When I first arrived to our interpreting lab in Toronto, I was in awe. Fourteen brand-spankin’-new booths! I could practice again and again, and then some more when I got tired of it! All booths, all the time!
It didn’t take long for me to change my mind about the booth. It didn’t take long for me to fall flat on my face over and over. From one day to the next, my awe was replaced by anguish and anxiety. I started to dread going into the booth, which is problematic when you’re training to be a conference interpreter.
In the booth, I’ve learned what it feels like to be frustrated. Things don’t come out the way I want. I can’t get my lag right. I can’t concentrate. I can’t split my attention. I can’t reformulate. My salami’s all messed up. I don’t know what the speaker’s talking about. My life is a disaster because I can’t remember how to say West Bank in my B language. I feel the limitations of my Spanish B–strong in the healthcare and court settings, but it crumbles in the booth.
In the booth, I’ve learned what it feels like to be alone. Why did I leave everything familiar? To butcher the Spanish language? To make a fool of myself? Regret. What have I been doing all these years? Why haven’t I been reading more in Spanish? Why don’t I know everything about everything, in multiple languages?
In the booth, I’ve learned what it feels like to be very, truly scared. I made real sacrifices to be in the booth. And now I don’t know if I can do this.
In the booth, your knowledge and skills gaps are exposed publicly. It’s hard not to feel really, really, bad about it. In the booth, it’s hard to separate yourself-the-person from yourself-the-interpreter. It’s hard to separate your language and interpreting skills from your worth as a human being.
Did you have a bad day in the booth? Many bad days in the booth? Do you want to impale yourself on the mic? Do you need to step away, take a break, create some distance between you and the booth? Need to work through some issues before you go back to the booth? Go ahead. Take your time. The booth isn’t going anywhere. It will wait for you.
The booth begins to take on a persona. It taunts us. It lures us in, and then it mocks us. It antagonizes us. It seduces us, it scorns us. It breaks our hearts. It becomes a love-hate relationship. My fingers got slammed in the booth door once, and I swear, the booth did it on purpose. We get our fingers slammed in the door ouchouchouch and we keep coming back. If it’s so awful, why do we keep coming back to the booth?
Because it gets better.
In the booth, I’ve learned what it means to come face-to-face with myself and begin to feel okay with what I see (and hear). I’ve learned how I react under stress. In the booth, I’ve learned what teamwork means. I’ve learned (all over again) what it means to work very closely with someone who is very different from me.
In the booth, I’ve learned what it means to be vulnerable. I’ve learned what it means to trust my classmates to see everything I am–the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. In the booth, I’ve learned how to have fun in spite of it all. I’ve learned something new about friendship. I’ve learned what it means to be a booth mate. But it’s come at a cost. It wasn’t easy. So many times I thought I couldn’t do it. So many times I thought I couldn’t bear to see the inside of a booth again. And so many times people talked me down from the ledge. People who barely knew me before, people who will have a lasting impact on how I see the booth.
In the booth, it’s not all falling on my face. I’ve learned how to pick myself up. Sometimes the triumph is simply getting back up again. The triumphs have been real, the result of real work. A kind of work I did not know before.
When we go back to the booth, sometimes we have to call on courage. Sometimes we call on our classmates. Sometimes we even go back to the booth with enthusiasm. Let’s just try to not slam our fingers in the door.