When Ye “Duke” Li began boxing in China at age 15, he thought it would be something he’d do in his free time for a few years before college.
But the sport became anything but a hobby. Instead, two years later, he won an amateur national championship in China, prompting the coach of the professional Heilong Jiang province boxing team to ask Li to join the team.
“In his mind, I would be a good boxer in the future and an outstanding younger boxer,” Li said.
Ever since, he’s been involved in boxing—first as an athlete, then an assistant coach of the Heilong Jiang province boxing team and then as the founder and primary coach of the Boxing League Boxing Club. Now, he’s brought his passion for the sport to Case Western Reserve University, where he’s in his third semester of the School of Law’s LLM program.
When he started the program, his classmates began asking about his boxing career in China and wanted him to coach them. So Li, who was a coach and referee in China, decided to start his own club at the university.
Since launching the Boxing Club of CWRU last fall, Li has worked with about 100 students, many of them from other countries.
“This is the best thing for me to do for other international students—for the international community,” he said.
It’s not the only way he helps fellow international students, though.
When he first arrived in the U.S., Li didn’t know anyone and had just begun learning English a few months prior. Shortly after coming to CWRU, Li was struggling to find an office on campus. A stranger approached him and offered assistance, helping Li for more than half an hour.
With that memory fresh in his mind, Li knew that a small time commitment on his part could greatly ease the transition for other international students. Though not in an official capacity, he began picking students up from the airport, taking them on errands and giving them tours of campus.
For those efforts, the Center for International Affairs recognized Li with its Unsung Champion Award at the 2017 International Achievement Dinner.
“I have no position—no salary—but I feel good,” he said.
After graduation, Li hopes to combine his experience as a boxing coach and referee in China with his legal education in the U.S.
“I have a strong will [to encourage] boxing between China and the U.S.,” he said. “I’d like to build a connection—build a bridge—between the two countries through boxing, sports or international business.”
Get to know more about Li in this week’s five questions.
1. What’s your favorite spot on the Case Western Reserve campus?
[Though it’s not technically on campus,] the Chinese Cultural Garden. I always go there on Chinese traditional holidays because it lets me remember my country.
2. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you pick?
My favorite city is Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. I just came back from China and this was my first time [in Kunming].
3. What new skill would you like to learn?
Last year, I went to Las Vegas and it was my first time going in a helicopter. I want to learn how to fly one because I could use it to bring my family anywhere. Even though I’ve been in the U.S. for only about a year, I’ve been to so many cities, so many states. I love to travel and I think a helicopter is the best way.
4. If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have three movies with you, what would you choose?
The first one is The Butterfly Effect and the second one is Forrest Gump. The third one is Wolf Warrior II—it’s the best [movie] in China right now.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
My favorite thing about our university is how they take care of all of the international students. For example, I’m a Chinese student and we have an organization named CSSA [Chinese Students and Scholars Association]. And in the international student office, there is an employee who can speak Chinese really well. This is very useful and they are very helpful for the Chinese students.