Learning on the job – internship at Polaron

I applied for the internship at Polaron through a German organization called “StepIn”. They basically take care of all different kinds of internships abroad as well as things like work & travel, high school abroad and so on. I described to them the field I wished to work in and they went looking for the perfect placement for me, together with their partner organization here in Australia, Australian Internships. Polaron was the first suggestion they made and I was perfectly happy with it.

I come from Freiburg, a comparatively smaller town in the very south of Germany. It’s located right at the border to France and is actually supposed to be the warmest city in Germany. If you’ve never heard about it, maybe you know the Black Forest – it is not far from where I live. I haven’t actually started my studies yet. I’ve just graduated from school in July 2012 and now am planning on starting my studies in October 2013. My current plans are to work as translator and interpreter in the future, so I want to do language studies first and then do my master degree in translation and interpreting. I haven’t decided on the languages yet, though… Probably English combined with something more exotic: I’m thinking about Scandinavian languages right now.

Whilst at Polaron, my job was to basically to support its daily operations. I picked up the phone, handled minor enquiries and most importantly, I was dealing a lot with our new passports database Dominic Carter created. As we were just starting to use it, all of the clients needed to be entered, which became a large part of my job. I dealt with the clients applying for Polish passports, went through all their documents and entered it all into the database. This was a really interesting job as I got to have a look at copies of very precious old archival documents that date back to the Nazi occupation which especially for me as German was amazing yet shocking to work on. I also helped in is trying to trace back those people’s family history from the documents we receive so that I could draft a family tree. It also helped our researcher to get an overview of what happened and where there might still be potential to obtain new documents that increase our clients’ chance to be confirmed as a Polish citizens. In the process itself, I sometimes got the opportunity to write letters to German civil registry offices whenever we were looking for birth or marriage certificates.

It is so difficult to summarize and put into words all of the stuff I’ve learned and the experience I’ve had during my internship. However, here are the first 5 things that came into my mind.

As you might have already guessed, working in Australia is so much more relaxed than it is Germany. This doesn’t mean that Australians work any less or not as hard as Germans do, it just means that they approach work in a lighter, less strict way. I remember all the times I was late due to my struggles with the Melbourne public transportation, but I was never called to responsibility for it as I would have expected. Of course, punctuality is also important over here, especially in a professional environment, but everyone is happy to help out if someone has a problem. Generally, everyone was so helpful and welcoming and made me feel really comfortable here. So, the first thing I’ve learned would be that work can be so much more fun and also more efficient if you consider it a a fun thing to do instead of an obligation.

Secondly, and also one my aims when I first came here, I learned how the translation and interpreting business works, like for example how quotes are created, how bigger projects are approached and accomplished or how interpreters or translators for rare languages are found.

A very interesting fact that I learned was that German interpreters are indeed very rare in Australia. I always thought that German – English is such a common language combination and that German interpreters struggle to get jobs in Australia – which is apparently not the case! One more reason for me to finally get started with my studies!

During these 6 weeks, I also learned a lot about history, which I really liked. I dealt with all those Polish families who were forced to move to Germany and then displaced until they were resettled in Australia. This taught me not only a lot about their personal fate, but also about the fate of the Polish people at that time. This was especially interesting for me as lot of that history actually took place in my home country and brought to life all of the theoretical stuff we learn at school.

Last but not least, I learned a lot in regards to professional interaction with clients. I had q chance to read lots of emails between the company and clients and had a glimpse at meetings with clients which gave me a good impression of how to talk or write to people on a professional yet friendly basis.

I definitely plan on working as a translator and interpreter later, but I think you don’t get an impression of what exactly you want to do with your life until you’ve started your studies. However, it’s been a wish of mine to someday get the opportunity to interpret for an EU institution. I basically already had the idea of working as a translator when I came to Australia. However, as I’ve already mentioned, it made me realize that my chances for jobs as a German interpreter might be better than I thought. Working here definitely encouraged me to pursue my wish!

After I’ve completed my 6-week internship at Polaron, I am planning to fly up to Cairns to do the typical backpacker east-coast tour. If everything goes well, I’ll end up in Sydney from where I’ll take a flight to Bangkok. In Thailand, I will spend another 3 weeks doing voluntary work as well as relaxing at the beach. On May 13, the plane will take me back to good old Germany.

by  guest bloger, Nadja Schmidt                                              
Intern, Polaron Language Services