Back in 1996 I was asked by two of my professors at UW-Stevens Point to attend some conference out in Billings, Montana. At the time all I wanted to do was push through graduate and not deal with these “extra” conference or internship opportunities. I figured as long as I get that diploma I’ll have ALL the information I’ll ever need and fast track into a State Park job somewhere, and interpret happily ever after. I considered the opportunity and thought Montana would be pretty cool to check out and with a nudge and support from my professors we loaded up the state van. After about 1100 miles of driving, a blizzard near Sturgis, SD and two professors debating raptor silhouettes high in troposphere and critiquing each other’s driving styles, I arrived at something called the National Interpreters Workshop.
What a poor college student/fledging interpreter stumbled on was an amazing opportunity to see the many paths and personalities that exist in our profession beyond the textbook, theory, and classroom. At this point in my career little did I know Interpreters needed skills on how to ask for money, manage and coach staff, know where to find the right buttons for living history uniforms, or that interpreters actually could get stressed out. In fact there was information on about 97 topics offered, who knew?
Sixteen years and numerous conferences later there are tips, tricks, ideas, and contacts that I’ve picked up at state, regional, and national gatherings that I use with regularity. One of the best benefits in my opinion of any of these gatherings is that it forces you to take a personal “time out” from your day to day job, and get out of the office, park, aquarium, zoo, museum, classroom, and look at things from a different perspective and open mind. These opportunities can be enough to clear the cobwebs out of your head and just recharge your interpretive soul for a few days. Another great benefit is meeting other interpreters at lunch, on a field trip, in a concurrent session, or out testing the local fare or brew pub. Many of the folks you meet become someone you can email or call to “talk shop”, share successes & challenges, recruit, hire, mentee, or mentor.
This is my nudge to you to consider attending any gathering of interpreters be it a state, regional, or national event. All of these are a great investment for you and a fantastic way to take a “time out” to recharge and re-invent yourself, your programs, and your staff. You’ll bring things back to your site with a new perspective and you’ll meet someone who’ll likely help you in some way, shape, or form at some point in your career.
For the managers out there I encourage and challenge you to look for ways to send or sponsor our up and coming students and “front-liners” to these gatherings and get our next generation of interpreters involved in NAI to share the stories of our sites.
The 2012 National Interpreters Workshop is November 13-17, in Hampton, Virginia.