EXPERIENCE

You Are Not Alone
Pages from a multilingual and multicultural journal

By Gabriela Kouahla

Kindness, gratitude, help, support, awareness, recognition, growing together: These have been popular descriptors online lately. What do they have in common? They are often addressed to people we have not met in real life.

Even though we work behind a screen, we are not alone. Never, not even you — you, the freelancer, even if your projects are remote. People have shaped the form you are today, and those people will always be in your life. The right people, I hope!

Assuming that we are all alone in this world and that no one and nothing affect our personal and professional lives would be a mistake. With that in mind, when I was asked to contribute an article about my professional journey, I was brimming with ideas about what I should write.

But then I paused, took a breath, and asked myself: Would you be here today without other people’s support, help and inspiration? And the answer is no. Therefore, this article aims to acknowledge women who educated, helped, and supported me to achieve the milestones that built my professional life till today. Unfortunately, I will not be able to cover everyone in this article, but like an elephant, I will never forget.

Early days

Dear journal,

The first woman my eyes set on was my mother. It was one and a half years before the end of communism in Romania. I was the first and only child of a young couple. My mom, Nico, was already making a name for herself as a chef — the French touch — and was raising me bilingual Romanian-French despite my father’s love for English (“the future,” according to him). I received weekly private lessons in English and French since I was 6. That was on top of 12 years of education in a top school: Carol 1 National College in Craiova. My parents did not have any limits when it came to education, and as a feminine figure, my mother accompanied me each day, despite her crazy schedule. And if I have to choose one thing that my mother taught me, it would be: “I cannot” does not exist; you simply “do not want!” In a few words, my mother is the fundamental stone of my entire life.

It’s always about the food!

Dear journal,

Food is life. And growing up with a chef makes you a foodie. But did you know my maternal grandmother, Maria, was a cook? Maybe not as “sophisticated” as mom, but she can compete with the best chef in the world. Grandmother Maria is why my stomach was never empty during the seven or eight hours I was at school. Furthermore, she is my inspiration regarding the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. The love she showed me also contributed to my sociable character — I love people and talking with them for hours — and yes, I am a foodie!

One word: mindset

Dear journal,

Today I remember my French teacher who accompanied me during high school and private lessons. She told me I could study everything I wanted. So in 2010, I was accepted to four French universities and decided to move all by myself to France. She just told me: Your head is already there!

Dijon, love at first sight. Nantes, love of an entire lifetime

Dear journal,

The university is a mysterious place. While studying to obtain my bachelor’s degree in translation and interpretation (English, French, Romanian) from the University of Craiova and my certified translator authorization from the Romanian Ministry of Justice, another amazing woman contributed to my French localization: Prof. Dr. Cristiana-Nicola Teodorescu. Moving to France was even easier with her recommendations, advice, and support. At the University of Bourgogne, Dijon, I not only found another educational milestone but also love. I then achieved my master’s degree in research (English, IRT) in Nantes, where, on a hot July/Ramadan day, a 3.9-kg baby became one of the loves of my life.

Don’t forget about humanity!

Dear journal,

France is more than Paris. Nantes is not only the best town on Earth (for me!) but also the town that brought me love, education, and awareness of humanity. Giving birth to a first child, studying, and morally supporting my Ph.D-student husband was tough, but the women from La Cimade association, whose motto is L’humanité passe par l’autre (humanity depends on the other) supported us.

Cimade is an association assisting migrants, refugees, unaccompanied foreign minors, and asylum seekers. Helping them with French-Romanian translation and interpretation was a wake-up call. I understood how human translation/interpretation is carried out beyond words. Later on, another great woman — Sarah McGrath, CEO of Women for Women France — showed me another face of feminine humanity. WFWF is giving back women’s right to speak and understand the law in their languages. WFWF is giving back their rights. Therefore, the freelancer in me was growing, not only as a translator but also as a human.

A bridge above the Mediterranean Sea

Dear journal,

I have never loved the sea. I am a mountain girl. But with education and experience under our belts, my family and I relocated to Guelma in northeastern Algeria. I already knew Algeria — its kindness and humanity, its flaws and nervosity, its endless sky and immense shoreline — but I never lived there. So relocating for several months a year was a big step. Another two special women contributed to my Algerian integration: my mother-in-law, Nadia (RIP), and my sister-in-law, Soumia, who is also my bestie/psychologist over coffee. Both witnessed my struggle to bring a new linguist concept to the North African region, a concept for people, with people.

Born for research

Dear journal,

I hate hospitals, blood, and all medical-related things, so when I talk to you about research, do not assume it’s only about the medical field. My first Algerian “research request” came from a Ph.D student named Lila from the University of Bejaia. She needed French proofreading of her thesis. And that was the beginning of the Beyond Words Linguistic Services for researchers, where 80% (to date) are Algerian. I’d never have guessed that on Sept. 13, 2018, I’d receive an email from a woman who would strengthen my position as a trustworthy LSP for researchers and teach me that marketing begins with research.

Professor Dr. Kamila Ghidouche Ait-Yahia is not only a professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Koléa, Algeria, but also the director of research programming, evaluation and long-term planning at DGRSDT, Algiers — the reference for Algerian researchers. Undoubtedly, she’s one of the people who helped me find and develop the Beyond Words concept for researchers in Algeria.

My gratitude also goes to all Maghrebian (Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan) women researchers I have spoken to over the years. For me, you are an inspiration.

Only you (and you alone)

Dear journal,

Do you know that feeling of being unique in a country of 44.18 million? Being certified as a French-Romanian translator means I can carry out certified translations (with a stamp) for all administrative documents. In Algeria, even though French is not an official language, Arabic and Tamazight are, and one can obtain a birth certificate or a diploma in French. This means that for all those students, and there are many, I am their (only) linguist. I love it when people call and say, “We did not know we had a French-Romanian translator in Algeria.” Furthermore, an extraordinary woman comes from a bilingual, Algerian-Romanian family at the Romanian Embassy in Algiers, who always helps me contact the people who need my services. Certified translations are one of the main activities I carry almost daily, and one that makes me very proud.

Don’t assume; localize

Dear journal,

I love it when the content I read speaks to me. Be it a product description, a blog article, or an app, I know that the content was created by a human, for a human. But how do we localize it? How do we make people read the content? Well, I would say it’s all about learning with a touch of technology. To propose localized content, you need to know your audience, do some research, and go beyond words. I learned this advice and more thanks to the international localization industry, as I aimed to develop my localization/transcreation services.

However, the localization industry is another world, one that combines humanity with languages and technology. Throughout learning this skill, many women inspired me, helped me in moments of doubt, and made me a better professional and even a better human: Nadia Borontsova, localization manager at OneSoil; Marina Gracen-Farrell, localization consultant at The Localization Advocate; Kathryn Read, who helps small-medium enterprises export to Europe and Asia; Kathrin Bussmann, who takes Cleantech companies global; and tech executive Nataly Kelly.

Therefore, after four years of administrative battle, on May 8, the first Algeria-based content localization agency was born in Guelma. It is the first LSP created by a foreigner in Algeria and focuses on localized services for researchers. Each service includes a follow-up step because the Beyond Words Linguistic Services is for researchers, with researchers. This means that the translation and/or the revision is only one step; publishing the paper is the final common goal, which gives a localized service with localized linguistic support.

PMs: the human, caring ones

Dear journal,

I have never loved politics. I guess I am not “diplomatic” enough. But, while Le Monde is talking about prime ministers, I am lucky enough to work with real PMs — project managers thinking about both the clients and the linguists. Some PMs understand that a human relationship improves the quality of the work. A provider, a freelancer, or an in-house translator will always be more productive if the PM is fair for everyone. In more than 10 years, some PMs marked my spirit and whose support, kind replies, and even feedback pushed me where I am today. I’m even an occasional PM myself — not often, but it happens! I want to send my gratitude to Kristina Nastran (Povio); Tea Polanc (and the entire Alamma Team); Fliss Edwards (AP Air Europe Ltd); Lucia Gutierrez and Nazaret Lázaro (Beluga Linguistics); Flo Lilley (Integro Languages family); Liza Beytrison (ABC Translation Team); Florencia Troilo (MF Traducciones); and Sharmayne Anandarajah (The Good Egg). These women and PMs, along with their teams, make the industry human. They deserve all our respect!

The true competition is against yourself

Dear journal,

I cry each time I receive a nice message from my colleagues, be it a holiday greeting, congratulations on an achievement, or just saying thanks for a referral. It means we (at least I) are no longer suffering from competence fear. The taboo “do not network/speak with other translators” is long gone. Despite our busy lives, I am forever grateful I can talk from time to time with my colleagues. I learn so much from you, from your social media content, and from your kindness: Katja Hanske, Marwa Seleem, Shaimaa Riad, Veronica Manzanares Alberola, Soledad Agüero, Roberta Tabolacci, Isabella Marzano, Anna Gredecka, Emeline Jamoul, Eman Abdo, Watfa Alassafeen, Agatha Sara, Cari Bottois, and Iris Soliman, to name a few. All these names strengthen the fact that the true competition is against me: learn to improve.

A woman’s world without men?

Dear journal,

I hope you can feel my emotion as I write about the great women that shaped and still shape me as a professional and human. However, even if we celebrate women this month, history is here to remind us that women supported men and men supported women. Therefore, as a woman, I cannot erase the tremendous support I received from my father, Aurelian (who may or may not be the culprit behind my linguistic journey — at least, this is what my mum says). My dad is my rock that keeps all the other ones in place. It is the island of refuge on a hurricane day!

As I grew up, my maternal grandfather (RIP), Marin, also pushed me to study hard and supported me until I found another man obsessed with studies: my husband, Zineddine. His motto as a university lecturer: students first. He is obsessed with learning and always says that we cannot achieve anything without it, especially in this rapidly developing world. And this is something I also heard my father-in-law, Keblouti, say: school first. He taught me that love comes before anything; the cultural background or origin does not matter.

Furthermore, when it comes to learning, there is another person whose kindness does not have limits: Professor Hamid Seridi, professor at the university 8 Mai 1945 in Guelma, Algeria and head of the Computer Science Department at LabSTIC. He was among the first to encourage me to work with Algerian researchers and, in his words, “improve the future.” As for the localization industry, two names come to mind. When it comes to empowering people and women worldwide, Jan Hinrichs is a tremendous leader in localization; his LocLunch is the best concept for networking. As for mastering the localization and SEO tech side, Alfonso González Bartolessis is the industry reference. If you work in this industry and have not taken one of his courses, that is a pity.

I could go on for pages about other great women and men working for a better future, but I think my message is clear: We are not alone! Each person has a different impact on us, but it’s up to us to determine what level and type of impact it is.

Gabriela Kouahla is the founder of the first localization agency based in Algeria, Beyond Words Creative Services. She is the only French-Romanian translator covering North Africa.

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