Mayssa Powell

Mayssa Powell is an Arabic interpreter, who has a range of experiences living and working in communities around the world.

Mayssa Powel

I regard myself as a bit of a ‘liquorice allsort': I am Turkish by descent, Lebanese by birth, Arab by race, Syrian by decree, British by marriage, and Aussie by choice. I was born in Lebanon to parents of Lebanese and Syrian descent. My native language is Arabic, and I also speak English and French. I spent most of my life in Syria and Lebanon and worked at an International Agricultural Centre where scientists from 32 different countries worked. This was my first real appreciation of different cultures, and I acted as an unofficial interpreter and translator for my work colleagues.

I moved to England to live and work, it was there where I started testing my language ability by doing transliteration work for the University of Durham’s library. I also worked at the Centre for Overseas Research and Development which had various projects in the Middle East where I translated some leaflets to Arabic for farmers in Oman. From there I moved to Papua New Guinea where I taught IT at the University of Technology and I started to immerse myself in the Melanesian culture and even learnt the Tok Pisin language. Finally we moved to regional Australia where we have lived for the past 17 years. Even though I was a university graduate, fluent in English and had good work experience, it took a while before I was accepted as a ‘local’ in regional Australia. But eventually I did work for local councils, TAFE and the Health sector.

After gaining NAATI accreditation, I began phone and face-to-face Arabic interpreting shortly after we moved here and I combined this with other part-time work. One of the advantages I find with interpreting is that I can choose when to work; it doesn’t have to be a 9 to 5 job. I can interpret when I have a few hours to spare, this means that if I needed to do other things in the community I could. Another thing I really enjoy about interpreting is the diversity of clients. I have worked for a whole range of agencies both Australian and overseas based but the bulk of my work is with the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National). I love working as an interpreter, I learn a lot from each call and I am continuously researching new words and terminology and it enables me to keep up-to-date with all the issues related to migration, Centrelink changes, legislation, immunisation information, changing in government funding to different agencies, etc.

All in all, I consider myself very lucky to be part of the interpreting world, it can be so enjoyable it just doesn’t seem like work. The clients are usually very professional, friendly and grateful for my services that I really do feel like I am making a difference to their lives. I have interpreted for an increasing number of refugees from war-torn Syria. This type of interpreting is challenging as I come from the region and have family still there, so I do empathise personally with the refugee situation but as a professional I always remain impartial. However, I feel that interpreting for people under these circumstances is an extremely important and satisfying part of my role.

In my spare time I have been on the board of the local Migrant Resource Centre and was the Deputy Chair of the Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council, as well as being a member of the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s (VMC) Regional Advisory Council for the Hume Region. My involvement with community groups is another way of giving back to my local community and supporting others from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds who are trying to integrate into Australian society.