News from our Alums: Japhet Johnstone (PhD 2016)

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Japhet Johnstone in Berlin

When I started working at Freie Universität Berlin in 2019, I was tasked with setting up a translation office that could provide language services for the entire university. That was quite a tall order, but things quickly got rolling during my first year in the new position: We implemented a translation software package to manage projects. I was able to advertise two positions for staff translators. Requests for translations were coming in from all corners of the university.

Then, the pandemic hit. My day-to-day work quickly took on new dimensions. Crisis communication for a big organization like Freie Universtität was new to me. As soon as the latest regulations and safety measures were put into place, they had to be translated right away. Now, the university is welcoming students back to campus after three semesters of mostly online classes and remote work. Of course, that means there is a lot to translate, too. But it feels good to be working on web content or social media posts about the cafeterias reopening or where international students can get free Covid testing. I also have my small team to help me get all of the translating done. That makes a huge difference!

It’s not just Freie Universität that is opening up its doors again. Berlin is also slowly returning to its old self. Colorful characters and strange smells have returned to my U-Bahn commute to Dahlem. Bars and cafés in my neighborhood in Kreuzberg are bustling. Groups of party-goers pass by my apartment at all hours of the night heading to Yaam, Berghain, or the KitKatClub – all just down the street. And traffic backs up for miles due to demonstrators protesting for fair housing, squatters’ rights, or LGBTQ* visibility.

Things almost seem like they’re back to normal. And yet, some of that spontaneity that characterizes Berlin still feels a bit wounded. You can’t just pop into the Naturkunde Museum to ponder the Brachiosaurus brancai (the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world) without making a reservation in advance. Restaurants and bars nominally require proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 – but the staff rarely checks, which makes you wonder about the person at the next table who just blew their nose. I look forward to when the pandemic is truly over. But until then there’s no place I’d rather be while waiting for that day. It helps that Berlin is also home to some of my closest friends – many of whom I met in the MA/PhD program at the University of Washington.