While drinking tea with a Buddhist monk in Thailand in spring 2023, Benjamin Zaidel found himself humbled.

The monk had invited him for a conversation. Zaidel arrived with questions, eager to take what he learned back to his studies at Stanford.

“This monk just kind of laughed and said that I had become so focused on the future that I had basically rendered myself incapable of appreciating the present moment,” Zaidel recalled. 

Zaidel had come to Thailand in search of balance. He was thriving during his junior year at Stanford, leading the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and excelling as a bioengineering major and math minor. 

Andrew Brodhead, Natalie Feulner, Harry Gregory, Kurt Hickman, and Adrienne Kemp-Rye

“Despite all of that, something was missing, and I wasn’t sure what it was,” Zaidel said.

At the monastery, he discovered a new path: balancing future goals with finding joy in the present.

The quest for inner balance was what initially drew Zaidel to Stanford, too.

Benjamin Zaidel sitting outside at table with members of his fraternity.

Zaidel is involved with Sigma Phi Epsilon, where he enjoys meals with his fraternity brothers. | Andrew Brodhead

Growing up, he struggled to feel connected to his two cultures: his mother is from Vietnam and his father is from Los Angeles. His Stanford application essay laid out his goal to craft a future where he felt comfortable representing both sides of his heritage.

During his first year, he joined Hillel at Stanford and the Vietnamese Student Association, which he later co-chaired. He took classes in religious studies and world-expanding topics, including Superhero Theory, Politics of Sex, and The Family in Southeast Asia. He reinvested in his meditation practice, which he had used to ease pre-college anxiety. 

His time in Thailand taught him that the true purpose of meditation was to slow down, not speed up.

Pictured is Zaidel meditating cross-legged on a bench on the Stanford campus.
In the spring of 2023, Zaidel traveled to Thailand to live alongside monks in a monastery. | Andrew Brodhead
I’ve learned that I not only have the power to impact the future and do good, and that focusing on the moment is important, but actually how to weave the two of them together to lead a life of high impact, while knowing that the priority is always being well and loving one another.”
Benjamin Zaidel, ’24

When he returned to Stanford in fall 2023, Zaidel felt reenergized. He enjoyed meals with his fraternity brothers and unscheduled time with friends more than ever. His mental, physical, and spiritual sides were coming together, and this budding synergy would influence his future in unexpected ways: During a meditative walk, he stopped at a career fair and discovered DeciBio, an LA-based precision medicine consulting company, where he will intern after graduation.

While Zaidel says he’s perpetually seeking balance, his time at Stanford has brought him closer to his goal.

“I’ve learned that I not only have the power to impact the future and do good, and that focusing on the moment is important, but actually how to weave the two of them together to lead a life of high impact, while knowing that the priority is always being well and loving one another,” he said.