When some of us think about learning a new language, the most popular choices would be Spanish, French or perhaps Italian. However, there’s an amazing language from a country on the other side of the globe, Chinese, and it is currently taught at Fairfield University by Jiwei Xiao, Ph.D. When starting the Chinese language course with Xiao, myself and many other students were intimidated by the new language. However, thanks to Xiao, learning a foreign language becomes easier. She has gone the extra mile to accommodate and acquaint us with the novel Chinese culture.

 “I want to incorporate imagination into my teaching, and give my inputs so my students can produce their own output, so that they can connect to it on a deeper level, and eventually the language becomes theirs,” Xiao said. 

However, Xiao has done so much more than teach language, both inside and outside of Fairfield University. She is also teaching and researching Chinese fiction and world cinema at Fairfield, while writing scholarly pieces about literature and cinema for The New York Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Journal of Contemporary China, among others. Despite her academic achievements, she still faces some discrimination as a female scholar and as an Asian person that works in her career path. 

“This has really made me feel conscious about who I am and what I can do,” said Xiao, when we spoke about racism in academia. “When I started my career as a young female Asian faculty, I realized that I had to earn the respect by constantly proving myself. And I still have to do that today.” 

“Many years ago a peer review report for a journal article I wrote suggested that it was written by a non-native speaker. I was stung by that remark. Instead of letting it discourage me, I’ve turned it into a motivation to constantly improve my writing. When we have a passion for something, we can go through anything for it,” she said. 

Xiao’s words have truly moved me, and I think they will move other students as well, especially in a time of uncertainty like the one we are experiencing, when helplessness is overtaking.

As a person whose family is residing in Wuhan, Xiao understands what it’s like to go through a tough time with this pandemic. When asked about advice she would give to students in regard to the situation of COVID-19, she said, “it’s important to remember that it will all pass, and in the meantime we have to make do of the situation and not let the dark side of the world consume us. Please reach out to people who you can count on and ask for support.” 

Xiao remarked that as she grows older, she develops a maternal care for her students, and thinks that other professors should also genuinely care about their students, to help each other and help them get through these hard times.   

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