12 August 2018

Interpreting and Sharing Life Stories in the Italian Mountains

During my interpreting training, I heard of a work opportunity in an isolated, magical place in Northern Italy which sounded too good to be true. I am more than willing to volunteer as an interpreter to get work experience, but to do it in the beautiful Italian mountains? I had not thought that far! Weeks have now passed and here I am, writing this post on my penultimate day of work. I am currently exhausted, both physically and psychologically, for the effort I put into the past two weeks. Yet I feel very content and have a lot to share – so read on if this sounds interesting to you!

I left Florence to Turin, not knowing how I was going to get from there to Prali, my final destination. Most interpreters were going to arrive on the same day as me, so I was hoping to get a lift from one of them or another volunteer. After a few people told me there was no more room in their car, I could only trust the Universe and indeed, a fellow interpreter came to rescue me in Turin (after a long walk dragging my suitcase to the closest Apple store – yes, my charger had the perfect timing to stop working). After a long, rainy drive to Prali (and a lot of turns that made me carsick), we got to our final destination. That’s when I felt a bit lost – I knew this was going to be a new adventure that would push me out of my comfort zone (which is something I normally love), but I was still physically tired from leaving Leeds two days prior to that. I was also amazed at the green nature surrounding the place I stayed at and knew that I would soon feel home. Besides getting used to a new place in general, I had to take part in community life, something I am not very used to. My only experiences of this kind were perhaps staying in hostels in Northern Spain and living in Bristol’s halls of residence (after which I realised that I’m definitely more of an introvert).
After a few days, I got familiar with eating times, sharing my room with three other people and regularly having deep conversations with people I didn’t know before. I also found a little time for myself in the mornings; I found a nice spot overlooking the valleys and meditated and did yoga. Apart from that I didn’t have much ‘me time’, but I loved it nonetheless. After two weeks spent around people, I noticed that any time I’m on my own, I find myself missing people’s chatter around me.
As regards the interpreting assignments, I found them all so interesting and working with fellow interpreters was really fun - we made a great team! The first week was dedicated to gender, sexuality and society, while the second one was about populism, migrations and journalism. The two weeks were structured very differently, but I can say that as a student, I learnt so much from both. I got to interpret at talks in the Italian, English and Spanish booth and even used my French in whispered interpreting sessions (I haven't practiced my French in years but I somehow turned it back into an active language!). I took part in workshops on design and creative writing where I interpreted, but from which I also learnt a lot on writing inspiration. It might not be a case that I am sitting and writing from my little room while looking at the trees outside. Yet, the most important lesson I learnt from the activities on gender and migration was developing my empathy towards others. I have always felt very compassionate towards other people, but I never gave much thought to i.e. the pronouns you use to define a person ('he' or 'she' regardless of the sex assigned at birth and according to how they feel) or about being privileged for falling into categories such as 'heterosexual' or 'white'.
During the first camp I became very close to Abigail, a deaf girl who introduced me to a whole new world of communication I did not know before. I was so impressed by her positive attitude towards life despite the constant challenge she had to face at a camp without other deaf people. This reminded me that it's always all about your attitude and how you react to things rather than the things that happen to you (because shit happens and will keep happening). I also realised this because deafness is only one trait of Abigail's identity, but she isn't defined solely by that or by i.e. her sexuality. Needless to say I was also impressed by the two British Sign Language interpreters who supported her communication with others 24/7 and that they inspired me to learn Italian Sign Language. Watching them interpret was a real pleasure and it was so fun to learn the alphabet and a few greetings.
During the second camp, I talked to participants from Africa, some of whom were migrants. I listened to their stories and they confirmed to me that we are all one and the same. As a person growing up in Italy, I have always been exposed to a fairly racist society towards 'black men', and even though I have never been racist myself (how could I be if my father was a migrant himself years ago?), I was partly influenced by some form of prejudice. For this reason, talking to them individually, even just for a minute, made me understand more than any newspaper or academic article ever did. I asked myself, how can you look at people who crossed continents and who are now away from their families because they chose to speak the truth about their country's crimes, or because they faced war, and not feel admiration? How can you not feel that you would have done the same in their position? Both with migrants and members of the LGBTQI community I found myself constantly wondering, what if I were him or her?
There was also a group of Palestinian participants I became friends with who shared information and personal touching stories on the situation in Israel and Palestine. While I knew those stories as I have travelled to Palestine many times and heard them before, their presentations were eye-opening to people who didn't know much about the situation there. I am truly grateful to them for having made themselves so vulnerable in front of people and shared their stories.

As a volunteer, I had the chance to take part in two hikes to the lakes and mountains surrounding the area. I neither had the right shoes to hike nor the right clothes, but I wore something comfortable and somehow made it. 
Lovely mountain scenery
All Prali's houses have a super cosy design and flowers

The main square 
Loved these wooden signs

On the first hike, we went to an area called '13 laghi', the thirteen lakes. We took the chair lift which was definitely out of my comfort zone but so fun at the same time. I last did that when I was 14 on a school ski trip and it reminded me of that even though at the time the valleys were all snowy.

The chair lift 
Postcard from Prali

On our second hike, we went to Lago Verde, Green Lake. Once we got there it started pouring and we all got wet but it was still really fun to walk back. 

Natarajasana :)

Volunteering in Prali was an amazing experience. I am so happy I came here and really hope to be back in the future and learn more. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on empathy and connecting with other people and please feel free to share your opinions in the comments.


  1. I love this account of Prali! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Assia! See you soon in Leeds :) Nurhan