Identical twins discuss the bonds they share, and the similar paths they have taken.
The Yeh-Yeh Brotherhood
In 1937, Christopher Yeh’s maternal grandmother escaped the massacre of Nanking. She was 7, had bound feet and didn’t know how to swim, but she managed to escape the city through sewer tunnels and walk hundreds of miles to safety. “For me, that’s a really inspiring story,” says Yeh, ’18. “If my grandmother could make it out of sewer tunnels, then I should be able to do anything I want.” He remembers another family story — that his father’s father took out loans and used his life savings to buy his eldest son a plane ticket from Taiwan to the United States for graduate school, a gamble that would eventually enable the entire family to emigrate. Eighty years later, his grandmother is still alive, and Yeh, who grew up in Cypress, Calif., is pursuing a master’s degree — and, one day, a PhD — in computer science.
‘That [immigration] story for me has two central messages. One is the message of trusting in family. The other is just the willingness to take risks if it feels right. People have asked my grandfather why he made the decision to take out loans and make this fairly risky move, because it basically put his entire family in jeopardy back home. He said he didn’t have anything else to say but that it just felt right.’
“I wrote my application to Stanford about being an identical twin because it’s so central to my identity — who I am, how I do things and how I think. Even with my closest friends, any time I get a text or a call from my brother, Ben, that’s priority №1 above all else. Growing up with a twin, I actually didn’t have a lot of friends. Looking back, it was really because I wanted someone else who was like [Ben], so I set the bar really high for what a close friend should be like.
“My dad is an electrical engineer. Really early on, my dad brought home a computer from his school that they no longer wanted. He gave that as a gift to me and Ben, and we were enthralled. ‘Oh my gosh, we have a computer! What can we do on it?’ So we learned DOS commands when we were 3.
“My current concentration is artificial intelligence. I just think there is so much you can do with it. More recently, I’ve found more passion for applying CS toward environmental science problems. That came out of a Sophomore College class I took in Alaska. I found this lab at Stanford, a sustainability and artificial intelligence lab, where I’m now doing research. The project I’m working on now is using satellite images to estimate poverty levels in sub-Saharan Africa.
“In between my co-term and PhD, the hope is to get into some sort of fellowship program abroad, where I can actually learn more about environmental issues firsthand. I’m thinking China — I’ve always wanted to go to China for personal reasons, to better understand the culture; also, China has a ton of environmental issues.”
Christopher Yeh, Stanford Graduate Student
STORY AND PHOTO COURTESY OF STANFORD MAGAZINE