It is the hope of every student that the time spent in secondary education will prepare and equip them for the job market. Students also desire to get the most out of their education. The Latin American and Latino Studies program recently reconnected with a recent alum, Jeffrey Miller, to hear about his experiences in the program and beyond.
Tell us about your current position and how you got there from ISU.
I currently work as a Medical Interpreter/Translator for UCLA Health, which is the healthcare organization for the University of California, Los Angeles. In the Interpreter Services Department, I serve our own patient population by providing on-site consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, as well as remote telephonic and video interpretation to other health care institutions across the United States (including Illinois!). We also render our own in-house translations of medical documents. Lastly, we are responsible for training bilingual UCLA Health staff and volunteers who are interested in interpreting in their own departments, which can help us more readily meet the needs of our Limited English Proficient (LEP) population, all while spreading education and awareness about the demand for trained, qualified interpreters in the medical field.
I came to work as a full-time interpreter at UCLA Health after gaining a large amount of experience as a medical interpreter in Illinois. I began interpreting during my senior year at ISU, working at Heartland Head Start and Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington, two organizations that provide vital services to the surrounding area. This was where I received my first taste of medical interpreting.
After graduation I went on to work for four years as a medical interpreter for a healthcare organization in Champaign-Urbana. These were important years for my professional development, and the opportunity to be able to interpret while living so close to home was invaluable. However, eventually I began to look for new opportunities, and after working as an interpreter trainer in the financial industry for a brief period of time, as well as having begun studies toward a master’s degree, I found the posting for my current position at UCLA and hopped on a plane. I’ve been working at UCLA for a year and a half now, and graduated with a master’s in Interpreting and Translation from the University of Illinois in May of 2015.
Have you been able to use the knowledge you gained as a Latin American and Latino Studies student? If so how?
There is no doubt that I have used the knowledge that I gained as a Latin American and Latinos Studies student. I’m originally from a small community in eastern Illinois, and there weren’t many opportunities to form a view of other cultures that wasn’t skewed by either mainstream media or popular stereotypes when I was in school. I knew early on in high school that I wanted to continue to study Spanish, but I wasn’t just interested in learning the language. I wanted to know how its speakers lived, and I wanted to be able to eventually exist as seamlessly as possible amongst this other group of people. I saw it as a personal challenge, and the LALS classes that I took at ISU were essential to forming this broader perspective. I am so grateful for these courses now, because as any language professional knows, it is very difficult to fully command a foreign language without also possessing a more profound understanding of the corresponding foreign culture. More to the point, when uttering the phrase “Latino culture” we are referring to a phenomenon that covers a variety of countries and regions, not to mention continents, and all with their unique and somehow intertwined histories. So as a student, these courses provided much needed direction for a traveler in an unfamiliar land, and also challenged me to question my previously established understandings.
What’s an unexpected benefit you obtain from being a LALS minor?
I would say the ability to be taken seriously in my field. I can safely tell you after the few years that I’ve been a Spanish interpreter in a variety of fields that it is rare to see a Spanish interpreter who does not have a stereotypical Latino “appearance”, who is not from a Latino family, or who did not grow up speaking Spanish at home, all of which I am not and did not. Many times patients, health care providers, and new colleagues are surprised to hear my “American-sounding” name, to see my light complexion, and to hear my natural American accent when speaking English, and will tell me “I didn’t think that you would be able to speak Spanish”, or “I’m surprised that you know what this or that means” because it’s so culturally specific. Don’t get me wrong; I am still learning cultural and linguistic nuances every day, but the main message is that these LALS courses gave me something to build on, and allowed me to achieve credibility with those that I serve and work with despite my different origin. As an interpreter, there are few greater compliments that exist than when a patient or provider assumes that you are originally from of the culture that is technically your foreign culture, and I owe so much of that to these courses.
What advice would you give college students currently attending ISU?
1) This is the time to learn as much as you can, so do not be afraid to pursue the courses or subjects that interest you the most, even if it means a little extra work or if it wasn’t in your original plan. Having a minor in LALS was not a requirement for me to graduate, but had I not taken these classes I would not be as aware or as competent as I am today. This knowledge was a gift.
2) Study abroad. If you do nothing else outside of your regular curriculum of course work, study abroad. I had the great opportunity to go to Taxco, Mexico with Dr. Alstrum from the Spanish department while doing my undergrad, and although it was only a two-month summer program, my linguistic competence soared, and so did my confidence in thinking that I could someday competently transplant myself into a world that was drastically different from my own.
3) Learn a foreign language. I guarantee you that you will never regret learning at least some of another language. Even if you don’t ever become completely fluent, you will uncover more knowledge than you expect.
Any fond memories of our campus?
My fondest memories are mostly the feeling of walking on campus on a quiet afternoon or evening and feeling like every day was going to be more awesome than the last, because I was in an environment where so many people were just focused on learning more about life in every aspect, and where our professors took a sincere interest in our development, none of us really aware of the lasting relationships that we were forming. I especially enjoy remembering pre- and post-class discussions with Professor Toro-Morn and Professor Olsen (History) about Latin American/U.S. relations and current events.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’ve always loved skateboarding, and even more so at the beach, but anywhere is good. I also watch a ton of movies and a lot of documentaries. When there is time, the most enjoyable thing for me to do is travel with my wife (also a Redbird, FYI), and seeing just how uniquely bizarre different parts of the world can be.