Life-Changing Moments: My Visit to the European Commission and Parliament as Part of my Interpreter Training

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LifeChanging

Érika Lessa

I can’t think of a better way to bring my two years at the Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI) program at Glendon College, in Canada, to a more perfect end than with a trip to Europe. More precisely, to Brussels. Yes, it’s a nice city to visit as a tourist —it’s famous for its beer, chocolate, waffles, fries… But I really want to talk business here.

The visit was planned to introduce students to the European Commission (SCIC) and the European Parliament (DG INTE), two major institutions known for their enormous interpreting services. And they are h-u-g-e.

Our visit was made possible thanks to the generosity of both SCIC and DG INTE. Accompanied by our beloved instructor and former SCIC interpreter Helen Campbell, two other colleagues and I had the chance to attend to some meetings, listen to interpreters doing their beautiful work, understand a bit more of how such big machinery works. Here’s my list of the highlights of our time in Brussels.

  1. Mock Entrance Test

As SCIC is going to have a competition soon (in August, according to their site), they had the (brilliant!) idea of showing us how they test candidates. Two students from the University of Leeds, who were also visiting, were chosen to do one consecutive and one simultaneous test.

The consecutive speech (in Spanish) was made live, while the simultaneous interpretation (in French) was made from a recording. I can’t say much about the latter as French is not part of my language combination, but the Spanish one wasn’t super difficult: a couple of technical words, a few proper names, some important contrasts to be made.

That’s the trick: as the speeches are feasible (speech difficulty level is taken into account and they made it very clear), they expect candidates to shine. The jury deliberated in front of us all, so that we could follow their train of thought. That was amazing. It helped us have a much clearer idea of what they are looking for in terms of accuracy, technique etc. Also, I found the Leeds students were really brave to try it in front of their classmates, instructors, jurors… They coped really well with the stress. Good job!

Part of the appeal of the trip was sharing the experience with classmates. Photo Credit: Author's Personal Archive

Part of the appeal of the trip was sharing the experience with classmates.
Photo Credit: Author’s Personal Archive

  1. Having a Staff Interpreter With Us

SCIC is a “student friendly” environment. The amount of information you’re exposed to when you get there is a bit overwhelming. But our hosts at SCIC helped us navigate it all. No one can deny that they care (a lot!) about the new generations of interpreters. They designated a staff interpreter to be with us all the time. We could benefit from their knowledge and experience the whole day. As we actually interpreted (in dummy booth, of course!), my colleagues and I received feedback. It was a challenge due to the variety of meetings and topics they managed to squeeze us in, plus all the nuances and new context we were surrounded by. But it was such an honor to be there, sitting among them and learning. I got a lot out of their feedback and out of listening to their work. It’s amazing how much you can absorb just by observing and listening carefully.

This piece of the Berlin Wall stands outside the European Parliament as a symbol of Europe’s commitment to peace, freedom, and democracy. Photo Credit: Author's personal archives

This piece of the Berlin Wall stands outside the European Parliament as a symbol of Europe’s commitment to peace, freedom, and democracy.
Photo Credit: Author’s personal archives

  1. Meeting Portuguese-Booth interpreters

Listening to experienced interpreters work is always a thrill. If you share the same mother tongue, believe me, it’s even more exciting. First, we had the chance to get to meet Mariangela Barros in person. (I recognized her from the SCIC Speech Repository videos!) She talked about her experience and how she became an interpreter. Then, I enjoyed Euclides Lazzarotto’s interpreting elegance before we had a chance to chat briefly. He couldn’t stay away from the booth for more than a couple of minutes as he was pivoting from Polish that day (wow!).

It meant so much to me to talk to Mariangela and Euclides. Both motivated my classmates and I to add more C languages to our combination so that we can work there. They also gave us tips, do’s and don’ts, and how to cope with some of the challenges they face everyday. It was fascinating! I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

In a nutshell, study visits aren’t easy. There’s a lot of information coming at you, all at once. You want to learn it all, because the last thing you aim is to make a fool of yourself in front of interpreters and trainers. Plus controlling all that fangirling invading you and behaving like a moderate adult you are (*cough, cough*). And traveling expenses. So no, it’s not easy.

However, when I am asked if it was worth it, it took me a split second to say “Oh, yeah”. If there’s one piece of advice I can leave to my fellow Year 1 (turning Year 2) students, it would be this: save your money and go on at least one of this institutional study visits. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of your own life-changing moments.

Érika and her classmates enjoy some downtime with Glendon instructor and former SCIC interpreter Helen Campbell. Photo Credit: Author's personal archives.

Érika and her classmates enjoy some downtime with Glendon instructor and former SCIC interpreter Helen Campbell.
Photo Credit: Author’s personal archives.


Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted by the MCI Blog on July 11.


Érika is a conference interpreter who also loves translating, and truly believes one complements the other. She has worked in different sectors of the industry, including humanities, marketing, software and game localization. As an interpreter, she is proud to have worked at international events such as Rio +20 and a Bill Clinton visit to her hometown, Belém. She now lives in Toronto, where she is completing a Master’s program in Conference Interpreting at York University. After hearing at the 2014 PLD annual meeting that they wanted help, she decided to share some of her time and talents to help strengthen the Division.

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