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Zihan Zhang

Zihan ZhangAt the age of 24, Krannert master’s student Zihan Zhang (MSGSCM ’21) has already traveled more than some people do in their lifetime. Over a period of two months this summer, Zhang visited 45 states in the continental U.S. When you include the three other states he has traveled to before, he has now visited all 48 states in mainland America, bringing the concept of study abroad to a new level.

A native of Nanjing, China, Zhang began his American adventure at Auburn University in Alabama, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in logistics, materials, and supply chain management.

“I chose Auburn because it was in the south, which has an interesting history to me,” he says. “I had learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Helen Keller when I was young, and Forrest Gump, which is set in Alabama, was one of my favorite movies.”

Zhang chose Krannert to earn his master’s degree mainly because of its strong reputation in global supply chain management, but also because of its geographic location. “I wanted to be at the crossroads of America so I could travel to more places,” he says.

Inspired by another movie, Lord of the Rings, and a video game series called “Need for Speed” that takes players on a cross-country race from San Francisco to New York, Zhang began preparing for his summer 2021 trip nearly two years in advance.

“Like the characters in the movie and video game, I wanted to travel to new places and see new things, so planning the best route took a lot of time,” he says. “I had already visited Virginia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Tennessee, but I especially wanted to see the western and northeastern parts of the county.”

His itinerary combined 17,000 miles of car travel, extensive hiking and climbing, as well as 50 nights of camping. “I’m a former swimmer, so I didn’t worry too much about hiking long distances, but sleeping in a tent took practice,” he says. “I also learned to cook outdoors and picked up new skills in photography and video so I could record the trip.”

Zihan ZhangAlthough he stayed in a hotel once every 12 days to rest, wash his clothes, and bathe, the remainder of the trip was physically rigorous. “The weather was unpredictable, especially in mountainous regions, so I had to tolerate heat during the day and cold at night,” Zhang says.

His closest brush with danger came while climbing Mount Shasta in northern California.

“I climbed to an elevation of about 13,000 feet when a thunderstorm and snowstorm at the peak forced me to stop,” he says. “Some rocks fell and hit my helmet, so I got dizzy and couldn’t feel my arm for about 20 minutes before I began my descent. It took six hours to reach my campground. If there was ever a time that my life flashed before my eyes, that was it.”

For some people, that incident would have ended the trip, but Zhang was undeterred. “Seeing this beautiful country was like a spiritual experience to me,” he says. “I was determined to do it while I was still young so I wouldn’t have regrets later in life. The realization of my childhood dream, the expansion of my knowledge, and the appreciation of those beautiful scenes made me feel alive.”

Beyond the scenery, connecting with people of different cultures was also enriching. “You really can feel the warmth of the people here,” he says. “They give you a feeling that you are part of this country, even if you’re just an international student.”

What’s next for Zhang? He expects to return to China to pursue a job after graduating in December, but eventually wants to return to the states to visit Hawaii and Alaska. “I also want to travel internationally, ideally with my family when I’m a bit older,” he says. “My hope is to see the world.”