How I became a translator
I discovered translation while still in college, but at the time never knew that it could be a viable career. When I was at Dickinson College before transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, one of my professors asked me to assist him with translating some poems by German author Richard Wagner, who was the Max Kade Writer in Residence at the time. Throughout my college career I did translations here and there for various classes and papers, most intensively in my Middle High German class, which was virtually only translation. After graduating from UNC in 2003, I began translating a book for fun (Die Puppenspieler by Tanja Kinkel), which kept me quite busy in my free time during my first year as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Lübben (Spreewald). In the spring of 2004 I did several translations for a researcher at DÖW (The Documentation Center for Austrian Resistance), where I completed an internship in the summer of 2004.
I only began to pursue translation seriously as a paid profession in the summer of 2005. A friend had once told me that whenever she needed extra money she would find translation work on Proz.com. In need of some extra cash after the second year of my Fulbright ended, I signed up and almost immediately began getting small jobs that were enough to buy groceries and pay the bills for the rest of my time in Germany. I flew back home to North Carolina in July to attend a friend's wedding and bide my time while waiting for my work permit for an apprenticeship at Siemens to be approved. In the meantime my wisdom teeth had been causing severe headaches and jaw pain and needed to be extracted. Despite not having dental insurance at the time, I went ahead and had my wisdom teeth pulled and had to pay the bill by credit card. Sick from the procedure and barely even able to sit up straight, the next day I went onto the Proz.com site and began looking for translation jobs to help pay the bill. I started bidding on everything that looked doable, and within just a few hours was awarded a large job translating court transcripts, which had to be done within 48 hours. The adrenaline rush I got from knowing that I had work was enough to make me forget about how sick I felt from the extraction. I sat at my mom's kitchen table in two 12-hour shifts translating on my old laptop with nearly worn off letters, finishing by the deadline and earning enough to pay for the extraction in full. That put me in the database for a translation agency and before I knew it I was getting regular work.
For the two and a half months while waiting for a decision on my appeal for a work permit (the first application having been initially denied), I worked as much as I possibly could, quickly realizing that translation certainly could become a career if I was in fact unable to go back to Germany to work for Siemens. In late September, on the day before I was supposed to fly back to Germany (thinking I would just be going to get my things and move back home), I got a call that my work permit had been approved. Overnight I made arrangements to move back to Germany and within less than two weeks had moved to Berlin, found an apartment, and started my training program. The two-year commercial apprenticeship (Stammhauslehre zur Industriekauffrau) at Siemens gave me the opportunity to gain professional knowledge about business and marketing - both from the standpoint of broadening my areas of expertise but also in terms of the practical aspects of running my business. During the two years at Siemens I continued to translate at night and on weekends to build up my business. I secured additional clients and by the time the two-year training program was over I was able to leave Siemens to become self-employed on a full-time basis. I permanently relocated back to North Carolina in 2008 and business has been flourishing ever since. I still return to Germany 1-2 times a year for 2-3 week visits to keep my language skills at their very best. I truly love what I do and am very thankful to have found a profession that suits me and allows me to do what I love. It's wunderbar!
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