All roads led to New Orleans for the just-ended 59th annual conference of the American Translators Association (#ATA59, #NOLA). About 1,600 participants (linguists, language service providers, companies/organizations, government agencies…) from across the globe, representing every major language or culture one could think of. As always, it was diversity at its best and cross-cultural communication in action. I’m yet to be a veteran attendee but can safely say there’s no better place to network, meet and make friends who ‘get’ you, acquire much-needed skills in the ever-changing T&I industry, expand your horizon and grow your business than at the ATA conference. The camaraderie atmosphere and intensive, yet relaxed advanced training and educational sessions make the ATA conference the place to be. It is essentially a family reunion!

From newbies to seasoned attendees, there’s always a place for everyone. The events never disappoint and the sessions are very educative and cover a wide variety of topics in different specializations. They’re so many and varied it’s hard to prioritize. #ATA59 wasn’t any different. The presenters (at least for the sessions I attended) were very knowledgeable in their various topics.

Apart from an official mentorship program, attendees had access to high-profile; yet very humble industry gurus who are always ready to listen, share experiences and provide advice and guidance. This year, I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the crème de la crème of the industry and I’m so humbled by their willingness to spare time and genuine interest in assisting me.

Participating during the annual meeting of voting members and exercising my voting rights in the election of new board members constituted both an honor and a very rewarding experience.

Networking opportunities abounded; at breakfast, in the hallways, at the hotel bar, in the elevator, brainstorm networking session, exhibition hall as well as the very popular job fair.

It is true my desire to become a full-time freelancer was fueled by my background, experience in the field, quality of work and feedback from clients, but what neutralized that initial cold feet (which I believe every freelancer experiences) was my first ATA conference. It paved the way; providing me with the rest of the resources and tools I needed and it’s only getting better.

The City:

NOLA is unique in so many ways; the friendly and incredibly happy people (smiles even on the faces of the homeless), the infrastructure, culture… What I saw and experienced in the 7 days I was there, may not be representative of NOLA, but the city is starkly different from any American city I’ve visited. It almost feels like a different country.

It’s hard for me to say what I liked better; the local food or the conference! I was intrigued by the savory local food: gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, beignets, grits, red beans and rice. The city  is blessed with a combination of African, Caribbean, Cajun, Creole, French, Italian and Spanish cuisine. I never really knew I had a foodie side, until I tasted NOLA Cajun and Creole food that balances spicy and tasty and almost always tastes like home-made food. You just can’t go wrong!

As a French-English translator, I was definitely interested in the influence, and the presence of French in NOLA. French isn’t simply part of the city’s history; it is very much alive both linguistically and culturally. This is evident in the famous Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the imposing Joan of Arc statue, French words for food (beignet, étouffée…), café/restaurant (Café du monde, Café beignet…), hotels (Hotel de la Monnaie) and other signs (Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré); just to name a few. The French Quarter is so vibrant I believe the city must have inherited some savoir-vivre from the French. An elaborate post on French presence and influence would constitute a blog post on its own.

From the St Louis Cathedral, the National World War II Museum to the renowned plantations, there’s quite a lot to see and do in NOLA. I couldn’t brave a visit to any of the plantations as it hits too close to home, but you could easily spend a sleepless day or night wandering the streets of the French Quarter: Bourbon Street that never sleeps, Decatur with the various performances, (my favorite of which was the raw but light-hearted racially-inclusive street performance by The Street Masters at Jackson Square), the French Market… Today’s America could really use some of the positivity and genuineness I experienced in NOLA.

It was evident in both outdoor and indoor performances that NOLA is indeed, the birthplace of jazz. Kermit’s Tremé Mother-In-Law Lounge immediately comes to mind. I was spellbound by the authentic, down to earth and unpretentious performance by the legendary Kermit Ruffin’s award-winning band. Yes, these mostly solitary, workaholic freelance linguists like to party too and the Big Easy made it easy!

I already look forward to #ATA60 in exotic Palm Springs California!

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