From Russian and French major to international interpreter

Submitted by Arts & Sciences Web Team on

Dwight Roesch is an alumnus that Slavic Department faculty Nora Gerbertovna Holdsworth and Zoya Mihailovna Polack claim with pride as their former student.  Dwight, who earned BAs in Russian and French in 1976 and then an MA in Russian in 1982, has spent an illustrious career interpreting for various national governmental agencies, including a stint with the State Department at the START Treaty talks. Dwight himself describes his career below.

After my undergraduate studies, I travelled to then Leningrad with the CIEE language program in 1977. It was a tremendous experience for me, especially after the four years of great language training that I had received in the UW Slavic Department. After the program, I stayed in France for the better part of 1978, improving my French, and then returned to Seattle.

Shortly after returning, I entered graduate school, alternating quarters at the UW with stints for a company called Marine Resources. This company had begun joint venture fisheries with Soviet Far East fishing organizations, and I worked in Alaska, stationed on Soviet trawler-factory ships. Being on the trawlers for months on end, floating around the Bering Sea, was unforgettable, and improved my Russian immensely. Culturally, it was like living in a Soviet factory town.

With graduate studies and joint ventures behind me, I moved to the East Coast in the mid-1980s. In 1986 I started freelance interpreting. It was a kind of “golden era,” with endless opportunities for work, especially since I had passed a State Department interpreting exam: NGOs, citizen diplomacy, academic exchanges, and many others. Late in 1988 I began working as a consecutive Russian/English interpreter with the State Department in Geneva at the START Treaty talks (also ABM and INF).  This period included work at several summit meetings, one of them in Malta, and “ministerials” in Washington, DC, Paris, Geneva, Moscow, and even Wyoming.  It also included accompanying a Secretary of Defense as he visited a Soviet heavy bomber base, to watch bombers being cut into pieces.

I spent the next several years living in Geneva, and continued to work there intermittently until around 2000. As the work there started to wind down, however, I began to convert to simultaneous interpreting from Russian and French to English, in order to expand my possibilities as an interpreter. I passed a UN freelance exam with this combination in the mid-90s. As it turned out, my language combination was in demand at the UN.

I also spent 4 years in Houston as an interpreter/translator (even manager for one year) for the NASA & Russian Space Agency international space station project.  I was able to brag that I knew the English and Russian for every wrench and valve in existence (long since forgotten though, by now).

I began working at the UN as a staff simultaneous interpreter in 2002, after passing a rigorous exam in simultaneous interpreting from French and Russian to English.  With the UN I have had some excellent trips, interpreting in such places as Cuba, China, Brazil, Ghana and Ethiopia. I have also travelled to France, Argentina and Russia for language courses.

I currently reside in Queens, New York, with my wife, Liya, who comes from Tbilisi, and may be reached at