By Paul Engleman’76
Photo by Willie J. Allen, Jr.
Hayley Hirshland’13 puts her language skills into play daily at an international sports channel
Although she was already fluent in Japanese when she began working in the Japanese programming department of a high-flying international cable TV network, Hayley Hirshland’13 knew that to master her job, she had to become conversant with one more foreign language: golf.
Since last January, Hirshland has been working at Golf Channel/NBC Universal, serving as news coordinator for programs that are translated into Japanese and broadcast in Japan. She secured the full-time position after working as a paid intern during summer vacations preceding her junior and senior years at Beloit.
“I had minimal knowledge of golf before my first internship,” she says. “I knew the terms ‘par, bogie, and birdie,’ and that was about it. I had never even swung a golf club before then.”
Hirshland has overcome her golf lingo handicap and gotten quickly into the swing of things by offering language lessons to colleagues in exchange for golf lessons near Golf Channel headquarters in Orlando, Fla., where she now lives.
In her news coordinator role, Hirshland acts as a liaison between the domestic Golf Channel personnel and their Japanese counterparts. Working in a department of 13 people—including seven translators—Hirshland devotes most of her time to the program Golf Central, a live news show that airs twice every evening, seven days a week, and provides updates on the latest golf news and recaps the day’s events. The late-night edition of the program in the U.S. is the morning show in Japan.
“Prior to the show, I assist our translators in gathering all the information that will be used in the broadcast,” she explains. “Since it is a live show and things can happen to interrupt the anticipated start and end times, I am in the audio room coordinating the show while our translators are voicing the feed to Japan.
“I love working in a fast-paced environment,” she says. “It could be really stressful for some people, but it’s exciting to me. If there is some breaking news, our entire show may have to change at the last minute. We have to be on our toes all the time.”
Hirshland has proven to be fast on her feet—so fast that she opted to graduate a full semester earlier than most of her classmates, when the Golf Channel offered her the job. Her only regret about graduating early was not being able to take part in the 2013 Commencement activities at Beloit. But she was hard at work in sunny Florida that weekend, coordinating Japan’s coverage of a major tournament, the Players Championship.
Establishing her game on new terrain is par for the course for Hirshland. Following her freshman year of high school in her hometown of Madison, Wis., she signed on to the program Youth for Understanding and spent the summer living with a family in a rural area in the south part of Japan.
“The first month was totally awkward,” she recalls. “I was living in the middle of nowhere and forced to learn the language quickly.” After staring down a bout of homesickness, she says, “I came to love it so much that I ended up going back to stay with the same host family during my [high school] junior and senior year.”
Although she traveled to the other side of the world during high school, when it came time for college, Hirshland opted to go to Beloit, just down the road from home in Madison. “A great thing about Beloit is that the language department places so much importance on communication rather than focusing on structure,” she says. “That really helped me, because mastering a language is all about how you interact with people.”
A modern languages major, Hirshland is also fluent in Chinese. During college, she focused more attention on China than Japan, and she also has found time to visit China twice. Hirshland says she has no preference for one language over the other. “Japan was my first passion, and my love for China grew out of that.”
Hirshland has no trouble identifying when the seeds of that passion were first planted. When she was 8 years old, a friend of her father’s wrote her name in Japanese characters on a sheet of paper. “That’s the moment when I became interested in Japanese culture,” she says. “I found my passion early, and I’m really glad I did.”
She’s also really glad to have landed a job that so closely matches her skills and interests. “It’s almost unbelievable to me that I found a job like this in the U.S.,” she says. “I feel very lucky to have found this niche—a position in television that allows me to use Japanese every day. I also feel extremely lucky that I get to work in a relatively small department with opportunities to grow. I am getting a chance to know what goes on behind the scenes in television. Everything looks good on the air, but there is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the camera to make it look easy and effortless.
“And,” she adds, “I’m with people I love working with and respect greatly. My coworkers are like my second family. They knew me when I was the intern, and I’m still one of the youngest people on the staff.”
Looking ahead, Hirshland says, “My ultimate goal is to be on camera, but I’m not focusing on that now. I’ve still got so much to learn. My next step is probably to be a producer for one of the special shows that we develop. My dream would be to someday move to China or Japan and work on camera there.”
Paul Engleman’76 is a freelance writer and novelist based in Chicago. He donated his writer’s honorarium for this article to the Stephen Moncada Street’77 Endowed Scholarship Fund at Beloit, to honor his friend and fellow Beloiter who passed away in August of 2012.