Clarisse: Volunteer translator in the alley

Clarisse and her cat. (Photo provided by the interviewee)

Clarisse and her cat. (Photo provided by the interviewee) By ZHENG Yingying,Nora

Clarisse Le Guernic, a 26-year-old French girl, works as a volunteer in Ruijin road 2, Huangpu District, Shanghai, where she lives. Being fluent in French, English, and Chinese, she has become a volunteer translator in the alley, helping fellow foreign residents overcome daily communication issues.

Although many social Apps now have a translation function, it is not entirely satisfactory. For example,a foreign resident sent a Chinese translated text(who took my parcel?) to the chat group, which made some neighbors a bit angry. But what he meant was his parcel left at the door seemed to be missing. Clarisse quickly told him to type directly in English, and she would translate it for him to avoid misunderstanding caused by translation Apps.

Clarisse is tasked with attending to the foreign residents in the community. Since announcements made by the speaker are all in Chinese, which foreign residents can't understand, Clarisse started volunteering by going door to door to explain how to take PCR testing and what they should pay attention to.

Later, she added these foreign residents to the community chat group, so whenever a notice is sent, she translates them immediately, keeping foreign residents abreast of the situation.

Clarisse started learning Chinese in her third year of junior high school, so she speaks Chinese fluently. When Clarisse was 12 years old, in addition to French and English, her school offered another selective language course: Spanish, German or Chinese. During the Chinese trial class, Clarisse instantly fell in love with the language, in part because of the interesting teacher. At the time, the teacher said "very few people chose the Chinese course, so it will be our secret language in school."

As soon as Clarisse started studying Chinese, she just couldn't stop. In senior high school, she still chose Chinese as her second foreign language. For her bachelor's degree, she chose to major in Chinese at one of the universities in France. In her third year, she transferred to Fudan University in Shanghai as an exchange student. For her first time in Shanghai, she set a small goal of "Except for chatting with family members, speak only Chinese at all times."

"Actually I was already speaking Chinese at the time, but with an accent, so I decided to imitate the locals and I got better", she said. She recalled that a group of foreigners from Thailand, Malaysia, and Italy would come together to practice Chinese:"I felt we all invented our own Chinese, there were lots of mistakes but we didn't care, since we could understand each other's Chinese."

Clarisse said some parents let their children to learn Chinese because they feel China is getting better and the knowledge of Chinese would give their kids better chances at jobs. But since she was a teenager, she wanted to live in China, "at first out of curiosity, but later I found out that I am more confident while speaking Chinese,with which I wasn't afraid to talk to strangers, and could just be myself. I thought I might belong here".

Clarisse hails from a coastal city of only 50,000 people in western France, so she naturally doesn't like big cities. When she first arrived in Shanghai, a city of 25 million people, with all the buzz of city life, she decided to stay for a few years and then move to the countryside.

But as time went on, she found out that she likes the history and architecture in Shanghai and the enthusiasm of Shanghainese."Sometimes walking into an alley feels like you left the big city behind. I think of Shanghai as a community of many small villages."

Clarisse wanted to stay in China after college, but found it difficult."I learned Chinese, but everyone here can speak Chinese, I needed other tools."

So she continued her postgraduate studies, studying tourism management in France and China. After graduating in 2019, She stayed in Shanghai. At first, she worked for a French tourism company, but the company closed due to the pandemic. At that time she thought that in this difficult time, it won't be easy to find another job in a tourism company, and she didn’t want to go back to France, so she decided to start her own company.

Clarisse with pets in her favorite neighborhood.(Photo provided by the interviewee)

Clarisse started a small-scale company with her friend. They deal in history, architecture, and tourism that she loves so much.

No matter if it is walking around the city or exploring narrow alleys, whatever she does is all related to the historical sites and historical figures in Shanghai.

How is entrepreneurship? There is no financial pressure, she said,and she believes that after the pandemic, the market will be bigger, and there will be more customers.

Clarisse has a Chinese name, 乐盖曦. This name was given to her as a birthday present on her 19th birthday, by a classmate from Shandong province when she was an exchange student at Fudan University."This name sounds similar to my French name, and it matches my personality, I am very optimistic."

Clarisse lives with her friends in a Shanghai Shikumen house, where she says she has the ideal life now: feeling free,being self employed, and being able to set her own hours. Clarisse likes traveling,adopting pets(she has1 dog and 3 cats), driving car around China(she has a Chinese driver’s license), making lots of friends(so her parents aren’t worried she is alone).

"My life is here. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I am comfortable here."she said.

French girl Clarisse volunteering in Shanghai. (Photo provided by the interviewee)

Clarisse with her co-volunteers.(Provided by the interviewee)
French girl Clarisse volunteering in Shanghai. (Provided by the interviewee)
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