William Zhu

American from Boston, MA  

“My mother told me that I was born at the time when they ran out of birth permits in China so essentially, I am an illegal baby. . .  On Thanksgiving day, I flew over to the US and with everything going on, my parents didn’t really have enough resources for a second child.” 

Will is a self-described cat turned human as he says cats jump around a lot and are super expressive. When you meet Will in person he definitely has that same ball of unique energy. I met up with Will at Northeastern University and in addition to learning about Will’s childhood and passions, I learned about his parents’ journey, his thoughts on Chinese immigration, and how he is an illegal baby due to China’s population control policy. FYI –  Will identifies as an American because he says, “I’m about as Chinese as a fortune cookie or those stupid little takeout boxes.” Thanks Will for sharing your story!


“I wouldn’t be in this country if it wasn’t for Northeastern University. My dad come over as a doctoral candidate for economics for Northeastern University and I’m an only child. One of the main reasons as to why I am the only child is basically because in the Chinese culture, your grandparents are supposed to take care of your grandchildren while your kids go off to work in the USA.  That wasn’t the case with me. My grandmother didn’t like my mother and my mom’s side of the family disowned her.  My mother told me that I was born at the time when they ran out of birth permits in China so essentially, I am an illegal baby.”

“My mom was 24 and getting pregnant at 24 was considered very young.  She was also a government employee so they told her that they had to either abort me or quit her job because she could cause her office to lose their yearly bonus. My dad was here at the time and with him being a doctoral candidate with a visa, it was hard to get a part time job. Instead, he loaded up on a lot of campus jobs which still wasn’t much. Finally on Thanksgiving day, I flew over to the US and with everything going on, my parents didn’t really have enough resources for a second child.”

More on his dad’s journey to the USA and Will’s thoughts about Chinese immigration. . .

“To get into college my dad had to teach himself while going through the labor camp. This was during the time when Mao Zedong used a system of labor to educate people and because schools were closed, my dad had to teach himself with his brother’s books. When he was finally able to, my dad took the entrance exams like 3 or 4 times for college. This exam was made so difficult it almost felt like you had to get into Harvard first before you can take the exam. It was like a 10% passing rate. For my dad to be able to get through all of that just to go to college, it takes a certain person. They didn’t survive in their home country just to make to the US by lazing around. . . they worked really hard.”

“The thing about all Asians being really good at math or really smart is that people are just ignoring the fact that getting into this country is really also a selective process. Unless if you have an advanced degree or pursuing an advanced degree, you’re looking at a 10 year wait time. Without education, a college degree, and no job, there’s a 25 year waiting period. If you’re someone famous it’s instant and also if you have an advanced degree in a science field. That’s why you think there’s a lot of Chinese and Indians that have advanced degrees but most people that don’t have these qualifications are still in their home country. When people are yelling for immigrants to come into this country the legal way, they don’t understand that by the time someone waits to get into this country, they might have to retire.”

A defining moment from his childhood and on having different interests from everyone else. . . 

“When I was young, I road my bike down a really steep hill and collided  with another person. I got a concussion. That happened right outside my apartment complex and that accident gave me some issues, you know, the entire science behind what you get from concussions. I also didn’t feel as energetic as much anymore. I was still rambunctious and annoyed my grade school teachers because I was one of those people who don’t really have an indoor voice. One of my favorite things to do was sneak up behind people and yell to scare them.”

“In middle school, I started rebelling against stuff and becoming an angsty teen. When I started becoming a teenager, I didn’t want to do what the other kids were doing because I thought they were all lame. So mix that with the kind of hotheadedness that you just have at that age. . . I was just angry at everything.  I built up this reputation of being considered ‘hardcore’ and not in the sense of one of the ‘I just stole my dad’s Pabst Blue Ribbon from the liquor cabinet’ but in the sense that I just stood out. Sure, I didn’t get invited to a lot of parties but to be honest, I found them boring anyway.”

“Also in middle school I started reading Terry Pratchett. He was this English author that focused on satire and made fun of everything. His recent book makes fun of the concept of the stock market. I really loved those books but I think I was the only one who ever heard of him and back then people found it weird that I was laughing at a book. They were all like, ‘How can a book be funny?’.”

Today, Will’s eyes are constantly stimulated by technology when it comes to work and play. . . 

“I graduated with a B.S and M.S in Mechanical Engineering. My work involves computer stimulation, reading stuff, and it doesn’t feel like work because I’m always engaged. When I get home, I read and play video games. My eyes don’t like me much, they’re constantly stimulated. What drives me is that I want to do stuff. I don’t know what to do with my free time so I just want to stay busy.”

“When I went into college, I didn’t think much about what my parents went through. I wanted to do either engineering or art. I figured engineering was a lot more fun than art.  For art, I would have wanted to do character design. It’s funny, my dad didn’t want me to get bogged in my PHD studies because he was in his program for 6 years and was supposed to finish in 3 but my mom knew I had a knack for numbers. She always encouraged me to advance my studies instead of drawing people.”

“I find it really relaxing to drive and watch life pass you by. I’ve thought about getting a used Miata and taking it to a racetrack in Connecticut. It’ll be nice to experience it just once. If I make it into a weekly thing it’ll feel like work. If you look at my hobbies over the year it jumps around a lot. I was into video games, painting, 3d modeling, and I drew quite a bit. I even tried T-shirt printing.”

And advice he’d give to his younger self . . . 

“Until a year ago, I hated my younger self for being such a dumbass. You know, it’s common for people to look back and think, ‘man I was so dumb.’ But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do all that stupid crap. Like I could have done without the concussion but I wouldn’t be me without it. One of the biggest regrets that I have is that I blew off a lot of girls who were interested in me when I was younger. I could have been married by now. I just wasn’t ready.”


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