Allison Zhang, ’19, poses for her promotional photo for the Stanford University Dance Marathon, which fundraises for the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. "It was a lot of fun because we’d do crazy poses in the background of each other’s photos," Zhang said. "It was a whole afternoon event sort of thing, and people were wearing 'rally,' (which is) kind of crazy, fun clothing like lobster claws, tutus, various onesies — there was a girl in an ice cream costume." (Photo courtesy of Zhang)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Allison Zhang, ’19, loves Stanford because of its ‘super-talented’ students, proximity to home

Allison Zhang, ’19, attends Stanford University. She is considering majoring in human biology. 

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: I’m taking Chem 31M, which is essentially general chemistry. I’m also taking an intro seminar on Japanese gardens and sacred space and a required freshman writing course. The theme of the writing course is criminality.

Q: Which class is your favorite?

A: I really like all my classes, but my favorite would be the intro sem class. It’s also really great because there are a lot of older students, and it’s nice to get to know some of the sophomores, juniors and seniors. 

Also, our final project is, rather than an exam, to design an exhibit in the East Asia Library. The library has a big collection of old hand scrolls, books and prints that relate to gardens, so we were able to use those materials to design an exhibit.

Q: Which class is your least favorite?

A: Solely based on workload, it would be the writing course. Since we’re on the quarter system, it’s a lot of work stuffed into 10 weeks, and I’m a slow writer. We had to do three big essays over the course of 10 weeks, which is crazy considering what I was used to in high school. But the material is about criminality and criminal justice, which I find interesting, so I can’t complain about the class itself since it’s pretty good.

After touring Green Gulch Farm Zen Center’s gardens and participating in a traditional tea ceremony, Allison Zhang, ’19, (fifth from left) visits Muir Beach with her classmates from her intro seminar on Japanese gardens and sacred space. (Photo courtesy of Zhang)

Q: Are you participating in any clubs?

A: I joined the Stanford (University) Dance Marathon, which is this group of people fundraising for the  Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital here on campus. It’s been a lot of fun meeting new people, and we all got a tour of the hospital. It’s great being able to be a part of this group. And coincidentally (Jack Christian, ’19) also joined. I run into other Octagon alumni sometimes, but not that often. 

We have our own fundraising pages (, and we reach out to friends and family and get them to pledge, similar to Run to Feed the Hungry. We also do sales — for example, we had a boba sale — and fundraisers such as a dodgeball tournament. On Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3), all our donations through Venmo were matched by Facebook. So far, we’ve raised a little over $12,000, and our goal by the end of the year is $80,000.

I’m also playing violin in the orchestra and taking violin lessons again, which I had stopped during high school.

Unfortunately, I can’t join the Stanford Daily because I’m really busy with other stuff. I’m still doing graphic design, which I love. I’m working in the writing and rhetoric office to design posters for new courses and design promotional things for them, like stickers and pens and whatnot — it’s a lot of fun, and it’s nice to be able to still do some of that design that I really enjoyed in the Octagon.

Q: How are you adjusting to college life?

A: It’s been really great, and since I’ve been on campus in past summers, I know the lay of the land a little bit better, and it feels nice to be close to home. I love being close to home since it’s really convenient. When I packed for college and moved in, I forgot a lot of stuff, so my parents were able to just drive down and drop it off. I still have orthodontist appointments in Sacramento, so it’s easy to come home for those.

It was really shocking coming from such a small community to such a large one. I knew some of the people at Country Day for almost 13 years, and I’ll run into people I know often, but I’m usually surrounded by strangers here at Stanford. The Country Day orchestra would be considered a chamber group here. So, I’m still getting used to it, because I like that small-school feel that I had at Country Day.

Socially, it was tricky at first — the flaky culture at Stanford is real — but through classes and clubs, it’s inevitable that you’ll meet some amazing people.

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: I was biking over to orchestra rehearsal, which is on the other side of campus. Once I got there, I realized that my ID card wasn’t where it usually is (in my phone case), and I started freaking out, so I told my conductor that I was going to look for it. I had it in my dorm, so I knew I lost it on the path. I biked all the way back and couldn’t find it, so I was Googling what to do if I lost my ID card, and then my conductor asked if I found it. Luckily, a cellist heard him ask, and she had picked it up at the bike racks outside of the building we rehearse in. But now I religiously check whether I have my ID card.

For the annual orchestra Halloween concert, Allison Zhang, ’19, (far right) and the violin section dressed up as tourists to go with a piece they performed: “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin. (Photo courtesy of Zhang)

Q: What is your favorite part about Stanford?

A: Honestly — and I know a lot of people say this — it’s the people here. There’s such a wide range of talents and skills. One time in the orchestra, we had these two students who were taking conducting class conduct the orchestra, and they were really good — it was so shocking. And after that, we had student composers show us some music they composed, and that was also so amazing. It’s really intimidating being surrounded by all these super-talented people, but that’s what makes me love Stanford.

Q: What is your least favorite part about Stanford?

A: It’s a really small detail, but it’s the way our dorm is set up. We have three floors with three wings, and I’m on the C wing on the third floor. We have two bathrooms, a men’s and gender-neutral one, and the floor below us has women’s and gender-neutral, so it switches. But it’s annoying because I’ll be showering, and I’m not used to seeing guys in the bathroom. There have been multiple occasions where I walked in on a guy peeing with the stall door open, which might be normal in a men’s bathroom with urinals, but it’s very shocking for me.

Another thing is the bike culture here. I love biking because it’s really convenient, but when everyone is biking to their next class during the 10-minute break in between, it’s terrifying. One of my professors said it’s probably more dangerous biking at Stanford than in San Francisco.

Q: Did Country Day prepare you well for college?

A: More or less, yeah. Especially academically and with all the writing classes and Octagon, I feel comfortable as a writer. With the STEM classes, too, I have (Glenn) Mangold’s Physics C notes with me to prepare me for physics next quarter. But the environment of Country Day was very secluded compared to here, so that’s been a big change.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before college started?

A: Not really. For the most part, you have to be there. You need to experience it before you can really prepare yourself for college, and there’s only so much you can do ahead of time. It’s about having an open mind and being excited about what’s to come.

Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2020?

A: Take it easy when you get to college, especially in the quarter system. I had friends tell me to take (only) a few classes to ease myself into it, and I’m really grateful for that advice. I know people here who were swamped in their second week here with a lot of classes and homework. It’s nice not being in that position, so just take it easy.

— By Arikta Trivedi

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