Zilin Cui is expected to graduate from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) with a degree in Conference Interpretation. Her language combination is English (A), Chinese (B) and Spanish (C). Prior to coming to MIIS, she has worked as a banking analyst, an assistant economist and an interpreter/translator in Chile. She interned at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington D.C. in summer of 2017.
*How did you find your job/internship?
I applied on the organization’s website after Prof. Barry Slaughter Olsen told us about the opportunity in March. About two months later I was phone interviewed, and a week later I received the offer letter.
*What experiences at MIIS helped (career management course, career fair, individual career advice, the MIIS network, coursework, class project, immersive learning experiences)?
Everything mentioned here helped, to different degrees. I would say individual career advising, DC career week and the MIIS network were the most helpful.
I met with Winnie Heh, my Career Advisor, before starting my first semester and I think it was very helpful to hear from her point of view both as a T&I graduate and as someone who has years of experience recruiting and managing language professionals. It gave me a realistic picture of what to expect – I had come with the idea of becoming a UN interpreter and getting an UN internship for the summer but I realized over time that the path is not so straightforward, and that changing directions isn’t admitting defeat but rather embracing new opportunities.
DC career week gave me the opportunity to attend info sessions at international organizations I envisioned myself working for. During the trip, I met interpretation and translation section chiefs and heard from them first-hand what I needed to do get to where I wanted to be. You can find my reflection on the trip here. I highly recommend anyone thinking of working in the States at all to attend – it gives you an idea what to expect once you graduate and reassures you that there is indeed a future after MIIS.
And last but not least – the “MIIS Mafia” is a force to be reckoned with. During my DC trip I met MIIS alums at almost every organization I visited. Every one of them was delighted to see current MIIS students and some were very helpful and gave us specific advice on applying to internships and career planning. Think about what organization you are interested in working/interning for and ask your career advisor/program coordinator if they know of any alum who has worked/is working there. You can research all you want but nothing beats the inside scope, especially if it comes from someone who more likely than not wants to help you!
*What advice would you share with MIIS students?
- Manage your expectations – this is one of the biggest things I learned both during my internship search and from my internship. I had expected to find an internship by March but did not secure mine until early May, by which time I was pleasantly surprised that I got one. Going into my internship I had ambitious goals of improving my interpretation into all my working languages and produce “audience-ready” interpretation by the end of my two-month stint and get a return offer. Well, that did not happen. I only focused on one working language, which turned out to be a wiser approach since the same principles and techniques apply to any language pair. Interpreting skills and background knowledge take years to build, and it is important to keep that in mind when you feel frustrated with yourself; I certainly have and it is important to take things in perspective and move beyond that. A good internship should be an enriching and humbling experience. To appreciate its value requires us to have the appropriate expectations of ourselves and of the internship to distinguish between short-, medium- and long-term goals.
- Take advantage of every opportunity out there – career fair, DC trip, meeting with your advisor/professors – do not think in terms of “will this land me an internship/job/gig” because that creates unrealistic expectations and unnecessary anxiety. Treat each opportunity as an occasion through which you can learn about the profession and get to know people – network is important in our profession, but we need to approach it not from a utilitarian perspective – instead, think about how you can help each other (thanks Winnie for the advice!)
- Don’t take things personally – be it feedback, be it the way that someone treated you on a particular day, and this applies to more than the internship or your time at MIIS but on a more general level. The more you are able to detach yourself from the situation, the less likely you will get emotionally involved and the more you can use the feedback/learning constructively.