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Robin Zhang: 'Understanding China is crucial for businesses and governments alike'

Mon, 05/07/2018

Robin Zhang

Economics & China and Asia Pacific Studies

West Lafayette, IN

What is your main extracurricular activity--why is it important to you?

I've been an active member of the Cornell International Affairs Society (CIAS) since freshman fall. Some may think of us as "just the Model UN club," but CIAS is and does much more than that. Over the last four years, I can probably count on one hand the number of weekly meetings that I've missed--I love them that much. Each week is an opportunity to learn from my incredibly smart peers about a different international current event. Unlike many organizations on campus, CIAS is non-exclusive, meaning there's no application process, and still we have a robust bipartisan body. For me personally, CIAS provided my first collegiate leadership position, which gave me the confidence and experience to pursue later opportunities. Most importantly, I found a home at Cornell here; CIAS is family.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

My decision to be a China & Asia-Pacific Studies (CAPS) major has shaped my Cornell experience. CAPS classes inspired my intellectual and professional interests. Moreover, because of the major requirements, I was off-campus all of junior year, first doing Cornell in Washington, then studying abroad in Beijing. In both places, I interned in addition to taking classes, so I was able to explore different career options and figure out what I do/don't want to do. Overall, the program is a small and tight-knit community; I loved knowing my professors and classmates. Moreover, I feel like we, as students, were able to make our thoughts heard by the department, and they were very responsive in addressing our concerns.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

I came in thinking I'd study Economics and Government, maybe focusing on U.S. foreign policy; I would never have guessed that I'd be a China specialist. Growing up in a Chinese family, with a mom who often does China-related research, I was utterly bored by what I thought I knew about China. After taking Professor Andrew Mertha's China under Revolution and Reform class, I realized what a fascinating economic and political history China had and how interesting its government/economy remains today. I think understanding China is crucial for businesses and governments alike, so I'm confident that my CAPS education will be very useful.

Robin Zhang