Hi everyone, thank you for coming. Big thanks to Yibo and the crew for having me kick off this public speaking club. Super excited to be here!
My name is Rong Shi Eisenberg, you can call me Rong, or by my Chinese name Shi Rong. I graduated from MIIS in 2019 with a master's degree in Conference Interpretation. My professional journey started with Goldman Sachs in New York City, and then, 2020 happened. During the pandemic, a twist of events led me to freelance from my bedroom, primarily for Microsoft. Today, I'm enjoying my role as an in-house interpreter & translator at Blizzard Entertainment.
But tonight’s conversation isn’t about the prestige of these organizations. Let’s keep it real. I want to share some of the speed bumps I hit, the lessons learned, and the understanding I wish I had during my days of grappling with uncertainty.
My interpretation journey began in my first year at MIIS, where I was enrolled in the CI program. At the time, I didn't know the difference between TI and CI. Now I know, they’re like Coke and Pepsi. Different, but you know, not THAT different. But we'll delve into that in a moment.
I soon realized I'd stepped into a world far more challenging than anticipated. Case in point: I bombed three out of four in the final exams. While I wasn't the only one, I wasn't in the majority either. The result was discouraging, but a summer gig doing liaison interpretation back home gave me a big confidence boost. Came back, I passed all three retakes – still can’t believe it. A few professors were candid about the bigger challenges year two could present - they were just being real.
Back then I was very stubborn. I believed that if I passed all the required exams for CI students, it means I am eligible to stay and finish where I start. This was also a promise I made to myself when enrolled at the school: to complete the program and earn the MACI degree. The truth is MIIS was my second attempt at graduate school. I had previously started one in Tokyo but cut it short as I decided to chase my linguistic passion at MIIS.
However, passion alone doesn’t translate to proficiency in interpretation. Year two was so much harder than expected. I was mildly depressed because I felt like the underdog every single day. I failed consec into Chinese exam almost every time, and whenever I was called to perform in front of the class, I always felt like a huge clown. One of the reasons I didn't give up back then was, I saw everyone was suffering, everyone was under tremendous pressure. And yet, I overlooked that some chose different paths, shifting their focus or even departing from the school. I didn't realize they already recognized and decided to pause or stop if something didn't work for them.
Regrettably, I perceived "quitting because it didn't work out" as an emblem of weakness and "perseverance despite huge pains" as a badge of honor. I sidestepped acknowledging my mental health struggles, viewing them as something to be ashamed of, as signs of vulnerability. I failed the exams, but above all, I failed to love myself.
This journey to becoming an interpreter can be emotionally draining. My friends and I've been there, overwhelmed and start crying in the middle of practice due to chronic peer pressure. Most students are in the same boat, facing the same tumultuous waters. It's natural to compare, to look around and measure our abilities against our peers. But such comparisons can be treacherous. Each of us has a unique journey; and it's crucial to recognize and cherish that individuality.
Our focus should be on growth, not just interpretation skills, but more importantly our self-awareness. Ask yourself,
"What am I good or bad at?"
"What do I value the most?"
"Do I need this job just for the work visa?"
"Is being an UN interpreter about the fancy title or is it my genuine dream?"
Keep asking. Keep trying. Keep looking for an answer, your answer, and your answer may change from time to time as you evolve, and there's no right or wrong.
This self-awareness becomes pivotal when choosing your second-year program and your career path after graduation, or even what kind of life you want to live.
For example, in-house and freelance are two distinct career paths and lifestyles. I’ve seen both sides and, trust me, each has its own ups and downs. Freelancers have flexible work hours but need cover their own health insurance and even pay more taxes. In-house linguists have stable pay, but your time is sold to your employer and there may be limited career advancement within the organization.
If your goal is to secure an in-house linguist position that sponsors a work visa, my suggestion is you should strategize wisely, especially if consecutive interpretation is your weakest area. Because the final hurdle between you and your interpretation degree, whether CI or TI, is acing that consecutive interpretation exam.
Graduating is paramount, not just for the accolade, but for the practical aspect of US work visa applications or Chinese top-tier city hukou registration. Not having your master’s degree can complicate things.
And if you still have a passion for simultaneous interpretation, don't let the lack of a CI diploma deter you. The industry doesn't run on degrees, it thrives on skills. And those skills can be honed, chiseled, and perfected with dedication and practice. An interpretation degree might open some doors, but it's your consistent service quality and many other factors that will keep them open. Vice versa, taking a conference assignment without possessing the skills can tarnish or even ruin your professional image even if you have a MACI degree.
Colleagues I have worked with at high-profile settings have come from different interpretation schools or programs, some of which we may have never heard of. But both their booth etiquette and interpretation skills are top-notch, and nobody ever questioned their qualification or credibility as a professional interpreter. So don't worry if you are not in the CI program, if you really want to become a conference interpreter, just do what the professionals do, and you will be there some day.
To wrap this up, interpretation exams, skill acquisition, and job prospects are important, but embarking on the interpretation journey is far more than that. It's about knowing who you are, bouncing back from failures, and making informed choices that reflect your hopes, not your fears. As you go along, remember to chase your dreams, not just the expectations. Keep it real, stay curious, and always, always love and believe in yourself.
Cheers to our journey! Thank you!