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As some of you may have noticed, a few weeks ago I finally handed over the reins as social media coordinator for the ITI German Network to my successor, Jen Metcalf after nearly 8 years in the position. I’d actually mooted the idea that the network should join Twitter back in 2013 after I had been inspired to join in May of the same year following an excellent presentation on social media for translators by Anne Neto (then Diamantidis) at the ITI Conference in Gatwick. I found it so useful for keeping tabs on the world of translation and virtual networking that I suggested to the coordinator that it would be a good place for the network to promote itself. She agreed and suggested I join the committee to make sure it was a two-way process: posting about the network and highlighting external events/posts about German-speaking countries and the language in general that might be of interest to our members. I added the Facebook page in due course as another channel to promote the network, the ITI and the German language.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed building up GerNet’s social media presence over the intervening years, with nearly 1,400 followers on Twitter and 500 on Facebook, but felt it was time for a change, both for me and the Network. It’s always good to introduce fresh blood to such ventures, and now I’m looking after my granddaughter one day a week and am on the main ITI Board, I felt I was being stretched rather thin. I’d already stepped down from the ITI Professional Development Committee last year as I couldn’t keep up with all the balls I was juggling! I’m also hoping that this year, with another grandchild on the way on the other side of the pond, I’ll be able to travel more and work less – last year felt like a non-stop work marathon.

So, it really is the end of an era, as Jen said in one of her first posts on the GerNet Facebook page. It’s good to get involved and I really would urge any translators considering dipping their toes in the water of volunteering for local or language networks to give it a go. It’s a great way to get to know other members of the network and the wider language profession. It can be good for your own visibility, but it also brings your attention to other trends/events in the profession which you might not otherwise have noticed. I used the platform not only to promote GerNet colleagues’ achievements/posts, but also to foster language learning/translation/interpreting in general, with the emphasis on CPD and the foibles of the German language, of course.

As a committee member, you’ll also be involved in decisions on the Network’s future direction, which can be fascinating: it’s always good to work in a team and see other people’s point of view. As many of us are freelance translators working in isolation in our own homes (especially this last year), it’s extremely good to connect and see a different perspective. Decisions about support for members through the Covid crisis, bursaries, training courses we could offer and how we interact as a group and with the ITI itself are all on the agenda. Many of the people I see stepping up to take roles on network committees go on to take more prominent roles in the ITI – and don’t forget that your professional contribution also counts as CPD! Then again, should you be thinking of applying for fellowship further down the line, your professional contribution is one of the things you’ll need to demonstrate. I also found that keeping a close finger on the pulse of the profession thanks to my social media role was invaluable when it came to meeting people in real life at conferences or workshops as you feel you know, albeit virtually, so many people across the industry.

As for downsides, it would be untrue to say that stepping up to the plate to volunteer doesn’t involve putting your head above the parapet. It does, especially in the world of social media. I’ve had my fair share of minor crises over the years, including disputes about the images I’d used for the GerNet Twitter profile and the Facebook cover page. Funny how people are very quick to shoot you down in flames, but rarely keen to step up to the mark and do the job themselves. The trick, once you get over the initial shock, is to develop a thicker skin, consult with colleagues (it won’t just be you!) and try not to respond immediately: answering back invariably prolongs the argument. That said, always try to consider other people’s point of view: they may have a valid point, even if they haven’t expressed it as diplomatically as they could have done…. Once you’re out there, you may also find that people bandy your name about when there’s a problem: “Oh, Claire is on the committee/Board, she’ll know what to do…”. Which you may – but it’s not always convenient or appropriate to reply straightaway when you’re representing a committee of others – and when you have paid work to do and a life outside the committee. Knee-jerk reactions are to be avoided at all costs.

Volunteering definitely provides you with a different outlook on the profession. It’s all too easy when you work for yourself not to see that bigger picture and to lose track of what’s going on in the wider world. This year, in particular, has seen huge disparities in the amount of work colleagues have had, with some people losing huge chunks of their income due to the double whammy of Brexit and Covid, while others have continued as normal or had even more work, depending on the sector they work in. If you’re not personally affected, you may overlook the trials of others, but being part of a committee forces you to face up to problems across the board – which can be no bad thing. It’s lovely to build a bond with fellow committee members, and you may even find that those bonds lead on to personal friendships and cooperation on the work front: by getting to know and trust colleagues, it gives you a pretty good idea of their overall reliability and competence.

So, go on, if you’re tempted to dip a tentative toe in the water, just do it! I heartily recommend it, even if you feel you’re someone who wouldn’t normally say boo to a goose – I speak from experience! I certainly don’t like being in the limelight, but have always been involved on committees right from my sons starting playgroup, through various PTAs, and finally professional committees once I convinced myself to take the plunge. You don’t need to take centre stage: there are always less forward-facing roles you can do while still playing an important part – and you never know where it will lead in the long run….