Nov 25, 2014

My ATA Conference “Newbie” Miracle

By Nicholas G. Sturtevant, Japanese Linguist, JLD Newcomer
Like most folks who majored in foreign languages, I’m not new to translation. I’ve been involved in translation in some form or another since my graduation from college and subsequent life abroad in Japan.

However, in February of this year I decided to take the plunge and launch my career as a freelance translator. It has been nothing short of wonderful. There was just one thing that I didn’t plan for, one thing that I didn’t expect to miss, and that was the camaraderie of coworkers. When I went freelance, I naturally decided to join the American Translators Association, ATA for short. If nothing else, I thought having my name in their directory might lead to business opportunities. In fact, the ATA has proved to be much more valuable than a directory listing, but more about that later. Today I want to talk about the most amazing part of the ATA experience, the conference!

I went into this conference without any expectations. All I knew was that there would be sessions, I would go to them, hopefully learn something, maybe meet a person or two, and then I would head back home to the same rigamarole. Boy was I wrong. Before leaving, I had signed up as a “newbie,” a first-time conference attendee, and was notified by email that there would be a session at the very beginning of the conference where I might be paired with a seasoned conference-goer, or a “buddy.”

I dutifully registered, put on my name scarf (what are those hanging things called anyway, lanyards?) and had a seat in a row of chairs designated for newbies. It is really important to point out that, in my case, there was no pairing going on. I sat in a totally random seat in a long row which could have potentially been occupied by anyone. There was also nothing language specific about what was going on, in fact I was fully prepared to be seated next to a buddy who translated in a different language pair. After some great introductory comments by Helen Eby, the generous and hilarious ATA member who, with other volunteers, put together the Buddy/Newbie program, we were told that the person sitting directly behind us would be our buddy. I turned around, having no idea who I might meet, and was greeted by Izumi Suzuki, a veteran Japanese/English Interpreter and ATA superstar! I couldn’t believe my luck.

Izumi and I enjoying the Japanese Language Division Annual Dinner (Photo by Hiro Tsuchiya)
Izumi took me to the opening session and introduced me to not only the wonderful members of the Japanese Language Division (JLD), but many of the lovely people who give so much of their time to the ATA, including ATA President Caitlin Walsh. Having a buddy to introduce me to all of these wonderful people made the conference a truly relaxing and wonderful experience. In addition to sharing her time at meals with me, Izumi also gave me her thoughts on which sessions would be the most helpful. By the end of the conference I was also even able to get some really great career advice.

Breakfast with Japanese Language Division members on day two of the conference (Photo by Jeffrey W. Alfonso)
Largely because of this newbie miracle, the rest of the conference was not just good, it was amazing! Before attending the conference I had known there would be a Japanese Language Division dinner, but didn’t register for it because I thought it would be awkward not knowing anyone. At Izumi’s suggestion, I signed up for the dinner and was able to spend some quality time learning from other translators and networking with some really interesting people.
JLD member Hiro Tsuchiya did an amazing job putting the dinner together and was incredibly helpful with logistics throughout the conference.
Mingling with other Japanese Language Division members (Photo by Izumi Suzuki)

The other miracle of this conference for me was the warmth and hospitality of the Japanese Language Division. Whenever I join new organizations or find myself in new settings in general, I feel myself immediately go on the defensive looking for signs of cliquishness (it’s something I’m working on) but there was zero evidence of that in the JLD. Not normally one to volunteer, I found myself compelled to sign up as a volunteer for next year’s JLD planning committee in the hopes that I could give back in some way to this group of people that had been so generous with their time.

I went into this conference with no expectations. I came out of it with many. Expectations of myself as a professional translator and as an ATA and JLD member. While not an expectation, I’ve also come back with the hope that every ATA conference going forward is just as awesome.

Thanks again to Helen Eby, Izumi Suzuki, Hiro Tsuchiya, Connie Prener, James Patrick and Nadine Edwards as well as all of those staff, volunteers and leaders at the ATA who made the conference such a wonderful experience.

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