NAJIT’s Professional Conference—What Makes It Different

– This post  was originally published on June 8, 2012. It seems a very fitting post to welcome NAJIT’s 2016 Conference and its attendees.

I really enjoyed the NAJIT conference this past May in Boston—my first ever. I had the opportunity to get to know people I had previously met only through emails, through the listserv, or by phone. By chance, I met some people that I thank my lucky stars I ran into, and with whom I anticipate a long and fruitful correspondence. I found that the classes I took were, in the main, informative and thought-provoking. The food was good, organization was top-notch, the city was beautiful, the conversation was stimulating and there were opportunities galore for networking and schmoozing.

But do you know what struck me the most, something I did not expect? There was an enormous feeling of camaraderie, an unselfish interchange of ideas, a feeling of professional solidarity that, as a person who has attended her share of conferences, I found greatly encouraging.

I have indeed attended many other professional conferences in the course of my varied careers. As a college professor in the 1980’s, I went to quite a few Modern Language Association conventions. Since more than one-fourth of the 30,000 members of the MLA attend their annual convention, the number of attendees is staggering—anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people. It’s difficult to locate people you do know, let along meet new ones. There are numerous divisions, each concentrated mainly on the study of the literature of a given country or countries, along with others dedicated to interdisciplinary and educational fields. Careful planning is of the essence to get into the sessions you want to attend. Although I was a professional among professionals, there was no feeling of “we’re all in this together,” but rather one of disparity. For the general member, each division presents its own mini-conference and, given the magnitude of the event, there is little opportunity for contact with the myriad others occurring in the same space.

The annual American Translators Association conference is not quite as overwhelming, but still, trying to find your way around among some 2,000 people speaking dozens of different languages can be daunting. It takes extensive planning to find the people you want to get together with and also meet the people with whom you would like to begin a professional relationship. Here too, once you find your group, you are in a warm cocoon you never need to leave. My experience is that most people feel a certain disconnect with the larger group around them and make little attempt to reach out, let alone share feelings of solidarity with fellow conference-goers.

The MLA, founded in 1883, and the ATA, founded in 1959, have both been around for a long time. NAJIT, on the other hand, which began in 1978, is a relative newcomer to the world of professional associations. The membership of the MLA and the ATA consists of professionals whose fields are well-established and well-respected. In contrast, we interpreters have had to fight every step of the way to become recognized as professionals and to establish our work as important, indeed essential for there to be equal access to the legal system in this country on every level. In addition, we strive constantly to extend our mission ever further to include the fields of medical, community and signed language interpreting. We seek inclusion, not division.

So we interpreters tend to be a feisty bunch. Our struggle has made us strong as individuals and as a group. We are supportive of each other and vociferously communicative when we get together. There may be cavilers—those who say “well I didn’t like this” or “it was better last year.” I don’t know about that–for one thing, I wasn’t there last year. But I have been to conferences sponsored by other organizations, and there is one thing I am very sure of: NAJIT is a young and vigorous organization. We truly seek to make changes for the better in this world, and there are not that many organizations that can say that. What I felt at the NAJIT conference was overwhelmingly positive. Amidst all our differences of language, of location, of interpreting venues, we stand united. We are NAJIT!

“Tips for Attending Professional Conferences”  Sociologists for Women in Society, Prepared by: Tamara L. Smith, Career Development Committee Chair

“6 Musts When Attending Professional Conferences” Career Management: Keepin’ It Real by Cindy Billington

“Making the Most of Professional Conferences”  The Chronicle of Higher Education


One thought on “NAJIT’s Professional Conference—What Makes It Different”

  1. Gio says:

    That was my first full NAJIT conference. I had the opportunity of assisting NAJIT when the conference was held in Miami Beach many years ago and I was heading the ATA Florida Chapter.

    I was surprised with its small size – I mostly attend ATA Conferences and work as an interpreter is larger events. As you pointed out, Kathleen, it made for a greater feeling of inclusion and closeness. Being able to hold the attention of the exhibitors and have a meaningful conversation was also a plus.

    Thank you for the recap.

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