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‘Life after English’ is an annual careers and networking session in which former students of English at the UvA talk about their work experiences, and the paths that led them there. This year’s event was held on the afternoon of 11 February. It took place via Zoom rather than in the usual appealing ambiance of Spui 25, but this did not stop the participants from creating a lively exchange of thoughts and ideas.

This year’s edition featured four speakers:

  • A documentary photographer who went on to study English, then combined the two by writing newspaper columns about animals which were accompanied by her own photographs, before working as a translator and continuing her studies to obtain a teaching certificate;
  • A translator who never intended to become one but now translates a wide range of fiction and non-fiction;
  • A translator in the field of commercial business, who started out in marketing communications before studying English at the UvA, and then went on to teach English at a secondary school;
  • An academic in the English Department who worked in the legal profession before starting at the UvA.

Students were eager to find out how the speakers had set out to accomplish their goals, and were interested to hear that in all cases the speakers had reached their current destination by following up on chance opportunities rather than having a preconceived plan. The speakers also agreed that they had not allowed others to dissuade them from doing what they felt they wanted to do. Intentional or targeted networking was not something that interested any of them. Instead, they had followed their own courses and had created their own networks by starting small, doing well and building their own client base.

So is it possible to make a decent living as a translator? This was the question asked by one current student. The answer was that it is easier in commercial business than as a freelance translator, but also that success depends on identifying and following your own priorities: What types of text do you enjoy translating? Do you value your freedom or would you rather work for a company? Do you need a working environment with colleagues or are you happy working on your own? Are you prepared to put in a lot of hours to build your portfolio and to start out with a low salary? The discussions that followed provided plenty of food for thought for current students as they come closer to graduation.