Business Trip? Bitter-Sweet

鮑開立 Interpretation Track

  One of the benefits that a professional interpreter can enjoy is to be sent abroad to provide services. Throughout my learning journey, working in another country has always been a goal I was determined to achieve. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself thanks to GPTI’s arrangement. Benson and I went to Spain to work as interpreters. Hired by EMBA, NTU, our job was to interpret for their students who were having a week of classes and company visits in Barcelona. Working far, far away from home is indeed exciting, particularly when you are given days for sightseeing. In addition, getting to work with different people in a different place is undoubtedly a valuable experience. Two months before departure, I eagerly anticipated this trip, having accepted the offer with great enthusiasm. However, despite the excitement surrounding the job, I knew challenges lay ahead. There were rocky roads yet to navigate.

  The first wave of the challenges came very soon. They appeared before departure. Due to budgetary concerns, no third person could be hired for the equipment. We had to handle the equipment as well. We were supposed to bring well-functioning headsets, transmitters, and batteries to Spain and set up all these and other devices. Therefore, we had to know the number of participants and what the classroom looked like, test the machines, and decide how we were going to set them up. Although it might not appear overly complicated, it took us nearly a month to complete all these tasks. We could only guess what the classroom would look like, as our client was also unaware. Consequently, there was little time left for us to truly focus on preparing for the interpreting assignment.

  While we were already concerned about the limited time available for preparing for the interpreting assignment, an even more challenging situation emerged: we had nothing to prepare with. Despite our persistent requests for preview materials of the classes and visits, the constant response we received was, “They will be sent to you soon.” All we had was a tentative schedule of the titles of the lectures and a dozen articles that the students were supposed to read beforehand. The titles were so succinct that they provided no clues about the content to be covered. For example, one of the classes was World Economic Outlook, and another was Digital Metacognitions. Although the articles might give us some clues, they were not necessarily related to the classes and visits—at least none of them were about the above-mentioned classes. All we could do was read through the articles, look for whatever seemed relevant to the classes online, and cram the information into our heads. Upon departure, we were overwhelmed by nervousness because we didn’t know what awaited us in Spain.

  But as careful readers may already anticipate, the next phase of our journey brought a second wave of challenges—the onsite obstacles. In Barcelona, the sole class-related relief was the presence of a booth in the classroom. However, the lack of preview materials remained a pressing concern, with only one set arriving just before the start of the first class. We received the first slide deck three minutes before, to be precise, followed by the slides for other classes. Being the first to interpret, I decided to skim through the first deck quickly, only to find that there were 189 slides. I immediately gave up reading, took a deep breath, and started my job with a blank mind. Despite receiving the slides for subsequent classes at least half a day in advance, we still found ourselves unable to achieve thorough preparation. Our duty ended at around 6 p.m. every day; we didn’t have much time left for studying after a quick rest and dinner. Sometimes, I fell asleep amid preparation. The challenges didn’t end with just the slide decks. The speakers’ rapid speech rates and accents significantly added to the difficulty. Picture having to interpret 189 slides in 1.5 hours, delivered with a Spanish accent. My performance during this time was a blur; I was so overwhelmed that I consciously let go of the memories after each class ended as if to cope with the trauma.

  In addition to the classes, we were also there for the visits, which turned out to be the ultimate horror of the entire assignment. The visits were terrifying because there would be lectures and walking tours; we might have to set up our own equipment and change modes of interpretation. Moreover, the companies provided zero information about the lectures and tours. We were helpless even after checking their websites. Two of the visits were quite interesting (for the readers, not for me). Our first visit was to Mango, a clothing distribution center, where we had a walking tour interpreted simultaneously via the company’s devices. During the tour, there was constant background noise from the operating machines, which made listening very difficult. While walking, clothes were passing above our heads, requiring us to bend down to dodge them. The walking tour at Codorniu, a cava (Spanish champagne) winery, required consecutive interpretation. We found the information on how cava is made and the history of the winery online, so the task wasn’t daunting. The tour ended in a cellar some 20 meters below the ground. The light was too dim for my notes to be visible; I could only rely on my brain, even for numbers. Before we left Codorniu, their CEO prepared a presentation for us. We interpreted it simultaneously with our equipment without a booth. A student sitting behind us fell asleep snoring. I was shocked but also wanted to laugh, and I was of course gravely affected by the noise.

  For company visits, the challenges came not only from the uncertainty of the content and the modes of interpretation in advance but also from the dynamic environments (who would expect your audience to snore?). Throughout the assignment, from classes to visits, our ability to prepare was severely limited, underscoring the importance of solid foundational interpreting skills and the effective deployment of strategies. I believe possessing both of these was crucial in helping me navigate through all the challenges.

  The job in Spain was indeed challenging and daunting. We faced a lot of uncertainties and exhaustion. However, one factor encouraged us to meet the challenges bravely every day—the people in Spain. From the staff to the professors, everyone treated us, the interpreters, with much respect. They knew well how speech rates and the environment would influence our performance. Therefore, before every lecture, the staff always reminded the professors that they should speak slowly for the interpreters to interpret. One of them even told us that if the professors talked about something we didn’t understand, we could just “invent” an interpretation. Although this is improper and we would never do so, we could feel how they empathize with interpreters and that they knew how difficult this job was. During breaks, they would come to us and ask whether anything needed to be changed. When problems arose, they always came to help immediately as they saw me wave my hand. The professors also came to us before and after their lectures. Before the lectures, they would greet us, shake our hands, and ask how we would like them to talk. Although none of them talked as we had negotiated, we still appreciate their willingness to talk to us in advance. After the lectures, they also shook our hands and thanked us. All these only made all the sufferings during the lectures worth it.

  This sums up all the highlights of my working experience in Spain. I have to say it was definitely not as exciting and glorious as I had expected. All the challenges were tests of my ability to interpret under harsh conditions. However, I am the kind of person who enjoys challenges. After this assignment, I feel that I have become more prepared for more interpreting tasks in the future, however challenging they are. On the other hand, the very nice experience of interacting with the people in Spain has taught me how interpreters are perceived differently in Taiwan and Spain. Although there were more negative events than positive ones during this trip, I still enjoyed it quite a lot with all I saw and learned. I appreciate this opportunity to work abroad. I feel more grown-up after this trip.