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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Saving the environment through translation

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Features, Top Stories

At the end of spring semester, an environmental studies professor suggested Yifan Wang ’14 find a “green job” for the summer. She came to Brandeis to study business and environmental studies, though she recognizes that “they are usually enemies,” and this summer she worked to “prove that they can work together” at her Waltham Recycling Department internship.

“It was a surprise for me and I’m happy to do it,” Wang said. “I want to know how green jobs are organized and how American government works and how they are all related.”

Throughout the summer, in addition to other recycling and advocacy programs, Wang helped to translate materials for Waltham’s growing Chinese community.

Waltham Recycling coordinator Eileen Zubrowski encourages her interns to lead independent programs during their time there and Wang was no exception. “I spent time promoting other projects with her but we also had time to expand on our own talents, and my talent is Mandarin,” Wang said.

She translated brochures and a general recycling calendar and she created a brochure for Mandarin-speaking children about home projects.

At Waltham’s Chinese Culture Center, Wang taught children how to separate trash and recycling. “I don’t think they will remember everything, but that was the first step and they will have an impression of how to do it,” Wang said.

Many of those children are taken care of by their grandparents, who often don’t speak English. The grandparents are home most of the day and often do much of the housework, including taking out the trash. Wang’s translated brochures, distributed at the community center and popular Chinese restaurants, helped to ensure that the grandparents could be active participants in the family’s recycling efforts.

“Even if they speak English, brochures like this are hard,” Wang said. “When brochures come in English, sometimes I’m very busy and I would just ignore it. The recycling brochures in Chinese will be much more attractive to Chinese people here. I hope they can take the theory [of recycling] and put it into action.”

In her hometown of Shanghai, recycling is much less common. The government, she said, promotes and funds recycling projects but the programs need to be better organized.

“Most people have a very busy life but that’s not an excuse not to recycle,” Wang said. “Recycling is everyone’s work. It’s a daily thing and it’s not one person’s job.”

Working in the department gave Wang confidence, she said. “I really appreciated all of Eileen’s patience with me. I know it’s not easy to train an international student.”

Although she speaks fluent English, Wang found translating difficult because of technical terms and words she had never learned, like fluorescent lightbulb, treadmill and mattress.

Despite some communication problems, Wang described Zubrowski as both a boss and teacher. “She’s very patient with me and, next summer if I have a chance, I want to work there again. I’m familiar with that working environment and it’s interesting to serve people in my community. On campus, people are very polite and take care of things, and this was my turn to take care of things and help people,” she said.

“Eileen took me to a Waltham Energy Action Committee meeting and I learned a lot. Although we are a small city, there are so many things going on around us and I can’t just take things for granted,” she said.

Wang also loved the working atmosphere, saying the people were kind to her. “It was a very cozy place; it was small and everything worked well. We worked together to solve problems and help people,” she said. “Oh, and there was food everywhere.”

On her last day of work, Wang’s “lovely colleagues” prepared a small secret gift for her. “I couldn’t help but cry; they were all such sweet people,” she said.