Those interested in working with one of the EU institutions in the future now have an opportunity to gain valuable experience in one of those institutions, thanks to an internship scheme being run by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht since last year. Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir spoke to Áine Mills, a Trinity College Dublin graduate who recently took part in the scheme, to find out how she found the experience.
1. Tell us about your educational background.
I completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature and Modern Irish at Trinity College Dublin. I felt that if I didn’t pursue my education further, especially now that I was on a roll, I’d never return to it again. I intended doing a course in literary translation until I come across a masters in Translation Studies at Dublin City University (DCU). I reckoned I’d be better off not being restricted to one area of translation and that this course would be more practical. The programme has a great name because it’s part of the European Masters in Trasnlation Network and so I did it in 2017-2018.
2. How did you hear about this opportunity to get work experience in an institute of the European Union (EU)? Had you been thinking of doing something like this for some time?
When the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht announced the scheme Mary Phelan, chairperson of the course in DCU, forwarded an email from Daithí Mac Cárthaigh at the King’s Inns to the two of us who were involved with Irish on the course. I know a few others at the university who are interested in translation and news spread among that group too. I was considering applying for the training scheme that the EU organises twice per year as I thought I’d get great experience from it. At the beginning of the year, though, when the selection process was opened for the period commencing in October 2018, I felt that I was too busy to be filling in forms and collecting documents for my application. I decided that I’d reconsider it for the next period if I still felt the urge. Luckily for me, this oppotunity from the Irish Government arose in the meantime.
3. What was the entry process for this work experience at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht?
As with any job application, the first step in the process was to complete an application form. In addition to this, I had to write 500 words about my reasons for wanting to spend a period in one of the institutions and about how I met the criteria they had set. I was then invited to attend a translation exam and interview in Galway. The translation exam entailed ten lines on general material relating to the Union and we had permission to use the common online sources. I found out a couple of weeks later that they had used part of a sample paper from the Euopean Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) that is available online! I received my test results around three weeks after that and was told that I’d be off to Brussels to spend five months training with the Irish Language Unit in the Directorate-General for Translation at the European Commission.
4. What did you gain from that period in Brussels?
To be working in an office setting with two screens in front of me was different from any previous job I’d had. You have to have self-control and pay assiduous attenton to the texts and I’ve learned a few lessons about myself from this. I got an insight into the work methods and procedures in use at the Commission and this will be important to me if I decide to go back there on a more long-term basis. The Irish Language Unit is still quite small compared to other languages, although the number of translators grew even while I was there. You can learn so much about the language, about translation, about Brussels and even about life itself from the those who are established with years of experience behind them and also from the newcomers. My Irish skills must have come on too. I often tried to speak Irish with the cashier at the supermarket because I’d worked all day through the medium of Irish. That never happened back home!
5. Did you enjoy the work?
It took me some time to get used to translating complicated legislative texts day in day out, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Of course, there were tough days when I felt unable to do it but at the same time I relished the challenge. It takes considerable time to acquaint yourself with the style of the texts and I suppose I was only getting the hang of it when it was time to go home; yet, gradually your work improves and the other translators are more than happy to answer questions and discuss things. I worked on a range of subjects during that time – including food labelling, databases and fisheries – and it was nice to gain an understanding of the ways in which the EU affects every aspect of life. While some of the documents I worked on were somewhat dated, being part of the acquis communautaire, you still feel that you are heart of European politics when you hear the debate at coffee time about the latest document that has just arrived from an important meeting.
6. Did you enjoy life in Brussels?
Admittedly, it was difficult to go to Brussels alone, without family or friends. This was my first time living abroad but I’m sure that it will stand to me in the future. I was living in Evere, the district in which the Directorate-General for Translation is located. The area is mainly residential and bland, I must admit, especially at weekends and this aspect of it did not appeal to me. My lack of French and Dutch frustrated me at times too. Most people have English and I did French in my Leaving Cert, but still I found myself resorting to Google Translate to read things like food labels.
There are two sides to every story, though, and I enjoyed the city centre. The area is full of history and grandeur and regularly hosts festivals and cultural events. I often stumbled upon an event I wasn’t expecting. People have a relaxed lifestyle and I enjoyed nothing more than sitting in the sun in one of the elegant parks or squares, enjoying a chat with others. One of the things I liked most about Brussls was its centrality. It has a good transport system and it’s very nice to be able to escape from Brussels itself and visit another city. Half-price train tickets at weekends are a big plus.
7. Are you planning to apply for a job with one of the EU institutions soon?
I applyed for the EPSO competition that was held at the end of 2017 and did the translation exams a while before Christmas. I realise that my French skills are not good enough to get a pass this time but at least I’ll have the experience when the next competition is held in a couple of years’ time. It’s possible now to apply for a contract through the CAST process and I’m considering this at present, even though I’ll have some work to do to pass the tests; on abstract reasoning, for example.