“The girls in my law school weren’t friendly. They ignored me, the only Chinese woman ‘

On the morning of Thursday, September 17, 2020, Fei Liang woke up early in anticipation of the exciting and memorable day ahead. She donned her newly-tailored avocado gown which she had picked up from Paul Henry Tailoring’s Capel Street store the previous week and left her home in Wicklow for downtown Dublin.

Later that morning, shortly after 9:30 a.m. at the Four Courts in Dublin, Liang made history by becoming the first female lawyer of Chinese descent to be admitted to the Bar of Ireland after graduating from King’s Inns.

“I had already graduated in law in China and in accounting here in Ireland, but that day was different. I had made my dream come true – I was very proud of myself.

I was the only child at home. My parents gave me 100% attention and always supported and encouraged me

The 35-year-old’s journey to become a lawyer began over a decade ago when she studied law at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai.

Born and raised in this sprawling Chinese city, home to over 25 million people, Liang was determined to attend one of her country’s top universities.

“It’s very competitive in Shanghai and if you want to go to a top-notch university you have to study really hard. With my generation, it was still the one-child policy, so I was the only child in the house. My parents gave me 100% attention and always supported and encouraged me.

Liang suffered from severe asthma as a child and was frequently hospitalized during the first years of her life. “My parents usually kept me at home because I was sick a lot. I was just playing on my own, not really playing with other kids. By the time I went to elementary school when I was seven, I was much better. But my mom didn’t want me to exercise a lot; she was worried that I was too weak.

Liang was inspired by her parents’ drive and determination to succeed. His father successfully rebuilt his career after his business went bankrupt during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

“For a few years my father didn’t work and it was a big challenge for him. He had always been busy before. He told me I had to study hard because he couldn’t support me anymore. But he stayed positive and went on to have a fairly successful career. “

Fei Liang, Ireland’s first Chinese-born lawyer, appears in all four courts after being called to the bar of the Supreme Court. Photography: Crispin Rodwell

Liang’s parents gave their support when their only daughter announced that she had decided to go abroad to further her education and improve her English.

“I’m lucky with my parents – they’re very open-minded. After I graduated I worked in a bank for a few months, but it wasn’t what I wanted in my life. I researched courses in the US, UK and Ireland and found that there is a special visa for accounting graduates here.

Liang arrived in Dublin in June 2008 to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting at DIT (now TU Dublin). She immediately felt more comfortable living in a smaller, less populated city. “Shanghai is too big with so many people everywhere. It’s very stressful there. I feel like life here is more comfortable.

Although she quickly settled into the rhythm of Dublin life, Liang struggled to find work after she graduated and subsequently graduated in accounting.

“Before arriving here, I had spoken to Chinese people about life in Ireland and had been told that it would be easy to find a job as an accounting graduate. But then the recession hit.

They were young girls of about 25 and they weren’t very friendly. They often ignored me. But I didn’t let him worry me

She applied for positions with a few accounting firms and got interviews, but felt that “they had no interest in hiring third country nationals”.

“I didn’t want to go back to Shanghai and preferred my life here, so I changed my strategy and started looking for jobs in smaller companies. I printed my CV and went door to door accounting firms on the street.

Liang eventually found a job as a trainee accountant, but says she was abused by a senior accountant at the firm. “It didn’t happen just once – I had a few jobs at different companies but was not treated the same. My dad said that I needed to understand that I was a foreigner in this country, that I should always keep trying and working hard.

In 2015, Liang started taking evening classes at King’s Inns, and two years later she graduated with a legal studies degree. She then moved on to a part-time law degree while working full-time as an accountant. She enjoyed attending diploma classes, which had a lot of other mature students, but struggled to fit in with her peers in the curriculum.

“They were young girls around 25 and they weren’t very friendly. They often ignored me. But I didn’t let him worry me. I didn’t care what other people thought. I didn’t mind being the only Chinese woman in the class.

Liang also found the time to apply for a mortgage and buy a house in Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow. “I’m from Shanghai and real estate prices are much higher there, so I knew buying a home was a good investment. I loved Wicklow and wanted to see the sea and the mountains.

Although she graduated and was admitted to the bar, Liang, who is now an Irish citizen, does not plan to practice law immediately. “I am 35 years old and have spent most of my life working and studying. I would like to devote more time to my personal life and start a family. However, when she practices, she plans to use her skills to help support the Chinese community in Ireland.

My friends don’t pay any attention to the politics in this country and don’t know who their local TD is

“China has a totally different legal system, and many Chinese people misunderstand the law here. I’ve seen people get in trouble because of it, and it’s not fair to them. I would like to help them understand the system.

She would also like to find ways to encourage the Irish Chinese community to become more involved in national politics. “My friends don’t pay any attention to the politics in this country and don’t know who their local TD is. I would love to teach them about the Irish political system and realize the rights they have here. Many of them are Irish citizens but don’t get involved at all. I would like their voice to be heard in Ireland.

We would love to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To participate, send an email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish

Nancy I. Romero

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