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University — A Bridge to the Real World?

Dec 11, 2014 •

Foto di Tom Butler

Some while ago I received a survey from AlmaLaurea, an Italian service that helps college graduates find a job. Among other questions, they asked me if and how much my university degree has helped me find a job, and how important it has been to get me where I am today.

So I thought back. On my very first day, a slim, bald teacher gave me a flier advertising his new language course, American English. I decided to give it a try.

It turned out to be a course in translation held by an incredibly enthusiastic and passionate teacher; the best I’ve ever had. Day by day, class by class, I realized how much I loved languages and, above all, their intricate grammar. I also discovered I was a decent translator, so I started pursuing that path and taking as many translation courses as I possibly could.

Today, though, I translate only once in a while, as I mostly teach English and Italian to Spaniards.

So maybe university helped me find my way and got me started on what I do today. But that’s all.

No teacher—not even my favorite one—ever prepared me for the real world. They taught me a lot on translation theory, but they failed to teach me the practical stuff: how to land a translation job, write a good CV or set my rates. Finally, nobody ever mentioned that it would be so difficult to break into the translation industry without the right contacts or a bit of luck.

When I graduated, I could translate, I knew English and Spanish grammar by heart, and I was fairly fluent in all of them, but I didn’t know how to use all that knowledge. Since day one in the translation business, I had to guess every step of the way, get creative and resourceful, learn how to deal with disappointments and failure, change direction, change it again and eventually reinvent myself. That’s why today translation is more of a hobby for me and I invest most of my energy on teaching.

So let me get back to the survey.

• Was my university degree helpful to find a job? Not really.

• Has university given me the skills to do the job I’m doing today? Somewhat. It taught me a lot about translation and languages, but most of it was theoretical. The useful stuff I’ve taught myself—before or after I graduated.

AlmaLaura’s slogan is, ‘A bridge between university and the real world’. But shouldn’t university be that bridge and the degree a door at the end of it? This leads me to the question I’d have liked AlmaLaura to ask me, ‘Have you ever had to show your university degree to anybody?’. No, at least not so far.

Long story short. University didn’t get me where I am today, it wasn’t my bridge to the real world (maybe I should have considered the AlmaLaura one, after all!), but it did help me understand where I wanted to go. Unfortunately, that happened in the first two months. The following years were mostly a waste of time. But that’s another story.

What about you? Was university your bridge to the real world?