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Gateway Scholars: Profiles

Yiyi Zhang '14

Lei Li '14

Shanny Habas '14

Shukai Zhang '15

Chen Zhang '15

Yingnan Guo '15

Fei Li '15


Gateway Scholar Profile: Yiyi Zhang ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Yiyi Zhang, an international student from China, is majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Economics at Brandeis.  She applied here because she read Tuesdays with Morrie and was attracted by Brandeis’ strong liberal arts education.  As a Gateway Scholar, Yiyi joined our community in the summer of 2010.  “Gateway helped me to prepare well psychologically and physically through these intensive summer classes, which made me realize the challenging workload in college and American education.  Special thanks to my tutor last year who made me realize my potential and gave me more confidence to learn what I want to learn.”

Originally, Yiyi wanted to study Sociology.  However, after exploring different fields, she discovered her passion for Philosophy.  Yiyi said that at first she had concerns that the field may not be a good fit for her, but she knew that it was something that made her truly happy and decided to go for it.  Now she is really pleased with her decision: “Philosophy provides me with different perspectives about life and I want to explore and to see a bigger world.  Taking Philosophy classes has improved my critical thinking skills and my ability to explain complicated ideas using simple and easy-to-understand language.”

Over the past year, Yiyi has become involved in Global China Connection (GCC): a world-wide non-profit organization that builds up deep friendships between university students and fosters the understanding of China within an international context. She said that she gets to know a lot of amazing people through GCC's unique platform and has become lifelong friends with other members. She is currently the Vice President (External Focus) of GCC's Brandeis chapter.  Yiyi is also the campus ambassador for the Teach For China program.  “I am always interested in activities that are related to China and want to contribute to my country,” she said.

Yiyi will spend all her junior year intensively studying Philosophy at the University of Oxford in England.  It will be difficult for her to leave Brandeis because she loves it so much here.  “I have met so many great people, who are sincere, smart and very helpful.  I am also very pleased that I had a chance to find my interest, philosophy, which I would not have if I were in China.”

Zhang has a few suggestions for coming Brandeis students: “College is the best time ever in life to explore whatever you are interested in.  Brandeis is a great platform to give you the freedom and choices.  Do not worry too much about jobs or careers. It will work out eventually. Go with your heart and enjoy college time.”

Yiyi will surely bring her intellectual courage, curiosity and hardworking spirit to Oxford and will have a great time in the U.K.

Lei Li

“Always be yourself and believe in you”: an interview with Lei Li ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Lei Li ‘14 is an international student from China who is triple majoring in Philosophy, Economics, and Business.  He joined the Gateway Scholars program in 2010, which he said helped him to recognize the gap between American and Chinese students and to better understand the American academic structure. Also, since the program, he has kept up communication with professors, which he claims is very important and useful for future academic success.

A very confident individual, Lei is always trying to challenge himself. He does not like to make assumptions and limitations about what he can do. He explains, “nothing is impossible and you can always be the first person to break conventions.” He shared his experience of applying to Harvard University: Harvard was his dream school and decided he wanted to apply there. At that time, even his parents did not encourage him to do so and questioned him about how it would be possible. He did not listen to them, but instead followed his heart. He tried to find Harvard alumni in China and impressed one alum who wrote him a recommendation letter.  To his surprise, he got an interview opportunity, and Lei flew there all the way from China.  Even though Harvard did not accept him in the end, Lei’s persistence and determination to reach his goal had already led him to go further than his parents had ever expected. His philosophy in life is to “go for your dream and always try, which is the only way to make it come true.” Lei said that “maybe I will not succeed, but I would regret it if I do not try.” Lei is very happy about his life at Brandeis and he has had a great experience here, which perhaps he would not have had at Harvard.

 At Brandeis, Lei has done very well academically. He is able to manage an intense workload with three majors and currently has a 3.83 GPA in Philosophy.  Lei says his way of studying is interest-driven, which means he first has passion and motivation about the subjects and then makes an effort to learn while enjoying the process of learning.  He has enjoyed Philosophy since a young age.

Additionally, Lei has a strong social life at Brandeis. In his freshman year, he helped raise over $5,000 for Haitian and Tibetan refugees as a member of "the Phront" club. Lei is also the founder and president of the American Student Investment Study Connection club, as well as the founder and treasurer of the Collegiate Masonic Society International.  He has also been the Philanthropy Chairman of a literary organization.

He has accomplished all of these achievements by reaching out to new people. He explained that he was not confident about his English at the beginning, but he pushed himself to get out of his comfort zone and, as a result, his communication skills have greatly improved.  He now feels very comfortable hanging out with American friends. He emphasized that good oral English ability is very important for international students because it will help them to feel secure in the U.S. Lei recommends that students should not only associate with people from their own country.

Lei ‘s interest in finance led him to choose to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) next year.  He chose LSE because it has the reputation of being one of the best institutions in the world to study Economics and Philosophy.  Although he will miss Brandeis, he is greatly looking forward to this opportunity.

When asked about his life goal, Lei replied with great confidence and pride, “to be myself and to be a person I want to be and always have a good attitude for life.”  Hopefully Lei will always hold onto these goals at LSE, Brandeis, and beyond.


Interview with Shanny Habas ‘14

by Xinxin Yu '14

Shanny Habas, from Tel Aviv, Israel, is a sophomore majoring in Economics and Psychology at Brandeis. She is going to study abroad one semester in Hong Kong and one semester in Shanghai during her junior year, focusing on learning Chinese and experiencing the culture.

Shanny came to Brandeis in the summer of 2010 as a Gateway Scholar.   She thought that the idea of the Gateway program was great because through the program she became prepared for an American college workload and adjusted smoothly when the fall semester began. Also during the program, she got the chance to visit Boston and became familiar with the area. She said that one of the great benefits of the Gateway program is that she made so many good friends. Before the fall semester even started, she felt very comfortable and secure because she had these friends to hang out with. She encourages future Gateway Scholars to seek out new friends, even if it means leaving one’s comfort zone.

A very open-minded girl who loves traveling and experiencing diverse cultures, Shanny said that her identity is built upon all the trips she has had, different people she has met, and various cultures she has been exposed to. She said that “all these experiences and adventures have influenced me and they are presents to my life.” Shanny loves change and she wants her life to be full of excitement. She said that life is short and people only live once, so she hopes to spend her life traveling and seeing the world as much as she can.

Shanny’s next exciting stop is China, where she will spend her junior year.  She explained that she decided to study there because at Brandeis she was given a lot of opportunities to interact with Chinese people, as well as friends who are learning Chinese and are passionate about the country.  They encouraged her to study abroad there.

Since she has not previously studied Chinese, the new environment will certainly be a challenge for her.  However, she has confidence in herself and will study really hard in order to succeed.  Although Shanny has already been to Hong Kong several times, she is very excited about this opportunity since she will be in China for a whole year.  Shanny will certainly enjoy her time there and will be able to share her new proficiency in Chinese with her friends back at Brandeis during her senior year.


Self-Profile by Shukai Zhang '15

Shukai Zhang ‘15 is an international student from China who is planning to double major in Biology and Business and triple minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He joined the Gateway Scholars community in summer 2011. Unlike most Chinese students studying at Brandeis who come from Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangdong, Shukai is the first undergraduate student from Harbin, the city of ice and snow. Thanks to his Brandeis experience, students in Harbin get to hear about the wonderful liberal arts education Brandeis provides, and two students from Harbin decided to come due to his recommendation.

Shukai likes a variety of new things: in high school he interned/volunteered in a TV station, a hospital, a newspaper, a restaurant, and a bank. He had a special column for a game magazine, created a Pokemon theme website that has more than twenty thousand members, directed a movie, founded a club, and participated in a robot project. He is also a big fan of skiing. His curiosity to try new things and to challenge himself drove him to the decision of studying abroad. His wide range of interests led him to study a variety of subjects at Brandeis too. Shukai says he’s lucky that he came to a school that focuses on liberal arts education so he can major in different things and be a well-rounded student.

At Brandeis, Shukai was elected by the student body to be Castle senator and attend Student Union Senate weekly meetings. As a senator, Shukai worked hard to improve campus environment and to represent the student voice.  He is also a member of three University Committees: University Dinning Committee, University Service Committee, and Campus Operations Work Group Committee.

Shukai is interested in prospective students considering Brandeis, especially his fellow Chinese students, so he decided to become a Brandeis Admissions Student Ambassador for the Office of Admissions. While attending summer school at Brandeis, Shukai volunteered to be the mentor for the incoming Gateway Scholars, since he knows firsthand the anxiousness that many international students feel when they first arrive at campus.

Shukai is also attending a variety of clubs, such as the Brandeis Skydiving Club with which he jumps out from an airplane every semester!  He is also currently starting his own club at Brandeis.  In addition, Shukai works for the Gateway Scholars Program as an Office Assistant to further assist with building a better relationship between the Gateway students and faculty.

In the following semesters, Shukai will volunteer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the world-renowned affiliate hospital of Harvard Medical School. He is interested in the U.S. medical and health care system and is passionate about learning the western medical system and its strong points. In the future, Shukai wishes to find a job both connecting medicine and business, as well as connecting China and America.

Chen Zhang

Interview with Chen Zhang '15

By Shukai Zhang '15

Chen Zhang '15, an international student from China, is double majoring in Business and Health: Science, Society, Policy [HSSP] and minoring in Theater. Chen joined the Gateway Program in the summer of 2011, which helped him prepare well for his new life at Brandeis. During that summer, he became familiar with the workload of American college. Even though it was challenging for him, he believes that "things might seem to be very difficult when you are trying to accomplish them, but you will be impressed by the achievement of yourself afterwards. Nothing is a big deal".

Chen considers himself to be a very outgoing and sociable person, and would like to make friends from every culture. He also takes advantage of the small class sizes at Brandeis, and claims “you can always see me in my professors’ weekly office hours seeking for valuable advice.” Some professors and TAs liked Chen so much that they offered him internship opportunities. “Some students complain about a small school like Brandeis offers less working opportunities, but it is actually not about your school: it’s about you, you need to take the initiative,” Chen feels.

Additionally, Chen is never tired of exploring new things, and he views one’s college years as the best time to explore different fields and interests. Originally planning to major in Chemistry and Business, Chen found himself more interested in working with people than doing a scientific research, so he swapped his major from Chemistry to HSSP (which combines science and social studies). He really likes the discipline because it offers the opportunity to view science through an analytical lens.

Drawing upon the knowledge he’s gaining in his HSSP major, Chen is actively involved with the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children: a fundraising club for the construction of pediatric clinics in areas currently lacking a reliable source for healthcare. He believes that better health is best achieved by direct care and works to aid those that can least access it. In the spring of 2012, Chen went to the Center for Healthcare Administration in El Salvador for seven days with FIMRC to offer the community medical support. Such experience offered him the opportunity to help a relatively impoverished community and to use his education of healthcare practically. He can’t wait to go on another trip with FIMRC to help more. In the future years in Brandeis, Chen looks forward to learning more and making more connections between the American healthcare system and business.

yingnan guo

Interview with Yingnan Guo ‘15

By Shukai Zhang ‘15

Yingnan Guo ‘15 shared her story about how a nervous Chinese girl became the confident individual she is today. She decided to come to Brandeis because she loves the small classes, the responsive professors, and the hard-working environment. Although quite nervous being so far from home, Yingnan felt excited to meet new people and have new experiences here. The summer Gateway courses were intensive for her, but they motivated her to work even harder. She learned about how to write an academic paper and how to read an essay utilizing deep thoughts.  Such knowledge helped her transition smoothly from a Chinese high school to an American college.

Yingnan also appreciates the English Language tutoring program and claims that her tutor helped her a lot in learning English. “I remembered when my tutor tried to help me the first time, none of my sentences made sense to her. But after a year under her help, I improved a lot and I can now organize my paper in a more logical and succinct way.” She feels lucky because her tutor devotes much effort to make sure her language is not awkwardly expressed.

Originally planning on becoming an Economics major, Yingnan discovered that the subject was rather easy for her and that she could do well in her courses without trying too hard. She then asked herself: what about try something more challenging? She decided to take General Chemistry at Brandeis Summer School and found it fascinating. She developed further interest in Biology because she is able to explore how the world works in a way that she can never see with her eyes. Although being a science major at Brandeis is tough and demanding, she decided that it would be a more rewarding discipline for her to pursue.

On a similar vein as her academic experiences, Yingnan has also learned how to accept herself as who she is. After a year in college, she understands that nobody is perfect and everyone has something they are talented in.  She has used this mantra to explore her interests within the Brandeis community and beyond.

Fei Li

Interview with Fei Li ‘15

By Shukai Zhang ‘15

Fei Li ’15 is an international student from China planning to double major in Mathematics and Economics.  She joined the Gateway Scholars Program in summer 2011, and since it was her first time coming to the United States she had a difficult time adjusting at first. She has to learn the “American way” to interact with people and live her life, in addition to communicating predominantly in English.  Fei describes the Gateway faculty as being like a host family, welcoming and helping her to adapt to the American way of life. “Thanks to Gateway,” Fei says, “I got a chance to build up the habits I need for college life and became well prepared for it.”

At first, Fei planned to major in Business because her parents and friends encouraged her to do so.  However, after taking some Business classes, she decided to instead challenge herself by taking Economics courses.  Earlier this year, Fei was glad to be accepted as a Teaching Assistant for Introduction to Economics since she did not expect to be hired as only a sophomore (the other TAs were juniors and seniors). She says being a TA gives her further opportunities to communicate with the professor.

Fei is dedicated to making the most out of her college experience. Recently, she was the publicity chair of BAASA (Brandeis Asian American Student Association).  In the future, Fei is planning to join the Combined Columbia Program, study abroad, and continue to explore other fields such as Anthropology, History, and Computer Science.

There are diverse opportunities and resources that only Brandeis can offer.  Fei feels that college life is not all about classes and grades, but to explore yourself and grasp at chances that are more important.  She advises, “be yourself, follow your heart, and enjoy your life. Everything else will work out eventually.”