March 2011: Graduate School in Germany
Although I had been quite successful in my translation endeavors thus far and was quite fluent in German, I remained dissatisfied with my level of training and expertise. How could I call myself a true expert in German language and culture if I had experienced only minimal direct contact with German-speaking countries? Aside from teenage years spent engrossed in German films and literature, my training and experience had been somewhat clinical and my experience in Germany brief. All I had done was spend one semester at a German university and five years listening to professors in the United States elaborate on peculiarities of German language and culture. It was time to go straight to the source and prove I had what it takes to do something meaningful with my German skills in a German-speaking country. It was time to move to Germany. After years of planning and penny-pinching, I was accepted to study for a master of arts in interkulturelle Germanistik (Intercultural German Studies) at the Universität Bayreuth in 2011 and wasted no time. Within mere months I had sold my car, put my belongings in storage, and mailed my most important possessions to a friend in Germany in 10 large boxes.
April 2011: Getting Settled in a Foreign Country
Arriving in Germany, my venture seemed absolutely surreal and I briefly wondered if I had lost my mind. I didn’t know of any Americans who had successfully completed a master’s degree in German in a German-speaking country. Was this even possible? There was only one way to find out. Carefully scoping out the office hour – yes it was only open for an hour each day – of the registrar’s office, I enrolled for classes as soon as they would let me in the door. The grounds manager at my dorm building recognized me as soon as I walked in the door. “You were here a few years ago for one semester, weren’t you?” he asked as we filled out paperwork. Yes, indeed I was, but this time I would be staying much longer.
One of my greatest fears moving to Germany was that the immigration authorities would not allow me to bring Sitzman AE Translations along. I had spent so much time and effort cultivating a small pool of good clients, however, that it seemed stupid to just throw it all way and start fresh in two years. Before I left, I spent hours pouring over the legal requirements for freelancing on student residence permits and finally hired a German lawyer to sort it all out for me. When I had moved to Germany previously, the immigration officials had tried to kick me out of the country before the semester even came to an end, so I was taking no chances. It turned out that my fears were well-founded. My lawyer had told me exactly what to apply for, yet the immigration office insisted such a thing was nonexistent once I got there. As soon as I mentioned my lawyer, however, the impossible magically became possible. Sitzman AE Translations was officially allowed into Germany! A fancy sticker in my passport soon proclaimed that I was allowed to study as a student AND work as a freelance translator in Germany.
May 2011: I Become a Part-Time In-House Translator
When you are issued something as official and important as a residence permit, people tend to want to see it. The International Office of the Universität Bayreuth was no different. One fine day in May, I whipped out my residence permit to show to a counselor at the International Office and an unusually thoughtful look crossed his face.
“You have permission to freelance as a translator?” he asked in a somewhat puzzled tone.
“Yes, I do. I’ve been translating for one year now and I got permission to continue doing so while I’m here.” I replied, sure he simply had never seen a student with such a permission on her residence permit.
“We actually might need a translator. When are you available for a meeting to discuss it further?”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A part-time in-house job as a translator was just the kind of professional experience I needed! Following a very successful meeting, I was hired part-time as the International Office’s English translator – a position I would hold for the full two years I studied at the university.
April 2013: Graduation Day
The university was not in the habit of holding graduation ceremonies for the students of interkulturelle Germanistik. When the time came for us to graduate in 2013, however, we still wanted to celebrate in style. Choosing a beautiful restaurant located in downtown Bayreuth, we pooled our money and arranged to rent out an entire wing of the restaurant with a glass window facade overlooking the canal. Setting up a fabulous crepe buffet with delicious snacks and a fancy dinner, we danced the night away to playlists downloaded from our computers and took triumphant graduation pictures with cardboard cutouts of our professors. We had done it!
May 2013: Back to the United States
My tiny studio apartment hemorrhaged a seemingly endless flow of stuff as I prepared to leave my life in Germany. It was sad to be closing this chapter of my life. Would I find full-time work as a translator? Would Sitzman AE Translations take off? What was next? I really didn’t know. In the middle of my stay in Germany, my parents had called and abruptly announced they were moving from Utah to North Carolina. So off to the foreign planet of North Carolina I went for much-needed family support.
August 2013: Sitzman AE Translations Matures to Adulthood
With a master’s degree, a part-time position as an in-house translator in Germany on my resume, and some advice from my mentor Kyle, Sitzman AE Translations blossomed into a full-time venture almost overnight. All of my hard work had finally paid off!
January 2015: Arrival in the City of Brotherly Love
Seeking a more central location with better networking opportunities, I moved to the Philadelphia area. Not only does Philadelphia have a strong German community, but its airport also boasts direct flights to Germany. Two other epicenters of German activity – New York City and Washington DC – are just hours away by train. Sitzman AE Translations had found its permanent home.
October 2019: I Gain ATA Certification
Following approximately five attempts at the German into English certification exam of the American Translators Association over the course of perhaps seven years, I finally passed!
Check out my certification test post for details.
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