Moving is almost never easy, even when you’re transferring as a freshman in high school. Senior Refah Zabin grew up in China and transferred to Niles West from there. Originally placed in ELL (English Language Learners) classes, Zabin gradually worked her way up towards regular English classes, and she was eventually placed into honors.
Although Zabin is now heavily involved in extracurricular activities, during her freshman year, she struggled to put herself out there. Over time, she was able to become comfortable in her classes, thanks the hospitality and acceptance of her peers.
“I was able to meet some very interesting teachers [who] placed me above. They had their expectations, and I was above their expectations, so eventually I got moved up,” she said. “Freshman year, I was barely in any activities. Probably the most was at DIY Club and Math Team.”
“The thing is, freshman year was the quiet, peaceful year,” Zabin continued. “Sophomore year is when I got [involved] in everything — AP Psych, STEM, and then I had [the] advanced Honors English [classes I got placed into]. It’s also when I got very interested in research. I did research on [math information]. Even though it wasn’t the best research I was interested in, it eventually sparked my interest, it made me take STEM again my senior year. I was also involved in [many] more clubs my sophomore year.”
With Zabin’s already packed schedule sophomore year, she took on more responsibilities. This included joining many more clubs, and committing to two clubs per day. She was involved in Chinese Club, Korean Club, Indo-Pak Club, DIY Club, Badminton Club, and even Gardening Club.
Through taking different science courses, Zabin was able to expand her horizons. She took six AP classes during her junior year. One of her favorites was computer science, something she was unfamiliar with prior to taking the class, but something she found fun and that she recommends others take.
Despite the amount of work that she has to do for school, Zabin is always able to stay positive, happy, and, most of all, honest.
“Refah’s blunt honesty always cracks me up,” senior and friend Hana Comor said. “But I love Refah because even when there are a million things to be done, she finds a way to still keep a genuine smile on her face.”
Her effort and dedication to her schoolwork, while also balancing her social life on top of everything, is something not many people can juggle.
“She will always cheerfully say ‘hi’ in the hallways, and you can literally text her about anything and she’s willing to help. Her cheerfulness is the best thing about her. She’s obviously super tired with all her classes, but somehow doesn’t look dead, and makes you smile at random times,” senior Saba Shalwani said. “I love how she’s super into academics, but also knows how to have a good time with friends, and has a bubbly personality.”
It was a risk for Zabin to take AP Biology, because she felt weaker in that particular subject. Through taking that class, however, she was able to find a passion in biochemistry, which is what she now intends to major in.
“I’m not so good at biology. Honestly, freshman year bio was not the best experience, but even though I met some great people, I just sucked at the class so bad, but I loved chemistry. Then, later on, I took a chance, took a risk and re-took bio my senior year, and I took AP Bio,” Zabin said. “AP Bio went surprisingly well compared to freshman year bio. There was this unit [in AP Bio] on biochem, which was the only unit I aced, and I’m like, ‘okay, let’s do biochem instead of just pure chemistry.'”
Zabin intends to pursue biochemistry in the pre-medical track. She has been interested in medicine since she was young. She also has the intent to minor in Chinese, which she hadn’t considered until recently.
“It is actually a very recent thing I decided on,” she said. “I grew up in China. I speak Chinese natively. The thing is, since I moved here, I felt like I still need to keep a connection with it, so I feel like minoring in Chinese, and studying abroad would be a good experience for it.”
Zabin will be attending the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) starting in the fall of 2017, mainly because of its proximity to home.
“At first, I actually had a good opportunity to go into some other colleges, and my top choices then were UIC and Illinois Wesleyan, but Illinois Wesleyan was a bit too far, and even though they’re offering me a lot of scholarships and everything, I felt like wherever I go, as long as I can do well, it shouldn’t matter,” she said.
Zabin’s friends appreciate that even though she is a diligent student, that she is always there to lend a hand to anyone who needs it.
“I would say one of her best qualities is her cheerfulness and positivity,” senior Quynh-Mai Le said. “She is very hardworking and is always ready to help her classmates.”
Zabin’s bright and buoyant personality is something that stands out to her peers and especially her close friends.
“Refah is an awesome person. She is always so cheerful. Like, she could be going through a stressful week and she’ll still be able to smile and laugh,” senior Weronika Jozwiak said. “She is also incredibly smart, but is also able to find time for others and for fun activities. She is also incredibly confident and not afraid to speak her opinions. She’s also super dedicated — she runs every morning, even during the school year.”