Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The travelling translator reporting from ....Sri Lanka. Ankie's story!

It's been some time since I updated this column but the Travelling Translator is back with a wonderful story from Sri Lanka. Ankie Renique is a Dutch into English freelance translator with a truly inspirational story to share. Here's what she had to say about her life as a travelling translator in Sri Lanka post-Indian ocean tsunami:  

Ankie, tell us a few things about your life before you became a travelling translator. I was born in Holland but my parents quickly moved abroad (Kuwait) when I was still a toddler. This meant I started my education in English in a Muslim Arabic country and spent all holidays in Holland with family and in our farm house in the South of France. This exposed me to many different cultures at a young age. I did my degree in London, where I studied Economics and Philosophy at LSE. By this time I was fluent in English, Dutch, Flemish and French. I loved the multi-cultural vibe in London and so I decided to settle there after graduating and started work for large IT consultancies. I quickly found my niche in writing so I ended up as a Bid and Proposal Manager mainly writing tender documents for all kinds of IT projects in the Financial Sector.

The local lagoon
What languages do you speak and what made you become a translator? As mentioned above, I speak English, Dutch, Flemish and French, although sadly I do not use my French enough to keep it fluent. The main language in Sri Lanka is Singhala (the second is Tamil) and I am currently learning this. However, I am just concentrating on speaking it for now as writing it is near impossible (the Singhala alphabet has 58 letters for example!). There are several reasons which made me become a translator. All my life I have been around other languages, different cultures and in various countries. Different languages also came very easily to me at school (in addition to the above I also understand German and a little Arabic) and although I didn't do a formal language or translation degree, different languages and cultures were a constant part of my life.

After leaving London and the above job in 2003 to travel, my first stop was Sri Lanka where I did some casual work in a hotel bar for a friend and all was going great until Boxing Day, 2004 – the Indian Ocean tsunami. Luckily I wasn't hurt and I didn't lose any friends, although I did lose all my belongings. Most of the tourists soon left and as the hotel had been damaged, there was no more job. I stayed on and did some voluntary work but soon discovered that my resources weren't endless and I needed to find some paying work. I went to Holland in 2005 and worked in a restaurant for 3 months but decided I wanted to go back to Sri Lanka and this is when my foray into freelancing started. I stumbled across some Dutch to English translation work online quite by accident, applied and got the job (I now realise how very lucky I was!). I really enjoyed the work and started searching for jobs using my fluent Dutch! This was nine years ago and I haven’t looked back.

What made you become a travelling translator and lead the life that you do now? 
becoming a freelance translator full-time I have lived and worked in Holland, England, Sri Lanka and travelled and worked in India, Thailand, France and Dubai. I am currently living in Sri Lanka again because I fell in love with this country, its people, its culture, food and my partner who is Sri Lankan. However, there is a very big chance that we will move on because there is still so much to see! These days with wifi and great technology everywhere, I am lucky in that the nature of translation work allows me to work anywhere.

Describe a typical day in your life as a travelling translator. 
In Sri Lanka a typical day is rare, random occurrences are a part of life which means every day brings surprises and often new things to learn. This drives some people round the bend but I find it a welcome distraction if I've been working behind the laptop for too long.

At the local vegetable market
I normally wake up at around 8 or 9, have a coffee (before anything else is done), check my iPhone to see if I have received any urgent work e-mails which need attention. This is quite often the case due to the time difference. If there is anything that cannot wait, I start work. If not I will get the household chores out of the way, shower, eat etc. and then switch on the computer after.  I tend to work throughout the day because other things are best done early or later on in the day because of the weather being so warm. The local people do the same. Most Sri Lankans wake up very early, even the schools start at 7 a.m. and close at lunchtime. The liveliest part of the day is between 5 and 7 p.m. People tend to leave their houses, go and visit others, watch the sunset, go and pray in the temples and the kids play in the street. My favourite time of the day – walk the dog, relax, catch up with friends, get things ready for dinner (cooking is one of my hobbies) – time away from work. After dinner I often work because all my clients are working then due to time differences. If we go out at night it is usually after 9 and I make sure I have no deadlines early the next day!

Sri Lanka is mainly a Buddhist country 
What are the advantages and disadvantages of living life as a travelling translator and how do they affect your translation business? Well the advantages are definitely being able to work when you want and where you want – it is this freedom which you need to embrace whilst at the same time being very responsible to make it a success. Another advantage for me is making a living doing something I love. So many people I know only work because they have to earn money. They would much rather not have to go to their offices every day. I enjoy translating so I don’t suffer from the common “I hate Mondays” or “TGIF” or the feeling of anger when it turns out you will be working all weekend to meet that deadline. However, if that does happen I give myself a full day off during the working week to enjoy the other things I love. I aim to have one full non-working day a week. Plus I get to live in a tropical country with the Indian Ocean on one side and the jungle on the other, which others may only get to visit for a few weeks a year on holiday. Sounds like a win-win situation doesn't it?

Hikkaduwa beach at sunset
Wrong. There are disadvantages too. To make any freelance profession work you need to be focused. If you cannot say no when friends want you to come for lunch, to the beach or if you cannot ignore the sunshine, the ocean etc. this job is not for you. You need to be very self-disciplined and organised. Especially in Sri Lanka where there are often power cuts for a whole day, the humidity on the coast means that electrical appliances are constantly breaking. I have used 5 laptops in 9 years (and that excludes the one which was swept away in the tsunami!). Be prepared! As the others have mentioned – back-up your work; I back-up the majority of my work on the Cloud now. Have a back-up internet connection (smart phone, dongle etc.). Learn as much about the culture where you are as you can, for example; it may take twice as long to fix a laptop problem in a developing country as in Europe. Be prepared for quiet times when you are not earning, always have a contingency plan. I learnt this the hard way. Thankfully I persevered and came out on top J
Cooking a Sri Lankan crab curry
Where do the majority of your clients come from? Europe, UK and a few in the US. I have two direct clients and the rest are all agencies.

What is your advice to anyone wishing to live the life of a travelling translator? Research, research and research (yes also the boring stuff such as red tape, taxes, pensions, health insurance etc.), be prepared for all eventualities. Fully expect to take a few knocks along the way. It’s not for the faint hearted. Be very open and patient. Patience is very important because success does not come overnight. It can take years to build up a reliable client base. It takes time to find the right agencies which ‘work’ for you (instead of you just working for them). They all have different cultures too. Try to find clients and agencies which understand that you may not be in their time zone or may not be able to work because of a 2-day power cut or that you are on the move, but that will also know that you are happy to take on weekend work when you can and that you are 100% committed to a job once you accept it. 
It's hard to work with this on your doorstep!

The main thing is to be realistic about things – you are not going to become a millionaire sipping margaritas on a beautiful beach in a developing country whilst translating a few things at developed country rates. Once you understand that and embrace your freedom and enjoy your surroundings whilst doing hard work (sometimes), you are well on your way to a wonderful fulfilling life!

Ankie is a professional freelance translator from Dutch into English (and sometimes the other way around), English editor and proofreader. Native in both English and Dutch, she specialises in Finance, IT, Marketing, Travel & Tourism, Website and App localization. She grew up abroad and still lives abroad. J She's passionate about food, seeing new places and experiencing new cultures. You can find her on her blog, Facebook page and LinkedIn

Photos by Ankie Renique.

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