Janet Hsieh (Theta Omicron, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is an award-winning television personality in Taiwan. And author. And violinist. A black belt in taekwondo. A trained sushi chef. A fluent speaker of four languages. A wife and mother of two.
Janet is also exploring new opportunities. As she embarks on a new chapter of creativity she looks back on her whirlwind journey and shares lessons- both personal and professional to help sisters as they follow their passions.
Taking the Risk
While Janet’s life has been full of variety, her original plan was much more linear: she was going to be a physician for Doctors Without Borders. Janet studied biology and Spanish at MIT and took part in programs to study and work abroad in a hospital and fire department as an EMT. She even attended orientation for medical school at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s when she looked at the path laid out before her and took a leap.
While Janet had been in Taiwan studying and working, she was approached about being in a commercial; she said “yes” to make a little extra cash and had fun doing it. As it turns out, that commercial had been running in Taiwan while Janet was back preparing for medical school, and she began receiving offers from casting agents to do more work in the entertainment industry. Eventually, a director from Hong Kong offered to fly her out for an audition.
“I was ready for medical school, but at the same time all these things were happening in Asia,” Janet says. “I was on this high of traveling, and so I kind of had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to continue that path or go on this wild turkey chase. Everybody thought I was crazy to leave medical school, but it was something I wanted.”
Janet decided to follow her passion (while also taking the MCAT again to extend her eligibility for medical school as a backup plan) and moved to Asia. She ended up turning down the offer from that director and set her sights on finding her own place in entertainment on her own, starting by signing with a modeling agency. Janet had a love-hate relationship with those three years of modeling. She appreciated the opportunities to travel and work, but she struggled with conforming to the typical “look” the agency wanted and the constant dieting, which ultimately led to an eating disorder and depression.
“I went through a lot of ups and downs- major ones- and was ready to quit,” Janet recalls. “I basically packed up my bags and decided,’ I’m not doing this anymore.’”
“What can I do this very second to further myself creatively or further myself with connections?”
It was in this window of time that Janet auditioned for a Discovery travel show. The director asked her to talk about a place she loved, and without any preparation, Janet launched into stories about her travels in India. A month passed, and Janet continued her preparations to return home, even shipping all of her belongings back to the U.S. Then she got a call from the producer of the show saying that they’d like to hire her.
Sharing Her Truths
The show ended up being Fun Taiwan for Discovery’s TLC Asia, and Janet was its host for 16 seasons, also hosting spin-offs like Fun Asia and Fun Taiwan Challenge. She was nominated for four Golden Bell Awards in the Best Host of a Travel Show category (winning in 2011) and two Asian Television Awards in the Best Entertainment Presenter category (receiving a Highly Commended designation in 2017).
“It changed my life,” Janet says. She realized,” You can actually be yourself, and there’s a place for you where you will fit in, where you don’t have to be somebody else.”
Over 16 seasons, Janet has traveled all over Asia, interviewing countless people and giving viewers a peek into local cultures and customs. But for Janet, it’s the little moments that have meant the most. She remembers meeting a Taiwanese woman who thanked her for not only the show but also the woman Janet was on TV- for demonstrating that you don’t need to be rail-tin and pale and that you can get a little dirty and still be a successful woman.
Exploring What’s Next
A career in the arts is a business, and Janet encourages those who want to pursue a career to think pragmatically. “Sometimes I feel as artists or creatives, you see this huge universe around you and you feel like you can reach for the stars and you may know people who are able to do that,” she says. “But sometimes we do need to get our heads out of the clouds and come back down to reality and think, ‘What can I do this very second to further myself creatively or further myself with connections?’ That’s the nitty-gritty part of the artistic world.”
It’s the same mindset that brought her to Alpha Chi Omega back at MIT. Janet knew that joining a sorority in college was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she didn’t want to miss out on, so she went through recruitment. She remembers thinking, “Even though I don’t think I’m a sorority girl, I’m going to find a sorority that fits me. And that’s exactly what happened.”
“Even though I don’t think I’m a sorority girl, I’m going to find a sorority that fits me. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Janet says the experience of living with her sisters gave her a solid foundation for the rest of her life, providing her with an appreciation for women’s struggles and the way they support each other. And that support has continued as an alumna. When Janet and her husband were planning to be married in Antarctica, she sent an email to a group of sisters to see if anyone wanted to travel to the continent with her- not telling them about her wedding. It turned out that her big sister, who she hadn’t seen in decades, decided to join the trip and ultimately attended Janet’s wedding!
Even recently, Janet was at a restaurant and saw some current collegiate members, so she walked over to say hi and wish them luck on recruitment. “I’m still really proud to be an Alpha Chi Omega,” Janet says, “and it still resonates with me even years later.”
Janet also encourages people to find a support network; she suggests if you are more imaginative, find someone rational to help you hone your dreams- and vice versa. Janet admits that asking for help is still hard for her, but she truly believes that we’re all meant to be helping each other and that asking for support helps us grow. That network of support should also include Alpha Chi Omega Sisters.
“Use what Alpha Chi Omega is,” Janet says, “and enjoy the fact that we have this community.”