Meet Dylan Zhao. Currently in grade 12 doing full IB at Western Canada High School, Dylan boasts a wide array of interests and involvements which range from economics and philosophy to his involvement in his school’s debate club and Model UN team. His latest achievement? Being Youth Are Awesome’s February 2018 blogger of the month. Since joining the team back in December 2016, Dylan has shared a wealth of knowledge on the site such as his understanding of trickle down economics and why they don’t work, the benefits of participating in Model UN , and of course his brilliant Netflix recommendations. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet up with him at the Rosso situated at the base of the National Music Centre a little over a week ago and we ended up bonding over our mutual admiration of Arctic Monkeys and Netflix’s Black Mirror.
When Dylan is not writing for Youth Are Awesome or participating in debate or Model UN, he can be found reading, watching Netflix, catching up on current events or skiing. I asked him right off the bat what are some possessions he couldn’t live without, and he answered “Definitely my laptop just because I probably spend too much time on it, and I guess everybody could say their laptop or their phone but in terms of more unique things, maybe a book? I like to bring a book most places and I like to sit down and read. So maybe it’s not exclusively one book, but something to be reading wherever I go.” which segued into a discussion of books.
If you’ve read his article “4 Books To Read To Not Go Broke”, you’ll know that Dylan is definitely an avid reader so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I tell you he had a difficult time trying to come up with a single favorite novel, so instead, he gave me five. The first book to come to mind was “Nudge” written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein which focuses on behavioral economics, followed by Stephen King’s horror novel “It”, his novel “11/22/63” which centers around a time traveler who tries to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, George Orwell’s dystopian “1984” and “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller.
When you meet Dylan, it doesn’t take long to realize how involved he is with debate club and Model UN. One of the things he admires the most about his school is the number of activities it offers which is evident given how involved he is and I was curious… What made him so interested in joining Model UN? “…Some of the stuff you talk about in debate is also similar to stuff you talk about in Model UN like politics, economics, that type of thing. I think that has just naturally drove me to try out for Model UN. After I attended the first conference, I figured out that yeah this is pretty fun and I think I’ll stick with this.”
In terms of school, his favorite subject is Philosophy. This comes at no surprise when I recall his interests. Zhao strikes me as the typical academic: thoughtful, intuitive and wise beyond his years. He likes the class because they’ll often discuss controversial topics and carry out debates, which is right up his alley. “it’s really nice to apply the same things i’m doing in model UN and debate in a classroom setting” he remarks.
Alongside debate and model UN lies Dylan’s involvement with Youth Are Awesome. His interest in writing for YAA was sparked when his friends told him he should write about his TV recommendations. “So I started out with TV recommendations because I watch a lot of TV, but then I also thought hey this is a place where I can write about anything. So then I started writing about my other interests such as music, economics and whatever else popped into my head.” he notes. His favorite part of YAA? The freedom it offers.
In regards to where he finds inspiration, Dylan admitted it comes to him periodically and sporadically. “One second I could just be doing nothing in particular, like maybe on Reddit or something (his favorite site), and then I’ll feel an urge to write something about anything.” Dylan likes to write his articles as if he were having a conversation with someone, but the writing process is just as unexpected as his sudden bursts of creativity. “…[The inspiration] just comes out of nowhere, and as soon as it kicks in I just write it all in one go. I don’t usually plan something out and then go back to it periodically to finish it.”
As soon as I start on something, I get this urge to get it done.
“I feel like in a way, I like that I do that because I hope it comes across as more genuine in a sense, but also at the same time I wish I was able to plan everything out. It’s just hard for me because a day will come around and I won’t know what to say at that very moment.”
I asked him if YAA had helped him in improve in any aspects of his life, and he took a moment to reflect. “Yes. Definitely English because after writing for YAA, in terms of posts where I’ve been talking about parts of my own life, it’s actually helped me a lot with PRTs in English class. And then when I write posts that are a little more analytical, it’s more practice for CARs. On top of that, I also feel that just by expressing thoughts in a written form has made me a bit more open to talking about stuff, just because I’ve now gotten into this habit of being able to express how I feel about something.”
In terms of his many articles, his favorite blog post that he’s written so far remains his first one, which was a recommendation for the show Black Mirror. “…[That post] was my first real trek into this world of writing blog posts. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart.” He adds that it was the first instance where he opened himself up and expressed his thoughts to a wider audience, and because it marked the start of him doing that, it was still the most important to him.
Black Mirror is also a favorite show of mine, and I had to ask him about the latest season but specifically which episode he enjoyed the most. “I really liked “hang the dj”. It had a really heartwarming ending but at the same time I’m not sure how much that is traditional black mirror. I feel like you’re supposed to feel hopeless after the ending.” and he’s got a point. I recall the episode “Metalhead” from the same season and shudder at the thought of robotic AI “dogs” trained to hunt and kill humans. Not exactly fun for the whole family.
Our discussion about Black Mirror eventually led us to technology and it’s effects on society, but more specifically human interaction.
I guess technology is almost like a double edged sword in a sense because all of us can’t live without our phones, laptops, or anything that keeps us connected to each other or allow us to get things done.
“I think there’s this problem because even now when I was just on the train, everybody is on their phones, me as well.. Guilty. But I think the more and more we rely on it, we’re going to be able to get more stuff done but also lose just a little bit about what makes human connections so valuable. The fact is that nobody is really obligated to seek those out anymore when you can just keep communicating with the people you already know, which makes it harder to meet new people. So then there’s no more instances where you’re just walking down a street asking somebody for directions when you can just look it up on google maps. So yeah I think it’s really, really great that we have all this technology to make our lives easier and better, but at the same time I feel like everybody should just try to communicate as we once did I guess. But that’s also somewhat hard to do I guess so we just have to accept what’s going on and go with the times…”
Reflecting on his time thus far on the blog, Dylan notes that his favorite part about writing for YAA is the flexibility the platform offers, comparing it to other blogs that may possess an established direction /or target audience. “When it comes to YAA, it really is just complete creative freedom when it comes to what you wanna do, and I think it also makes it unique from some other blogs.”
Dylan is set to graduate this year, and when I asked him what he’d like to accomplish on the blog before he’s done, he had a succinct answer: post more. “I’ve tried to maintain a somewhat consistent schedule since I’ve started posting but in terms of volume, it’s not quite what I want to get out there. So if I just start posting more in these last few months before I graduate, then I think that would be my number one goal.”
Looking ahead 10 years, Dylan envisions himself hopefully having a positive impact on the world. “Either I’m still in college trying to pursue some sort of graduate degree, or I’ll have a job somewhere, hopefully in a city that I like and it’s either a job in economics, politics or something along those lines where I’m actually able to express my thoughts in a way where what I’m working towards will have some kind of tangible effect on people. So whether that’s crafting policy or whatever, I feel like ideas are best when they’re put into some kind of action. So that’s why I hope in 10 years I’m in some kind of position where I’m able to do that.”
Throughout our entire conversation, Dylan provided some rather earnest and insightful answers with wisdom beyond his years, however perhaps his best piece of advice was saved for last. I asked him if he had any advice for his fellow youth, and he replied “Do your homework.” with a small laugh, before admitting he had some work to catch up on himself after our meeting. I laughed at this omission, wholly feeling the pressure of senior year and my own homework hit me all at once. So believe me when I tell you that Dylan knows what he’s talking about. Please, do your homework!
I wanted to extend my gratitude to Dylan Zhao for meeting me downtown on a cold Friday afternoon amidst exam season. I can’t wait to see what else he recommends on the blog in the future, and what he’ll accomplish after high school. He’s a bright individual with a bright future and I’m very excited to congratulate him on being our February 2018 blogger of the month!
To read posts from our blogger of the month, click here!