Participating as an interpreter in the 2019 Indo-German Government Consultations in New Delhi was a true highlight of my career so far. I had never been to India, and despite the short time that we were to spend there, I was eagerly looking forward to this experience.
Next to the actual interpreting, seeing how the logistics of this trip worked was deeply impressive. The German delegation travelled with several ministers, state secretaries and the chancellor herself. We started on Thursday morning and left for New-Delhi. First, all delegation members received the programme for the state visit. With so many people travelling, every ministry with its own agenda, also including large conference settings with mandatory participation for the delegation leaders, it is vital that everyone always knows where to be when, which car to take, what the next agenda item would be etc. Hence the detailed programme.
Being the interpreter, your presence is vital, as your services are needed – yet, you are not the star of the show, and nobody is going to wait for you if you are late. In fact, rumour has it that delegation members were left behind when they did not find “their” car fast enough. So I knew that I would always have to be on time, bring all the equipment that I needed and always be ready. There were agenda items that I was not allowed to attend, as simultaneous interpretation was provided by two other interpreters. But since I knew that I would not get to rest in the hotel during these periods, because the car for our small part of the delegation would always stay where the head of our delegation was, I knew that the day would include some waiting in the car, and that I would have to bring everything I needed for the entire day.
Having all of this in mind, I was fairly nervous and determined not to make any formal mistakes that could possibly embarrass me, or worse, the delegation.
What to bring for consecutive interpreting on a business trip with a lot of travelling from A to B:
- enough notepads (but not too many, as you have to carry a lot of things)
- enough pens (rather more than fewer – I left one of mine at one of the bilateral talk locations and was relieved to still have 2 more)
- proper clothes – for India, I was advised to wear bright and long-sleeved clothes because of the moskitos. Always check for these local circumstances
- disinfectant – no matter where you go, you never know when you will get to wash your hands again
- snacks – they might have announced a lunch, but too many times have I missed my food opportunity because of delays, other appointments, or simply because the head of delegation was not hungry and preferred to continue working. ALWAYS bring food
- mini drug store – the craziest things can happen, and as I said, nobody is going to wait for the interpreter. Make sure you bring some emergency medicine for different possible disasters to be prepared
- comfortable business clothes for the flight, as you cannot wear your favourite chill outfit when travelling with the entire delegation
The eight-hour-flight was less comfortable than expected, as the interpreters, like the journalists and other staff members, spent their time in the economy class. When we finally arrived, due to the change in time, it was evening already. This is when the stress started. As soon as the chancellor had left the aircraft, everyone else needed to get out as quickly as possible, find the car that they were supposed to take, and be driven to the hotel as part of the delegation. There, we were welcomed with a little reception. And this is where I went wrong! Trick jetlag kept me from feeling tired, and I did not go to bed until past midnight – definitely regretted this when the alarm rang at 6 the next morning, and my jetlagged body felt like it was 2 in the night.
This is when you have to pull through. My interpreting services were required, so I got ready, packed everything I would need and left with my part of the delegation for an entire day of official ceremonies, bilateral meetings, government meetings and a lot of driving from A to B.
In addition to seeing new places, what is particularly exciting about these kind of trip is that there are plenty of other interpreters from other ministries who are also part of the delegation. Whenever your head of delegation is attending an official ceremony or meeting that you must not attend, you can always get together with your colleagues who are in the same situation, exchange some best practices or simply chat for a bit.
Our bilateral meetings went very well, but I was still happy when at the end of the day, my head of delegation told me he would not need interpretation services for the dinner reception, which allowed me to have dinner with some of the other interpreters and go to bed earlier than the previous night. By then, my body had forcibly adapted to the new time zone, I think – which was annoying, because we flew back the next day around noon, arriving in Germany in the afternoon, with my body feeling exhausted already.
Nonetheless, this short trip to India was an enriching experience, also from a purely interpreting perspective, as you have to function in stressful situations, with jetlag and in a different climate zone, be prepared for many bilaterals in a short time and still bring you A game – after all, you are interpreting negotiations between two nations. A truly humbling experience which I never thought I would ever get!
General advice for consecutive interpreting on a business trip with a lot of travelling from A to B:
- use a bathroom when there is one – you never know when you will get the next chance, between being in the car, rushing to the next meeting, interpreting at the meeting and running back to the car
- get as much sleep as possible, but also make sure you get the most out of the experience – of course you are there to work, but when the working day is done, why not enjoy the perks of travelling