Laura Burian Looks Back on 25 Years at the Middlebury Institute

Laura Burian, Dean of the Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education recently passed her 25-year mark of employment at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.  Laura is also Professor of Chinese/English translation and interpretation and has received several prestigious teaching awards, including the Eliason Teacher of Excellence Award and the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.  Laura is an experienced diplomatic interpreter who has interpreted for high level officials including former First Lady Michelle Obama.

What did you do prior to coming to work at the Middlebury Institute and where were you located?

I was living in Beijing, first working as a legal assistant and in-house translator and interpreter for a big NY-based law firm, and later freelancing for clients ranging from the US government (mostly from the embassy and visiting delegations and dignitaries from DC), to news organizations (like CNN, the WSJ, BBC), to clients in the television and entertainment industry (including National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, and Sony pictures) and in the private sector (including Chinese corporations doing IPO roadshows around the world). The work was really varied and very exciting.

What job titles have you held while working at the Middlebury Institute?

While I was a student at MIIS in the mid-90s, I was an assistant in the Office of Student Affairs, an instructor of public speaking, and activities coordinator and tutor in the SILP Chinese program. After graduation, I taught as an adjunct in Chinese translation and interpretation for a little while, but moved to China to gain more work experience before returning to teach full time. Since returning, I’ve been a Visiting / Assistant/ Associate/ Full Professor of translation & interpretation, Faculty Senate President (twice), and now Dean of GSTILE. I’ve enjoyed wearing many hats on this campus, because each new role has taught me something new and allowed me to get to know more people in this vibrant community and learn more about the work we do.

Take us back to your first year as an employee at MIIS. What were the most significant things happening in your life outside of work then?

When I came back to the Institute as full-time faculty, I had just gotten married and was trying to adjust to life in this beautiful, quiet, small American town after the fast-paced and exciting whirlwind of life in a major Asian city. It was not the easiest transition, but MIIS is a great landing place –  I found the campus community so familiar, welcoming, and vibrant, and also enjoyed exploring and deepening connections with the wider Monterey community.

What are the most significant things happening in your life outside of work now (that you’d like to share)?

My family is of course the most significant focus my life outside of work. My husband and I have two teenagers, who are amazing and distinctly different individuals. Through them, I’ve learned that the parenting journey is so different from child to child and from moment to moment, so the best thing you can do is stay open to change and available for co-navigation of the ups and downs life brings.

Outside of family life, something I dedicate a lot of my time, energy, and passion to is music – I’ve always enjoyed playing the violin, and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy continuing to grow musically by playing everything from classical to Celtic to rock in a number of groups with some wonderful musicians in Monterey. Beyond this, my freelance work as a translator and interpreter still excites and sustains me. I’m deeply gratified by how much I’ve been able to grow and deepen family, community, musical, and professional roots during my tenure here.

Have your interests/hobbies/athletic endeavors changed over the past 25 years? Have any of these been influenced by your work at MIIS or due to your association with others who work here?

My freelance work as a translator, interpreter, and musician is really my favorite hobby. MIIS grads and faculty coincide with me in much of that work – most of the international summits that I’ve interpreted for are staffed by MIIS grads, and colleagues such as Mike Gillen and I often find ourselves playing the same musical gigs, though there’s no way I can compete with his bagpipes!

I suppose one area of change over the last 25 years is athletic – living in a place with year-round mild weather has helped me transition toward becoming a more ambitious hiker, walker, and jogger, soaking up the beauty of the central coast while taking part in events like the Big Sur Marathon (shorter distances within the race – not the full course yet!) and Half Marathon. I’m not competitive at all, but just enjoy the buzz of race day, and find it motivates me to keep moving between races.

What is your fondest memory or experience that you’ve had while working at MIIS?

Hard to say. In terms of one-off experiences, giving two TEDx speeches – one with my colleague Barry Olsen, and the other with Jacolyn Harmer and Gabriel Guillen, both with fabulous student interpreters – was great fun, interpreting for Michelle Obama and her family on a 5-day State Visit to China was a huge honor, watching my students interpret for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Irvine auditorium brought me great pride, hosting the Monterey Forum international conference of T&I practitioners and educators last year was a delight, and serving as Chief Interpreter for a clean energy summit in which all 5 interpretation booths were staffed entirely by MIIS faculty and alumni was inspiring. On a more day-to-day basis, watching my students grow both personally and professionally is a huge source of energy and inspiration.

Many people change jobs/careers multiple times in their working life. Something must have kept you here for 25 years. Is it anything that you can put into words?

It’s definitely the community and the mission of the school that keeps me here. I deeply admire my colleagues and students alike, and truly aspire to uphold the mission in my day-to-day work. Some days we do better than others, but in the end, I do think we make the world a better place.

What are your plans for the next 25 years?

Continue to learn and grow every day. And, as much as possible, have fun while doing it.

Do you have a favorite place on campus?

The Holland Courtyard, under the canopy of the oak tree, looking up at the flags on the 2nd floor balcony of the Morse Buildings. Ever since 25+ years ago, when I spent so much time there as a student, I’ve enjoyed that uniquely “MIIS” spot – you’ll find people from all over the world in that courtyard soaking in this “third culture” that binds us together.

Is there any person on campus (or retiree, former employer) that mentored you, or you feel helped you grow into your job, grow to enjoy your work and your time at the Institute?

So many wonderful colleagues have influenced and helped me, it’s hard to narrow it down. However, if I have to choose, I would say that I am particularly grateful to Diane deTerra, Lynette Shi, Chuanyun Bao, Jacolyn Harmer, and Angie Quesenberry – they all have given me exceptional guidance and support. Jacolyn in particular, as my teaching partner for the Practicum in Interpretation for over 15 years, has really helped shape me into who I am as a teacher: She taught me how to share stories of both successes and failures, how to humanize this tricky endeavor, and how to guide the students with humility on a path toward becoming a reflective practitioner and an autonomous life-long learner.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new employee at MIIS, what would it be?

I’d emphasize two things:

  • While you should be passionate about and fully dedicated to your work at MIIS, it’s important to be engaged in an active life outside of MIIS so that you don’t put all of the pressure on your workplace to keep you happy and engaged. For me, engagement with the music community, active participation in my kids’ schools and activities, and lots of weekend hiking has been a wonderful complement to engagement on campus.
  • Take the time to get to know your colleagues as whole human beings, not just people to talk shop with. You’ll find that they are pretty amazing.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your time at MIIS?

I’m really grateful to have a job and a workplace that allows me to come into contact with so many inspirational ideas and people who strive to have such a positive impact in the wider world. I look forward to many more years of the same.