Cuixia Zhu

Credentials: Languages: Mandarin, English

Position title: Program Manager for Master of Science in Financial Economics.

Cuixia Zhu

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 to join 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?

I use English at my workplace 95% of the time. 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 professional identity. Outside of my work, 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 my current job 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 U.S. politics and culture. I would say my Mandarin-speaking capability does not stand out that much because I’m supposed to speak English in class discussions. There was this one time a professor in my department needed to use Chinese sources for her research. She approached me asking if we could do that research project together because I could read the primary sources in Mandarin. That was the only time when I felt my language ability actually could contribute to my professional life because most of my professors do research using English sources.

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. There are also times when students ask me if they can communicate with me in Mandarin because that’s the language they are more comfortable with and fluent in. Me being able to speak Mandarin gives them another option when they want to communicate with me.

In what ways do you believe that the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community?

I think linguistic diversity creates welcoming and inclusive atmosphere in which members feel secure. I know that there is always the worry among international students 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, 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 at ease. 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 become a target. The anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years 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 at least within the campus itself, students would feel secure and welcomed.