On Venezuela and Interpreting: LACIS Alum Cameron Perra

By Eli Weiner (LACIS Social Media/Outreach Intern, BBA – Marketing, BA – LACIS, ’16)

LACIS alum Cameron Perra is currently working as a contract interpreter, but his relationship with Latin American culture started years ago, when he took a gap year after high school to live in Venezuela. We wanted to learn more about Cameron’s experience in Venezuela, his work as an interpreter, and to find out what his future plans are. Here’s what he had to say.

What was your experience like living in Venezuela? What made you decide to live there, and in what part of the country did you live? Do you have any plans to go back?

As I finished high school I had a desire to learn a bit about the world, to explore, to learn to speak Spanish well. I decided that putting off college for a year would be a worthwhile adventure. I lived in a city of about 2 million people called San Félix, a working class town across the river from the slightly more secure and economically vibrant city of Puerto Ordaz, located in the southeastern part of the country in the state of Bolívar. The two cities straddle the Orinoco River, very much like my native Twin Cities, a parallel I’ve always enjoyed.

Cameron on the Río Caroní in Venezuela

I spent time at a home for boys in the mornings, and offered free English classes at the local parish in the afternoons. I played a lot of soccer, and enjoyed experiencing the day-to-day life of the barrio. Often times that life is quite difficult, the reality of which was a big part of my education in Venezuela. The day-to-day violence and crime were like nothing I had ever experienced before in my comfortable upbringing. The country is in a very complicated economic, political, and social situation that has been building to a breaking point for nearly two decades. I would encourage people to read this article or other articles to learn more about the extreme crisis that is making it difficult for my friends and all of Venezuela to obtain even the most basic of goods, causing energy blackouts, and truly bringing the country to the brink.

I have been back twice since that year (2011-2012), most recently in January 2016 for the baptism of my ahijado, or god-child, Sebastian! Despite this crisis, Venezuela is a beautiful country rich with resources and a compassionate, caring people that took me under their wing. I’ll forever be grateful for my experience there.
Tell us about your work as a contract interpreter. What does that mean exactly and what does it entail?
My job as an interpreter is to facilitate conversations between healthcare providers and Spanish-speaking patients and family members. I work in Madison-area hospitals and clinics, in situations ranging from a simple eye check-up at the clinic, to Emergency Room and surgical situations at the hospital. Any medical situation you can think of, I’m there making sure everyone understands each other! Interpreting connotes spoken word, while translating is for text, a common mistake. I really enjoy interacting with people and promoting understanding, so it has been a good job for me! The reality of healthcare and all it entails can be challenging, and I sometimes find myself intimately involved in peoples most difficult moments; however, the satisfaction of making sure patients are understanding what is going on and have all their questions answered is worthwhile.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The ‘contract’ part of my title means that I am not an employee of any one hospital, rather an independent contractor whom they hire to come in and provide services. This means I get to set my own schedule, which has allowed me to take significant time off to travel over this past year. But I’d have to say my favorite part of the job is hanging out with babies. I just love babies.

We heard you went to Honduras recently. What were you doing down there and what can you tell us about that experience?

Cameron with his sister and 2 of “Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos” in Honduras
In January of this year my good friend – and as of May 14th, fellow LACIS grad! – Riley Sexton and I spent 10 days in Honduras conducting interviews and laying the groundwork for a financial education program we are designing. We’re working with an NGO that runs a home for children outside of the capital city Tegucigalpa. The idea is to better prepare kids for the financial realities of independent living when they leave their home to live in the city. This home in Honduras is close to my heart, as I’ve been traveling there with my family since I was in high school. We plan to get the program implemented at the Honduras home by early next year, with hopes to expand to the organizations’ other homes throughout Latinoamérica in the future!
What was your experience with LACIS? 

I found the LACIS major late in my time at UW Madison. In fact I actually inadvertently discovered that I was one class short of completing the major while meeting with another advisor in the fall of my last year of school! Although I hadn’t realized I was completing the major, I had somehow gotten myself on the LACIS newsletter list, and really enjoyed attending the lunchtime lectures and other events throughout my time in school. Since graduating, I have continued attending events, which is something I’ve really valued. Not being involved in academia and the discussions and stimulus that come with it is something I’ve realized I miss about college; the LACIS-sponsored events I’ve been able to attend have helped to fill that.

How was LACIS helped you to get to the place you’re currently at? 

LACIS has provided me with an academic infrastructure through which I was able to expand my knowledge about Latin America and her people. Since high school I have been interested in the region, so finding a department like LACIS and the diverse classes it facilitates throughout the university was a way for me to solidify my interest and meet others who share it. I appreciate the department and all it does, thank you all very much!

Cameron has a big heart and even bigger ambitions. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!