Happy Wednesday! I hope everyone is enjoying the first week of April. Although Nashville’s being a bit stingy with the warm weather, I’m looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms in D.C. tomorrow as I travel there to present on my trip to South Africa at the Alpha Chi National Convention. This week’s Power of One guest has not only gone above and beyond to pursue her education; she’s currently sharing her love of learning as a professor at Belmont University. Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce you to Dr. Qingjun Li!
Dr. Li hails from Zhengzhou in the People’s Republic of China and obtained her undergraduate degree at Zhengzhou University. After graduating, she accepted a position there as a professor of English Language and Literature. After teaching there for sixteen years, during which she became an Associate Professor of English and won several awards for her excellence in teaching, Dr. Li felt like she needed an opportunity to challenge herself and more fully develop her English skills. Inspired by a retired Belmont professor who had taught at Zhengzhou, Dr. Hap Bryant, she decided to move to Nashville to pursue her Master’s degree in English at Belmont University.
Although she had excelled in her studies while in China, Dr. Li struggled to acclimate to an entirely English-speaking environment, leaving her husband and son behind in China, and a lack of self-confidence in the classroom composed of all native speakers of English. Although she wanted to abandon her studies several times, encouragement from Dr. Bryant, her professors, and several friends enabled her to overcome her initial struggles. Dr. Li completed her Master’s degree and then went on to obtain her Ph.D. in English at Middle Tennessee State University, where she received the William R. Wolfe Graduate Writing Award and the Richard C. and Virginia L. Peck Award. Dr. Li returned to Belmont as a professor in Asian Studies and Chinese Language, and was honored with the Chaney Distinguished Professor Award from Belmont last year. Her work ethic combined with a genuine care for students is truly incredible, and I am excited to share her story with you today!
Who’s someone who has inspired you?
Dr. Hap Bryant came to Zhengzhou University in 1990 after retiring from teaching History and Political Science at Belmont for 25 years, and she taught there for almost ten years, regarding Zhengzhou as her second home. In addition to my teaching, I was also assigned to serve as Dr. Bryant’s interpreter and coordinator, assisting her in the many encounters of daily activities on campus and school events, in departmental relations, shopping, and settling down in China. I also took some of her graduate-level classes, so we became very close friends. She was such an inspiration to me. Her teaching style, her profound knowledge, her optimistic personality, her devotion to the Christian faith, and her love and care towards students were such an exemplary model for me. When I found out she had taught at Belmont, I knew at once I wanted to go there. And even when I was struggling in my graduate studies, she was always encouraging me to not doubt myself or my abilities. After I completed my masters, she encouraged me to pursue my doctorate as well. She passed away in 2014, but Belmont is the place she’s always been most proud of, so I am very honored to be teaching here.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced and how were you able to overcome it?
Coming to the U.S., I had no idea how challenging obtaining my graduate degree would be. I had taught English for years in China and had studied it extensively. But when I got to Belmont and sat in my first seminar class with all native-English speakers, I was completely overwhelmed. Everyone spoke so fast, and the teaching style was completely different. It was entirely different than learning in China. Those first few weeks were absolutely miserable—I cried several times! Even if I spent every minute of my day reading and writing, I still didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I was also teaching Chinese at Belmont while studying, so my entire life was split between teaching students and struggling to learn on my own. As hard as I tried, I felt like I just couldn’t compete with the native speakers. I thought “Why did I come all this way to torture myself? I could have stayed as Associate Professor at Zhengzhou.” It was hard to go from being a successful professor to a struggling student. I felt so discouraged and that I was a failure, and that all my years of learning and teaching English were worth nothing.
I was at a low point for a long time. I even considered going back to China. But Dr. Bryant had returned to the U.S. during that time, and every week, she would take me to church. She’d talk to me and encourage me to speak positively to myself, and to push away those discouraging thoughts. She told me “I know you were a very capable professor in China, and that’s still true. Honestly, anyone in your position would have this kind of struggle. Hang in there and don’t give up!” My professors and friends were also very encouraging, and my family was, too, even though they were still in China. Bit by bit, it became easier for me to understand the expectations and adjust to the workload. I relied on God a lot during that time as well. I have to be grateful for those hard years, because I got to learn so much—not just in my studies, but about myself as well.
If you had one life lesson to share with someone, what would it be?
Perseverance is huge. In anything you do, there will be hurdles and obstacles. There will be low points, but you can’t give up on your dreams. It’s easy to give up, but once you hold on, you can get past that low point, and you will not regret giving up. If you want to enjoy your accomplishments, you are going to have to have a mind and heart for bearing the hardships that come along with earning them. In China we have a proverb: “if you want to taste the sweet, you have to taste the bitter first. You cannot have one without the other.” Hold on to your passion and do not give it up!
I would also say as a Christian while you need to depend on your hard work you need to remember to depend on God as well. Your work ethic and determination combined with your dependence on God are the keys to success.
What do you love most about Nashville?
There are so many things! First, the people in Nashville are so friendly—it’s real Southern hospitality. I’ve traveled to other places in America, and I can tell the difference; people just look past and ignore you, but here in Nashville, they always say hi. I love that Nashville isn’t too big, either. There’s a kind of peace and tranquility here—you can make it feel like home, and take in the rich culture and history. The weather isn’t too bad, either! Everything here feels just right.
I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to interview someone who knows the value of education and the rewards of perseverance. Nashville is so lucky to have a woman like Dr. Li, and I hope her story leaves you feeling inspired today!