Student Spotlight: Lili Zemplényi

Lili Zemplényi, originally from Kerepes-Szilasliget, is a high-achieving 11th grader at Fazekas Mihály high school in Budapest, where she studies English and Russian language, history and literature. Last summer Lili received a competitive scholarship to participate in the Yale Young Global Scholars Program. The pre-college summer session brought together over 200 high schoolers from 115 countries, and included lectures, seminars, simulations of academic and professional life, and group research projects. Lili currently serves as president of her high school’s student council, and plans to continue her studies at a university in Hungary or the U.S. after she graduates.

Interviewer: Will Freeman

Q: What made you apply to the Young Global Scholars Program at Yale?

I first heard about the Yale Young Global Scholars Program when I was talking with my friend from school about higher education. He just suddenly mentioned it. I had never heard about it before. However, I liked what he said about it, so I looked it up when I got home. When I read its website I just realized that this is something I would enjoy, and I would like to experience, so I decided to apply. It took a lot of effort to accomplish all the required questions in the application, but in the end it was worth it.

Q: Did you receive a scholarship? If so, how did you manage to get the scholarship?

I did receive a scholarship. The financial aid application can be submitted together with the application. So right when you learn whether you got accepted to the program or not, you know if you received financial aid. YYGS is a need-blind pre-college program, so students are guaranteed assistance if their families can prove they need it. According to the statistics, roughly 70 percent of the participants receive financial aid.

Q: What steps did you take to make your application to the Yale program the best it could be?

I believe that the two most important keys to writing a good application are being sincere and examining your work. I recommend taking time to finish your application, rather than just starting a few weeks before the deadline. For me it was really important to have enough time to think about the answers. The application contained questions like “what influenced your personal dreams the most?” and “say one thing people usually do not know about you, although you think they should.” Answering these questions can be hard for teenagers. They require awareness and reflection about your own life. You need to understand what has motivated you the most and you need to be brave enough to explain it to a stranger. The most essential piece of advice I have for writing a successful application is to clearly and honestly explain your own beliefs and what you have already done to live up to them.

Q: What was an average day like during your program?

One of the primary reasons why I enjoyed my time at Yale University was the highly structured yet comfortable agenda of activities. I was staying at the Jonathan Edwards College, where I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spent my free time. Each day after breakfast, I attended lectures from 9:00am to 1:00pm. After lunch, we had some other activities until dinner. Then we attended the final lecture of the day, which ended at 9:00pm. I participated in the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship session of the program, and I had the chance to attend a wide range of seminars, lectures, and panels. You could learn about cryptocurrencies, multinational companies’ human rights obligation, international law, the ethics of war and even biological engineering. You could also speak with people from all walks of life, including businessmen, young, open-minded entrepreneurs and old, experienced scientists. The primary purpose of my program was to teach students about social entrepreneurship and start-ups, but as this theme is widely connected with modern technologies, you necessarily jumped into unknown fields as well. For my capstone—a project meant to produce a piece of research about a given question—my group and I studied legal restrictions on the use of autonomous vehicles, or unmanned cars. I believe my team could come up with a pretty great draft of a study about this under-researched issue.

Q: What was the most important takeaway for you academically?

I am primarily interested in economics, and until the camp I was not really interested in law and sciences. But at Yale I realized that even pure economics requires knowledge about science and law. We had tough debates about patent law and restrictions on the use of cryptocurrencies. These are all important questions for the business world, yet they have nothing to do with economics. We might study economics, but it does not mean that we do not have to be experts in law. It was a really important lesson for me as a high school student, and it is true for other fields, too. I might study history and literature separately, but they are still widely connected.

Q: What was one thing you learned about U.S. culture and what is one thing you tried to show others about Hungarian culture?

For me it was a bit shocking that most of the international students had little knowledge about Hungary. However, it made me really happy that most of the people were impressed by the beauty of the country once I showed them photos. It made me truly proud of my nationality.
The most important lesson I learned about the U.S. is that its culture, business life, and student life is much more complexed that I thought it would be. The USA has a vibrant and colorful cultural life, but somehow Europeans usually fail to mention it.

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for Hungarian high school students thinking about applying to a summer program like the one you completed or a high school exchange?

I know that many Hungarian fear speaking foreign languages. I am not a native-speaker of English. I was also frightened of misunderstanding my professors and friends. I knew that most of the students who got accepted to the program were native-speakers, or English was their second language. I thought I would understand nothing during the lectures, but I was wrong.

You might misunderstand people while studying abroad, make grammatical mistakes, or miss some jokes, but it doesn’t matter that much. Most of the native-speakers are supportive, and they will not ostracize you if you make mistakes. Do not fear speaking and chat with other students!

I would like to thank the Yale Young Global Scholars program for their generous support, which made my studies possible. I would also like to thank EducationUSA for supporting me throughout the application process.

Lili Zemplényi and Kristóf Czirják representing the Yale Young Global Scholars program at the International Education Week 2016 fair in Budapest.