Name: Samantha Lisk
College & Majors/Minors: M.S. in Translation, New York University; B.A. in English with minor in Spanish, Campbell University
Current Location: Cary, North Carolina
Current Form of Employment: Owner and Freelance Translator, Primavera Language Services
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work as a freelance translator and Spanish and ESL instructor at the business I started, Primavera Language Services.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
Oddly enough, I found my first job through an ad on Craigslist. The position was an editorial assistant at a small company in Apex, NC, that works with peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. The job title was somewhat deceptive, however, since 99% of my job involved tasks closer to data entry than to editing.
Unfortunately the company went through a series of cutbacks because of the economy just as I was approaching a year there, and I was laid off. Unable to find another full-time position, I began working as a tutor in SAT prep, Spanish, and ESL, and since I didn’t have a family of my own or any similar commitments at that time, I decided it was the perfect time to go back to school for my master’s. Deciding to pursue a career that would use my linguistic background, I found and was accepted to New York University’s online Master of Science in Translation program, and I graduated with my degree in May 2014.
Although professional translators in Europe are often hired as full-time employees, in the United States most professional translators work on a freelance basis. I began to do so in September 2013 and formed my own company, Primavera Language Services, offering Spanish-to-English translations of legal and financial documents as well as instruction and tutoring in Spanish and English as a Second Language. I use the skills I gained through my English degree every day to research unknown or ambiguous terms and concepts as well as to write high-quality translations that seem to have been written in English originally.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
Well, I’m currently writing my first novel, so I consider that to be quite important even though it hasn’t been published yet! It has nothing whatsoever to do with my translation or teaching work; it’s about conscientious objectors during World War II. I’ve been fascinated with the period of the 1930s and 1940s since I was a teenager, and I enjoy immersing myself in a world that’s completely different from that of my “day job.” It refreshes me as I prepare for another day of translating birth certificates.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I did several things. One was to join the staff of Campbell’s literary magazine, The Lyricist, and I remained on staff until I graduated. This gave me an insider’s look at the entire publication process from advertising to picking out the type of paper and the size of the typeface. Eventually I became editor, which gave me experience in leading a team and managing several projects at once.
I also completed two internships abroad in London. One was for a non-profit organization and involved mostly data entry, but the other was as an editorial intern (or sub-editor, as they call it) for This Is London, an entertainment magazine directed at visitors to the city. In this position I proofread and edited the proofs of the magazine; quickly learned the basics of Adobe Photoshop and Quark XPress and used them to format photos and copy; contributed story ideas; and wrote an article of my own that was published in the magazine.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
First, if you want to become a writer, learn as much as you can about subjects outside of English. Writers must have a subject to write about, and there are many jobs out there for technical, medical, and scientific writers in addition to journalists.
Second, if there’s even a slight possibility that you will one day freelance, take some business courses. You’ll need to know about how to run a business, which entails not only the service or product you’ll provide but also things like marketing, writing contracts, and keeping accurate books (accounting, not literature). There are many free resources available out there for small businesses, such as SCORE and the Small Business Administration (SBA), so be sure to take advantage of them.
And third, consider learning basic skills in coding (particularly HTML and CSS) and web design, since you will almost certainly need a website.