When Books and the Internet Won’t Cut It
What is a person to do?
“I don’t know anyone. What do they expect of me? How am I supposed to behave? What is a 4H Club? How do you play kick ball? Why do they do math problems so strangely? Is school really over at 3:30 every day?” These were some of the existential concerns that fed my insecurity at the age of 10 when I moved to the U.S. from Cuba and started school in Manchester, CT.
Clearly, I could have remained in the dark for some time, given I did not know anyone well enough to ask, and was embarrassed that I was the only kid in school that apparently did not know these things. Enter a wonderful, generous and very genuine American family, that of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Taylor, that took my brothers and I under their wing and taught us all about life in New England in a very fun way by sharing it with us. That was my first experience with mentoring outside of my family and the positive experience has stayed with me for a lifetime. To this day, I keep in touch with their children, Debbie and Bill.
In our profession, when we start out or if we move to another location, the first three questions might remain the same while the others may be replaced by analogous ones such as, “Should I join the local interpreting association? How much should I charge? Is the terminology used here different from what I am used to?”, etc., etc. I remember after joining NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators), I was contemplating running for office. I cold-called Isabel Framer, then Chairperson to ask her advice, and she kindly offered to take me with her when she made the rounds at the upcoming annual conference, to introduce me so I could learn first-hand what the organization was doing. She didn’t know me from Adam but she selflessly took the time from her schedule to help me because she knew I was earnest about volunteering and she wanted to be a mentor although her term was ending at the conference in question.
A call to arms!
I know that many of us have so much knowledge and experience that we should share them, and make life much easier for our colleagues. Consider offering your services at a local or national level to some of our many fine organizations. I am sure they receive calls from members asking for guidance on a regular basis. You might propose to let interpreters shadow you when it is in a public setting where it is feasible. By just watching, we learn. Our brains have “mirror neurons” that enable us to automatically copy what we see and the modeling that you do will allow a learner to internalize behavior much more than any description ever will. You might also share glossaries if pertinent, and attend networking meetings or social occasions sponsored by an association. At these events you can help in a “meet and greet” capacity, making new or prospective members feel at ease. If you have the know-how, you may offer to give a seminar on the aspects of interpreting that you are familiar with and feel could be helpful to others. You can contact your local high school and talk about interpreting on Career Day. If you like to write, you can pen articles, and so on.
There are many ways to meet mentoring needs and contrary to what you may think, the giver learns and benefits as much or more than the takers in these scenarios. This is a win-win situation. In terms of self-esteem, there is nothing that beats the endorphin-high and fulfillment you get by meaningfully helping others. Those whom you help directly as well as the organizations you work through will certainly bolster your reputation. Furthermore, do not discount the possibility that you will meet interesting people, learn something new, have fun and be more intimately connected to others that have interests akin to yours. Don’t leave it for the future. There is never a perfect time. Volunteer now and those of you who have participated in these type of activities, consider sharing your experiences with us!