Tribute to Etty Arjona-Tseng

In Memory of Dr. Etilvia Arjona-Tseng
On September 13, 2018, Dr. Etilvia Arjona-Tseng passed away in Panama City, Panama. She was 79.
Etty spent the majority of her life in the interpreting world: first as a student at the School of Translation and Interpreting in Geneva, Switzerland, then as an English, Spanish and French translator and conference interpreter and later as director of five T & I schools, among them the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) and the Center for Interpretation and Translation Studies (CITS) at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. She was the founder and first Director of the Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation Studies (GITIS) at Taiwan’s Fu Jen Catholic University. Her vision led to the creation of Taiwan’s first graduate school of translation and interpretation. While establishing GITIS, she completed her PhD at Stanford University. Her dissertation was entitled Curriculum Policy-Making for an Emerging Profession: The Structure, Process and Outcome of Creating a Graduate Institute for Translation and Interpretation Studies in the Republic of China on Taiwan.
Etty was a pioneer and as she liked to put it “a gardener” who played many roles in her career. She contributed much to the education, research and professionalization of the T & I field. Beginning with a surprise offer to create and direct the University of Panama’s first T & I program in the late sixties, Etty began to develop her ideas about the need for interpreters and translators to pursue studies in education-related fields and conduct research in order to break new ground. She was also concerned about the lack of formal recognition for interpreters and translators, which prompted her to promote the creation of several professional T & I associations. Tangentially, Etty participated in the U. S. federal court certification program. These efforts stemmed from her desire to not only see the field grow as a formal profession, but also to see it better accepted and understood in society.
Improving T & I education was also a driving force in her agenda. Etty loved teaching and she felt students were the most important part of the process. To improve training, she believed that instructors were needed with multi-disciplinary expertise and that senior T&I instructors should mentor novice instructors. She also recommended that T & I instructors be trained not only in pedagogy, but also in basic counseling techniques as another way to help students during their studies. At the activist level, Etty advocated before the U.S. Congress in the defense of the rights of non-English speaking minorities. What led to her strong convictions about the field and T & I education I do not know for sure, but they may well find their roots in her complex personal background growing up in a multi-cultural family in Panama with an Irish grandmother and a Chinese grandfather. In many ways, Etty was an educator before her time.
Etty will always be remembered as a woman with a remarkable character: warm, generous and dedicated to her students and to the field of T & I. Etty gave me my first chance in academia upon graduating from MIIS in 1988. I saw first-hand how tirelessly she worked behind the scenes to start a T & I program from scratch. Her historical knowledge and perspectives about T & I, her savviness about education and her amazing stamina left a deep impression on me as a neophyte interpreter and instructor. The students at GITIS during Etty’s time were exposed to cutting-edge ideas about T & I pedagogy and curriculum design and presentations by some of the premier T & I educators in the world. The students were worked hard, but they were also treated with kindness and respect – and to numerous trips to local restaurants. (Etty loved Chinese food and culture.) The faculty, staff and students of GITIS will never forget Etty’s determination, work ethic and passion for what she was doing. We will also never forget her kindness and generosity.
Etty’s legacy at GITIS and in Taiwan is enduring and her contribution to the T & I field significant. Though for those of us who interacted with her daily at GITIS, we will remember her most as a mentor, a teacher and as a friend.
Minhua Liu