Role Models:Yafei Li

Article by Francesca Feng

Can you introduce yourself?

I am currently retraining as lawyer and working as a freelance language specialist in the meantime. Mostly I tutor English, but I also teach Chinese privately and work as an interpreter.

I’m from Xi’an, but have only recently returned from living in Switzerland. I’ve also lived in the US, as well as France and Italy.
Many of my hobbies are language-based. Writing is a solace to me, I am working on a novel and also enjoy playing around with words to make poetry. Back in Shanghai, I also really enjoyed debating, but haven’t been able to do that for a long time.

I am a very active person – healthy body, heathy mind. I enjoy boxing and running. I try to run at least 30 km a week, though the lockdowns have not made it easy. I also love cycling. In October 2019, I bicycled across Taiwan with my boyfriend. That was an experience, the first day was so easy and then we started climbing. It taught me that you have to keep going even when things start to get tough.

Can you name a role model that you try to emulate?

I would have to say Christine Legarde. She broke through so many glass ceilings to get to where she is today. She started out as a lawyer in New York and is now the president of the European Central Bank. The path has not been easy, and she has made some significant missteps along the way, but she has persevered. An ideal role model is not someone who is perfect, but someone who overcomes their flaws.
Who would you say is most responsible for the person you are today?

During a difficult time in my life I met Julien, he showed me that the day-to-day doesn’t always have to be a struggle, that there are ways to turn problems into adventures. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for his love and support over the last 7 years. There were a number of times I was ready to throw my lawbooks and dreams out the window and he talked me down. Some people say that women don’t need men, or that love isn’t necessary. However, I would agree that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before. With the right person it’s not 1+1 its 22.

Can you think of a moment which significantly changed your life?

When I was in Shanghai, I taught Chinese to an expat couple, although they lived in a massive house in Central Shanghai, they dressed like normal people. It blew my mind; these people could afford anything but they just dressed in scruffy jeans and faded t-shirts. No flashy designer brands or anything. It made me realise that confidence comes from within and the extent to which my upbring had made me equate appearance with success. Even today my parents complain continually that I am not dressed smartly enough, but I am so much happier now that my self-worth is not directly attached to my attire.

What are the biggest challenges you face in general and as a woman? Why do you think these challenges exist?

Having worked during my late teens and early twenties I am now a mature student. Being outside of the ordinary in China always makes things more challenging. As a woman the biggest challenges are naturally the expectations of my family that I hurry up and marry!

What are your goals for this year? 5 years?

My goal for this year is to start pass my legal certification and LLM Entrance exams, which will then allow me both to practice as a lawyer and to enroll in the LLM program at XJTU.

Within the next five years, I want have a PhD in Law, be part of a legal practice and to have published my first book!

Why did you choose to retrain? Should people retrain?

I have taught languages for 10 years, I love and I’m good at it. I genuinely care about each and every student. However, I am also fascinated by law, that ah-hah moment when the intricacies of the legal code fall into place in your mind is exhilarating. Maybe I’ll work in the legal field later, maybe not. Although retraining can be seen as a means of transitioning career or improving one’s situation in life, there is a joy in knowledge. I’m constantly at awe of human intelligence and the world we have developed using it. If I had all the time in the world, I would love to study everything. However, since life is short, I am focusing on one mastering law to the best of my ability.

Why do you want to learn new things?

Learning should not just be rote memorization. It order for it to be useful, applicable in the world outside the classroom, it needs to be processed, thought over, analyzed and recreated in one’s own knowledge nets. I always tell my students, don’t do things to look like you are “working-hard”, you need to build your understanding, so that you can learn language faster and actually use it. There is no single educational methods which forms the gold standard. Each person has their own ideal learning style and a good teacher or learner needs to be able to identify what works best in each instance.

What advice do you have for other women, Chinese or foreign, who are looking to further their careers?

If you don’t like your job, if you dread the start of the working day, then maybe it’s time to reconsider. So many people stay in jobs that they hate, but life is not a rehearsal it’s there to be lived. There is no correct way to live your life. I encourage everyone to take a chance to be their best selves and to really enjoy their lives.

Francesca is AWE secretary. In her free time, she does winter swimming and enjoys exploring beautiful Xi’an.