This story originally appeared in The Record.
It’s not every day that a Goshen College student’s internship has them opening for a pop music icon in front of thousands of people. For Mary O’Connell, a senior sign language interpreting and social work double major, this sort of event was just another day at the office.
O’Connell finished her sign language interpreting major last summer in Minnesota’s Twin Cities — St. Paul and Minneapolis. Most sign language interpreting majors don’t complete the 200-hour internship until right before they graduate from college, but O’Connell, who is working on her social work major this year, had to get her internship done early.
According to O’Connell, Goshen’s program is different from most other American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting programs due to the frequency that students conduct their internships outside the state they studied in.
“The professors encourage their students to seek out internships that aren’t in their home state or where they went to school,” O’Connell said.
In fact, it was unique enough for O’Connell to study out-of-state that even the other ASL interpreting interns couldn’t believe she hadn’t studied in Minnesota.
“They had three interpreting programs [in the area], and they would ask me, ‘well which one are you from,’” she said with a laugh.
GC’s goal for ASL interpreting students studying outside Indiana is that they learn more about the Deaf communities in other states.
“[Our professors] doesn’t want us to stay in Indiana because we’ve been here learning about the community and meeting interpreters for three years. They want us to go somewhere where we’re not living with our parents and doing something that’s really comfortable.”
Upon getting to Minnesota, O’Connell was immersed in a what she said was the largest Deaf community she had seen thus far. “I was told it’s the third or fourth largest Deaf population in the United States,” she said. “Being in a bigger city I realized how much I want to get to know the Deaf community.”
Part of O’Connell’s internship consisted of attending various Deaf social gatherings within the Twin Cities. At these gatherings, O’Connell was given the chance to socialize with various Deaf groups.
“One was a board game group and I just went and had fun,” she said. “It was nice because I wasn’t there as a professional so I could just relax and have a good time.”
O’Connell also appreciated the variety of professional experiences the internship provided her. “It was just cool to work in different environments,” she said.
Over the course of a few months, O’Connell was put on assignment at everything from Target corporate meetings, to MRI scans to a children’s show development meeting for the Public Broadcasting Service.
Nothing, however, would be as unique of an experience as when O’Connell was assigned to interpret at a concert for American pop icon, Kesha.
“[The other interpreters] told me that only they would be interpreting and [I would] observe,” O’Connell said of the concert. “But then they called me to ask if I wanted to do a warm-up band.”
O’Connell recounted that it was among the summer’s most challenging jobs. “Concerts are really hard because you have to memorize all the songs that you think that [the musician] might sing.”
The week of the concert, O’Connell completely memorized and translated five different songs while another interpreter worked on the rest. The night of the concert, she stood on a small platform in front of the stage and in front of a roaring crowd while pop and R&B singer, CVBZ, played behind her.
But for O’Connell, the most meaningful part of her summer internship was getting to form connections with the Deaf community; she said that she has never been around a group of people who were as talkative. She recounted one time where she had agreed to meet with a group for dinner.
“We met in a bookstore at a mall and then we went to a restaurant,” she said. “After we left the restaurant, we stood in this hallway in the mall and talked until the mall was closing.”
O’Connell said that it was these moments that reaffirmed her drive to work within the Deaf community soon after she graduates this spring.