Photo: Søren Ravnsborg

Yu Xuan Zhang

Yu Xuan Zhang interviewed in the Glass Hall in Building 101 where he is practising Chopin on DTU’s Bösendorfer grand piano whenever time permits. When he is not playing Chopin, he is a second-semester student on the General Engineering programme.

“My name is Tung Yu Xuan Zhang, but among friends I use my English name—Etham Zhang. I was born in southern China and moved to Denmark almost four years ago with my mother, who is Chinese—and my stepfather who is Danish. We live in Allerød. I’m 19 years old and I took my secondary school leaving exam on an international programme at Birkerød Gymnasium.

I’m studying General Engineering. It is the only BSc Eng where the teaching is in English. I want to learn Danish so I’m taking Danish lessons two nights a week here at DTU.

My dream is to work with space engineering. I think we need to find new sources of energy from other planets to replace our fossil fuels and that the green, sustainable transition will move too slowly to solve our problems. Oh—and by the way—I’m fascinated by space. I would like to take my master's abroad just like Andreas Mogensen.”

What’s keeping you busy at the moment?

“I’m working hard to keep up with the degree programme—the level of difficulty is increasing all the time. We are about 100 students, and I’ve never been surrounded by so many smart and talented young people before. We are currently working on measuring the development in fermentation processes. We have the components to design a spectrophotometer on the basis of 3D printing. People are fiercely competitive, but there is an excellent team spirit. After testing our abilities, our professor divides us into groups so that we can supplement each other. Often, I’d like to solve the problems myself, but it is difficult finding answers online. The lecturers are busy and you don’t want to take up too much of their time asking questions—nor do you want to display your ignorance in front of your fellow students.”

Are you satisfied with the piano?

“What a question (laughs)—it’s fantastic. It is a true concert grand piano and completely on a par with a Steinway. Chopin is my favourite composer. He is difficult, but the music is so real and alive that I love playing it. I was inspired to listen to Chopin by a girl in a class below me and I then taught myself to play. The piece you just heard is an etude, which has been given the name ‘The Ocean’. Chopin wrote it as a practice piece and assigned it a number. The name came into use later on because of the vivid presence of the ocean in the music. I compose musical phrases myself, which I try to to piece together. I save them on my phone or computer otherwise I end up forgetting them.”