Robert Thoren-Harmon, Interpreter Scheduler
A fluent Spanish speaker, Mr. Thoren-Harmon is the Interpreter Scheduler responsible for coordinating language access across a wide array of fields in Buffalo and the surrounding areas.
Where and what did you study?
I started out with an Associate’s at ECC city campus and then moved on to the University of Buffalo where I studied the Spanish language and minored in Linguistics. Also, I studied Spanish Philology (language and literature) at the University of Seville for a semester. I consider myself an eternal student—I never stop learning. Everyday I’m being enchanted by something new and climbing down strange rabbit holes of reading and research. It’s fun.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about working at an organization like the Institute?
I get to put my money where my mouth is. I believe in the work that we do, in the importance of language access and in the good that it does in not only the immigrant and refugee communities, but Buffalo at large. I know for a fact that when I walk into work, I am making a difference in the lives of the communities we serve and live in each day. Coordinating language access for limited English proficiency communities is pretty instantaneous–what was once trapped in another language has become plain and obvious to English speakers. It is amazing to me how language has both the power and capacity to remedy uneasiness in a health emergency and mend cultural misunderstandings.
What is the first word that comes to mind when I say “International Institute of Buffalo?”
Dedication. The hard work that we put in here as a collective organization takes true dedication.
What is one accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Traveling great distance alone. I came from a family who couldn’t provide the luxury of vacations or cross country and international travel. My parents did every bit to provide us with a life better than their own and I’ll always be indebted to them for their love and patience with us kids. I’m not a proud person, but it does make me feel proud to show my family that I have carved out a small existence for myself in which I have been able to provide myself with experiences that I had no access to as a child. I figured out how to get myself from Iceland to Spain to study, and travel by myself throughout Western Europe. It may sound privileged to say I’ve been to many places, but I view it as a measure of personal success that can’t be taken away from me.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, can you share with us your own heritage?
As far as I’ve been told: Swedish, French, German, English, Irish and a slew of others that only a DNA test can prove. The strongest connection I’ve had to any of them is my Swedish side–my Father’s family is very proud of their Swedish heritage and I learned just a bit about it at family reunions.
Given the international nature of the Institute, have your traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
I have—Canada (the French part!), Iceland, Spain, France, Germany, and Switzerland. I very much want to travel to East Asia as I’ve had deep interest in the history of China, Japan and the Korea’s, as well as a keen following of their pop cultures. I also want to do a bit of traveling in South America. I speak Spanish and am interested in learning Portuguese. I’ve been especially interested in learning about the status of surviving languages and cultures of the indigenous people prior to colonization.
If you could sit down with a historical figure, who would you choose?
It’s really hard to pick just one person. As a general answer, I suppose I would just like to going back several generations, perhaps centuries, and give people of those times a vision of the future. Maybe we’d live in a different time, under different circumstances, but wanting to change the past isn’t productive.
Favorite international food?
Japanese (anything with eel in it.) Ramen, too. I am a sucker for noodles and broth.
A few favorites—Robinson’s The Mars Trilogy, Finch’s White Oleander, and Halifax’s The Fruitful Darkness.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
I spend my mornings and evenings with my handsome husband, Mickey, and our very soft, fluffy, beautiful, and rambunctious child, Fernando the Rabbit. He’s a handful. At home I am always reading or watching something educational…except for a few video games or to hunker down with the hubby for a movie or show. On weekends, I enjoy a good show or gallery opening, or to have friends over for dinner, drinks and good music. When I’m not home you can probably find me riding my bike all over the city. I also love dancing. I’m no good, but I never let it stop me.
What three traits would you say define you?
Kind, compassionate, and curious.