The Business of Language


For many college students, and Brown students in particular, summer internships are of the utmost, make-it-or-break-it importance. For the months leading up to the summer, students go above and beyond to set up temporary employment, hoping to gain enough insight and credentials from these brief experiences to catapult themselves onto a successful career path. Landing an internship feels like getting the dream job – especially if the company is a big deal – and having the opportunity to pursue academic or extra-curricular interests in a work environment before graduating seems like the best idea since hot stop.

Yet these internship experiences are not always what they’re cracked up to be, or at least not what one might expect. After all, as fantastic as a Goldman & Sachs internship may look on paper for an Economics or BEO concentrator, is it really that fantastic to crunch numbers in Excel spreadsheets for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday? Intern work can be grueling, especially if there’s no paycheck at the end of the week. It can make the intern crave the attention of professors and the piles of homework at Brown that once gave concrete meaning and reward to the hours spent to complete it. Internship work can make the student question whether it was really worth it to ditch that sweet summer counselor gig after all.

These are some of the thoughts that have been running through my head as I’ve now spent seven weeks living the New York intern life. I’m the only fulltime intern on the Special Projects team at a privately owned translation and language services company, and I work primarily on job postings, job sourcing, LinkedIn research and reference checks. In many ways, my internship is what I expected it to be: I am paid, my tasks matter but are not exceptionally challenging, and I get to learn a lot about the company in a very short period of time. This last expectation, however, has thrown me quite a curveball. I’m a Comparative Literature concentrator at Brown, and I am passionate about foreign languages and cross-cultural learning. I’ve also taken a strong liking to translation, hence why I wanted to work at a translation company. Eager to test out my academic interests in a work environment, I was sure that interning with a translation company would be the perfect fit.

Yet I soon discovered that my reasons for joining the company – albeit temporarily – were shared with few of the other employees. Less than twenty percent of the coworkers I’ve met are not at the company for love of globalism; instead, they’ve come here to do what they do best: sales, training new employees, building software. Further, since the company outsources for most translators and quality assurance personnel (editors), few internal employees even need to know a second language. Even some who work directly with translated documents find that they can catch possible mistakes without any comprehension of the non-English language. When my supervisor introduces me to fellow employees, she always highlights my interest in foreign language. In other words, this trait is not a given, even at a translation company.

At first, this overall lack of foreign language interest made me frustrated. Since I’m now a rising junior at Brown, fast approaching real adulthood, I’ve wanted desperately to figure out what to do with my life after graduation. I’ve always figured that foreign language work would be a part of it, and I had hoped that this internship would help me determine whether or not translation was a piece of the puzzle. But I can’t make this decision here on the Special Projects team, surrounded by peers who never even considered all of this. Ironically, my interest in translation is all but irrelevant at a translation company.

Despite this setback, however, I’ve learned more than I can say in this past month and a half. I’ve learned what it’s like to work at a desktop computer for many hours and not know where the time went. I know the difference between quality assurance and quality control, and I can name more computer languages than I could ever use to code. I understand all the do’s and don’ts of LinkedIn, resumes, and job descriptions, and I can name almost all EU countries by memory. As I expected, I learned a lot about the company in a very short period of time.

My internship hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been far from unrewarding. Maybe it hasn’t taught me as much about translation “in the real world” as I had wanted, but hey – at least I’ve learned something.

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