There is no way to sugarcoat this – the job market is challenging for 2020 graduates. According to a USA Today report on August 8th, 2020, “the unemployment rate in the United States stood at 11.1% as of June. While this is a marked improvement from the 14.7% jobless rate in April, it is still higher than at any time in at least the last 70 years. In some U.S. cities – many of which are major economic hubs – the unemployment crisis is far worse than it is nationwide.”
As we shine a spotlight on the language industry, however, we are seeing some promising signs. Slator reported on August 6th, 2020, “the language industry job market is stabilizing after plunging in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Slator Language Industry Job Index (LIJI).” Slator further indicated that “prior to Covid-19, the LIJI started off slow in January 2020, but quickly bounced back with a record high in February 2020. August 2020 is the first month that the LIJI recorded an increase since March 2020, likely due to the ripple effects of Covid-related lockdowns around the world during the five months prior.”
In March, April and May, MIIS students and alumni reported hiring freezes, cancellations of internships and layoffs. The number of interviews I heard about slowed to a trickle. I started to hear more about interviews in late June and July although far from the level I saw in previous years during the same months. In late July and now in August, I have heard good news of May 2020 graduates receiving more than one offers. The main point here is: job search, no doubt, is difficult this year, but the job market is not completely dry.
This is why I decided to interview Xingchen Hu (MATLM 2020) for the first episode of my “This Is What Worked For Me” podcast. I hope how she managed the challenges and her subsequent success in her job search can help those who are still going through the process. Thank you, Xingchen, for sharing your learnings to lift others up.
You are a native speaker of English. When did you realize you wanted to further immerse yourself in the Japanese language and culture?
I grew up in a mostly monolingual English-speaking environment, but as a fourth generation Japanese American growing up in Hawai’i, I was surrounded by Japanese culture from a young age, despite having minimal exposure to the language. When I first visited Japan, I was 13 years old and met a lot of Japanese people who spoke English. I remember feeling both embarrassed and amazed, and decided to learn Japanese as soon as I got back from that trip. I wanted to enroll in Japanese classes, but this didn’t happen until I was 15 because we didn’t have many opportunities on my island for young people to learn a second language. My first two years of studying were mainly self-taught.
The next few years were interesting because I was simultaneously studying Japanese through beginner-level classes at my high school, Japanese classes at a local college, and an experimental Japanese conversation class at a local Buddhist temple. Thanks to these initial opportunities, I had a well-rounded fundamental knowledge of Japanese by the time I entered university, where I majored in Japanese language and literature.
How much time did you spend in Japan and what did you do there?
I studied abroad in Osaka for two semesters during university. After working as a bilingual tour briefer in the tourism industry in Hawaii for a year I worked in Tottori prefecture as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), teaching English to elementary and middle school children for about five and a half years.
What most people don’t know about me is that I actually wasn’t a part of the JET program — I was working for a small private company that provided English and French conversation lessons, and this company also worked directly with its local Board of Education to dispatch ALTs in the area.
Not being in the JET program meant I was given more freedom in teaching and with my vacation time. Thus, I made a habit of traveling all over Japan on my time off. I studied extensively in my free time, and used tests like the Kanji Proficiency exam and the National Tour Guide Interpreter Exam as a measure for keeping track of my progress and motiving myself to learn new things.
When I had free time at work, I would sit in on my students’ classes that weren’t the English classes, especially the History and Science classes, to learn about these concepts in Japanese. This turned out to be one of the best things I did that prepared me for MIIS, as I was essentially getting a second education in certain subjects in my B language. I also picked up Japanese calligraphy and boxing as hobbies.
How did you hear about MIIS and what did you study at MIIS?
My aunt used to tell me stories of my grandmother’s brother who went to Monterey (school unclear) to study language and ended up working for a government agency as a linguist. Thus, I was aware for a while that Monterey is a place you go “to study language.”
I visited Monterey to take a campus tour in my last year of university back in 2010 when I was considering job options, and it opened my eyes to the world of translation and interpretation. As I didn’t have much in-country experience at the time, I felt I wasn’t anywhere ready to apply, so I made working in Japan my biggest priority, and attending MIIS became a long-term goal. I took an intensive interpretation program at the University of Hawaii the summer I graduated to get a little bit of training in interpretation, but with only a year of study abroad, that was very challenging for me at the time, and I was scared off of interpreting until I tried again at MIIS.
In the years coming up to MIIS, there were a series of game translation contests hosted by LOCJAM in the years I was in Japan, and this introduced me to the fascinating world of localization. Because I was so fascinated by this new and upcoming industry, I entered MIIS as a TLM-Translation track student, and eventually made the switch to Translation (with a Localization Management specialization) so that I could take more T&I classes and build up my translation and interpretation skills.
At MIIS, I’ve taken classes in just about everything that the TILM programs at MIIS have to offer. (I even audited a class in NPTS about science and technology, which referenced Japan quite a bit!). After experiencing everything, and considering my skill set, working directly with language as a translator or interpreter won out as my ideal career path in the end.
Tell us about the key immersive learning opportunities (such as internship and practicum) and other key insights gained that have informed your future career direction.
I was given the opportunity to do two internships during my time as a student at MIIS, one during winter break in project management and the other in the summer, where I did interpretation with Honda R&D Americas. The combination of these two internships helped me realize that I was more interested in working directly with language than managing projects.
Although I ultimately decided project management is not for me, interning as a project manager was a good experience in that I was able to gain insights in the process that LSPs use when recruiting and working with translators and interpreters. I also learned how to take care of interpretation equipment and how events that need interpreters are planned.
You are about to graduate. What are you going to do after graduation?
I will be working as an in-house interpreter at Daikin, an HVAC manufacturing company that is expanding its language services department. They are located in Texas.
Any words of wisdom for language students who want to incorporate Japanese into their future careers?
If you are interested in translation and interpretation, expand your knowledge of everything, be curious and read extensively, learn to love kanji, and don’t forget to work on maintaining and elevating both your B and A languages. Don’t settle for your current language level, always aim higher. Live in Japan, and for as long as you can. Immerse yourself and absorb the language and culture.
If you have the means to study now, having a specialty in a field other than Japanese is a huge asset that will help set you apart from others in the field and open yourself up to opportunity.
Learning Japanese when you are a native English speaker takes many years of dedicated studying and can be a painful task at times, but it will pay off in the end if you persevere.
– You are a native speaker of English. When did you realize you wanted to further immerse yourself in the Japanese language and culture?
Growing up in a multilingual household, I always enjoyed learning languages. As I was researching and applying to colleges, I made my decision partially because I wanted to study Japanese, a language that was attractive to me for being so different from anything I had studied before. I soon fell in love with it, especially after studying at Waseda University in Tokyo for a year, and in the end, graduated with a major in Japanese Studies. I did not know what I wanted to do as a career at the time, but I knew I wanted to use Japanese in some way. I decided to apply for the JET Programme to immerse myself in the language and hopefully figure out my future path, and thankfully, I was accepted.
– How much time did you spend in Japan and what did you do there?
After getting my BA, I moved to the southern prefecture of Kumamoto, where I worked with the JET Programme for five years. I spent three years of that time as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) teaching English to elementary and middle school students in the beautiful island town of Amakusa. I then transferred to Minamata City, where I worked as a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) for two years. My position included everything from administrative duties for the local International Association and organizing a sister city exchange program, to organizing cultural events and writing a column in the city newsletter. My work also included some translation and interpretation, which I loved and which inspired me to apply to MIIS.
– How did you hear about MIIS and what did you study at MIIS?
I first heard about MIIS early on in my JET career from a fellow ALT (who also told me about the scholarship offered to all returning JETs!). She came to MIIS a couple years later, and I followed in her footsteps a couple years after that. I originally applied for the Translation and Localization Management program, but after my first semester decided that what I really wanted to focus on was the practical, language side of translation and interpretation, so I switched programs to MAT. In addition to my translation coursework, I have taken two years of interpretation classes and earned the Localization Management specialization, so I like to think I’ve gotten a well-rounded education here.
– Tell us about the key immersive learning opportunities (such as internship and practicum) and other key insights gained that have informed your future career direction.
After my first year, I interned for a summer at Daikin North America, a Japanese-owned manufacturer of HVAC systems outside of Houston, Texas. This was a really great learning experience for me. I was still leaning towards working in written translation until my internship, but my work at Daikin was primarily related to interpretation. I found there that there was a lot about interpretation that I loved, and I know now that I want a career that allows me to do both.
I also participated in an immersive learning opportunity this semester while auditing the Seminar in Foreign Policy, Trade, and Development in East Asia course. This course involved a field research practicum during spring break, wherein students visit Tokyo and Beijing to listen to lectures and interview experts in a variety of topics. Two students each from the Japanese and Chinese T&I programs attended to serve as interpreters, myself included. I learned a lot about the major issues facing East Asia in terms of security, trade, and foreign relations—information that is very transferrable to my general knowledge as an interpreter. During the practicum portion, we visited government ministries, research centers, and even the Diet. This was a great opportunity to get a taste of life as a freelance interpreter, and being able to help my fellow students in their research was a wonderful bonus.
– You are about to graduate. What are you going to do after graduation?
I am heading to Europe! I will be a Translation Fellow at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, where I will spend an intensive six months learning about intellectual property and being trained in the field of patent translation from Japanese to English. I’m very excited about this opportunity!
– Any words of wisdom for language students who want to incorporate Japanese into their future careers?
There are so many opportunities out there that require language skills. Bilingualism is a great benefit to both you and to employers, and fewer and fewer people in the US have the advanced skills required in languages like Japanese or Chinese. If you have language skills, I would encourage you to look into the different careers that require them because there’s something for everyone. If you want to work in translation/interpretation specifically, be very critical about yourself and don’t rush into it. It can be a very demanding field, so make sure you have a really solid foundation. Take the time to live in-country and intensively study the language, culture, modern history, and current events of Japan. But don’t be scared off—it’s also a very rewarding field!