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Look Before You Leap - Reflections On a Gap Year

1. Introduce yourself a little for the other Eagles that might not know you.

My name is Rachel K Zhang and I graduated from the SAS Puxi class of 2021! I was involved largely in the film program and a little bit in APAC dance as well.

Rachel Zhang


2. Why did you decide to take a gap year? What are the things you’ve been doing over this past year?

I decided to take a gap year in order to pursue my startup — a women entrepreneurship community based in China! My goal is to use the SheUp platform to connect entrepreneurs around the world with an interest in China, but also to connect the next generation of leaders with the entrepreneurship world. This includes a media network to feature powerful stories & insights, a personal & business focused accelerator program, and community groups of over 2,000 hosting on/offline events every month.

I also have a marketing/branding company under my name RKZ Creative, where I help sustainable & impact-driven brands share powerful stories through content creation, visual design, social media strategizing, and project management.

I worked on both SheUp and RKZ Creative throughout school and I knew that I didn’t want to let them go quite yet. I wasn’t sure exactly the direction I wanted to take with them once I left for university, but I knew that I would definitely be continuing with both companies. And, so I wanted to use this year to stay in Shanghai and figure it out!

Rachel Zhang

3. Tell us more about SheUp! What inspired you to create it?

Throughout high school I was very self-conscious about being an entrepreneur — I didn’t think I was good or credible enough to claim the title so I always hid that part of me. But outside of SAS, where no one knew me, I could fake it ‘till I made it! It was almost like creating two alter-egos — one high schooler and one entrepreneur — when I wasn’t ready for the two to coexist quite yet.

This meant that I had naturally started building a phenomenal network in Shanghai, and when I shared my story with them, I found that many people resonated with it — especially the women entrepreneurs. It wasn't just my lack of confidence due to being younger, it's a lack of confidence in oneself.

SheUp then came together very organically as a community of women learning from and supporting each other through events, articles, mentorships, and more. But most importantly, it's a place where over 2,000 women can be our most confident selves.

Our goals now are to bridge the international world with our core in China - with a third of our team abroad we want to help build a network to connect with the east. And secondly, I am very proud to say that I am also building a new vertical with SheUp to engage the Gen-Z youth in the business world. Including an exclusive network, opportunities, and accelerators meant for students like I was who desperately wanted to be an entrepreneur but didn't know how to exit the HS bubble. And of course, working with some incredible individuals!

4. You’ve kept quite busy during this gap year! What has been the biggest lesson you have learned for your first year out of SAS while living in Shanghai?

There are so many different paths to choose from. I think particularly in high school, I had a very step-by-step path in mind of how life was supposed to look: High school → Undergrad → Masters → Stable job or something like that.

I think a lot of this is also because, at SAS, we all come from a pretty similar, affluent, international community — but throughout my gap year I got to exist outside of this bubble, and I met so many different people from such unique backgrounds.

Though I always knew there are many options out there in the world, this helped to reify these possibilities and make me feel okay with deviating from the yellow-brick road I carved for myself before.

Rachel Zhang


5. What are your plans for university and how has this gap year changed your path of what you plan to study when you get there?

I am hoping to go to the US for university as a part of the class of 2026!

Before I always thought that I wanted to focus on studying business and/or entrepreneurship. But throughout this gap year, I have realized that at my core is not business — it’s creativity. I love being able to write, photograph, design, and more! I realized that how I find my fuel to be creative is through connecting with other individuals. It’s almost like entrepreneurship itself is not my passion, but it the avenue that I choose to both express my creativity through providing services and find my creativity through building connections.

I feel a lot more confident in choosing a major aligned with this core of creativity instead of entrepreneurship. Whether it’s in media studies, communications, or even visual design.

Rachel Zhang


6. What advice would you give the younger Eagles considering a gap year? What are the do’s and don’ts you’d recommend they look out for?

Talk to more people! Engage with people from all different backgrounds, ages, cultures, experiences. Go to different events, meet different people gain some different perspectives. It’s sometimes hard to see this in the bubble we grow up in, but there are truly so many ways our stories can manifest.


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