After earning a master’s degree in conference interpretation from a U.S. school, Yuta Okuyama was set to start his career as an in-house interpreter and translator at a Japanese company in Chicago from mid-August.
The alumnus of International Christian University (ICU) recalled the foundation that developed him into who he is today was all nurtured through his education and experience at the liberal arts college in Tokyo.
“The interpretation and translation that I’m engaged in requires a wide range of knowledge of various topics, so you need to look up things while being curious about this and that in your daily life,” Okuyama told The Japan Times in an online interview on Aug. 11. “This is exactly what my liberal arts education at ICU taught me.”
The students have the liberty to take classes from a variety of subjects when they are freshmen and sophomores to seek and narrow down their interests, and then select their majors from 31 areas of specialization.
“There were subjects that turned out to be irrelevant to my major, but the knowledge I gained from those classes helped me later or I was able to find something new. I have had a similar story in studying and doing interpretation,” Okuyama noted.
His encounter with ICU came when he was in a U.S. high school. His parents recommended him to attend a school in Japan so that he would have opportunities to learn Japanese culture, he said.
“I took part in an open campus event and I liked the campus and school spirit,” Okuyama explained. “I was impressed with the school’s mission to nurture internationally minded people and contribute to lasting peace.”
In September 2014, he enrolled at ICU, where he decided to reside in a dormitory called Global House. The experience at this residence comprised of Japanese and international students fostered his interest in interpretation.
“I didn’t have any interest in interpretation at first, but an experience of doing that to help exchange students at the dormitory brought me joy that I could be of assistance to somebody who doesn’t understand the language. So, I started taking interpretation classes,” Okuyama noted.
He added: “I increasingly aspired to be a freelance interpreter like my teacher. From then, I began vaguely to think of pursuing a career as an interpreter.”
As a major, Okuyama chose music, because he found ICU’s classes on music were not about playing and composition, but understanding music from cultural perspectives, which intrigued him. But at the same time, he selected interpretation as a minor, anticipating his future career.
To advance his study of interpretation, Okuyama applied for the university’s Five-year Program. Launched in 2011, it allows aspiring students to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in a specialized field in five years, instead of the usual six.
“I thought intensively studying interpretation at graduate school would take less time to be a professional interpreter than working days and attending a vocational school at night,” he said.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from ICU in June 2018, he spent about 18 months earning a master’s degree in interpretation at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) in California.
This was possible because ICU and Middlebury College (Vermont) have an agreement of cooperation, which includes the Accelerated Entry Program that enabled him to pursue graduate-level studies at MIIS in Interpreting and Translation, among other fields.
Recalling the days filled with study, Okuyama said one of the difficulties was that he had to deal with tests, besides regular classes, which were essential at MIIS to advance to the next grade and graduate.
“I was extremely busy with preparation, practice and amassing basic knowledge,” he said.
Okuyama’s laborious efforts paid off, and he completed the course with a master’s degree in May.
He feels that an advantage of attending the program was that the number of choices in the interpretation business has increased for him.
“The American market was added to my possible work field,” he said. “I was able to know how the relevant market works and what kind of needs and job opportunities are out there.”
At 25 years of age, Okuyama already has a firm plan.
“I’d like to brush up my translation skills and acquire basic business knowledge through in-house assignments. I’m hoping to be able to go freelance in around three years if I can prepare myself enough,” he noted.
Later in his life, he aims to pursue other work utilizing his experience in interpretation.
“I feel inclined to engage in work to share Japanese culture with the world,” Okuyama said. “I’d also like to think about how cultures, whether Japanese or American, can further be blended to be willingly accepted by people.”