‘During the 12 years I spent in Huijia, I changed from a child who didn’t like study and was considered ‘rebellious’ to a good student receiving offers from top universities. It seems that I am really and truly a dark horse.’
He is the boy named Peng Zheng, who achieved a ‘reversal of life’ at Huijia and was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley with also offers from University of California, Santa Barbara and several other top American universities.
Peng Zheng is truly a different one when compared to other outstanding graduates of his age.
He is 185 cm tall, loves playing basketball and has been the captain of Huijia basketball team for four years. Under his leadership, the team has won several championships in the inter-school basketball competitions in Beijing.
‘Other than that, I don’t seem to have any other eye-catching experience…’
Quite unlike some of the typical ‘elite’ students who either win awards repeatedly in international academic competitions or have always been widely recognized as top students. This boy, however, represents another type of Huijia students.
They might not be the most ‘obedient’ students, nor those who are always passionate about study, in some people’s eyes they once rebelled and worried parents and teachers…
However as Peng said, if you are willing to make change and come out of your comfort zone, it’s never too late. The previous rebellion and unruliness were also a way to grow.
Looking back to past years, Peng is grateful for the tolerance and support given by those who were around him, which helped him to eventually find his own pace of growth and opened the door leading to a bright future.
A growing path as such, is a different but exciting one.
1 Going to the United States, opened up another possibility of me
According to Peng Zheng, he didn’t actually spend a lot of time and effort on English, which was considered vital by many people while applying for foreign universities.
‘Once the solid foundation is laid, everything else will come natural.’ The story behind this confidence dates back to Peng’s primary school life.
In order to choose a school with both international and Chinese cultural elements, Peng’s parents went through a long and hard search process. After many comparisons they finally chose Huijia and Peng became a student in the 1st Grade of Huijia private school. As a happy child without outstanding academic performance, Peng’s first five years in Huijia went fast. The change happened in the 6th Grade, when he participated in a one-year trip to the United States.
‘The year I spent in the States did not only open my horizon, but also laid a solid foundation for my English ability. In fact, learning English became quite an easy thing in the next few years.’
During the students’ stay in the United States, they attended the local school during the daytime and reviewed vocabulary under teachers’ supervision every week. They took part in a Hundred Words Competition once a week in groups (each apartment was a group) and the winning groups were rewarded based on their performance.
It was in this atmosphere, Peng Zheng’s English ability gained rapid improvement and he could get full scores in almost every competition. For him, the sense of honor is more satisfying than any kind of reward.
‘After I came back from the States, I could clearly feel that my English ability had improved a lot and I had developed an efficient way and habit of learning English. With hardly any preparation, I even reached the top three of my year group when I took the TOFEL test for the first time in the 3rd Grade of junior high school.’
Another impact brought by the trip to the States is that it opened a window for him to learn about foreign universities.
‘We visited UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles)
that year and after I did some more research myself about the university, I learnt that UCLA is not only academically strong but also has cultivated a great number of NBA superstars, which reinforced my idea to study there, in such a vibrant American university which is rich in basketball culture’.
However life is always full of drama, Peng eventually missed UCLA, and ended up being admitted by University of California, Berkeley, which ranks even higher.
‘My goal is to enter the Haas School of Business in Berkeley. Life is full of surprises and starting from Berkeley, I will find another possibility for my future life.
2 Get out the comfort zone and enjoy the bittersweet
Basketball is the key word of Peng’s youth.
From the 3rd Grade of junior high to the 3rd Grade of senior high, Peng served as the captain of Huijia basketball team for four years, leading the team to victory in the Beijing International School Basketball League multiple times.
In addition to that, he also made one more step forward by bringing basketball culture to the community.
With teammates, Peng Zheng - 2nd from left
There is a large basketball court in the neighborhood where Peng lives and everyday countless wonderful basketball games are played there. This basketball court has always been Peng’s favorite place since he was little.
Every time when Peng saw adults playing, he wanted to join but was also afraid that those people would think he was too young and wouldn’t play with him. It was at that time, a plan began to take shape in his head: setting up a basketball community for children. Together with his observation and understanding of basketball culture at home and abroad, Peng put his idea into practice.
He decided to take the opportunity of the MYP community design in the 9th Grade to launch a campaign to promote youth basketball culture in his community.
Together with his teammate Liu Axida, they volunteered to teach children of the neighborhood to play basketball and organize community basketball games.
‘These kids need people of our age to introduce them to basketball culture and grow passion towards the game. I hope they won’t have the same regret as I did when I was a child.’
Nevertheless Peng and his partner gradually came to a realization that it wasn’t an easy job to plan and implement the project, regardless how simple it sounded.
‘It was the first time we’ve taken to the streets to promote this community project to every family with children. It was also the first time for us, as single children of our families to try to understand the inner world of other kids of different age groups, and also of course it was the first time for us to design basketball lessons for the youth and carry out teaching in mixed-age classes…’
After several months, these two passionate and hard-working boys from Huijia became the stars of the neighborhood.
Their basketball exchange WeChat group was also expanded from several families to dozens. ‘Many kids fell in love with basketball ever since, and it was our great honor and pleasure to help them to find their own basketball group and the joy and confidence brought by the game.’
By promoting basketball culture in the community, Peng stepped out of his comfort zone and found a different meaning and the value of basketball. Another big change he made for himself was the improvement in academic performance.
Peng admitted that his academic performance was nowhere near satisfactory except English, and he even received a warning when entering high school.
Peng’s teacher said in fact that Peng was a kid with his own fixed ideas.
‘The reason why he didn’t do well was not because he wasn’t capable enough, but the fact that he hadn’t found the reason to study hard. But if you give him some time, he will think things through.’
Even Peng’s mother couldn’t do anything about that.
But sometimes there is a lag in growth. While some people have always been trying hard for the good result, others are waiting for the moment of self-awakening then rise to catch up. Peng apparently belongs to the latter.
It was the 1st Grade of high school when Peng realized that he needed to make some change.
Within less than one term, Peng managed to raise his GPA from 3 to 6+, and what behind this surprising breakthrough was his struggle with all his weaknesses.
‘In terms of study, I don't really find it difficult. As long as I follow teacher’s instructions everything just comes natural. However I needed to overcome my weaknesses in time management and self-discipline. Getting out of my comfort zone is definitely painful but if you manage to persist for a bit longer, when you manage to get a satisfactory result, you will feel a unique kind of happiness.’
This is why Peng finds the most unacceptable thing during a basketball game is that players don't give 100 percent of the effort when trying to secure a rebound. This is also why he made another break through by playing a female character and won the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ award in La locandiera during the school’s 2017 drama competition. It was his first theatrical stage experience and his first attempt to play a female role. ‘No girl from my class wanted to play that role and the director finally came up with a ‘brilliant’ idea by using a male performer to play the role, hoping that would bring some contrast to the show, and he turned to me.’
A 185 cm tall basketball team captain dressed up as a lady and playing a female role in a drama, with all the gestures and language of women he could picture – this is already dramatic enough.
To the surprise of the students around him, Peng decided to accept the challenge, as he also wanted to see if this breakthrough could create some ‘history’.
Before Peng, there had been no male performer awarded the Best Supporting Actress before. ‘It was truly a new, interesting but challenging attempt for me.’
After mulling over the different features of female characters in different dramas and repeated rehearsals with classmates, Peng was becoming more and more confident in bringing this clever and foxy shopkeeper to life in the performance.
In the end, he was awarded the ‘Best Supporting Actress’.
2017 drama competition, Peng Zheng is in the middle
‘Either don’t do it or do it well. When you step out of your comfort zone and face up to the challenge, you will find there aren't actually that many ‘impossibles’ or ‘I can’t do it’. When you really break through the self, you will find the more exciting side of life.
3 IB helped me to find my own direction
Economics will be Peng’s future major in university, however he had been hoping to study biology for a long time prior to making the final decision.
‘Thanks to the IB, I was able to gain a full access to all disciplines and conduct intensive research on the subjects that interest me, so as to learn about the methods and content of the research I would do in the future university. By doing so, I was able to decide early enough whether the subject/major would be a suitable one to support my future career development.’
In the process of IB DP study, Peng, who had intended to study biology, gradually saw the future research direction and methods of biology in universities. At the same time, he also felt the different charm of economics.
After careful weighing up the pros and cons, he finally decided to select economics for the direction of his future development.
‘During the process of studying IBDP, I found economics truly fascinating. It is so closely related to all aspects of our life. Anything we encounter has some kind of connection with economics and if you learnt it well, you will gain a different and deep insight into the world, and this attracts me to it.’
For Peng Zheng, this change of choice is an interesting life experience.
‘Life is full of possibilities. Looking back to my youth age, I have been through a lot of so called ‘detours’ and wasted some time. But I managed reach the milestone of my life eventually, and this unique growth experience is a treasure that belongs to me. I am sincerely thankful to those who allowed me to grow up in my way.’
Yes indeed, growth is a type of experience and children have the most say in what and how much they have gained from it.
Just as Kobe Bryant, Peng’s idol once said:‘ It’s not about destination. It’s about the journey.’
We sincerely wish Peng, this big boy, continues to shine in Berkeley and the basketball court of life!