Editor’s Note: Stephen Yeap Weller, a 23-year-old Malaysian, embodies a spirit of tenacity and dedication that has guided him through various chapters of his life. Currently pursuing his studies in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter), Stephen shares his unique journey from competitive swimming to spiritual exploration and his quest for knowledge in technology.

From Malaysia to China: a quest for identity

Stephen Yeap Weller’s journey to JI is a testament to the power of self-discovery and resilience. Born in Malaysia, Stephen’s early years were defined by his passion for competitive swimming. Reflecting on his athletic pursuits, he shares, “I was a competitive swimmer for Malaysia, and every day I would train, no matter how I felt that day. Since then, I’ve retired from swimming, but I still love to play a variety of sports.”

However, Stephen’s quest for personal growth transcended the boundaries of the swimming pool. Seeking deeper meaning in life, he embarked on a spiritual journey as a monk in Malaysia. Recalling this transformative period, he reflects, “The decision to become a monk was the result of being lost and confused in life. Going through that experience taught me a lot about not being scared and tackling life head-on.”

Stephen’s decision to study at JI was driven by a desire to reconnect with his Chinese heritage while pursuing a Western-style education in China. “During my gap year from Duke University, I began learning Chinese language and more about Chinese culture. Despite growing up in a Western environment, I felt it was appropriate to make the transfer to JI, a leading institute of international education based in China,” he said.

Stephen’s sojourn in China has not only deepened his connection to his heritage but also broadened his perspectives on culture, society, and personal growth. From the bustling streets of Shanghai to the tranquil landscapes of Hangzhou and Xian, he has been captivated by the country’s vibrant tapestry of tradition and modernity.

Stephen Yeap Weller(Second from left) attends a cultural tour in Hangzhou with classmates.

Stephen Yeap Weller takes a photo with a friend at the Bund in Shanghai.

Achieving tech excellence and growth at JI

At JI, Stephen has thrived academically, pursuing a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a prospective Computer Science Minor. His passion for technology is palpable as he delves into topics ranging from cybersecurity to cloud computing. Describing his academic pursuits, Stephen states, “As an Electrical and Computer Engineering student, technology fascinates me. It’s a magic in this world that we use every day and yet most people seem to take it for granted.”

Reflecting on his academic journey, Stephen acknowledges the rigorous curriculum at UM-SJTU JI. Favorite courses under Professors Manuel Charlemagne and Gang Zheng provided him with a deeper insight into algorithm analysis and computer organization, respectively. Surrounded by diligent peers, Stephen found himself constantly challenged and motivated to excel.

Stephen’s academic achievements are complemented by his practical experiences, including undergraduate research on AI techniques and internships at AI-based information service companies.

Life at UM-SJTU JI extends beyond academics, with Stephen actively participating in extracurricular activities. From representing the international student community in dragon boat races to engaging in research projects and internships, he seizes every opportunity for personal and professional growth. Notable achievements include obtaining certifications in cybersecurity, conducting research on AI techniques, and interning at AnyHelper, an AI-based information service company.

Stephen Yeap Weller (first from the left) stands with his fellow football team members on campus.

As Stephen reflects on his journey at JI, he is filled with gratitude for the opportunities that have shaped his academic, personal, and spiritual growth. Looking ahead, Stephen is excited about the possibilities that the future holds. With a renewed sense of purpose and direction, he is ready to embrace new challenges and continue his journey of exploration and self-discovery.

Discussing his professional aspirations, Stephen shares, “I plan to find work in the area of cloud computing. I am currently finishing my Microsoft Azure Associate developer certification, with plans to finish the Microsoft Azure DevOps professional certification.”

Stephen’s Advice for Aspiring International Students:

 Embrace Hard Work: Prepare for the rigorous academic environment and commit to continuous learning.

 Forge Connections: Build relationships with professors and peers to enrich your academic and professional journey.

 Engage in Extracurricular Activities: Explore opportunities beyond the classroom to broaden your horizons and develop diverse skill sets.

 Cultivate Independence: Navigate cultural and language barriers with resilience and an open mind.

 Plan Ahead: Develop a clear vision for your post-graduate plans and equip yourself with the necessary skills and certifications.