Minerva Fellow Interview: Yilun Zhang

Yilun Zhang. Jinan, China
Yilun Zhang. Jinan, China
  1. Where did you go and what was your experience like?

I went to Jinan, China to work at private school for autistic children. My experience was full of ups and downs with daily wins and losses with the children, and full of self-doubt. Ru and I were received as the “American autism specialists” and we wholeheartedly adopted “fake it till you make it.” I am glad to say that I feel that we “made it” and were able to have a positive impact the children and built great relationships with them, their parents, and the other teachers.

  1. What was your fondest memory of your time as a Minerva Fellow?

It is too difficult to pick one but this one brings me back to Union. While I was at Union I was very involved with the Good Eats program, which is now a club of which we cook with autistic teenagers and adults from Schenectady ARC. We used to always make pizzas together for our dinners which really allowed everyone to get creative. This past year in China, I also started a ‘cooking/baking’ class with the children and most of them had never seen or made a pizza before. Watching the kids pile on a mountain of toppings, eagerly wait in front of the toaster oven and then completely rip apart what they made, was a great Kodak moment for both the parents and I.

  1. What did you do during your time? What does the fellowship entail?

I worked as a music teacher that also taught cooking, baking, and ice hockey. I was basically an all-around school teacher which really gave me the freedom to pursue my own interests and hobbies!

  1. How has the trip changed you? 

I went into the year wanting to go into medicine, and I am coming out of it needing to go into medicine. After a year of being treated as basically an “autism specialist,” I realize that in order for me to make a withstanding impact on these individuals I must have the necessary skills and knowledge to not only treat them but to attend to all of their needs. I am so thankful to have had this experience, and I could only hope that all of my peers could also have such of a life and career affirming post-graduate year!


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