If there is one thing Nan Zhang – that’s Kati Farkas to “Gossip Girl” fans – would like the public to know, it would be this: She was never in a fight with Leighton Meester, and she did not leave the show because of a supposed rift with the Queen Bee.

“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” says Zhang of the tabloid gossip. “I mean, Leighton is such a sweetheart and just so incredibly nice.” However, gossip happens in real life just as much as on “Gossip Girl”. When her character, Kati, left the Upper East Side (and the show) under the explanation that her family moved to Israel, rumors abounded that Zhang had left to attend Brown University—a school that she has no connection with whatsoever.

“I think for one episode I was talking to a Brown representative. It’s really funny,” says the Chinese American actress. “Once, the Brown school newspaper called me and asked me for an interview, and I was like, ‘You know, I go to Hopkins.’”

web-nanzhang-3At Johns Hopkins University, Zhang studies neuroscience in hopes of graduating next year, then entering a medical school and becoming an optometrist. She started pursuing neuroscience research with professors when she was only 16 years old, realizing that she could save lives and help people with her abilities. Modeling and acting, both passionate pursuits of hers, still lie second to her love of medical research.

While Zhang seems to have the qualities many girls dream of, from her glamorous good looks to her sparkling intellect, she, too, has struggled with coming to terms with her cultural identity—and with her parents. Born in China to strict parents, Zhang and her family moved to New Orleans when she was still a child. Her parents, both doctors, never encouraged her to pursue a life in the entertainment industry.

“I’ll just be honest: my parents are severely traditional. I actually didn’t tell them that I was modeling at first, but when they found out, they weren’t very happy about it. But I realized that I was trying to impose an American way of life on them, and that as parents they just wanted the best for me,” she recalls. “When they saw the ‘Gossip Girl’ trailers, they realized that it was real and now they understand. They were like, ‘If you can do this, you can get into Harvard med school.’”

As an only child, she was often told by her parents to go back to college. Zhang had temporarily left school in order to pursue a modeling career, because driving back and forth from modeling assignments to school had begun to take a toll on her health and spirit. However, during the writers’ strike of 2007-2008, she realized that she had to make a definitive decision about her future—especially because the future of Gossip Girl was shaky. Ultimately, she chose to return to school in order to attain a degree.

“Honestly, you can’t go back to school once you’re 30; don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can,” she says.

web-nanzhang-4Her agency, William Morris, and the “Gossip Girl” production office were very supportive of her decision to become a full-time student again. There were also no catfights or dramatic last words – contrary to what the gossip blogs and tabloids claimed. In fact, Leighton Meester, Nicole Fiscella (who plays Isabel Coates), and Zhang frequently hung out on set. Consequently, Zhang left the show feeling very good about her choice despite between being entwined in the dilemma that many young Asian Americans face—choosing whether to follow a traditional route supported by their parents or to take a completely different path.

“When you’re in that business, with my upbringing, you have certain values that are priority,” she said.

Additionally, as “Gossip Girl” became increasingly popular and as the season progressed, that Zhang became concerned that she might only be playing the token Asian girl. “It was a fun character; I enjoyed every part of it. But I wish they would have portrayed the characters with more dimension.” In being one of the few minorities on the show, Zhang had a lot of pressure to be an example to Asian American teens who watch the show—which was tough to achieve, considering she barely had any lines to be a fully-developed character.

While she is no longer in the limelight—at least for the time being, as she is still signed with William Morris Agency—Zhang has become a greater inspiration to girls with diverse interests. For those who know the real reason why she left, it’s clear that one can be a Gossip Girl and change the world too.

Photos courtesy of Nan Zhang.

0 Replies to “Lights, Camera, Medicine: Why ‘Gossip Girl’s Nan Zhang Left the Hit Show”

  1. Lillian Beitzel says:

    “Honestly, you can’t go back to school once you’re 30; don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can.”
    I need to put in my two cents here: That’s not true at all. My mother went back to school at age 40 to pursue her master’s degree in education. She recently just got her PhD. You can go back to school at any age to pursue your dreams as long as you have the dedication and the drive.

  2. D'Rae says:

    I want to make a comment on what she said about going back to school. She said, “Honestly, you can’t go back to school once you’re 30; don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can,” She’s wrong. I am now 31 and back in school for my teaching degree. It can be done and I am living proof. I will graduate this December.

  3. Jessie says:

    honestly..i don’t give a crap about this article. i’m glad she left and there’s a new asian character because at least the new one has a whole lot more dimension than kati’s.
    like ur article said..kati had hardly any lines. and the nelly yuki’s very first episode already had more lines than kati AND isabel combined in all the episodes they did.
    i didn’t even take notice when kati left. i devastated if nelly yuki left the show bc she’s definitely got a storyline

  4. Jessie says:

    and one more thing. choosing to wear green colored contacts?i have this sort of perception that asian chicks who wear colored contacts are not happy they’re asian and want to try to white-ify themselves by denying their identity.

  5. sammy says:

    completely disagree with that college statement. that was quite an ignorant, obnoxious and unknowledgeable comment for a girl that goes to john hopkins…
    my parents went back to school at mid-30s to get their PhD’s. my sister is 32 and and she’s back at Columbia finishing up her semesters because she was busy working before and had children.
    and hurray that she left because Nelly Yuki is much more enjoyable to watch.

  6. Noel says:

    Hello, author of the article commenting here :). First of all, I’m so glad you all took the time to read the article! Your responses are VERY insightful and I love the discussion going on. I have a few points to add to this discussion though:1) I also agree that you can return back to school after you’re 30. My own mother went to dentistry school when she was in her 40s! However, Nan Zhang is pursuing an UNDERGRADUATE degree in neuroscience, which means she has no other degree (she is not pursuing a Ph.D or an MD yet). Of course there are many exceptions, but perhaps she was generalizing for her case, in which she has no college degree whatsoever and it may be slightly harder when she was 30 and attending school with 18 year olds. I have not attended college yet, so I look forward to hearing what you all think. I’m definitely speculating here.
    2) As an Asian American, I’m all for self-expression and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with green contacts. I know blondes who dye their hair black, brunettes who dye their hair blonde. Changing the color of your eyes is no different. It’s not enough proof to assume that someone is denying their identity — from my lengthy conversation with Nan, she LOVES her culture.
    3) Hey, it’s not her fault that she wasn’t written with many lines haha ;). Nelly Yuki’s great, but this article isn’t meant to compare the two. They’re two different actresses on the same show; let’s not diminish either of them!

  7. sd says:

    im almost 25 and honestly, im so glad im going back to school. i didnt realize there was an age restriction on LEARNING.

  8. angel says:

    Haha this article is bullcrap. Like the people before me said, of course you can pursue an education and go back to college. I think it’s such a shame that someone that is supposed to be such a role model to Asian American teens watching Gossip Girl would say such an ignorant comment. And I think that the writer either shouldn’t have included that or should have not supported it. And I think Nan Zhang’s character in the show is such a disgrace to Asians and presents Asians as stereotypical black/white and I don’t think a whole article was worth writing about her. Harsh, but true.

  9. angel says:

    Like the people before me said, of course you can pursue an education and go back to college. I think it’s such a shame that someone that is supposed to be such a role model to Asian American teens watching Gossip Girl would say such an ignorant comment. And I think that the writer either shouldn’t have included that or should have not supported it.

  10. yunie says:

    well, I think that to be fair, it would be hard to go back and become a doctor at age 30… which is the more relevant career to her..

  11. Raqbsa says:

    Let’s be honest now. Ms Zhang left because yes, her character had no dimension. The reason why she had no lines though, was because she isn’t an actress, and thus, cannot act.
    Just because she is studying medicine doesn’t mean she is smart. After flunking out of two colleges, what would you expect from this quitter? Well, quitting the show with no notice to GG. Surprise, surprise.

  12. azn says:

    I don’t think what she meant about returning to college is that it’s UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE, but that it would be 100x more difficult in the future to make a u-turn and try to accomplish what she can easily do now. She was upfront about her traditional upbringing, and it’s clear that this involves education. It’s the top priority on her mind so she has the right to worry about it.
    To the people who say she’s trying to “white-ify” herself with green contacts, you’re not Asian, and I hate it when other races judge us. It’s ignorant to think we want to be like you because sorry, we DON’T. It’s FASHION, and big surprise, she’s a model.
    This article was very well written, and to censor it to the writer’s belief is a ridiculous suggestion. Why interview people if you don’t want to hear what they have to say?

  13. THE REAL DEAL says:

    Hah, this girl is a joke. She couldn’t get into Johns Hopkins intiailly and ended up at Tulane University. She apparently didn’t even want to go to college and only went because her parents were forcing her to go. She made this huge scene on campus during the middle of her first semester when she tried to drop out to pursue her modeling career because her dad came to her dorm and tried to make her stay. After she gained some popularity in modeling, Johns Hopkins finally accepted her as an undergraduate.
    It’s funny that these articles portray her as someone exceptional just because she’s attending college. She’s majoring in neuroscience–it’s not like the girl will be a physicist.

  14. ImChuckBass says:

    “Honestly, you can’t go back to school once you’re 30; don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can.” That’s total Bull. I was stuck in the same dead end job for 10 years. I’m 38. I got my BA in Media studies in 2007. I’m starting my MA in Communication Studies and will finish in 2010. It’s not like she’s a role model or anything — she’ll just be known as “that Asian chick from Gossip Girl” who hangs out with “that Black chick from Gossip Girl” She got replaced by another token Asian anyway-no loss.

  15. chiller says:

    So I’m not really sure what the issue is, here. So those who have returned to school later/know someone who has should really not be offended. You are doing what Nan Zhang and many in the world consider to be either impossible or extremely difficult.
    Shouldn’t you be flattered?
    Furthermore, maybe she valued her entertainment career far above her education at some point, but clearly she has had a change of heart. Why are you criticizing her for that?
    Finally, why do you all have so much beef with this girl? Did she steal your firstborn child or something??

  16. DumbComments says:

    I love how the article starts with stressing the importance of all the bs gossip… that ARE NOT TRUE. and here people keep speculating even more crap.
    Oftentimes, comments are taken out of context. If any one of you were to get the chance of a lifetime and be on GG, then would you just up and quit to go back to school bc that’s a priority? I think she’s def setting an example by doing so. She didn’t feel justified with being a token Asian on the show, and all of you make fun of that part… so she quit it to pursue better parts or school.
    And about going back to school, if ANY one of you were to be in the acting business, to get picked up and tossed into a big teen sensation show like GG… and keep acting until you’re 30 years old… then OF COURSE it would be near impossible to go back to school. don’t hold an article to be her quoted words exactly anyway, they always mess that up. but how hard would that be to leave all that you know about acting and just pop up back at college?
    I think she deserves major respect for 1. realizing that she didn’t want to be a token Asian and standing up and doing something about it (obviously, they gave the next asian girl more lines to make sure she won’t leave either) 2. deciding to go back to school at this point of her life where things weren’t sure. that takes guts. and anyone who can quit and go back to school deserves respect. whether you’re a 40 year old mother or a teen girl picked up into modeling/acting and leaving at the brink of fame. that takes a lot of guts.
    green contacts? seriously? now are you saying all Asians MUST have brown eyes and black hair? what happened to self-expression as an Asian American?

  17. Jenny says:

    I totally agree with her that at 30 it just seems so much harder to get back into the academic realm. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but after living such a life free of stress of papers and lectures, steering yourself back to such a process is quite difficult. It was smart of her to jump out while she can because I don’t see how her role will allow her any development. Her character was the an excuse to avoid complaints that the show centered around the white elites, which is basically the message that comes across. Above all it shows that only the white are rich enough to important enough to be talked about, since the African American actress also stands on the sidelines with Zhang’s character. It was really insulting to see that the producers just casted another look a-like of Asian stereotype to replace Zhang, assuming that viewers won’t even notice the change of actresses.

  18. Kay says:

    Hm, I was always wondering why Kati left- and why Nelly was somehow magically accepted into the group…
    I enjoy how some people just go on articles to leave rude comments and only center their focus on one or two things she said. If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Simple as that.

  19. says:

    People please stop saying rude and stupid comments about Nan Zhang. As an Asian, I don’t see anything wrong about this girl. Her comment about going back to school at age 30 was refering about get an undergraduate degree not a graduate degree. Also, othe races including whites need to quit hating on Zhang. Zhang comments are not offensive. People need to quit acting stupid on the internet.

  20. Christina says:

    Yo seriously.She’s at Johns Hopkins. Who cares how she got in? She’s in, and all she’s gotta prove to anyone is that she can handle the work-load. That’s all it comes down to. People get into schools for stupid reasons and good reasons, but the only way you can graduate is if you take it seriously. Looks like she knows where she’s going, and honestly, how many of you can say that you knew what you wanted to do in life when you were 18 and given the chance for a glamorous modeling life? Don’t even say you’ll stay in college. You don’t know that. Give her some credit, jeez.

  21. Christine says:

    Even though going to John Hopkins and pursuing a degree is practical, as an Asian American girl I was disappointed when I heard that Nan left the show so early on. It’s true that Asians are few in the entertainment industry, so when I heard that there was some diversity on GG I was pretty excited about it. Sure, she did not start out with a fully developed storyline but her character in the books was not a major player to begin with. With the show’s success right now, maybe with time the writers would have been able to focus more of the storyline on the lesser characters and she would get more lines, so I think that there was still hope. As for Nelly Yuki, she was NOT a token asian character as she played a pretty large role in some of the episodes. I can respect and understand Nan’s decision to leave, but I’m still a little sad that yet another representation of Asian American actresses has been omitted.

  22. Janet says:

    I actually think she should’ve stayed in the entertainment industry. Aisan girls are so under-represented in Hollywood. She gave up too early. Going to school at 30 maybe difficult. She can go back when she is 23-24… which still leaves a bit of time to become a doctor… if she doesn’t get what she wants in the entertainment business.

  23. meh says:

    She’s so pretty! Btw she probably said that comment about being 30 in her context/circumstances, not to mean everyone.

  24. yeh says:

    WTH, this article made her seem like she’s a freaking genius. She goes to hopkins, great. me too, never seen her on campus or any premed classes though, so unless she never leaves her room, then i doubt she actually cares about classes. and neurosci research when she was 16? really? She most likely was just washing some lab dishes. what a load of BS.

  25. kai says:

    asians are such hypocrites. we cry about being underrepresented in hollywood but turn around and criticize those who are in the entertainment industry!

  26. hwai says:

    As a reply to YEH: I’ve actually seen her pretty often after realizing who she is. And everytime I see her, she’s either heading to class or coming out of a classroom. And give her some credit, if you know Hopkins, you’ll know how difficult a Neuroscience major is to excel in.

  27. […] her at Yale and Isabelle is inexplicably missing, but it’s always nice to when Kati Farkus takes a break from medical school to don thigh-highs and act a fool. Plus 1 • In Chuck’s recurring nightmare, he has to walk one […]

  28. […] her at Yale and Isabelle is inexplicably missing, but it’s always nice to when Kati Farkus takes a break from medical school to don thigh-highs and act a fool. Plus 1 • In Chuck’s recurring nightmare, he has to walk one […]

  29. liz says:

    BTW, writer, you don’t go to medical school to be an optometrist. Optometrists go to optometry school, which is 4 years after undergrad. Ophthalmologists go to medical school and then FIVE years of residency afterward. Big difference.

  30. liz says:

    …pretty sure she is saying that she aspires to be the latter.

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