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About Zeal

Who are we?

We are a dynamic, bilingual team with diverse talents and interests.  We are American consultants and Chinese coordinators who share a passion for preparing Chinese high school students for studying abroad, primarily in the US.  We believe in the cultivation of the whole person, the development of the student as an individual.  College consulting, for us, is a journey upon which we embark with our students, a journey towards personal enrichment and growth.

American consultants come from a variety of backgrounds.  We are college graduates from US schools such as Yale, Columbia, Washington and Lee, UC Berkeley, Pomona, Middlebury, and Duke, among others, having majored in East Asian studies or Chinese, history, political science, religion, anthropology, or even advanced science fields.  As a team, we have a bouquet of experience.  Some of us are Fulbright Research Fellowship alumni, accomplished debate competitors and coaches, teachers, founders of our own small businesses, fluent speakers of Mandarin Chinese, or scientists in a variety of fields -- all passionate about cross-cultural exchange.  After working with Xueer, our consultants have moved on to attend top graduate schools, a US Supreme Court internship, teaching positions, management consulting, or work in international business.

We are always looking for independent, creative, dedicated individuals to add talent and contribute value to our dynamic team.


Long before American college consultants could be found in large and small cities all over China, Sun Lihan stood out in the community of Ningbo, a port city not far from Shanghai.  Coming from a smaller city, he was successfully admitted to Yale University for his undergraduate degree and later to a PhD program in Medical Pharmacology at Stanford University.  His successful transition was very rare in the early 2000’s.  So, in 2008 when Lihan was finishing up his PhD, he began to consider how to connect Chinese students looking to follow in his footsteps with American mentors who could coach them step-by-step through the US college application process.

Then, he met Beau Rowland, an undergraduate senior at University of California-Berkeley.  With a unique background as a Deep Springs College graduate and a Hawaiian, Beau had a passion for adventure, leadership, the liberal arts, and China.  In this interview by Think Tech Hawaii, Beau discusses the founding of Zeal as well as its growth over the years.  Lihan introduced Beau to a savvy local entrepreneur named Jody Tong, and the three of them established Zeal together in 2009.

Jody Tong herself has deep ties to the community, a powerful leadership presence, and a vision for both individual and team growth.  Having worked in the study abroad field in China for several years prior to starting Zeal, Jody’s passion for fostering genuine student growth aligned with the values of both Lihan and Beau.  While she personally did not have the same study abroad opportunities Lihan did at Zeal’s founding, she is currently pursuing her dream of an American education in an entrepreneurship program at Babson College.  As well as being one of the three original founders, Youdi serves as CEO of Zeal Education Group.

Who are our clients?

In the simplest terms, our clients are Chinese high school students preparing to study abroad, primarily in the US.  The majority of our clients attend either traditional or international schools in Ningbo or Hangzhou, where our two offices are located, though many do study in other cities in China or in American private schools.  Clients choose to work with us because they trust the mentorship we provide will lead them not only to a successful college admissions result but also to learn many skills that will prepare them to be independent thinkers, writers and doers in college and beyond.

After they work with us, clients enter graduate school or the workforce, in the US, China, or elsewhere.  Many of them return to support us in some form.  Recently, a Zeal alumnus and current undergraduate at the University of Chicago spoke at an informational event, saying: “My mentor always strived to guide me. When I struggled with deciding on essay material, she would ask me questions and provoke me to unearth my own unique qualities…I believe Zeal has helped me find myself.”  Another student has said of his mentor, “You saw things about me that even my parents or teachers couldn’t see. I’m starting to see who I want to be in the future.” Students gain much from working with us, and many of them want to give back.  This year, a small group of alumni have pioneered a Peer Advisory network, collaborating with Zeal to provide an extra layer of support to current application year students.

What’s with the name?

As a bilingual company, we naturally have two names.  Zeal is our English name while Xueer is our Chinese name.  Taking a close look at our original Chinese name also tells you something about our value system.  学而学仁 or xue’er xue’ren does not translate perfectly into English.  Rather, it reflects the Confucian concept of learning and teaching: “Wishing to be established himself, [s/he] seeks also to establish others.”  At Xueer, we strive to work by this principle in how we support one another professionally and invest in our students’ growth.

Why Educational Consulting?

Do you remember when you applied to college?  The self-reflection, the decisions, standardized exams, perhaps meetings with counselors, teachers, parents, even your parents’ friends?  As an American applicant, you probably grew up surrounded by resources that could help you understand the university system, pursue enriching out-of-the-classroom educational experiences, create application strategies, and write for American audiences.

Here in China, however, students lack many of those precious resources.  Chinese high schools lack the necessary infrastructure to prepare students for study abroad.  Therefore, selecting which schools to apply to, deciding how to plan their summer vacations and pursue their passions, brainstorming appropriate essay topics, and preparing for college admissions interviews are all great challenges.  Zeal Education Group was founded to provide the much-needed services to help Chinese students tackle these challenges.  Now, we have expanded to offering not only college consulting but also capacity-building services for younger students, including soft skills training, test preparation, and extracurricular planning.

Where are we going?

Zeal originally began with a decentralized mentoring model relying on remote consultants.  Along the way, we have expanded to three offices - Hangzhou, downtown Ningbo and Ningbo Yinzhou - and have built a global network of consultants and alumni.  In the formative years when we offered college consulting for application-year students, we realized that students needed more.  Specifically, students needed soft skills training.  After all, critical thinking, passion, cultural awareness and empathy cannot be taught in one application year.  Thus, we expanded our services by launching a Pre-Planning program to provide soft skills services to younger students, earlier in their journey abroad.

Our Pre-Planning program includes a variety of unique services.  It includes extracurricular consulting, providing individualized coaching on independent research projects, for example.  Consultants themselves also build courses on topics such as American film, history, and reading comprehension.  This past summer, we held a camp with Harvard debate coaches where students learned various debate formats, improved communication skills and confidence, as well as participated in team building activities.  In the summer of 2016, a Zeal consultant is leading a student and family enrichment trip to France and Italy to study and experience the local history and culture.  Future ideas could take a variety of forms!

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