Founder Fred Burks: How I Became a Presidential Interpreter and White House Insider
The story of how I became a White House insider and served as interpreter for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is quite unusual and inspiring. I was amazed that it
all happened pretty much without my even trying. But before beginning the story, it's important to mention that since age 19, I have been deeply committed to doing
for all and to opening fully to divine guidance in my life. The
chain of small miracles that led me to the White House is only one example
of the many amazing miracles I've experienced since embracing these
got to go with me, Fred, or I'll never fulfill my dream of living in Japan,"
John exclaimed with frustration. In 1980, I was an energetic 22-year-old college student living in a fun dormitory
on the beautiful campus of UC Santa Cruz in California. One calm autumn evening,
my roommate, John, asked me to go with him to a meeting put on by Volunteers
In Asia (VIA). VIA is a non-profit educational exchange organization that
sends college undergrads to Asia to experience life in a foreign culture while
teaching English there.
very busy with studies that evening, I wasn't at all interested in leaving
college or living overseas. At first, I told John I just didn't have time.
But after several sincere appeals, I had to agree that John was shy and
that there was no way he would go alone. Only because I knew it might really
change his life, I reluctantly agreed to accompany him.
At the meeting,
the recently returned volunteers excitedly shared colorful slides
and fascinating stories about their transformative cross-cultural experiences
in Asia. I was surprised to soon find myself captivated and even infected by their incredible vibrance and passion. Their vivid descriptions were filled with enthusiasm, joy, and powerful
awakenings. The lives of these young adventurers had clearly been dramatically
enriched by their rich journeys. The end result was that though John never went
to Japan, I, having been dragged to this meeting against my will, ended up
going to live in Asia as a volunteer English teacher!
On applying to VIA for a volunteer position, I requested
Japan as my first choice, as I had to pay my own plane fare
and Japan was the least expensive of the countries served. But I told them that I would go anywhere
they sent me if the few available Japanese positions filled. They chose
Indonesia for me, which at the time I didn't even realize was a country.
I had thought it was a small group of islands somewhere in the Pacific. I
fully trusted, though, that I was being guided to the right place for me.
I lived for a full year on the west side of the vast island of Borneo with
the warmest, most wonderful Muslim family in the world. As my newly adopted
father was an MD, he supported his parents and a couple siblings and in-laws
and their children, so that in all, we had an extended family of 20 people
living under one roof! My adopted mother there was one of the kindest,
most saintly women I've ever met. I had countless amazingly rich experiences
with these gentle, loving people.
all of the constant activity of my large, adopted family and home, I
found myself studying the Indonesian language like a maniac – two to three
hours almost every day – for the entire year abroad. I knew that language
was crucial to diving into the culture, but I was way overboard in how much
I studied. I made over 6,000 flash cards and even memorized every word in a couple small dictionaries. Yet somehow, I sensed there was a greater reason for it all. By the end of my year there, I was quite fluent.
In early 1986, five
years after my time in Indonesia, I had just come back home from two intense
years of teaching English at a college in communist China, again as a VIA
volunteer. My time in China was filled with rich, sometimes challenging adventures
quite different than Indonesia. Living in Wuhan (a city of six million about
which few have ever heard), I had been the first foreigner in the
city to be allowed to live together with local Chinese in a teachers dormitory.
I managed to become fluent in Chinese, too. Yet now that I was back home, it was time to finally look for some income-producing
work to feed my nearly empty bank account.
A VIA friend
of mine told me about an interesting job as a language interpreter taking
influential foreign visitors on study tours of the United States for the Department
of State. I had never seriously considered being an interpreter, but this
sounded quite interesting. They just happened to be interviewing near my home a month after I heard about the job. So thanks to all those hours studying like a
maniac in Indonesia, I ended up with a great job as an Indonesian interpreter
where I was paid to travel and study all over the US with my distinguished
By the end
of my first month in this fascinating new job, I realized I was a natural
at interpreting. I was soon whispering simultaneously into the ears of my
Indonesian visitors as Americans conversed with them. I saw that if I was
willing to study more, I could become a really good simultaneous interpreter
and possibly even interpret for top government officials some day. After opening to what's best, however, I became clear that I wanted to focus my time and
energy on other, more meaningful matters. I chose not to spend much time on
language skills, and was perfectly content to continue as a low-level interpreter.
In 1992 (six
years later), now working only part time as an interpreter and part time with
cancer patients as a registered nurse, I took an assignment as the administrative
interpreter supporting two simultaneous interpreters at a government-sponsored
seminar in Washington, DC. Because of the intense concentration needed, simultaneous
interpreting requires two interpreters who switch off every 20 to 30 minutes.
As the logistical support interpreter, I was out running errands for a few of the visitors when the seminar started.
When I came
back a few hours later, the group was on a break. As soon as he saw me, Dan, one
of the interpreters, grabbed me and franticly asked, "Can you do any
simultaneous interpreting?" The other interpreter had gotten sick and had
to go home.
Dan had been interpreting almost three hours without a break,
which is almost unheard of. So even though I wasn't officially qualified,
I stepped in, did great, and finished out the remainder of the week-long seminar
as a simultaneous interpreter. On hearing about this, my boss at the State
Department called me in to congratulate me. At his suggestion, I took and
passed the test to become officially qualified as a simultaneous interpreter.
out that Indonesian interpreters are in great demand – especially simultaneous
Indonesian interpreters. Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the
world (population 220 million), yet very few Americans ever learn Indonesian
(the national language). So in 1995, out of the blue I received a call from
the State Department asking me to travel to Copenhagen to interpret for Vice
President Al Gore at a UN Conference! Even though I wasn't officially qualified
for high level interpreting, they couldn't find anyone else. So I went, had
a great time, and shortly thereafter qualified at the State Department's highest
resignation due to excessive secrecy in 2004, I had interpreted for President
Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Secretaries
of State Albright and Powell, and numerous other presidents and officials from
many countries. Whenever present in high-level meetings, I did my best
to open to divine guidance, and to send out lots of love, support, and wishes
for what's best to all present.
At key summit meetings, I even invited
many friends to take a moment in silence and join me in inviting our world
leaders to open to what is best for all who share our world. I have no doubt
that this is why I was led to this fascinating work.
amazing that I never even had to try, yet ended up as the State Department's
top Indonesian interpreter. It's even more amazing when you remember that
I did not choose Indonesia and was dragged against my will to that first VIA
meeting years ago! There are many more little miracles to this story that,
for reasons of space, I didn't include. For me, all of this shows that the
more I open to divine guidance and to what's best for all, the more filled
with miracles my life becomes. I give thanks for these many miracles and for
all that I have been given. And thank you, my friends, for reading and sharing
in this piece of my life.
Former language interpreter
for Presidents Bush and Clinton
Note: The same spiritual guidance that brought me to the White House eventually led me to found and develop the network of inspiring PEERS websites, including www.WantToKnow.info, which is filled with reliable, verifiable information on major cover-ups and inspiring ideas on how we can build a brighter future.
To read some of the fascinating stories from my high-level interpreting
the inspiring results of inviting our world leaders to open to what's best:
To read about
my resignation because of excessive secrecy in November 2004:
For the story
of how speaking truth led to my being a celebrity for a week:
To read an
empowering essay I wrote on my life intentions titled Simple Keys to a Fuller Life:
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Explore the mind and heart expanding websites managed by the nonprofit PEERS network:
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