Thursday, April 17, 2008

Interview with the European Union (full but censored)

(please note I first wrote this post in its entirety on a plane, and then went back and ******ed some information before posting. The hidden info is all about specific details of the interview questions and the nature of the tricky stuff I made mistakes on, which I am hiding because the interviews have not been completed. Truth is, it's much more interesting with all that stuff included... if you're interested in the Chinese-lanuage aspect, and are NOT applying for this scholarship, feel free to email me and I'll send you the unedited report)


The Scholarship Selection Committee was made up of a panel of four: three European men and a Chinese woman, all of them bilingual and all of them professional interpreters.

They were very friendly, welcomed me cordially, introduced themselves and offered me chocolate they had brought from Europe. They asked me some background questions (in English) about my experiences studying Chinese, and after a couple minutes we switched to Mandarin.

When the prelims were taken care of, we began a series of "language exercises": two interpreting tests and a sight-translation test.

In the first test, the Chinese woman spoke in Chinese about ****. She spoke for a solid five minutes at regular speed, and I was asked to listen without taking notes. When she was finished, I was asked to repeat back as much of it as I could in English, in as much detail as possible. I think I did quite well, though I discovered translating between the languages wasn't really as hard as remembering everything she had said to begin with. In any case, they seemed fairly satisfied with my performance, though they did ask me to clarify several things, fill in some blanks, and gave me a second chance to correct my only major translation mistake:

***** = "*****," not "*****" as I so pathetically offered.

Test #2 was the reverse: the chair of the committee spoke for ~3 minutes in English (the topic was *****) and asked me to say it back in Chinese. I think my response was accurate but not eloquent. I was chided for translating "*****" as ***** (the professional translation is, apparently, *****). I also made another mistake related to the proper names of international organizations; the ***** is ***** (literally "*****") not the deceivingly straightforward ***** that I opted for. Finally, they insisted I had mistaken 建议 for 意见, the former being a suggestion while the latter being merely an idea.

The sight translation was the final language exercise. I was given a short article on Chinese social issues and asked to read the first two paragraphs aloud. This, I presume, was simply to see how fluently I could read off a page (which is no problem-- I spend a lot of time browsing crappy Chinese lit mags, and can read damn well fluently off a page). Then I was given five minutes to read the text, take notes, and give them a summary report in English. It was for the most part a breeze-- the article's content was logically structured and fairly simple linguistically, and I had no problem presenting it in an organized and eloquent manner.

Aside from the language exercise, there was also a multiple choice test with 15 questions about the EU. I was pleased to discover my studies had left me pretty well-prepared. I answered 11 of the questions confidently, half-guessed on two, and full-guessed on the other two. That leaves me with an expected score of 12.5, which ain't too shabby considering my European identity is er, pale.

When all the tests were finished, the committee asked me about why I wanted to be an interpreter. I had prepared a long, oratorical answer to this question, but time was short so I gave them the gist of it, including my favorite:

"...because to be a conference interpreter for China and the EU is to be in direct and constant contact with two of the most important epicenters of political and economic influence in the 21st century, with the most cutting-edge information about economics, politics, science, and culture literally flowing through you-- in that sense, it's not just watching history unfold before you, it's actually feeling history unfold THROUGH you, and I think that's really cool..."

At the end of the interview, while no one said anything explicitly encouraging, I did get the sense that I had a good shot at the scholarship. Hopes are high-- truth is, the interview and the language exercises themselves were so challenging and fun, it made me pretty sure I would enjoy studying this and hopefully pursuing it as a career.

The interviews in Beijing concluded yesterday, and will open again in Brussels on May 5 for applicants living in Europe. I should hear the results shortly after that.

In the meantime, I'm taking a secret trip. I've written this blog entry on a New York-bound plane... in twelve hours, my father will pick me up and I will deliver a homecoming Passover surprise to my unsuspecting mother and brother. Bwahahahaha--- not only handsome and brimming with Chinese skills, but lethally cunning to boot.

"Yeah, well, I am pretty unbelievable!'

And a dollar for anyone besides Hermano who can identify that quote.


Bill said...

"意见" is "opinion", not "idea"

You are right, the most difficult part of the job of an interpreter is to remember what was said, not the interpretation itself. I hated it when people just keep on going without stopping to allow you to catch up.

Anyway, good luck with your application.

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