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Vitaliy Voronkov – Rhodes Scholar and Entrepreneur

2015-12-01 13:55:15


Vitaliy Voronkov, usually called Vits, has started up his own business, Valeon, in Beijing. He got his bachelor’s degree in the University of Cape Town and went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. In 2013, he declined a full scholarship of Harvard and came to Beijing with his friends to start up his own business.

When we met him on a Monday evening, it was already the time for most people to finish their work, but Vits and Valeon team members were still working. He kindly welcomed us and we talked about Rhodes, about business startup, about his own experience and his suggestions for us. We could feel his determination in life, yet he was modest and mild when he talked to us.

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Rhodes – all-round excellence

2015 is the first year that Rhodes application is open to Chinese students. As a Rhodes Scholar, Vits has a lot to say.

One of the key features of Rhodes Scholars is their diversity. Not only do they come from different backgrounds, but each of them also possesses some kind of variety in themselves. Vits was in Eastern Europe and spoke Russian when he was a kid, but he moved to South Africa at the age of six. It is challenging for a child, but he benefitted from this early training of high quality, knew how to adapt to a different environment, and appreciated diversity at an early age.

Later when he was in Oxford with students from all over the world, he enjoyed communicating with people possessing diversified backgrounds. He emphasized that cultural diversity not only comes from people in different countries with different national traditions, but also comes from each person with their own experience, even if they come from the same country. Besides, although his major is finance, he has a master’s degree in Russian and East European studies, and is head of many school groups. His all-round excellence and his desire to be exposed to multiple cultures are part of the qualities that Rhodes look for.

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As a unique scholarship for undergraduates worldwide, Rhodes Scholars make up a community. Vits highly appreciates Rhodes community and regards this well-established and active community as one of the key attractions of the scholarship. The community is excellent not only for the leaders in different fields and industries in it, but also for its tremendous responsiveness of network. Vits shared his experience that he once sent an email to another Rhodes Scholar whom he had no prior contact with, but he was replied in an hour. The community is a great resource for those who belong to it.

Rhodes’ expansion to China is remarkable for Rhodes and Rhodes community. In Vits’s opinion, China is always critical to the world, and Rhodes is a platform for international exchange. It is a great opportunity for Chinese students to express their way of thinking to the world and vice versa. Although Rhodes has expanded to other eastern countries before and there is already a diversity of voices in the community, China’s voice is strong and important in the world. Thus Chinese students’ participation will add new elements to Rhodes community.

Rhodes application is now in process, and Vits gives some suggestions for present and future applicants. There are no fixed steps to follow for successful application, but there are still things that applicants should pay attention to. During the interview, applicants should really be themselves and do not pretend to be better than what you really are. The interview is comprehensive and the questions concern all areas, which, in turn, makes it difficult to be fake. The interview hopes to examine applicants’ intellectual curiosity and see how they react to different situations, thus the questions may even go beyond their own fields of study and applicants need to response incisively.

For those who want to apply in the future, they should know that Rhodes requires students excellent in every field, both in academics and in personal ability, though it is tough to balance. First, you need to develop curiosity in other fields. Interest comes from internal motivation, and take a look at what you think is interesting to enlarge your knowledge base. Then please think about yourself and know your strengths well as your weaknesses. Also make sure which field do you want to contribute to. It is important to get feedback from other people. Besides, soft skills are essential in helping you succeed. Some practical skills can be practiced, like gestures and communication skills, but other soft skills need personal reflection. For example, you need to be sensitive to different things and reflect upon personal experience.

Valeon and business startup

Valeon is a company that provides global mentorship for top graduate programs applicants. They aim to motivate and develop the potential of young talents and provide them with global resources to help them achieve their goal. Vits founded Valeon with his best friend in Oxford, Alan, who is Chinese. He is excited by the prospect of China and the opportunities available here on his trip to China, and he hopes to benefit the talents with high quality education.

Valeon comes from Vits’s combination of personal connection and opportunity, and it is also the result of the combination of talents’ demand and Vits’ interest in doing something valuable.

For Vits, Beijing and Silicon Valley are two best places for business startups. Beijing has a large and complex population, it is dynamic and is experiencing social changes and urbanization. The status quo arouses many specific needs in China, which makes Beijing an ideal and exciting place for business startups. Besides, the environment is supportive and friendly, and they received much help when they started their company. They meet difficulties like how to attract and retain talents, but these are problems that all business startups face. There are no specific barriers for them to start up in Beijing.

In Vits’s eyes, there are many well-rounded talents in China, and Chinese students are not the stereotyped group of people who only study hard and are not capable for other things. He likes to inspire people and unlock their potentials. He thinks that students should not be depressed by mere statistics of standardized tests. They may have potential in creative research but they do not realize, and that is why Vits likes to communicate with young talents and provide them with mentorship.

Personal choice – early decision

Refusing Harvard full scholarship may be astonishing for many people, but that is what Vits did before he started up Valeon. He is grateful for Harvard to give him this opportunity, but he knows well what he wants. He has had abundant educational experience and several degrees. Having considered opportunity cost of time, he chooses to start his business rather than accept the scholarship.

When talking about choice, Vits emphasized early decision. He said that there are too many options for us. Options are good at earlier stage of life because they urge you to try more possibilities, but it is important to find what you are most interested in and want to contribute most to before going after it. Sometimes people have to refuse good opportunities that do not suit them. They cannot simply progress without a clear purpose.

During our talk, he is always modest when he talks about himself, but we can feel from his speech about his determination for his career, his intellectual curiosity, his logic of speaking, and other qualities that are characteristics of an all-round talent as a Rhodes Scholar. Besides, he always emphasizes that we should look things from a positive perspective and neglect the negative aspects. His comments on various issues are often affirmative, which reflects his positive attitudes towards life.

Written by: Zhong Xue