After serving for two years as an elementary school interpreter in the Michiana area, Chelsea Kobylarz ’11 received an email that would change her life. Sent by Sign Language Interpreting Department Chair Angela Myers to interpreting alumni, it detailed an opportunity to serve as an interpreter/missionary in Belize, Central America. Kobylarz jumped at the chance and was chosen to serve a 10-month term.
In Belize, she has worked with two students at St. Peter’s Anglican School in Orange Walk Town – an eighth grader and a kindergartener. But her responsibilities extend far beyond the classroom.
“I have learned to interpret the ‘Belize Way’ … this means I am the student’s tutor, language model, friend, disciplinarian AND interpreter,” she says.
Moving so far away from home was a bit of a shock for Kobylarz, who had never been out of the country before. She felt overwhelmed at times — living in a new house, interacting with new cultures, shopping at new stores and navigating a new city. There was one thing, however, that she felt sure about: the process of interpreting.
“I felt confident in using the skills I had honed through my time at Bethel. Going through Bethel’s program also provided me with a support system,” Kobylarz says. “When I am faced with an interpreting dilemma, it is to this ‘Bethel-made’ support system that I turn.”
Since there are no Belizean interpreters in the region, Kobylarz has been used in a variety of settings – from interpreting on television and for events and parties, to even interpreting for the Prime Minister’s wife and onstage with Dora the Explorer.
Kobylarz has learned that as an interpreter, it is essential to be flexible. “As with any interpreting job, the role here in Belize is undefined. I was warned through Bethel’s interpreting program and I am here to confirm: It depends! In another country this phrase is even more true!”
Though she has faced some challenges interpreting in a different country, Kobylarz feels that the rewards far outweigh the difficulties.
“Watching the Deaf student acquire language as well as the hearing children develop their language is very rewarding for me,” she says. “I love interpreting for the connections it makes. Seeing two diverse people interact with each other is priceless and I believe a little glimpse of the unity of Heaven.”