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Interpreter Spotlight: Patricia Fassi, Portuguese Medical Interpreter

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From English teacher to full-time medical interpreter, meet Patricia Fassi, a Brazilian interpreter behind our network of English to Portuguese medical interpreting services.

Each month we highlight one of the 13,000 interpreters for 300 languages that make the amazing work our Boostlingo Professional Interpreter Network is doing possible. When customers make a call into our network, they’re getting kind, professional, and passionate interpreters on the other end.

This month, meet Patricia Fassi, a Portuguese medical interpreter and team leader based in northern Brazil (a block away from the Amazon rainforest). Patricia is an interpreter for Boostlingo network partner, Future Group, and taught English for years before switching to full time virtual interpreting.

How did you get started as an interpreter?

Well actually it started when I was studying English. Here, we have those English courses where you can go just to study the language. And my school used to take us into this field trips to get to know a bunch of foreigners that would come in those big ships, you know, that they just visit in cruises. And we would just help them get by, like, show them touristic spots, help them order food by stuff.

A while later, I had the opportunity to work with an NGO from Boston. It’s called Global Smile Foundation. They came here to my city, in this event where they do those cleft lips surgeries for kids, and it’s not just the surgeries. They give psychological support, they donate clothes to the family. And it’s amazing. It’s like this huge project. One of my students when I was an English teacher said, “Teacher, we need someone to help us. Can you please do it?”

They invited me, and I was able to be there with them for a week. During all the procedures I was in the surgery rooms. I was talking to the parents and everyone because everyone was foreign or they only spoke English and everyone from here, especially all those socially vulnerable people, wouldn’t know how to speak about their language at all. They were there and like, “Okay, what you’re doing with my kid? What’s going on?” And I was there to help — it was amazing. It was amazing to be a part of that.

Why did you sign up for English classes in the first place?

That’s actually a funny story. I used to watch so many TV shows — American ones, and I wanted to understand what they were saying. So I would just watch it 1000 times; the same episodes, the same TV shows. And I’ll just repeat everything they said. Because I want to speak like them, like I wanted to just watch and understand like equals, I wanted to say, “I don’t need subtitles. That’s not for me.”

And then, after doing that for a while, I came to my mom and said, Mom, I want to learn English. Why don’t you sign me up for a class? And she did. I actually entered in an intermediate level, just after the TV shows. See? TV shows are a great way of learning!

Then this is the school that hired me, the one I graduated from, they asked me to be an intern while I was still in the last years of my course. And then they wanted to hire me. And I said, “Okay, why not?”

I like English so much. It’s a language that I’m completely passionate about. I guess love at first sight. The most amazing part of learning a different language is what comes with the language, like the whole cultural baggage and the different way of thinking. People even say we have different personalities in different languages.

[Note from Madie, the editor: Patricia’s first American TV show was Vampire Diaries, and I personally can’t think of a better cultural ambassador than that.]

What is it like to transition from doing a little bit of interpreting to being a virtual interpreter with Future Group?

It was an amazing process.

I guess when I started I was so nervous. I was thinking “Oh my god, what if I If I don’t understand, what do I do? I’ll just ask them to repeat that. I’m going to search on Google.” And it was actually really smooth.

I guess the first day I was, you know, sweating, all nervous, but then it turned into a really enjoyable activity. The calls are really fun. People are usually really nice. And when you’re talking to someone, they’re usually Brazilian as well, of course, we have people from some other nationalities.

But imagine you’re at a hospital. In a country that is not yours. You don’t know a lot of what’s going on, you don’t even know the language. That’s why you called an interpreter, and you’re sick, or you’re in pain, and then you hear someone’s voice. And then you recognize the accent, and you think, “Oh, that person is Brazilian, too.” And they just get so happy.

Once I had a call that was from this from the guy who was a little older, and he was feeling bad. And then he said, “Oh, hello, you’re Brazilian! Thank you so much for helping me!” And then I had another call, and it was him. He recognized my voice. And he said, “Hello, Patricia, thank you so much to be here. It’s nice to have you back!” And it was just such a party, just because he recognized my voice.

What’s your advice for aspiring interpreters and interpreters trying to get better?

If you want to be an interpreter, you have to like people. That’s a fact, you need to like people to do that. You know, when you are in that position, you just can feel everything they’re feeling, if they’re happy, you get happy, if they’re sad, you’re sad. Just like people, study the terminology, and you’re good.

For the people who are already interpreters, I guess I’ll keep that advice of liking people. But also remember, you are in control of the call. You know, sometimes we kind of get into difficult situations, we get embarrassed, we don’t want to interfere somehow. Maybe someone’s being rude to us, or they are speaking too fast. Just remember, go ahead and be very professional and say “This is the interpreter. Could you speak in shorter sentences, please?”

Try to always be extremely polite. We don’t know what that person is going through. But at some point, we just have to think “This is not personal, but I’m also in control of the call. So, I’m going to try to run things the best way I can.”

How do you process and get through the difficult conversations?

Sometimes during the calls, it’s very emotionally demanding. But when you are there, you just have to be there. You are not you, you are the person who is talking, you are their voice. So, you cannot just say “Hi, Patricia, I’m so sorry about what’s happening to you, I hope everything gets better.” No, we cannot do that. We are that person’s voice.

I’m pretty sure that person is already upset enough, they don’t need to hear the interpreter crying or something. So I kind of just let myself go for a while and just think, I’m you, you are the one speaking. So I’m you right now. The other person is speaking, so I’m the other person right now. And once it’s done, I’m usually a little traumatized. But then I just take a deep breath and think, okay, they’re working it out, everything will be fine. And after a few days, I already forgot about it.

But at the moment, it, it’s kind of a tough situation. Sometimes we just need a little bit. Take a five minute break, get some air, drink some water, and then be back for the next call. Of course, depending on the content, sometimes it’s just like a bit shocking. Sometimes it’s too emotional, because it’s a situation you’ve seen before, like someone close to you, or things like that, and you just have to separate. If you’re not able to do that, just inform the client, withdraw yourself from the call, because you won’t be any help.

What’s your favorite part about being an interpreter?

I really like knowing people who are different from me, especially who think in a different way, who are different people are in a different environment. For example, I could learn a lot about the medical system in the US the social services, how everything works there. And I think that gives you a whole new perspective of how you see things.

You can see the good points from where you live, for instance, and you can see the bad points. That’s the best part for me. I like that eye opening experience when you think, “Oh my god, I’ve never seen this from this point of view before.” You talk to all these people and all these institutions. Interpreting just gives you that.

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