I was 19 and I had just been accepted into the University as a freshman for the upcoming school year. I had already taken a couple of years off after high school to pursue some other dream and now I was focused on getting my degree. I made the long trip north and found a place to live close to the school but it was March and I had a few months until the start of the fall semester. So I did what any college student would do and began searching for some employment. I thought of interpreting, as my sister had done throughout her college years, so I contacted the deaf services office and arranged a meeting. The rest was a collection of learning experience and humility as I painfully endured the hardest 2 months of my professional career.
I will always remember Mary being so hopeful that I was a diamond in the rough. She had a tough job in providing quality interpreters for the University's growing deaf population as there were few interpreters in the remote area. She was thrilled to meet me and immediately put me on the schedule to partner with the two overworked staff interpreters. Beth and Pam were outstanding and had been educational interpreters for over 20 years. They were both working a full time schedule without partners in classes that were exhausting. Those two ladies would become my mentors and help me on the path to becoming an interpreter.
My first day of class started with Russian Literature and in my naiveness, I thought it was going to be a simple class of reading and writing..... WRONG!! The class was halfway through reading "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy and before class, Beth decided that I would start first. It took no longer than a minute for me to be dripping with sweat as I tried to comprehend who the heck, (Rostova, Nikolayevich Bolkonsky, Bezukhov, Rostov, Bolkonskaya, Vasilyevich) these folks were and more importantly, how to properly spell their names. After about 5 minutes of wild goose flapping hands, I just stood there, frozen like a seized engine. My face dripped with embarrassment, frustration and anguish.
On to the next class and though it was no Tolstoy in the park, "German Culture: Folk Literature" proved to be my 2nd most challenging class of the day! I was of no use to my partner and if anything, I caused more work for her... The Deaf student was a genius and thankfully he was only mildly annoyed at my inability to interpret a spoken language. It must have been amusing to watch a young buck "interpreter" get broken on the first day. I was shocked at how different this type of interpreting was. I had no concept of lag time or expanding concepts, let alone the use of classifiers. I was stuck signing english and fingerspelling every word I didn't know. Sigh, I wish there was a video of this embarrassing moment so I could share my pain and we could laugh together. That day, a young man's bubble burst and all ego and pride was deflated then I realized that I was not an interpreter...
I went home that evening distraught and with shattered confidence. The thought of quitting came up several times because I wondered how could I face such emotional trauma again? In a 24 hour period, I went from being an awesome signer to an embarrassing interpreter. I felt horrible for the Deaf students and my partners for having to suffer through my learning period. It was one of the handful of "gut checks" we all go through in life and I had a strong feeling that this choice would impact the rest of my life.
I made a decision to go back but this time I would work, study, take notes, read the books, and become a student. The more I learned about what I was interpreting, the better interpreter I became. It took a few weeks for me to catch up to a point where I was serviceable enough and I didn't have panic attacks before each class. Through hard work and a deep respect for the profession, I restored just enough of my confidence to continue this job into a career.
From the very start, I learned that ego and pride have no place in the interpreting field. We are servants to our clients, hearing and deaf alike and none more important than the other. I learned that an interpreter must grow thick skin to withstand the eventual errors, the courage to improve upon those errors and above all else, a Q-Tip!
I have been humbled many times in this profession but I've learned from some of the best. Jim, Byron, Kizzie, Mary, Pam, Beth, Virginia, Jeff, Amanda, you all are awesome! We can always improve our signing skills but without the right heart and a service mentality, we will always be lacking as interpreters.
I am a Coda, I am an interpreter and I'm still learning. That said, I'm still never interpreting another Russian Lit class, EVER...
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