Feb 1, 2015

Who’s Who in the JLD — Jim Patrick

Jim Patrick has been the Administrator of the JLD since 2013. Intrigued by the bio he submitted prior to the 2013 election, I decided to interview him. I have enjoyed learning more about Jim, and am pleased to share my new-found knowledge with the JLD membership.

利き手: Connie Prener

First of all, could you tell us what inspired you to study Japanese?

I guess my first exposure to anything Japanese was anime. But this was in the early 80s, and anime wasn’t nearly as big in the US as it is now. At the time I don’t even think I knew the cartoons I liked were Japanese. One of my favorite cartoons when I was little was Voltron. It had five different primary-colored giant robotic lions, with pilots inside. They came together to form Voltron, a giant humanoid robot with a badass sword, who fought giant monsters in space. It was pretty awesome. Not long after that came the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which despite actually having been created by Americans, had a lot of references to ninja, karate and various other things Japanese. I was absolutely crazy about that cartoon. So as a little kid I definitely had this idea that Japan was cool.

In the early 90s when I was in public high school in Pennsylvania, I had the unusual opportunity to study Japanese via satellite through a program run, I believe, by the University of Michigan. In addition to thinking that both old Japan (ninja) and new Japan (space robots) were cool, I also liked to study, and Chinese characters seemed both fascinating and challenging. 

This was way before the Internet, and remote or distance learning was still in its infancy. No one in my high school, teachers included, knew much about Japan, let alone Japanese, but for an hour every day we had a class. Three times a week there were satellite broadcasts, which I think were live, of a group of Japanese teachers in Michigan. We had a textbook we followed along in, and the teachers would explain the lessons, dramatize the conversations in the book, and answer common questions. But of course it was only one-way. Once a week we would have conversation class, over the telephone, with a native Japanese teacher. It didn’t always work out great. Sometimes we couldn’t catch the satellite broadcast or the speakerphone didn’t work well, but it was a really great opportunity and a good introduction to Japanese. 

Two years of Japanese was all my high school offered. After that I took Latin 1, and then Latin 4 the following year. Compared with Japanese, Latin wasn’t so bad; it was like a coded message you had to figure out. In addition to strengthening my grammar, Latin actually ended up being a great introduction to written translation. 

Could you describe your experience studying Japanese in college?

I knew I wanted to study Japanese further, so I signed up for Japanese when I entered college. Frankly, Boston University’s Japanese program wasn’t terribly rigorous, but I was excited to be studying Japanese again. I learned a lot from textbooks, but I didn’t speak a lot in Japanese. However, when I was a junior I had the opportunity to study abroad; I spent the spring semester in Japan.

I arrived in Japan for the first time on New Year’s Day in 1999. I remember that first day arriving in Kyoto vividly. I completely forgot what little Japanese I knew when trying to navigate around and was amazed at all the kimono during the day and the neon lights at night. I spent that semester studying at the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies, which at that time was in a sleek, modern building nestled right between Heian Jingu, Nanzenji and the Higashiyama Zoo. Kyoto was a terrific place to explore Japan, old and new, and I had a great home stay in Otsu-shi, only a walk, subway ride, train ride and then bike ride away in Shiga Prefecture. I met a lot of great people. It was such a great experience that I stayed on for the summer, spending a little time teaching English before heading to Kanazawa for another home stay and more intensive language study.

Now could you mention some of the highlights from your stint in the JET Program?

Based on the incredible experience I had studying abroad in college, I knew that after graduation I wanted to go back to Japan to immerse myself and learn more. After graduating from BU with a major in English and a minor in Japanese, I was sent to work at Toyohashi City Hall in Aichi Prefecture as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. I worked for three full years in Toyohashi. Although occasionally I would give a speech to a community group or teach an English class, most of the time I did translation. I worked on official documents in connection with the sister-city relationship with Toledo, Ohio, municipal announcements about vaccinations and garbage sorting, and just about everything in between. I would also occasionally interpret for the mayor when foreign visitors came to City Hall. It was a terrific experience working every day in a Japanese office environment, as well as a great introduction to both translation and interpretation. 

After three years in Toyohashi I had the chance to transfer to the Aichi Prefectural Government in Nagoya. There I worked as a Prefectural Advisor, doing a lot of what I had done in Toyohashi, but also helping to support the other JET Program participants in Aichi. In addition to translating and interpreting, I would also help new program participants, many of whom didn't speak any Japanese, survive living in Japan and teaching in local schools. It was great being able to help people adjust to living in Japan and, in general, just being a good 先輩. However, the main reason I was asked to transfer to the Aichi Prefectural Government was to help prepare for and run the 2005 World Exposition, which was held in Toyota. I ended up doing more and more interpretation work for the Governor, Vice Governor and other prefectural staff members both before and during the Expo. Every day at the Expo some country or group would be featured, and often I was called to interpret at formal lunches, evening receptions and other events. Working for Aichi during the Expo really gave me a taste of what professional interpretation could be, and pushed me in that direction.

Living in Japan on the JET Program for five years was awesome. In addition to the professional experience it provided me, in terms of hands-on interpretation and translation experience and extensive exposure to Japanese office culture, it also allowed me to immerse myself in Japanese life. I rode a ママチャリto work everyday. I had to run to catch the last train home after going out drinking with my coworkers. I was in a tennis circle with other city employees. I even danced every year in the Toyohashi Matsuri. I made friends with my neighbors and ended up toasting them at their wedding. I benefited tremendously from the chance to participate in Japanese society in so many different ways while I was there.

I understand that after your sojourn in Aichi, you proceeded to MIIS, where you earned a master's in Japanese translation and interpretation. Could you tell us something about that experience?

After my five years on the JET Program ended, I went back home to Philadelphia. Frankly, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to spend some time thinking about what I wanted to do. After being back in the States for a couple of months, doing some soul-searching and going through some reverse culture shock, I came to the conclusion that what I really liked doing was not just working with Japanese, but actually interpreting and translating. I had always struggled on JET doing that kind of work because I didn't really have any formal training, so when I decided that I wanted to become a professional interpreter and translator, I knew immediately that I wanted to have professional training. That led me to the Monterey Institute of International Studies. 

I really enjoyed my time in Monterey. Monterey is a stunningly beautiful place, and MIIS is full of amazing people with a real international perspective. It felt like being back on JET in some ways. I always thought of it as boot camp for language specialists. I was getting my butt kicked in order to become that much better. It was a terrific opportunity to learn from experienced mentors and to learn with other interpreters and translators, who are really the only people who can give you good, constructive criticism. Learning about translation theory and best practices, talking about those ideas with other language specialists and practicing in a safe environment with expert feedback was stimulating and challenging. MIIS gave me the chance to develop not just my skills but also a real professional perspective, and I made great friends and connections both in and out of the Japanese program. Besides the academics, it was a great introduction to the professional world of translation and interpretation. In fact, the school encouraged me to go to my first ATA Conference in San Francisco in 2007, with the Dean graciously paying for a bunch of us to stay in a hostel for the week. And my Japanese translation professor convinced me to volunteer to help out in the JLD.

That brings us up to the present. I understand you've been with Honda R&D Americas for the past five years or so. Could you tell us about your work there?

The morning of graduation from MIIS I had an informal phone interview with Honda R&D. One of my 先輩 was working at Honda R&D in Ohio then, and she was in town for the professional exams. One thing led to another, and that morning I received a phone call from my current boss. I have been working at Honda R&D outside of Columbus, Ohio for the past six years. I am now Interpretation Area Leader, helping to manage a team of over a dozen interpreters. And we are very busy.

I always say that I interpret anything and everything automobile-related, but frankly, it is a lot more than that. Honda R&D in North America does full automobile research and development, meaning everything from concept sketches on a piece of paper to building cars and crashing them. So I interpret for a lot of fairly technical engineering meetings, but also for planning and strategy discussions. In addition to Honda and Acura automobiles I have also done interpreting involving ATVs, jet engines, boat engines, robots, race cars, supplier visits, product launches, factory openings and a lot of video conferences with Japan.

Working at Honda with Japanese and American engineers and executives has been a great opportunity to learn. Some of what I have learned has been related to interpretation and translation and how to provide good, professional customer service, but it has also involved acquiring a lot of background information and knowledge. I was never a science major, but interpreting at Honda has really given me a better understanding of engineering. I have been lucky to be exposed to a lot of the company and to be able to see both how things are built and how things are decided. Some of the reasons that I got into interpreting are that I like learning new things and I like talking with smart people about interesting things. Working at R&D has been a challenging experience that is always throwing new ideas, words, technologies and products my way. 

Thank you, Jim. It’s been a fascinating journey.

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