“When you are a refugee, it feels like your life is over. It feels like you have to carve out a new life when you are so vulnerable, especially when you don’t speak the language. My hope is that my story helps refugees know there is life after, even if you are broken.” – Edina Toole, IIB Translator.
One of our interpreter and translators, Edina Toole, has a remarkable refugee journey characterized by perseverance. While certainly trying, Edina’s story played an integral role in her passion for helping others in similar situations.
Edina was Born in Budapest, Hungary, under Communist Soviet rule. Her mother first began introducing her to different cultures as a young girl, insisting that she learn German, which was in high demand. By the time she reached fifth grade, Soviet rule had required her to learn Russian. However, it was her own decision to start taking English lessons. She chose English as a second language in high school alongside four years of required Russian.
At 17 years old, Edina’s idyllic childhood took an unexpected turn after she traveled to Austria on vacation with her father. After a month of enthusiastically using her German language skills while traveling between Austria and Germany, her father informed her he did not plan on ever returning to Communist Hungary and its concurrent hardships. While she yearned for the family, friends, and the life she had unknowingly left behind, Edina also feared traveling back and facing the consequences alone. Edina and her father then reported to the Foreign Police in Vienna, where they were separated, transferred, and admitted into a refugee camp located in a small Austrian village. They called an unpleasant wooden, former military barrack “home” for nearly a year.
Edina says that the folks living in the small Viennese village surrounding the camp treated the refugees as outcasts and thieves, even following her into stores to ensure she was not stealing. The experience broke her self-confidence.
“It made me so utterly uncomfortable as a human being,” Toole says. “I did not go to school because I was ashamed and thought the kids would make fun of me. My dad had been a successful businessman, but it did not matter; it stunted my personality. I was no longer identified as a fashionable and successful student.”
But in 1976, Edina’s fortunes changed. With the assistance of Catholic Charities, she left the refugee camp for a Hungarian-German boarding school, where she studied and spent different holidays with different families. While Edina says she was thankful to have been “liberated” from her refugee camp, she still had to travel with a stateless refugee passport under the Geneva Convention. She could not travel home to visit family in Budapest. The Hungarian government considered her a criminal for not returning within 30 days after traveling to Austria with her father. Edina’s resolve shined through, and although she had no family at her ceremony, she graduated.
After graduation, Edina attended the University of Mannheim, where she studied for her dream job as an interpreter for the United Nations. Her experience came full circle. The same refugee camp she once inhabited invited her to work as a needed and well-paid Hungarian interpreter. Edina also found work when an American publishing firm contacted her to translate an English book into Hungarian. In 1984, Edina married her husband – an American who, unbeknownst to her, had worked at the same refugee camp where she was stationed. The two moved to the U.S. a year later. They had a son, and she earned a Management and Organizational Leadership degree.
Today, along with her work with the International Institute of Buffalo, Edina is a member of the Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society and the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters.
Our Interpretation & Translation team plays a big part in our efforts to make Western New York a better place for, and because of, refugees and immigrants. Their work involves engaging in thousands of interpreting sessions and translating piles of documents that assist businesses, governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and our new neighbors as they enrich the communities they enter. It also includes holding educational workshops with regional businesses and schools and helping our Survivor Support team accomplish its essential mission.
Learn more about our Interpreting & Translation Department by clicking here.