Susan Schweigert is translating what she learned at UWM into a fulfilling career.
“Can you believe there are people who go to jobs they don’t like every day while I am making a living doing something I love?” said Schweigert, a 2011 graduate of the master’s program in language, literature and translation. She now runs her own business, Schweigert Language Services, in Chicago.
She is certified in translating and interpreting from Spanish to English, but she also works with Portuguese and French and English-to-Spanish. Translating involves working with written documents; interpreting deals with spoken words.
“Every day I’m learning something new,” Schweigert said. “I’m constantly provided with opportunities to analyze language and find the perfect word choice. I find that whole process very gratifying.”
Schweigert received a UWM Graduate of the Last Decade award in 2016 from the Alumni Association, and still travels to Milwaukee regularly on business. “Milwaukee and UWM hold a special place in my heart.”
In her business, she does all types of translation, from property titles to birth certificates to academic transcripts. However, her specializations include international development, alternative energy and the legal system. She is certified to interpret in both Wisconsin and Illinois courts. She translates civil and criminal depositions and serves as an interpreter for Spanish speakers involved in court cases or immigration hearings. She’s also done transcriptions from wiretaps, police interrogations and forensic reports. Last year, she completed training as a paralegal to help with that side of her business.
Travel is a side benefit – she’s been to Munich and Aruba as part of the job.
Schweigert’s interest in the translation career grew out of her own travels. “I’ve always loved languages,” she said, and a trip to Nicaragua when she was 15 cemented her interest in Spanish and Latin American culture. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins in Latin American studies, she went to work for Project Minnesota-León, a cultural and educational partnership between Minnesota and the city of León in Nicaragua.
Through that job, she became fluent in Spanish. “Translating was the part of the job I enjoyed most,” she said, so when she left that job, she decided to earn her degree in translation.
Using the American Translators Association’s website listing of accredited programs, she quickly found UWM. “I was very intrigued by the program, and the opportunity to come back to the Midwest made the decision easy.” (UWM has one of the few master’s degree translation/interpretation programs that is on the ATA’s approved list.)
The program was a good fit for her, she said, combining courses that helped her improve her skills with business courses and presentations that helped prepare her to open her own business. Kate Scholz, a senior lecturer in the program, was one of her mentors. “She’s very supportive. I enjoyed every one of the classes I took from her,” Schweigert said.
Susan Rascon, now retired, was instrumental in helping her make connections that led her to her current career opportunities, Schweigert added.
The skills required of a translator/interpreter go far beyond just being proficient in a language, especially when it comes to simultaneous interpreting, Schweigert said.
The interpreter has to listen to a speaker in one language, mentally translate that into another language, and then almost immediately share it with a listener.
“It takes a lot of practice,” says Schweigert. “It’s intense, and it can be really exhausting.”
Running her own business, which she started right after leaving UWM, is also challenging.
“I’m always balancing life with work. Sometimes there’s a lot of business and I could be working 24 hours a day. Other times, I hit a dry spell.”
That’s the downside of working for yourself. But when she had the opportunity to take a well-paid regular job in the legal field, she turned it down.
“The perks are I can set my own schedule, and I love meeting new people all the time. I just couldn’t convince myself that I would like a 9-to-5 job somewhere.”
In her turn, Schweigert has mentored other students from UWM’s translation and interpreting program. “The time and consideration that she returns to our program is invaluable,” Lorena Terando, chair of translation/interpretation studies, said in nominating her for the alumni award. “In a field such as translation and interpreting, word-of-mouth is the best measure of a professional’s worth, and Susie is clearly a leader. It is a pleasure to watch her continue to soar in her chosen field.”