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“What does it mean to be you with us?” Xidan’s story

Reporting & Analytics Sr Analyst, Individual Solutions

I was born and grew up in Gansu province, China. My grandparents were from what we called “the countryside” in China — a more remote, mountainous area steeped in Chinese cultural traditions.

Xidan Xu holding an instrument case.

However, my parents lived in an urban environment and sought education to achieve a good life and have better job opportunities. Both have bachelor’s degrees and like many Chinese households, they emphasized the need to study hard throughout my life. My family still lives in China, and they have no plans to emigrate because they are comfortable with Chinese culture. I do visit when I can.

At age five, I started to learn a Chinese traditional instrument called Gu Zheng. It is a string instrument with more than 2000 years of history. As I grew older and developed my own taste in music, I found another instrument called Gu Qin. Gu Qin and Gu Zheng are very similar string instruments — even a lot of Chinese confuse them. But the music styles, the vibes they deliver, are very different. I like how Gu Qin could express peaceful but rich emotions. After learning it, I realized it requires the player not only have playful techniques but also long-term learning of culture ideology in order to achieve self-cultivation.

As early as age 16, my parents set me on a path that included preparation for international study, likely in Canada or the United States. During high school, which is a three-year program in China, I was exposed to as much American culture as possible. In addition to offering traditional classes, our high school also offered a special program for students who might study abroad, such as SAT testing in English and tutorials in English.

My mother was especially a driving force behind my education in China. She knew that even though having me leave the family was a hard decision, it would lead to a better future with more life opportunities. And so, I came to America in 2011 at age 18 when I graduated high school. I knew my identity was no longer just Chinese but also Asian. I expected to be treated differently than Asian Americans, since I was not born here, nor did I grow up here. The school environment, my circle of friends, and the environment where I worked were respectful to me. I think it has something to do with “Minnesota-nice.” I heard about hate crimes that targeted innocent Asian people during the last three years of the pandemic, but because of the social circle I chose, my personal experience was peaceful.

Coming to America alone as an international student was hard mentally and academically. I’ve always been a quiet person, which turned out to be both good and bad. Americans respect others’ personal space and the need for individuality, which is good. But sometimes, I did miss having people ask me how I was doing and kindly giving me advice. Being comfortable speaking English and acclimating to American culture was a slow experience.

Things I learned in school had to be translated into Chinese for my understanding, and what I wanted to say was written in Chinese first and then translated into English, which significantly lengthened study time. My English has gradually improved, and I no longer need the Chinese translation buffer. However, not being proficient in the language and lacking familiarity with customs and idioms is still a challenge. Sometimes I don’t get my husband’s jokes, and asking for clarification makes it not a joke anymore!

Xidan Xu playing a traditional Chinese instrument called a Gu Zheng.

Adjusting to living abroad

My first rule living abroad was to be safe and avoid risky environments. Observing the news and witnessing the surge of violent incidents in America has left me with a profound sense of insecurity. I wouldn’t usually go out after dark. This kind of fear is unimaginable in cities in China, where I could hang out with friends until 11 p.m. and take the bus home without being scared. In my opinion, the feeling of being safe and protected can be hard to come by in the U.S.

As I finished my master’s degree, COVID became a national health crisis. As an international student with little work experience, I decided to return to China at the end of 2019. I found work there, spent time with my family, and continued thinking about my future.

During the two and half years back in China, I experienced a type of reverse culture shock. Job interviews were more like a one-sided evaluation and a test. There were no real interactions to see if the job and the person were a good fit. Interviewers would ask private questions about family and plans for your personal life. For a young female candidate, the questions were intended to determine if they planned to get married or have children and take time away from work. The large population in China makes recruiters feel as if they can be strict about screening candidates even though in the U.S., some of the questions might have been considered discrimination. Here in the U.S., we compete with people and businesses worldwide; whoever has the competency will be chosen in this market.

Before leaving for China, I started dating my husband who is from Minnesota. During the two and a half years I was in China while we were apart, he helped secure my VISA, which took an entire year because of the many documents and in-person interviews required. When I returned to the U.S. in 2022, we were legally married.

I have a bachelor’s degree in applied economics from the University of Minnesota and a master’s in data science from the University of St. Thomas. When I returned to America and started job hunting again, I found Securian Financial. I had heard about the company and discovered it was in the finance industry, which is relevant to my bachelor’s degree. Everything in the application process went very smoothly, and I was excited to become a member of Securian.

“Winning with purpose” at Securian Financial

As a Reporting and Analytics Senior Analyst in Individual Solutions, I am a part of a newly formed team called IS Business Intelligence. Our objective is to serve Individual Solutions and their stakeholders with data & insights to promote data driven decision making and meet our goal of ‘Win With Purpose’. My analyst role requires me to provide reasonable solutions to business questions using individual life and annuity data.

The part I enjoy most is having the time to think and research working approaches, then gather, analyze, and compile data necessary to form reports that may influence sales of our company’s life products. It’s like being a detective starting an investigation from small hints, making a hypothesis, and finding the truth, which takes a lot of digging and patience.

I am very detail-oriented and methodical, and my position allows me to use my skills in data-relevant work. My teammates are exceptionally intelligent people, experienced, and eager to help.  I feel grateful that I’m able to learn from them.

Diversity at work means learning from people from all walks of life and backgrounds and everyone having an equal place at the table.

Xidan Xu

Xidan Xu in a green Securian Financial T-shirt

Appreciating local diversity

In China, most families are of Chinese origin with the same skin color, even though there are 56 ethnic groups. But in America, there is diversity everywhere. I do not get the stares my husband gets in China and random strangers asking us to take photos. There are many different racial groups and colors, which can be good. Different cultures bring different experiences and perspectives to a discussion. Those who immigrate to this country also bring valuable assets.

Securian Financial is a large company, but they provide many events so employees can get to know one another and learn about the St. Paul community. I have attended events in Securian’s Young Professionals Network, and Securian’s Multicultural Network. The frequent events and welcoming vibes made it attractive for me to participate in person. Apart from meeting new people at these events, I learned about fascinating life lessons and cultural differences. Being in the office and checking out the events in on campus have become a must-do on my weekly list.

I would say to young professionals from a non-English speaking country that it’s important to persevere and keep your mind on your goals. Trying to find your way as a foreigner is challenging, and it’s important to remain flexible. Every experience has meaning and shapes who we are, even the experiences we had not planned for. And it matters that you find a good fit for yourself in whatever career you choose. Securian is a great community for me, and I’m confident those who retired from here after dedicating over 30 years may say the same thing!

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Xidan Xu is a Securian Financial employee and therefore has a financial connection to Securian Financial. Her statement was given freely.

DOFU 12-2023