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Musings on being a volunteer

09 Dec 2022

Article by Hannah Burdekin - Muse Translation

A very long time ago, I was travelling on a bus in Stuttgart, Germany. I have no idea why the advert encouraging people to join their local sports associations and proclaiming that they would ‘have more fun in a club!’ has stuck with me when I can’t remember a conversation I had last week. But it did, and I can still picture the image of an enthusiastic woman playing volleyball and the tagline ‘Sport: schöner im Verein!’

Fast forward a couple of decades, and one of the newer hats I’m wearing these days is President of the Auckland branch of NZSTI. With 5 December being International Volunteer Day, I got to pondering the nature of volunteering. For some people, they give to a cause, whether that’s through donating money or time, because they have a personal reason to feel passionate about that cause, such as wanting to support breast cancer research because the disease has affected a loved one. Sometimes, it’s an awareness of the problems affecting a vulnerable group that triggers the desire to help, and for others there might be a religious component to how and why they volunteer.

Now I love my work as a translator but I couldn’t say that I am ‘passionate’ about NZSTI per se (sorry NZSTI). I don’t think that translators and interpreters, at least not in New Zealand, genuinely qualify as a vulnerable group. And I’m an atheist, so there’s no religious inspiration behind why I do what I do.

So here’s what volunteering my time for NZSTI means for me. Yes, it does require squeezing extra out of the existing limited hours in the day, but here I want to focus on more than the basic work of answering emails or planning events. Firstly, my involvement is a really, really great way of finding out more about the industry I work in. Rather than being just a German to English translator beavering away on my own work in my own specialist area, I now have a deeper understanding of the issues affecting translators and interpreters in New Zealand from participating in the work of the branch committee and national council. It’s great to feel better informed and to have a grasp of the bigger picture.

Secondly, I love the sense that communal action can improve things for the better. NZSTI might be a small organisation, but as a collection of individuals we are able to support each other and make a genuine difference. Every time I host Linguists at Lunch, I am always struck by how much collective wisdom we hold between us: if one attendee asks a question, there is sure to be at least one other person on hand to offer advice or share their experience. And when the Auckland committee gets together, there’s a real enthusiasm to deliver results for our members: someone says ‘Wouldn’t it be good if…’ and the next thing you know, there’s a new event called Coffee & Chat running in cafés across Auckland.

Finally, I think there’s a specific benefit to volunteering for the NZSTI that is directly related to the type of work I do. Like the vast majority of translators and interpreters in New Zealand, I am self-employed. And while I love the freedom that provides, it inevitably means that I don’t have a team around me during the day to share ideas or general chitchat with. As a translator specifically, I spend most of my working hours alone with my computer and just a foray to a local café for my daily trim flat white if I’m lucky. The connection that I get to issues and people outside my own front door via my volunteering for NZSTI is incredibly valuable and very satisfying. It really is a case of getting out more than I put in and, as the advert in Stuttgart said, things are definitely ‘schöner im Verein’.



Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash


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