| by Jason Warburg

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Profile image of Lorena Ortiz Schneider
Lorena Ortiz Schneider

For Lorena Ortiz Schneider MATI ’92, serving as one of the Middlebury Institute’s Leaders in Residence was an opportunity to circle back to the moment when she launched her career as a professional translator and interpreter.

“It was very rewarding being able to share my story with students and see the light bulb go on in their heads,” says the longtime language professional, who led a series of three Zoom sessions with current students in April covering lessons learned over the course of her career, beginning with her training at the Middlebury Institute. The sessions focused on developing a core competency, entrepreneurship and business, and advocacy and leadership, with each featuring a presentation followed by an interactive question-and-answer segment.

Ortiz Schneider says of her arrival at the Institute in 1990, “I finally felt like ‘This is where I belong and this is what I’m supposed to do.’” Her facility with languages began early in a childhood that included time living in Ecuador, Mexico, Spain, England, France, and California. As an adult, she has lived in France and Argentina, and she is a native English and Spanish speaker who is fluent in French and has a working knowledge of Portuguese.

“I felt like the Institute was my home and the people around me were my family,” she says. She cherished the close relationships she was able to build with faculty and fellow students—her graduating class in the then-new Translation and Interpretation program had just five members—many of which turned into long-term friendships and professional connections. “And being around that international community of people who are so full of ideas from their own countries was very exciting.”

Build a Professional Network by Getting Involved

In her sessions, Ortiz Schneider told students, “Even though I was trained to be a conference interpreter and I wanted nothing more than to be in that Spanish-English-French booth at the United Nations, my career took a different path.” Instead, she started her own freelance translation and interpretation business and built a professional network and identity by getting involved in professional associations like the American Translators Association and InterpretAmerica, as well as earning healthcare and legal certifications. Over the years, she has worked for the U.S. Department of State, as well as various private industry and community-based programs, primarily as a medical and legal interpreter. Today much of her work is done within California’s complex workers’ compensation system, facilitating communications among claimants, employers, insurance companies, and the state’s adjudication system.

Interpreters tend to be very exact and very precise, and we can rub people the wrong way just because we want to do a great job! Having soft skills and knowing how to negotiate situations is very important.
— Lorena Ortiz Schneider MATI ’92

Ortiz Schneider encouraged students to make their first priority “developing your core competency and becoming excellent at your craft,” emphasizing that honing your skills to their highest level will allow you to take advantage of the broadest possible range of opportunities. Next, she shared her experiences starting her business and how that enabled her to achieve work-life balance while co-parenting two sons with her husband.

Launching a Business Presents Unique Challenges

As a business owner, Ortiz Schneider came to appreciate some of the challenges unique to her field. “Interpreters tend to be very exact and very precise, and we can rub people the wrong way just because we want to do a great job! Having soft skills and knowing how to negotiate situations is very important.”

In her third session, Ortiz Schneider shared her experiences as an active member of several professional organizations, including her advocacy over the past two years for the creation of an exemption for translators and interpreters from AB 5, the California law mandating that certain categories of independent contractors become employees. In her presentation, she stressed that “anybody can be a leader at any place they are in whatever organization they’re in or whatever stage of life that they’re in. It’s not just people at the top who do that.”

Ortiz Schneider appreciated the opportunity to share the story of her career and professional experiences with current students. “Mentorship is something that I’m getting more and more involved in. I think [Leaders in Residence] is a really good program because it gives students more of a concrete view of what’s out there and what the possibilities are.”

This ethos of giving back also reflects how Lorena Ortiz Schneider sees her work as a language professional. “The most fulfilling part of my job is definitely helping people,” she says. “I really like it when I’m able to recognize that both parties in an interaction have been helped.”