Meet the Professor: Sam Kim

Sam Kim, Assistant Professor in Korean Translation and Interpretation at MIIS

Our faculty spotlight series Meet the Professor is back!

Professor Sam Kim joined MIIS in Spring 2018. Before coming to MIIS, Sam was an interpreter at a semiconductor firm in Silicon Valley. He currently teaches at MIIS full-time while also working freelancing for various clients.

A MIIS alumnus himself (MACI ’16), Sam enjoys teaching at his alma mater.

“I love seeing each student grow while at MIIS. In their first year, students new to the field would struggle to learn the ropes. But by their third or forth semester, they impress me with the way they handle extremely challenging materials, like real professionals. I also enjoy seeing how each student develops their own way of approaching their work.”

Tell us about your background. How did you grow interested in T&I, and what brought you to MIIS?

I was born in Korea, then immigrated to the United States at the age of seven. I grew up understanding Korean but not speaking it as much. I studied Linguistics and Japanese in college, then lived in Korea for six years as an English teacher.

After a few years of living and working in Korea, I wanted to return to the US and pursue a different career path. That was when a friend of mine, who was organizing an international Street Fighter tournament, asked me to interpret between English, Korean, and Japanese at the event. My interpreting then was amateur at best, but I found the experience enjoyable, and thought I would enjoy a career in interpreting. So, I applied for MIIS after hearing about the school through a friend—and the rest is history!

What a year! How have you been, especially since work has transitioned to the online space?

Interesting, to say the least. The biggest challenge has been helping my two young children with their distant learning. I spend my mornings and early afternoons making sure my children are on track with school work, and then start working on my tasks later in the afternoon.

Teaching online has been an easier transition. Perhaps it is due to the interactive nature of T&I training that makes Zoom classes manageable, but I don’t feel like the instruction’s quality has suffered too much. It is unfortunate that we are unable to use the simultaneous interpreting booths on campus, but with news about a vaccine, I have cautious hopes that we might be able to return to the booths in the near future. Meanwhile, I’m glad we have been able to try various software to simulate the booth experience, which also helps you prepare for the growing RSI (remote simultaneous interpreting) market.

You have worked both as an in-house interpreter as well as a freelancer. Many point out stability and specialization as the biggest strengths of in-house positions, whereas freelancing is known for offering you flexibility and intellectual stimulation. According to your experience, what are some not-so-obvious pros and cons of working in each capacity?

When you’re a Korean-English in-house interpreter, chances are that you’re hired to facilitate communication with the Korea headquarters. Your job often entails interpreting post-4PM due to the time difference, which also means your mornings can be relatively relaxing. Depending on your company, you might even be allowed to come in later than most of your colleagues.

Another perk of working in-house is the social aspect. Unlike freelancers, who work with different clients each time, in-house staff have co-workers who all work for the same employee. You get to work with the same people every day, and occasionally go on lunches and coffee breaks together. These may sound trivial, if you’re the kind of person who needs social life and a sense of camaraderie at work, freelancing can be a lonely experience for you.

For the office supply nerds out there: in-house interpreters don’t need to pay for their own equipment and supplies. From notebooks to pens to computers, your employer provides everything for you. On the other hand, freelancers have maximum freedom with what kind of equipment you use—you can have the loudest keyboard in the world without worrying about annoying your colleagues!

You were a student yourself not too long ago. Looking back, what are you most proud of yourself for, and what mistakes would you not want students to repeat?

I’m glad I prioritized schoolwork above all else. Coming in with a large proficiency gap between my English (A language) and Korean (B), I worked as hard as I could, spending a lot of time practicing, learning, and absorbing. The hard work did pay off.

On the other hand, when you’re living in Monterey, it’s easy to forget how beautiful this town is. People across the country envy you for living here, calling Monterey their “dream retirement destination.” In hindsight, I could have enjoyed the rare privilege of living in Monterey a little more–spend some time outdoors, enjoy the beach and the woods.

Having the discipline to prioritize your studies is absolutely important, but only recently have I realized that it also takes discipline to relax and take a break. Structured breaks and relaxation helps you work harder. When you push yourself to your limits all the time, your productivity also suffers.

We talked about your past and present, so let’s look to the future. What’s your next step?

COVID-19 has made answering this question much more complicated. Like many others, the pandemic has upended my future plans. But as of now, I’m interested in growing more familiar with RSI: continue exploring options, and keep tabs on how much more common it will be. Hopefully when a vaccine is available, there might be a return to in-person work. But will everyone go back to their offices, or only some? Or will a vast majority choose to stay home and continue to drive the expansion of RSI? As an interpreter I want to keep abreast of, and adapt to, the changes to come.

Regardless of modality, I plan to continue to build my experience as a translator and interpreter, expand my client base, and be more open to travel-based assignments, such as the US State Department’s International Visitors Liaison Program (IVLP).

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