Yuzhi Yang joined our department in September 2021 to work on a research project about river pollution management, under supervision of Steven Poelhekke and Erik Ansink. Her background is quite unusual:

‘I grew up in a Buddhist shrine, Wutai Mountain in Shanxi province of China. On my eighteenth, I went to Harbin Institute of Technology where I got my bachelor’s in accounting. After that I went to University of Barcelona for 2 years, where I got my master’s in economics.’ During her master, Yuzhi got an interest in environmental economics. ‘I took a course on cooperative game theory, and I read some articles about the climate change policies. Now I focus on water management because water scarcity is becoming a concern and a very important environmental problem.’

Career switch

Surprisingly, after getting her master, Yuzhi returned to China to work as an investment banking junior associate in Shanghai. ‘It is a high-pressure job. We worked long hours, about 10-11 hours a day, usually including weekends. And I had very frequent business trips.’ After one year, she decided to apply for a PhD position at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and returned to her academic love: water economics, applying models from cooperative game theory and optimal control theory.

Being asked about the main differences in daily life as compared to China in the Netherlands, Yuzhi answers: ‘Generally people tend to have a relatively more relaxed lifestyle. And Amsterdam is bike friendly. I commuted by subway or by taxi when I was in China, here I cycle whenever the weather is nice.  Striking is the quick and simple lunch here. When I worked in China, my team went to a nearby restaurant for lunch every day.’

‘Here people are more egalitarian’

We ask Yuzhi if she feels that ‘Europeans’ are different than Chinese people and pick several elements. ‘I hope I do not generalize the differences or create any stereotypes. Because differences are not absolute and greatly depend on individual circumstances. Based on my own experience, I might have some interesting observations. For example, Chinese people are more likely to defer to authority, since hierarchy and respect for authority is deeply integrated in the culture, here people are more egalitarian. Furthermore, Dutch people communicate more directly, and seem like debating very much, of course, in a polite manner. But Chinese might prefer an indirect style, sometimes we say one thing, but imply another meaning, often to avoid embarrassment or conflict. Another thing is gift-giving. In China, gift-giving is an important aspect of business or social networking. I used to prepare gifts very carefully to show respect and maintain business relationships with my superiors or clients. Here, people give each other gifts in a relatively less formal and more spontaneous way.’

Yuzhi is happy to work at our department. ‘I experience a horizontal and collaborative environment, with a great culture of support and mentorship. Another strong point here is the Eureka seminars and TI seminars where people can share insights and thoughts and receive feedback.’

Her free time is most spent on reading.  Yuzhi: ‘I like reading fiction, all kinds of novels. It is relaxing and stress-relieving. At this moment I am reading Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, because I teach a little boy Mandarin in the weekends. I read those stories as a child, and I am now reading them again. I have different feelings and understandings. Furthermore, I like swimming and calligraphy. And I love to drink coctails’, she adds with a smile.

Read about Yuzhi’s research

February 2023