An update: teaching and a trip to Jerusalem

It’s been a while since my last blog post – I’ve been a on a hiatus from the translation world and working as a French teacher in a local secondary school. It’s a temporary position but it is nonetheless time-consuming, especially combined with my other commitments.

I was initially reluctant to take on the role as it is outside of my comfort zone, but then I decided to embrace it as a new experience and use it to expand my skill-set. After all, freelancing (and life in general!) is unpredictable and constantly offers fresh challenges. Teaching is simply a different way to apply my linguistic skills.

It is also an opportunity to persuade young people that learning languages has many uses. Many of the young women I’m teaching seem to think that learning French is pointless – ‘Miss, when am I ever going to need French?’. Picture my horrified face. Any suggestions on how I can persuade them otherwise are most welcome. In the meantime, I’ll be catching up on endless marking (Reasons not to become a teacher #1).

'I presume you're the substitute teacher?'
‘I presume you’re the substitute teacher?’

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I just got back from an Easter break to Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia. Jerusalem, and the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, are home to the three holiest sites in Islam. Travelling always teaches us about another language and culture, but making a pilgrimage to places of worship is an entirely unique encounter with different ways of life. For a start, the British penchant for queuing becomes particularly pronounced!

I found the people of Jerusalem to be friendly and warm. One morning, as we walked back from the dawn prayer at Al-Aqsa mosque (which was at 5 0’clock by the way), an elderly lady joined us, just to have some company as she walked back home. Foreign visitors are made to feel very welcome, and hospitality is clearly inherent to the local culture.

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The Dome of the Rock
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The Old City
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Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City

Coming back to London always feels like a shock after a visit to Mecca and Medina, as there are thousands of people gathered there at practically all times of year. During the Hajj season, which falls in September this year, there are roughly three million pilgrims. It can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first time.

The pilgrims have one obvious thing in common: their reason for visiting. The rites themselves and the prayers to be observed are the same for everyone. However, it is interesting to observe the subtle differences between groups of pilgrims. It can be the way they place their hands during prayer or the colours they wear. In my culture, it is considered highly disrespectful to place the Quran on the floor, while in others it is completely normal. The pilgrimage is a lesson in tolerance, patience and understanding.

After a truly beautiful and life-changing journey, I feel rejuvenated and ready  to get back to work (yes, really!) with fresh perspective and the best intentions.

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The Grand Mosque of Mecca, known as the Masjid al-Haram, is currently undergoing a fourth expansion to accommodate two million more worshippers.
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A model of the Grand Mosque, including the new extension
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Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina
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This model shows how the original Masjid Al-Nabawi would have looked in 622, with a roof of palm leaves supported by palm trunks.

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Dealing with stress

Sorry if the length of this post stresses you out. Apparently, when it comes to stress I have a lot to say.

Stress affects all freelancers, not just translators. Knowing that you alone are responsible for earning a living sometimes gets overwhelming. I feel as if I am always thinking about my business, even when I’m not working. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas and ways to develop and expand. This is because I am passionate about what I do but it is not necessarily healthy, as it can all get too much from time to time.

Becoming a freelance translator is not just about translating. Of course, your translation and interpreting skills are paramount, and you should set aside time to brush up on those skills. Then you need to make sure you continue to work on your languages too, which in my case are French, Spanish and Gujarati. It’s also a good idea to stay up to date with developments in the industry, by attending events and reading books and articles. And you absolutely have to stay on top of the administrative side of running a business. It’s a very long list of Things to Do.

The best way to deal with this is to be organised. I always have my diary open at my desk, and each day has two columns. One column is for jobs and appointments, and the second column is for things to do. (By the way, how great is this diary?) I try to keep my phone calendar updated too because I can access it wherever I am. I have a weekly schedule where I have allocated time slots for paid and unpaid work, so that I don’t fall behind on admin and professional development. For instance, on Mondays, I have allocated an hour for interpreting practice before starting work at 9. On Tuesdays, I would use this time to check my accounts.

The problem is that every week is different so it’s hard to get into a routine. I feel stressed when I can’t keep to my schedule but I have accepted that it won’t always be possible. For instance, if an interpreting job comes up at the last minute, I have to make this a priority. I have to be flexible and adjust to circumstances.

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As freelancers, we are very ambitious and we want to achieve so much. My schedule is a reflection of this. I have played around with it to make it more achievable although I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet. It’s hard not to look at other freelancers and think, wow, he/she seems to be doing so many things, I need to be doing more. That is a treacherous path to tread and I’ve realised that I should focus on what is achievable for me. I can benefit from the advice of experienced professionals without necessarily comparing myself to them.

Surroundings impact stress levels as well. I need a tidy space to work in. If my space is cluttered, my brain feels cluttered. It doesn’t help that my office space is also my bedroom. I am very fortunate to have a big loft all to myself, but it is difficult to escape from work when I am always surrounded by it. One of my solutions is to have a bare desk, with only my computer screens, a diary and a lamp. That way, I feel like I have a dedicated work space.

It is important to be able to find a balance between your personal and professional life. Technology makes it so easy to be switched on at all times. It may be past 5 but you can still check emails, tweet or read blogs. It’s not necessarily work but you’re still thinking about work in your personal time. It’s one of the reasons why I love my weekly yoga class. I walk into the room and I know I’m there for one thing only, so I can switch off.

As a freelancer, you’re always worried you’ll miss out. 5 minutes away from your phone or laptop could mean you lose a job. It’s why I’m not a fan of job platforms. You have to watch them constantly and respond straight away. I can see the value of these platforms but it seems exhausting and stressful in the long term. Ideally, if you can build a relationship with a client, you’ll be the only one they want. So I’d rather focus on making myself stand out, even if I’m not making enough in the meantime. But of course, earning so little is another trigger of stress.

Regret:

I am lucky to have friends in the industry who understand the challenges I face, and they always offer a sympathetic ear when I am stressed. To be honest, I feel guilty complaining to them when I have so many positive things in my life! However, everyone needs an outlet to deal with stress and I prefer to talk about it (had you noticed?).

The key is to stay positive (sorry, I know it’s cliché). We are often too hard on ourselves. When I really think about it, I’ve done plenty of great things this year. Starting this blog for one thing. So I will leave you with some advice. First, write down your reasons for doing what you do. Why did you decide to become a translator? Why did you choose to go freelance instead of working in-house? Or vice-versa. Second, keep a log of your achievements, big or small. Sometimes it’s the smallest things which give me a buzz.

When you get stressed, go back and look at these two lists. It will remind you why you’re on this path and that you’re good at what you do.

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Finding ways to reduce stress and therefore, cortisol levels is beneficial to your long-term health - www.awakening-intuition.com: