Cuixia Zhu is program manager for Master of Science in Financial Economics. Before that, she was a Graduate Student in Rhetoric, Politics, Culture and Communication Arts
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison?
I came to the US in 2013 as an international student in a master’s program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Then I came to UW-Madison and joined the PhD program in Communication Arts. I am now working as a program manager in the Department of Economics. Most of the students I currently work with are international students.
How do you believe that your language contributes to your professional and personal identity?
Since English is the working language at my workplace, it is the language I use professionally. Being able to communicate well in English is essential in my work, including passing accurate and up-to-date policy information to students, processing data that is coded in English, etc. I use the language so much that it is an inseparable part of my identity. Outside of my professional life, Mandarin is another side of my identity. It comes in the media content I consume. It shows up on the Asian groceries that I get. It is the language I use with my child. Both languages are deeply embedded in my identity, and I cannot imagine living without either of them. Without English, I cannot get a job here in the US and cannot survive financially. Without Mandarin, I cannot even read the food labels in Asian groceries stores and my stomach will suffer.
To what extent do you feel others on the campus value your languages and the context of your work or studies.
To be honest, my language ability is not so salient when I was a PhD student, because my field itself is a very American centered field. It has always been about the English-speaking world, mostly centered on American politics and American culture. I would say my Mandarin-speaking capability does not stand out that much because mostly I’m supposed to speak English. There was one time a professor in my department wanted to see how a former North Korean talked about propaganda and needed to use Chinese sources. She approached me asking if we could do that research project together because I could read the primary sources in Mandarin. That’s the only time when I felt my language ability actually could contribute to my professional life because most of my professors do research focused on American stuff.
However, I think being able to speak Mandarin is valued in my current job. Most of my students are Chinese international students. They communicate with me in English most of the time, but knowing that I speak Mandarin and knowing that I am a cultural insider, they would feel reassured that I understand them better than those who do not speak the language or do not come from this culture.
In what ways do you believe that the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community.
I think it creates a kind of atmosphere where people feel that they are welcome and included. I think many times people for example, especially international students, worry that if they speak their mother tongue, they may immediately stand out as “foreign” or “not belonging here.” People may say, well, you come to this country, you should speak English. Why aren’t you speaking English? I think creating a campus that recognizes the value of language diversity and creating that atmosphere, would make people feel more comfortable and secure. It would be less anxiety-inducing because you wouldn’t have to worry whenever you speak. In the current political climate, people may worry that if they do not speak English, they may immediately be recognized as foreign, an immigrant. And the anti-immigrant sentiment is not working towards their favor, and in Covid times, the Asian hate is not working towards their favor either I believe the campus probably could do something so that within the campus itself, students would feel secure and welcomed.