My journey to become an interpreter: a personal essay

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– Tatiana Carajilescov (PLD member) –

How did I become an interpreter? I wish I could say that I knew what an interpreter was when I first started, but I can’t. What did I learn about interpretation in high school? Absolutely nothing. I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school when I was accepted at PUC, the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, to study literature. I will confess that I became an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because I loved to read. (I stole those words from Jeffrey Eugenides). I wasn’t left-brained enough for science. I was pursuing a degree no different from what I had been doing in high school – reading and learning English.

Once I started at the university, I found out I had to choose among four different areas. I would have to choose among becoming an executive secretary (too dry!), a translator (too introspective!) or a teacher, which I wasn’t smart enough to pull off. Finally, the fourth option was conference interpretation. Now we’re talking! I like to talk and I am a sort of jack of all trades and master of none. A subject might suddenly become fascinating for me, and I develop an appetite to know everything there is to know about it. I will devour everything that I can find and just as quickly as my interest came, it goes away when I move on to my next assignment.

I love preparing for a conference. I become a bird of prey driven by instinct. I hunt for every piece of knowledge I can find, study for hours and contact anyone who can help me.

We interpreters are members of an unrecognized profession. We are mistakenly called “translators” all the time. We are not identified as high-level professionals like doctors and lawyers. Most of us, like myself, work as freelancers and don’t have full-time “jobs”. It is true, the opportunities to work full time with paid benefits are limited, but I do have a hard-earned university degree in conference interpretation and I’m qualified to do what I do. I am no different than a freelance writer, journalist, graphic designer or any other self-employed professional.

I live in a country that talks about immigration reform every day in the news; we interpreters are in high demand! Yet every time I hear the question: “how is work?” it sounds like mockery. I simply smirk back and say: “it is great!”

So why did I became an interpreter? Every day is a unique experience. Working as an interpreter keeps me sharp, it enhances my creativity and helps me understand the human soul. There is no routine. One day, I am preparing for a conference on venous disease; the next, I’m learning about recipes using mayonnaise. Other days I just feel glad that I could help an immigrant to communicate.

When I was young, I used to hear my dad say that he had two salaries: one he received at the end of the month to pay bills, and the other was the satisfaction of doing what he liked. As a young person I didn’t understand what he meant, but thinking of it now I finally understand. It is with great passion that I work as an interpreter.

Tatiana Carajilescov was born in Boston and grew up in Brazil in a family of scientists. She graduated from PUC-Rio with a BA in conference interpreting. She then moved to New York to be immersed in the American culture. She is a freelance interpreter, accredited court interpreter; in addition, she works as a Language Specialist at the Department of Homeland Security, and occasionally travels with the Department of State.

One Comment

  1. Congrats, Tatiana, on finding your voice and your passion. Thank you for sharing your story.



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