Interviews, an unexpected source, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Well, I am back home from the Eastern Shore, as of last week! My experience was pretty incredible. I began working on my final paper shortly after writing my last blog, so most of my writing time has gone towards that endeavor. In this blog I’ll let you know what type of work went into the researching processes and then summarize some of my findings in my final post.

A big part of my paper writing has centered on interviews I conducted with four different people who are in at least somewhat of an interpreting capacity. Two of my interviewees, Erika and Roberto, work primarily as migrant outreach workers, and two others, Fabiola and Maria, work primarily as interpreters—but there is a great amount of overlap. I have been asking them questions about the challenges of interpreting, the qualities that they think good interpreters should have, ideas about interpreter training, and more.

Interestingly, I have found that my skills as an interviewer have improved over time as well. I am recording all interviews, and when I go back to transcribe parts of the interview I can hear my own voice too. I think I have a much greater appreciation for how people respond better to simple, clearly stated questions rather than piling everything on at once. I have also learned how to navigate the conversation if the interviewee goes too far off course, but at the same time, remaining calm if the interviewee’s answer isn’t what I expected. I mean, hey—that’s research for you.

I should tell you, one of those crazy moments in research happened a couple of weeks ago. I was sitting around doing nothing in particular when I suddenly remembered a moment from my first interpretation project two years ago. I had been conversing with a new interpreter at the Virginia Department of Health about her own recent training experiences, and she had mentioned the name of a woman who runs the training program she participated in. I clearly remember her saying that this woman had some strong opinions and would be happy to answer any questions about interpreter training.  This interested me in particular because most of the interpreters at ESRH have not had any formal training.

I wrote down the interpreter’s email in the notes from my previous Monroe project, and largely forgot about it (as it was not entirely related to that project) until this moment. After taking some stabs in the dark (“Hi…I don’t know your name and you probably don’t remember me either but I had a five minute conversation with you two years ago about interpreting…?”) I somehow managed to secure this last source, and I have been in contact with her over email. Indeed, she does have some interesting viewpoints, some of which differ from the interviews I conducted at ESRH.

Since I have been home from the Eastern Shore, I have begun to focus more on my literature sources. I am now about halfway through my main academic source, Medical Interpreting and Cross-Cultural Communication by Claudia V. Angelelli. It’s a fascinating read—an ethnography of a California clinic and its interpreters—and is surprisingly similarly organized if you compare it to the way I am writing my own paper.

I am also reading a book about cultural collisions in medicine called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a non-fiction book by Anne Fadiman. It is about a Hmong child, Lia, who has epilepsy. Her culturally distinct family and American physicians struggle to communicate and care for her condition. Each group wants the best for Lia, but there are many misunderstandings and the situation becomes very complex. Let me tell you—this book is AWESOME. It is so well researched, and I would recommend it for anyone even remotely interested in cultural issues in medicine.

I only hope I have enough time before the semester starts to adequately integrate these two sources into my paper—there are so many good points in both. I’d better get started, then…until next time!


  1. Katie Robinson says:

    Your study is fascinating and I have enjoyed going through and reading all your findings throughout the summer! It has opened my eyes to the importance of interpretation in the medical field (something I never really thought about) and also about the source of much of the labor in our country. As a sociology major, you have interested me in migrant work and revealed to me its prevalence in our country–as well as highlighted another aspect of inequality inherent in our current global economic system. Great work and good luck with the rest of your report!