Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

MIIS DC Career Exploration Week Reflection

I had a fruitful time participating in the DC Exploration Week as a first-year Conference Interpretation student (English-Chinese-Spanish). I only attended four information sessions in my field of study since the rest were only open to citizens/permanent residents or were non-language related. The four organizations I visited were the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. I also attended the reception on Thursday night at the MIIS DC office. The trip was very informative and valuable. I learned a lot through the info sessions that I would like to share here.

First of all, it was very encouraging to see so many of our alumni in these international organizations.

All of the info sessions I went to had MIIS alumni on their staff. They were very happy to see current students thinking about their careers early on. I only wish there were more MIIS students from the T&I program! We have a relatively large program, but the info sessions had no more than 15 attendees at a time and from only one or two language programs, which was a bit disappointing given how much work the organizations had put into organizing the sessions for us.

Attending info sessions is one of the best ways to conduct research on the organizations.

Our hosts were translation section chiefs, HR directors and senior program managers, among others. Their hour-long info sessions usually stretched into an hour and a half and in some cases two hours, as they gave us crash courses on their organization and how their language units worked (and some even showed us the booths!). Some of them even gave us answers to questions that we may be asked in interviews.  Although I put a few hours into researching the organizations prior to attending, nothing came close to being as helpful as talking to people who actually work there. The alums were especially cordial and some shared with us their contact information.

It’s a long and winding road to becoming a staff interpreter/translator at an international organization, and our best way to proceed is to hear early how to prepare from the staff themselves.

As I discovered during the past few days, in-house opportunities at international organizations are few and getting fewer (due to budget cuts proposed by the new administration and the growing trend of outsourcing around 70% of their translation and interpretation work). There is also a gap between most students’ professional capacity and the level required for international organizations, which look for mid-career professionals. So here comes the catch-22 regarding experience: how do you get experience when nobody wants to hire you if you don’t have any? Fortunately, there is a way out. Our alums at the World Bank (WB) specifically pointed out that we needed to (1) get our foot in the door, (2) have specialized knowledge in a field (or more) other than languages, and (3) get the right kind of exposure.

Regarding (1): one of the alumni started as an assistant photo editor at one of the international organizations on a short-term contract, and another worked on text alignment. At first, they were not thrilled about having graduated from MIIS and having to do something unrelated to their training and aspirations, but they stuck with it, let the higher ups know about their core skills, and eventually got the positions they wanted.

Regarding (2): with 70% of the T&I work outsourced, the language departments at international organizations are functioning less like translation/interpretation teams and more like LSPs within their own organizations. For example, one of the biggest “requesters” (in WB lingo) for WB’s language services is ICSID (International Center for the Settlement of Trade Disputes, part of the World Bank Group), and the interpretation chief emphasized that they look for people who can work at the conference level, bi-directionally, and with specialized knowledge in economics and law. The specialized knowledge does not have to come from formal training – reading books, researching, and teaching ourselves are all essential to becoming a good translator/interpreter.

Regarding (3): for students with no experience in the field, volunteering can be a good start. TED has subtitling opportunities and Translators Without Borders offers a chance to practice language skills while contributing to a good cause. Gradually, one should aim for higher-profile work (the T&I world is very small and word of mouth matters a lot). It is also important to get to know the chief interpreters/translators (the people at the international organizations who staff their events and translation teams) – sending résumés and asking about freelance opportunities is a good way to make initial contact, since these organizations are constantly seeking to expand their rosters. Some will give tests (in which case, do not shy away!) and some will rely on recommendations by senior professionals they have worked with before, so it is important to start early and build a portfolio.

Lastly, skills other than translation/interpretation itself are becoming increasingly important. Many international organizations are working with CAT tools (many of them are transitioning to the UN’s own CAT-tool, eLUNA), and they recommend getting familiar with as many kinds as possible. Terminology management is also important – although it seems like no organization aside from WIPO looks for terminologists, most expect translators and interpreters to contribute to terminology management. Being able to work in teams is indispensable – translation departments at international organizations process over a dozen million words per year, and to be a successful translator, one has to know how to collaborate with colleagues (in addition to working under tight deadlines, being meticulous about details, and being able to revise their own work, among others).

Personally, I found the info sessions very helpful – I had already applied to internships at two of the organizations by the time I attended the sessions, and since international organizations tend to move very slowly, it was also my chance to express my interest and gently nudge them to look out for my application.

Final advice I have for future attendees:

  • Use the student & alumni reception as a great networking opportunity. Swap a few cards with your friends/classmates so that you advertise for each other and work more efficiently (wish I thought of this earlier!). Plus, looking out for each other is not just the right thing to do; it will bring good professional “karma.”
  • Showing up is half the success. Try to go if you have an opportunity. How else would you stand out among the thousands of applicants to the few dozens of internship opportunities? Once you can have them put a face to a name, you are already ahead of the game.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions and talk with the presenters after the info session. The organizers appreciate thoughtful questions, and especially if they are MIIS alumni, they want to see you succeed.
  • Of course, dress professionally and think of yourself as a young professional. Don’t feel intimidated (guilty as charged but I will improve next year)!

Zilin Cui

MACI 2018

Middlebury Institute of International

Studies at Monterey

From Taiwan to Poland, from the US to Thailand. Where Frances’ Language Skills Took Her.

MA Translation, 2017 Chinese/English/Russian
MA Translation, 2017

Frances Pao-Fang Chang is a MAT (Master in Translation – Chinese/English/Russian) candidate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Prior to coming to MIIS, she obtained a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature from the National Chengchi University in Taiwan, and an MBA from Warsaw University in Poland. She had worked in a Taiwanese-based multinational company for 5 years as a Project Coordinator and Cost Manager before returning to school to pursue her passion for languages.

Q1: What were your top 3 criteria as you selected your internship(s)?

My internship was selected based on the size of the company, its location and the benefits it offered. Star-Group is the 6th biggest company in the language services industry. The internship was in Bangkok with airfare and accommodation covered.

Q2: What did you learn about your field during your internship?

The language services industry is changing dynamically with the emergence of cloud-based software. There should be more and more collaborative work in the field. I also learned the value of keeping well-trained in-house translators.

Q3: What did you learn about yourself during your internship?

I prefer to do market research and business analysis rather than doing pure translation work. I also learned that where I will work upon graduation is no longer as important as I thought. The most important thing is whether the job itself fits your career path.

Q4: From the employers’ perspective what does a good intern look like?

A person who takes initiatives and has the perseverance to finish every task will gain more from the internship and leave a positive impression with the employer. Our supervisor encouraged us to interact with local employees. I’d like to add that, in a multicultural setting, it is paramount to respect each other’s cultures.

Q5: Any words of wisdom you would like to share?

-Every step counts. Think long-term. Have an open mind. And of course… really enjoy the summer and make tons of friends!

Do you have a question for Frances? You can reach her at paofangc(at)miis.edu.


Winnie Heh
Career & Academic Advisor

Precision is What my Education at MIIS Gave me to Prepare me for a Career as a Court Interpreter

Lesley Walker Headshot 022316

Lesley Walker (MATI ’05) currently works Spanish Court Interpreter for the Sacramento Superior Court. She recently sent me a number of job postings for the CA court system. She indicated to me:  “I am interested in seeing more very well-trained interpreters enter my field and I like giving back to MIIS any chance I get.”  Please read her heart-felt and insightful responses to my questions.

1. What does your typical day look like as a court interpreter?

First you’ll find out where you are assigned for the day. Depending on what county or federal district you work for, the scheduling is done differently. You might know a week in advance or five minutes in advance or you may go to the same assignment every day for your whole career (this is rare, though). Once you get to your assignment, you will either be waiting on call in an interpreters’ office or you will have to go straight to the courtroom that needs you. From there, your day depends on what kind of hearing it is you are assigned to. An arraignment, continuance, or pretrial hearing may be very brief. A trial lasts all day every day for anywhere from a couple of days to several months. As a court interpreter, you will have to be available whenever you are needed, and this may require a lot of waiting around. It is a very edge-of-your-seat job, I think. 2. What aspects of your work experience prior to becoming a court interpreter do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

I had many customer service jobs as I was growing up: video stores, restaurants, library, etc. Those were great experience for court interpreting because both require all day contact with the public. You will encounter and have to work with/for all types of people as a court interpreter.  And the varying pace of customer service jobs is also similar to court interpreting.

2. What aspects of your education at MIIS do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

Precision. My professors at MIIS were very demanding and over the course of my two years there I learned to be exact. In court interpreting, that is critical. You will not pass the test without it. And the people using your work in the courtroom to do their jobs (judges, attorneys, and court reporters) will notice and appreciate it.

3. What are the useful tips you would like to share with our students on how to prepare for the CA Court Certification?

Two things are key. Number one: study with Holly Mikkelson’s materials (acebo.com). I am not being paid to promote her! I just think if you can do her exercises then you can pass the test. Number two: feel free to correct yourself about an interpretation during the exam. If you are like me, you sometimes think of the perfect interpretation of a word about three seconds after you’ve said out loud a not-so-perfect interpretation of the word. On the exam (and in real life), you can say, “That is…” or “Rather…” or “Interpreter correction…” and your last utterance will be taken as your answer. Don’t do it excessively because that affects your overall style grade. But you can correct yourself on the exam.

4. What are the things that you know now that you wish you had known when you were a student at MIIS?

During my studies at MIIS, I started having lots of random body aches and pains that continued once I started court interpreting. I think I was physically tense from trying to behave like a language machine. What I know now is that I am not a machine and it’s best if I don’t act like one–bring yourself, your personality, your flaws, and your strengths to every job you do. You will be taking much better care of yourself and your performance will be the same or better.


Winnie Heh
Career & Academic Advisor

Working as a U.N. Translator – an Interview of Sabela Avion-Martinez

Sabela Avion-Martinez (MATI ‘01) is currently a Spanish Translator at the United Nations based in New York City. She came back to MIIS during an Alumni Reunion in October, 2015 and made a presentation to current students on career opportunities at the UN.  I was impressed by her warmth, openness and her commitment to the growth of our future colleagues.  I made a mental note that she is someone I want to interview when my blog is up.  Here is our conversation.


Blog 6 Sabela2 Photo

1. What aspects of your work experience prior to joining the UN do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

I had always wanted to work at the United Nations, but I also knew I had to get experience in other fields. After graduating from MIIS, I worked for a large localization company between 2002 and 2006. I learned about translation processes, tools, budgeting and scheduling, client-provider relations… I’ve found myself applying all these skills at the UN at different stages.

Meanwhile, I kept an eye on any developments regarding careers at the United Nations. This has become increasingly easier over the years, as interested candidates have now access to a great deal of information on working at the UN in different language positions (editors, verbatim reporters, interpreters…), and exams or working opportunities.


2. What does your typical day look like at the UN?

If I don’t have an assignment to finish, I let the Programming Officer know I’m available. As soon as a document comes in, she’ll evaluate it and assign it.

We have our own CAT tool, called eLUNa – a translation interface specifically developed for the translation of United Nations documents. It provides access to previously translated documents (bitexts), terminology records and machine translations. As a longtime user of CAT tools, I’ve run the gamut from traditional to proprietary. This new system is web-based, and it’s been developed and adapted according to the specifications and requests of UN translators from all duty stations.

During the translation process, sometimes we find new terms without a set equivalent in Spanish. In those cases, we work together with our terminologists to improve our UNTERM Portal.

We also perform QC tasks on translations done externally. We provide them with an evaluation of their translation. Both internally and externally, translators are expected to have excellent translation skills, a perfect command of Spanish and a wide knowledge of the topics at hand.

The Spanish Translation Service has a strong online presence, and our blog and our Twitter account have hundreds of visits every day.


3.  What aspects of your education at MIIS do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

Language awareness. It’s an odd thing to say to speakers of other languages, but Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, and has a large number of speakers in many others. At MIIS, I learned Spanish from my Mexican, Colombian and Argentinean classmates.


4. What are the things that you know now that you wish you had known when you were a student at MIIS?

Try to make room for classes in other programs.

Find a language partner in your foreign language.

Don’t forget about your mother tongue.

Live in a foreign country!


Winnie Heh
Career & Academic Advisor