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Yuan Fen (缘分): Thankful That Sanford Brought Us Together

November 23, 2015

by Katherine Zhou

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  • Katherine Zhao and her aunt, smiling

    "Sanford, in a way, brought us together."

    Katherine Zhou (left) is a student at Duke University. She works at Sanford as a photographer and multimedia specialist. As a part of her work, she interviews people for the #HumansofDukeSanford initiative. She recently had an unexpected opportunity to meet a relative as a part of her job.

About three weeks ago, my mother called me and asked if I had happened to notice a group of high-ranking Chinese officials taking classes at Duke. Much to her surprise, I had noticed this group – their program actually took place at Sanford, where I work as a photographer and multimedia assistant.

I asked my mother how she knew about the group, as she has very little interest in Chinese politics (having lived in the U.S. for over 20 years). That’s when she told me that apparently, my aunt was one of the officials there. This aunt of mine is actually the sister of my mother’s sister-in-law. Soon, after many excited phone calls and WeChat messages, I found myself sitting across the table from Luo Hao, Division Director for China’s Department of Finance.

I interviewed Luo Hao for our #HumansofDukeSanford project. Looking back, I have to say that I’m pretty thankful that Sanford, in a way, brought us together.

Luo Hao

Katherine's auntMy name is Luo Hao. I am studying Public Policy and Management at Sanford. There is a four-month training program at Sanford for Chinese government officials. I work for the Ministry of Commerce, and I am the Division Director for the Department of Finance. Every day, I deal with the finance, budgeting, and auditing aspects of the economy.

This is my first time in the United States. Before I came here, I knew a little bit about America, but I never had contact with westerners. I was afraid of the culture shock and the potential communication barriers. When I arrived, I found that there were many similarities between the Chinese and Americans. As humans, we have the same fundamental values, despite coming from different countries and political systems.

My favorite lecture I’ve attended at Sanford was when a former 4-star general talked about the U.S. military force in the Middle East. Because ISIS is a hot topic right now, many people came to attend the lecture. I think that Sanford does a great job of bringing in high-level officials and academics to inform the public of various policy ideas.


I think that my meeting with my niece, Katherine, is a perfect example of a Chinese term called, yuan fen (缘分). I don’t know if there is an English word that serves as a precise translation for yuan fen, but what it evokes is this sense of fate, of destiny. In the future, when I look back at my time at Duke, I know that this encounter between us will be a key memory.