Yang Sao Xiong remembers the bizarre hissing sounds the most. He was 7 years old, a refugee with his family from Laos, when he arrived in California in 1987.
"When we first got off the plane, all I could tell was that people were making all these 's' sounds," says Xiong, describing his first impression of English. "It made no sense at all. I was curious, but I had no idea what they were speaking."
Xiong soon became fluent enough in English to translate for his parents, relatives and other members of his community, and he has been building bridges between Hmong Americans and mainstream American culture ever since.
Now, as the UW-Madison's first professor in Hmong American Studies -- the only tenure-track faculty in his field in the world -- Xiong is working to help the university connect with the Hmong community. Locally, he's become a source of pride for Hmong, who have clashed with the university community in the past.
Yang Sao Xiong has only been in Madison for a year and a half, but the process that brought him here was 20 years in the making.