HuntSpeak: A conversation over ice cream with Ben Yao

By Mariana Velasco

Ben is currently a sophomore in the Huntsman Program targeting Mandarin. *The interview took place in Spring 2021.

Thanks for meeting me for ice cream. We can start with an easy one. Why Huntsman? I was doing a lot of different things in high school, such as student government, debate, music… I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to commit to, but I remember watching this video about how Penn was a great launchpad and how the business toolkit learned at Wharton were a strong means and it was up to us to choose the end. Even though I was born and raised in New York, I strongly identify with my Chinese heritage and I wanted to connect with that more. That became my end. Huntsman was the perfect program to dive deep into all things China and become well-versed in the area.

I always like to ask this question. Sometimes it changes through the years, but how would you split your interest between business and international studies? That’s a tough question. I think when I came in I was focused on business because I entered Penn with the intent of pursuing finance. But now, I find myself reading a lot about how nations develop and history books on all different areas. For instance, I found Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money and Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition to be excellent reads. At the end of day, I think I find my international studies courses to be more interesting and my business classes do a fantastic job of helping me dive deeper into that interest and giving me a much better understanding and perspective of the content.

Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you immediately. I think when I first meet people I’m generally a bit more introverted and I don’t talk as much, but I really appreciate it when I can tell that people are listening. I think I tend to share a lot about myself as I get to know someone and I love deep conversations. To me, being emotionally honest and authentic is really valuable. I also think that people are generally surprised to hear that I’ve danced ballet before and that I’ve sat and watched all the World Cup matches all the way through even though I rowed and played tennis for most of my life.

What are your hobbies? I really enjoy music. I played classical percussion ever since elementary school and I even considered applying to a conservatory before applying to college. Nowadays, I love playing chess. I find it to be relaxing and I enjoy the fact that there’s so much to learn and read about the game. Reading and lifting are also on the list. If I’m not doing anything else, I’m usually at Pottruck.

What do you want to get out of your undergraduate experience? I think besides getting an education, I would definitely say meeting a bunch of interesting people. Huntsman is really good for that because coming in you already have a group of people to meet from all over the world. And it’s not just about hearing the cultural stories and having conversations over dinner about world events. I’ve also found that the music on my Spotify playlists has become so different from when I was in high school. It’s not just jazz and classical anymore but also Korean R&B, reggaeton, and a lot of indie music.

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