As I sit here in the lobby, killing the last three hours of my stay in Porto, Portugal, waiting until the shuttle comes to pick me up and take me to the airport, I am mentally (and physically) processing the last few days here. Although I have my laptop, Kindle and smartphone to pass the time, I figured it would be even more productive to write a long-overdue blog post.
This was the 10th conference I’ve attended which has been held by this particular organization, so some might call me a seasoned conference-goer. I was gaped at by many a “newbie” attending this conference when they heard my response to their question how many of these events I’ve been to, though I’m certainly not a rarity in that respect. There are plenty of others here who have attended nearly as many of these events, if not more. It’s always interesting to observe those attending a conference for the first time. Some are fresh graduates from a master’s program, and then there are others who have been translating for decades and have only now decided to attend a conference, and “escape from their caves”. They are somewhat surprised to hear that I still learn something new at every conference, and I envy them the newness and surprise of the whole experience that they get as first-time participants.
Sure, one of the major reasons I attend these conferences involves the social aspects of the events. I admit it, guilty as charged. Over the years, I’ve made many very good friends, like-minded souls to whom I don’t have to explain the finer points of what it is I do, and often one or two words is enough to convey a message about our profession and the various facets involved in what we do. No need to explain the difference between a translator and an interpreter, nor to refute the common misconception that all translators speak 10 different languages fluently, never use dictionaries, and not least importantly, that no, we are not all rich jetsetters flitting about the globe and resting on our multilingual laurels.
We are all hard workers, passionate about what we do, and all equally able to go on endlessly about it, to anyone and everyone, if given the chance. Another thing most of us have in common is that each of us is slightly odd, in a variety of wonderful ways, whether we were always this way, or evolved as such by occupational hazard. I find that at least in my case, the longer I do this solitary work, the rustier my social skills get. Our profession can be an extremely lonely, isolated one, as we all know, and the opportunity to go to these events, commune with fellow professionals, share experiences (good and bad), and basically just feel free to be ourselves, as silly and strange as we may be sometimes is one we all relish.
Sitting in one of the conference rooms during one of the many invigorating and thought-provoking sessions, I was struck by the magnitude of the collective intelligence gathered in that one room; 75 or so gifted, brainy, creative, talented translators and interpreters, each skilled in their specific language combinations, masters of their particular areas of specialization. Some work in very exotic languages, some in the more “common” European tongues. Another nice aspect of these gatherings is the chance to hear each translator’s story during the standard introduction, as we stand around in the break areas. Rare are those who actually live in the country in which they were born and/or raised. Most live in the country in which one of their working languages is spoken, even if they weren’t necessarily born there. Some landed there as a result of an unexpected romance, others fell in love with their current country of residence while travelling, and others for entirely different reasons. Several of us joked that instead of having a space on our attendee badge for “country”, it should have two lines: “From” and “Currently living in”.
This is another aspect of being a translator that I love. Coming to these conferences and being surrounded by people from so many countries and cultures, some of who have even lived in several different countries throughout the course of their lives. I have probably learned more about the world in terms of geography and culture at these conferences than I ever did in school. And I’ve made friends from places I knew so little about, much less ever dreamed I’d have the good fortune to visit.
Which brings me back to probably the most important reason I come to these conferences (aside from the professional ones, of course, and the opportunity to see a city I might not have visited otherwise), the friends I’ve made here. If you add up the total amount of time we’ve spent together, it doesn’t amount to much in terms of sheer numbers. Over the years, I’ve seen friendships made at these conferences, and in some cases, even romances blossom (even if they didn’t last long). There’s something magical about these times away from our computers, and our often dark, dusty and dank offices, a way to recharge our bodies and minds, allowing us to take another look at our profession and our work, returning home again, brimming with new ideas and energy. This helps ease the deflated feeling we sometimes have about going back to our “regular lives” when it’s time to leave again. We are not only richer in terms of the knowledge we have gained, the official reason we come to conferences, but also for the friendships and bonds we make that last well beyond these weekends, bonds that may just be for life.
I often catch a glimpse of the first-time visitors watching our crazy, silly ever-growing group of friends saying goodbye on the last night of the conference, and I like to think that behind that look of semi-horror, there hides a touch of envy. I imagine that they are wondering if they too will be hugging their newfound friends by the next conference, saying goodbye to people an unknowing onlooker would think had known one another for years, and saying “See you in (fill in the name of the location for the next conference)! Or hopefully before then!”
Like minds, kindred spirits – these conferences are where we congregate, deepen our bonds, and what our frequently lonely translator souls look forward to all year.