Think outside the box — Starting over in a new place requires a complete shift in thinking. The way you approach everything — from buying groceries to paying bills — will adjust to the cultural norm. You have to expect to act differently in these new systems and think differently. Be creative when you are trying to find answers or get things done. Do not allow cultural differences to be roadblocks to getting what you want, just think creatively to get around them.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susanne Evens.
Founded in 2000 by Susanne Evens, AAA Translation provides translation, interpretation, global consulting, and additional services to help businesses grow in an increasingly connected global economy. 40% of their clients are St. Louis based, 40% are national, and 20% are global; those numbers continue to grow as the company takes on new clients interested in expanding into new markets. AAA Translation understands the ever-increasing translation, interpretation, cultural awareness, and communication needs of businesses, governments, educational institutions, and individuals, and works to provide customers with highly skilled professionals providing these services at competitive prices. From communicating life-saving health information to mitigating litigation risks by properly translating operating manuals, AAA Translation helps leaders protect their businesses and their people, become more culturally aware and sensitive, and facilitate expansion in a changing global marketplace. For more, visit: aaatranslation.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the countryside of southern Germany. For those that may not know, Germany is landlocked and surrounded by nine countries all within just a few hours of driving. My family took full advantage of this opportunity, so from a young age I was experiencing cultures different from my own and immersing myself in other languages. These experiences turned into a fascination, and I found myself learning all I could through books and television. Little did I know this passion would eventually turn into a career.
In Germany, all students must study English. Having great teachers certainly helped, but I found myself doing more than just learning the material at hand; learning a new language sparked my curiosity. When I was older, I went on to study French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. I obtained a degree as a Foreign Language Correspondent, coupled with a Certificate in International Business.
When I was sixteen years old, I decided I could put my language skills to use. I posted an ad in our local newspaper offering my translation services. A businessman answered the query and paid me to translate his documents. That is when I knew I could leverage my language skills into a career. Today, I have been a professional translator for nearly thirty years.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
I made the move to the United States 28 years ago with my former significant other. I held various corporate positions and realized that I wanted to build a company that blended my love of global communication and philanthropy. After four years of living here, my former husband and I divorced. That was my ‘trigger moment’ to turn my dreams of being a CEO into a reality.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
My ex-husband was in the United States military, so during our 14-year marriage we moved 11 times, twice to and from the USA. The first time here, we lived all over the country, both on the East Coast and the West Coast. Because we moved so frequently, I was never able to fully start the career I wanted to pursue. One of the highlights that I distinctly remember was that I got to work with a real estate attorney in Carmel, California, who actually happened to be Clint Eastwood’s attorney while he was the Mayor of Carmel. Another moment I will never forget was once standing in line at the Carmel Post office beside Doris Day, the famous actress and singer.
Something else I have appreciated about living in this country is being able to experience all the natural beauty it has to offer, from coast to coast. Every place I lived provided experiences and adventures; exploring new states is something I have taken advantage of during my time here in the US.
My second time moving back to the United States was with our two daughters. They attended Kindergarten and elementary school in Germany, so when we came back to this country, they had a summer to re-learn English before starting school in the fall.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Making so many international moves within a short period of time, I had to learn a lot — and quickly. Unfortunately, there was no one person that I could turn to who had all the answers. There was no single individual who was there to guide me. I had to rely on myself to navigate through the challenges. Because I was figuring everything out on my own, I garnered the courage to pursue my passion and eventually start my business, AAA Translation. Now, part of my philanthropic work includes helping other immigrants/expats get situated and feel welcome in the USA.
So how are things going today?
Four years after my divorce, I found my life partner and we have a son together. When our son was born, I decided it was time for me to turn my dreams into a reality. My company, AAA Translation, began because I wanted to be in charge of my destiny and be able to stay home with our son when he was little.
In Germany, parents are allowed to take 14 weeks of maternity leave, as well as the ability to take parental leave. It is a legal entitlement for both mother and father, so even though I was no longer in Germany, I wanted to have that important time with my son. Having a remote company from the start allowed me to do that. Today, we hear and read all about the many transitions businesses have implemented in going virtual during this pandemic, but because of the unique position of my firm as a global virtual business, we have been operating remotely for nearly twenty years!
AAA Translation started slowly but steadily. We are an international company that not only provides translation, but interpretation, global consulting, and additional services to help businesses grow in an increasingly connected global economy. Over the last 15 years, I have grown my company from 2 to 7 immediate staff to over 300 translators world-wide who have provided their translation and interpreting services. 40% of our clients are St. Louis based, 40% are national, and 20% are global. Today, we have helped translate over 300 languages worldwide.
Over the past 10 years, AAA Translation and the company ProLingo have partnered and collaborated on a variety of projects. We are both German, women led-businesses working in the translation and interpreting industry, so the partnership came very naturally. My firm handles the translations for both of our companies, while ProLingo handles the conference interpreting side. Together, we are marketing their Conference Interpreting App, which helps enable global organizations to translate and interpret their events and conferences in real time.
Machine translation certainly has its place for simple work like translating: ‘Where is the hotel?’ However, as it relates to translating websites for biopharma companies; year-end global financial results; or COVID-19 healthcare messages for minority immigrants, there really is no substitute for human translation/interpreters. Programs that simply translate word for word can lose key contextual clues that can be detrimental in business or healthcare environments.
The Conference Interpreting App is designed for the digital era, where business is happening increasingly on a global scale. Within the app, users can create a curated experience by choosing their preferred language, the sessions they wish to attend, and they can participate and ask questions that are then translated back to the speaker. The app offers live interpretation via high quality video and audio, so nothing is lost in communication. ProLingo handles the technological aspect, and my company AAA Translation handles the written translation side in whatever language is needed. Watching the app unfold into what it is today has been truly exciting; over 200 events and conferences have already used the app. We cannot wait to see where it goes next.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Throughout my life, I have tried to give back to my local community in a variety of ways. In the 1980s, I organized a major food and clothing drive for Russian orphanages between the American Military and the population of Werl, Germany.
Fast forward to St. Louis where I currently reside, I started volunteering with St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities in 2003. I have been the President of this organization since 2006. The St. Louis — Stuttgart is one of the oldest of the sister city programs, and among the first German American branches to be developed after WWII. It was founded in 1960 to promote understanding and collaboration between the cities of St. Louis, Missouri and Stuttgart, Germany.
It is designed for people of all ages who are interested in building awareness of German culture, promoting international friendship and peace, and helping to create opportunities for civic and economic growth in both cities. The St. Louis-Stuttgart program recently won the award from the Steuben-Schurz Gesellschaft for being the most active German American Sister this past year. We are receiving this award in April.
We work to facilitate official delegations to promote trade and tourism. I was able to help facilitate bringing two German companies to St. Louis. We place a strong value on education, sponsoring high school and university exchanges and help connect students to business internships. The link between Stuttgart and St. Louis has led to stronger engagement in sports, art, and music for all members.
I serve on the board of the World Trade Center St. Louis, I am the treasurer of the Missouri Humanities Council, I am on the Multicultural Committee with Explore St. Louis, and I serve as a board member of the German American Heritage Society and the German American Committee.
Additionally, I am currently mentoring three very different mentees through the Women’s Leadership Council at University of Missouri-St. Louis. One woman is a scientist working for Bayer and moved here from Brazil to pursue her career. However, due to the current pandemic, she has yet to step foot into Bayer. I am currently supporting her as she navigates through this challenging time and helping her to become adjusted to living and working in St. Louis.
The second mentee I am supporting is a freshman from St. Louis who is currently attending Tulane. She has a passion for languages much like I did at that age. Her dream career is to become an interpreter for the United Nations, so I am doing what I can to provide her with the resources and skills she might need in order to achieve her goals.
The third individual is a senior at McKendree College in Illinois, who wants to become an entrepreneur and explore her own career path, possibly starting a business in the future. It is all very rewarding to see these three individuals navigate the business world and step into their unique careers. I want to do what I can with the skills and lessons I have learned as an immigrant, a business owner, and a translator to help a younger generation achieve their goals.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
I believe it would be extremely beneficial to provide language, cultural, and business programs to those wanting to become US citizens. If these structures are in place, and are easily accessible to immigrants, it would make the entire process much easier on people who are already trying to navigate a new life in a foreign country. It would give them the resources they need to find jobs and achieve success.
Additionally, immigrants’ foreign education degrees often do not equate to those earned in the American education system. Because there are no international and universal standards in place, immigrants often have to go back to school to earn degrees to be considered for job positions, even though they often have a much more advanced degree from their country of origin. I think there needs to be a system in place so that those who are coming to this country can have access to the same opportunities as American-educated individuals.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- PPP: Persistence, Passion, Perseverance — do what you love and never give up. Even when it seems like that is the easiest thing to do, having the grit and determination to succeed truly does get you far, and although it might take some time, you will see results.
- Get involved — Volunteer where you can. Join organizations that give back to the community. This can help those that are new to this country meet interesting and dedicated individuals. Not only can you make these connections, but it is also a great way to start getting involved in your community and understanding the culture.
- Become a mentor — I think the idea of mentorship makes a lot of people think that you are teaching others, but there is also a lot of value in learning from those you are mentoring.
- Be open minded — This might be a bit of a cliché, but when you are coming into a foreign country, it helps to be flexible and open to new experiences, new ideas and new people. Being open minded, especially from a business perspective, can lead to new opportunities.
- Think outside the box — Starting over in a new place requires a complete shift in thinking. The way you approach everything — from buying groceries to paying bills — will adjust to the cultural norm. You have to expect to act differently in these new systems and think differently. Be creative when you are trying to find answers or get things done. Do not allow cultural differences to be roadblocks to getting what you want, just think creatively to get around them.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- One of the things I love most about this country is its resiliency. We have so many challenges that threaten to knock us down in life, yet it seems that the US has a special knack for bouncing back from hard times.
- I truly do believe that with hard work, you can have a great life here. It may not be easy; it may actually be quite difficult. But I think that there are opportunities out there for those who know how to work hard and not give up. In a lot of countries, you need a degree and a lot of money to start your own business, but I have found that is not necessarily the case in this country. Many people have the ability to start their own business, as long as they have the grit that it takes, and the know-how to position their unique skill set in a way that is strategic.
- The United States is extremely versatile. It fluctuates greatly in terms of terrain, weather, and culture. Every state is different and has something unique to offer, both in terms of climate and lifestyle. If you do not like where you are living, you can move to a different state that offers different amenities and yet still be in the same country and receive the benefits of residing in the US. It is an advantage that you do not necessarily recognize until you move overseas, and it is a definite advantage I think not enough people capitalize on.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Sir Richard Branson. I love everything about him; the way he lives, thinks about business, and the way he embraces humanity. He inspires me and I think sitting down to talk with him would be an eye-opening and humbling learning experience.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Readers can visit my website, www.AAATranslation.com to learn more about what we do and stay up-to-date on our developments. You can also visit our Facebook, at AAA Translation Inc., my Twitter @AAATranslation, and our Instagram page @aaa_translation.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!