A Day in the Life Of… Sabela Avión

July was certainly the hottest in a while here in the UK. And we don’t adjust well to change!

Talk about change with our new guest, Sabela Avión, who has recently left Geneva after 4 years to move to NYC and work for the UN. Welcome our new #ADayInTheLifeOf translator, a graduate of Monterey Insitute of International Studies and now in-house for the United Nations in the Spanish Division. Find her on Twitter. 

Sabela by @xosecastro

Sabela by @xosecastro


I’ve literally just moved back to New York after four years in Geneva, and jet lag is still in full force. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be waking up this early!

I turn on a radio app and toggle between news radio shows in Spanish, English or French, my working languages, while having breakfast and getting ready to go to work. If the Spanish radio is set to a local station in Vigo, my hometown, I also get some Galician in the mix.

A dreamy pic of Galicia, (Punta Roncudo).

A dreamy pic of Galicia, (Punta Roncudo).


Off I go. The NYC subway awaits. While in Geneva, I commuted mostly by car, so every subway ride is an adventure these days. It takes me about 30 minutes to get to the office at the United Nations Headquarters. Sadly, after some renovation done at the UN compound itself, the Translation Services have moved about a block away. I miss the atmosphere at the Secretariat…

Not a bad view.

Not a bad view.


As I’ve been at my new job for about a week, I haven’t had a typical day quite yet. However, the drill is easy. If I don’t have any assignment to finish, I sign up on a white board so that the Programming Officer knows I’m available. As soon as a document comes in, she’ll evaluate it and assign it to one of us. The UN is implementing a paperless system, so I get an email, I click on a link and I can download the document to my hard drive.

Changes don’t stop there. Enter eLUNa – a translation interface specifically developed for the translation of United Nations documents. It provides access to previously translated documents (bitexts), terminology records and machine translations. This is one change I’m very excited about. As a longtime user of CAT tools, I’ve run the gamut from traditional to proprietary. This new system is web-based, and it’s been developed and adapted according to the specifications and requests of UN translators from all duty stations.

At the United Nations, each duty station is focused on particular topics. Here in New York, we deal with documents produced by the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council, for example. The topics range from peacekeeping to finances.

In Geneva, most of the workload comes from the Human Rights Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Other topics include trade and development, climate change and desertification, and disarmament.

Sabela's mansion in Geneva, Switzerland :) Oh hang on, no, it's just a caste.

Sabela’s mansion in Geneva. hang on, no, it’s just a castle.

Our colleagues in Vienna work on documents about drugs and crime, the peaceful uses of outer space, and international trade law. In Nairobi, the bulk of documents has to do with the United Nations Environment Programme (chemicals and waste, the ozone layer, the Convention on Mercury and the United Nations Environment Assembly) and UN-Habitat (population settlements).

Last but not least, in Santiago de Chile, social and economic development, macroeconomics, statistics, population policies or technical papers about local development projects. They also work at conferences, writing reports or preparing statements.


As the day goes by, I dedicate some time to keeping up to date with industry news. I’m a firm believer in the importance of being a member of the translation community. At times, being an in-house translator means losing perspective with regards to the profession. I’ve made a conscious effort during the past couple of years to fight that. I joined ASETRAD in 2013 and I participate in translation fora in social media. I also keep a Twitter account with mixed purposes, both professional and personal. I follow mostly language professionals, news outlets and the occasional celebrity (Stephen Fry is a must!).

Naturally, this leads to outreach opportunities. I spread news about working at the UN in different language positions (editors, verbatim reporters, interpreters…), and, often, professionals contact me with questions about exams or working opportunities.


During the translation process, we work with editors, terminologists, and reference assistants. Once the translation is completed, it gets sent to a reviser. After that, the Text Processing Units format the documents according to UN standards, from font sizes to paragraph layout. They also add a QR code and the document is published.


Yes, it’s a 9 to 5 kind of work – most of the time. In Headquarters, there are about 4 night shifts per year. This means that, for an entire week, translators start working at 2pm, allowing for coverage of urgent documents that might come later in the day. One of us will also be on-call during the weekend (usually just one day) and on holidays.


After work, plans vary. There might be some time for a workout, for reconnecting with friends or for relaxing. As I said earlier, I’ve just moved back, so there’s a lot of reconnecting! And some serious furniture hunting 🙂

Isla de la Toja. Because translators do go on holidays.

Isla de la Toja. Because translators do go on holidays.

Gracias, Sabela 🙂 Enjoy the Big Apple and hopefully see you soon.

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