to this innate ability to switch between personalities that made her especially suited to being an interpreter. She was allowed to put on different personas for different assignments. For example, she once played the role of a Tiffany’s salesperson and learned how Tiffany’s is always the first stop when it comes to ring shopping. Yet, customers never really make purchases there, only to price compare. She also learned the Tiffany approach which is to never hard sell and to never qualify (judging the customer based on how they look and dress.) Throughout it all, she never lost sight of her duty as an interpreter: to protect the fidelity of the message. Even if you’ve interpreted the same speech a billion times, give it your all every time because people in the audience are only hearing it for the first time. It’s the same work ethic as any Broadway actor. Why would the actress who plays Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire put the same amount of energy and passion in every single performance? It’s because the audience is always seeing it for the first time.

Humans make mistakes. But the difference between a professional interpreter and an amateur interpreter, according to Nancy, is the way they face up to their mistakes. Amateurs blame it on others. Professionals learn from their mistake with humility and become better. They don’t dwell, they move on and give the next task their undivided attention. It is okay to have doubts but those doubt come with experience. It is okay to make mistakes. In the end, she is still very much a bystander. But being a bystander is a blessing. It allows you to be detached but fully participating. The sense of “I” is gone. Everything fades away and it’s just moment to moment to moment.

But the interpreter career path isn’t for everyone. If you crave a title that proclaims your achievements or you have ambition that pushes to constantly move up in the corporate world. Interpreters have no titles. In Nancy’s words, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”