After two years’ break, my professional interviews are back. Today I am virtually ‘meeting’ one of the most international women I know and admire. I hope that you will find our dialogue an interesting and inspirational read.
Bio: Julie Yu-Wen Chen is the new Professor of Chinese Studies at the Department of World Cultures at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Julie is Editor-in-Chief of Asian Ethnicity (Routledge) and Assistant Editor of the Journal of Chinese Political Science (Springer). She formerly held academic positions at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, University College Cork in Ireland and Academia Sinica in Taiwan. She was also visiting scholar at La Trobe University, University of Virginia, University of Tokyo, University of Tübingen, University of Nottingham, and University of Macau. In 2011, Julie provided testimony in the public hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on “China’s Foreign Policy: Challenges and Players” in Washington D.C.
Junying: A very warm welcome, Julie. Please select two or three words to describe yourself.
Julie: I am a person who wants to live a simple and fulfilled life.
Junying: Where do you come from originally and what do you do for a living?
Julie: I grew up in Tainan, Taiwan. I am a political scientist by training. I am currently professor of Chinese studies at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
Junying: How lovely. Actually I’ve just returned from Taiwan recently, and I will be visiting University of Helsinki in four weeks’ time. In fact, I will be meeting you for real which is very exciting for me.
What is the biggest challenge living in a foreign country, in your case Finland?
Julie: I have lived in many countries (Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic etc). I think the biggest challenge is to learn the local language and get integrated into the host society. Sometimes because of my busy work, I don’t have much time to learn the local language. This creates a barrier between me and the locals. Mingling only with university colleagues and students in an English-speaking environment is not healthy. It is better that I get to learn the local culture and society. I am quite new in Finland. Life is super busy in the first few months. But I have allocated sometime this summer to learn Finnish.
Junying: Wow, that is quite a collection of countries and cultures in terms of geography and diversity. Fascinating! I hear that it is not the easiest of languages to learn. Best of luck!
How many languages and dialects do you speak?
Julie: I speak Mandarin and Taiwanese. These are my mother tongue. When I was an undergraduate student, I chose French as my foreign language. I also spent one year in Montreal, Canada to improve my French. This does not mean that I speak French with Québec accent. It might be more likely that I speak French with my Taiwanese accent than with Québec accent.
My conversational ability of French used to be good. But I haven’t been able to use the language for many years. Right now, I can only read and listen.
As I did my PhD in Germany (I wrote my dissertation in English), I also have basic German ability. It is a shame that I no longer use both languages in daily life. Sometimes I just try to read German and French articles (in a nostalgic way) to remember the languages.
Junying: How wonderful! Which words or phrases do you overuse?
Julie: My colleagues at the Confucius Institute of the University of Helsinki said my 口頭禪 is “put these pictures on Facebook”.
Junying: I love that. I seem to be doing that almost every day, taking pictures and sharing them with my Facebook friends :-).
What quality do you most admire in another person? Who, living or dead, do you most admire?
Julie: When I was young, I admired talented people and people who are as ambitious in career as I am. But as I grow older and as I become more into my role as a Christian, I start to change my taste. This does not mean when I see talented or ambitious people, I don’t feel a sense of excitement. It is just that I value more of a person’s inner true character and personality than what they present to the others outside now. A person with a lovely heart, loyalty, honesty, pure mind and sincerity would win my admiration.
Junying: I agree with you. All above fine qualities and admirable. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Julie: People who always see evil in others and criticize others.
Junying: I also agree. What is your greatest achievement so far?
Julie: I am happy that I am able to work in the University of Helsinki as a professor of Chinese studies. This is a dream come true. I like my job, the challenges I face, my colleagues and students.
Junying: Many Congratulations, Julie, on landing your dream job and enjoying it.
Do you have any regrets? If you do, what is your single greatest regret?
Julie: I did have regrets in my life before. But as I grow older, I try to get rid of regrets as soon as possible. That is to say, if I find there is still a regret in my life, maybe words unsaid or things undone, I immediately tackle it by saying the words and doing the things. Currently, I think I am 99% regret-free. The 1 percent might be related to my family. As I live outside of Taiwan, I rarely see my family. It would be great if I could have spent more time with my family in Taiwan.
Junying: I totally understand that, Julie. Like you, I’ve lived in another country for many years, and finding time to visit family and spending time with them has been a real challenge.
If you could choose, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?
Julie: Maybe a priest….I don’t think I am qualified though because I never have proper training to be a priest. I think the job of a priest is also more challenging than the job of a scholar. What I mean is that, I think a priest would have to face more diverse kinds of people than what I would encountered in the academic setting. I don’t know if I like that and if I am able to live that kind of life.
Junying: Sometimes we don’t know what we are capable of until we try, so I am sure that whatever you attempt to do, you will do it successfully.
What do you do to rewind after a stressful day at work?
Julie: I am not a very sportive or outgoing person. I just love to stay at home, listening to music, make a nice meal for myself, and if possible, have a nice sip of wine.
Junying: That sounds very relaxing.
Julie: I have read 99% of Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho’s books. I like his writings because they are life-transforming and encouraging in nature.
Not all of his books are as interesting and inspiring as his famous novel “The Alchemist” though. I have The Alchemist on my ipad. When I need encouragement or a smile in my heart, I just read some pages of The Alchemist again.
Junying: That’s a wonderful recommendation. I have quite a few of his novels on my bookshelves and The Alchemist has been on my to-read list for a long time. Now it will be my next read. Thanks!
What is your motto?
Julie: In our current era, saying that this is my motto is not going to make me win the hearts of the world. But yes, this is my motto: follow Jesus.
Junying: It’s an excellent motto, Julie. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Julie: There is no perfect happiness. Our life is meant to have ups and downs. One moment of sorrow could turn into joy. One moment of joy could also turn into sorrow. I think what is important (and yet difficult to achieve) is to have an unwavering stability and hope in our soul, no matter what kind of circumstances we are in.
Junying: I am totally with you there, Julie. It is the ups and downs in life that make us who we are.
Finally, what three things would you add to your bucket list?
Julie: I am not bragging: There is nothing that I really lack in my life. I have got all I aspire in my life. But if you want to push me, maybe these TWO could make me feel EVEN MORE content of my life.
- Meet David Pawson in person and listen to his sermons in the UK. David Pawson is a prominent bible teacher. I listen to his sermons online every week.
- Invite my mom to Finland. This is not easy as she never travels abroad, speaks no foreign language and knows nothing about foreign culture and way of living. I also don’t know how she would handle the jetlag and cold weather. Her winter is 20 C. That is the summer of Finland! This would also mean that I have to fly to Taiwan to bring her to Finland and then bring her back to Taiwan. Even the cost is not a problem, I need to find a period of free time to do this.
Again, I don’t give regret a chance in my life. So, most likely I will make these two things happen ☺
Junying: Julie, thank you so much for spending time with me and sharing with my readers glimpses of your work and life. I’ve enjoyed having this conversation, and I look forward to talking with your face to face in April.