Finding the Courage to Lead

Nov 15 2018

For the past seven months, Susan (Simin) Zou ’21 has been knee-deep in organizing this year’s TEDxNYUShanghai conference, helping to bring TED’s ‘ideas worth spreading’ right to the NYU Shanghai community. Born and raised in Suzhou, the social science major with a political science track, has also been leading and co-organizing on-campus events surrounding diversity issues, not to mention double minoring in economics and journalism.

In her own words, Susan explains how staying active on campus has helped her develop leadership skills that will be useful as she pursues her dream job in international law.


Zou with fellow Orientation Ambassadors welcoming first year students to the Jinqiao residence hall on move-in day


Coming here, it was my first time being exposed to so many different cultures. It took me a while to get used to the environment, but once I went through the transition, I was continuously amazed to hear all of these various perspectives, from which I learn a lot every day.


“I used to be more of a listener who was afraid to share ideas…”


I have been working closely with the Diversity Initiatives staff at Student Life for the past year.

This semester, I am honored to take on the leadership role in the newly-established diversity-related program called the Lead Program. I am now co-facilitating a weekly discussion around diversity issues with Tyler Rhorick from Student Life. It’s definitely a brand new journey for me, as I am constantly taking in ideas from other people, while at the same time serving in a guidance role. It wasn’t easy for me at first, since I used to be more of a listener who was afraid to share ideas, but now I am continually being more open in sharing ideas and facilitating the whole dialogue. I guess one of the best gifts that NYU Shanghai has given me is to constantly find my potential through getting actively involved in things that I was not one hundred percent confident about before.


At this semester’s TEDx salon.


“What unites us at NYU the willingness to walk out of our comfort zone.”


I was fortunate to be able to interview the former TEDxNYUShanghai organizers in my first year for another student organization called Flames (围炉). I remember being moved by the passion and professional skills that the former organizers possessed. So when the application for the new board of TEDxNYUShanghai opened, I did not hesitate to try for it. I ended up getting an offer as the director of the marketing department.

Honestly, I was really unsure in the beginning, since I had little knowledge about promotion at that time. But after almost two semesters now, I find myself much more comfortable and confident in terms of reaching out to the whole community and collaborating with my peers and with our school’s communications department, to figure out the best possible ways to promote the event.

We have been preparing for this upcoming conference for almost seven months now. I am super anxious now but also very excited about finally seeing the outcome of our group work. It’s great for us students to have the opportunity to have a taste of organizing the event ourselves, which specifically engages both the NYU Shanghai community and the outside community in a journey of idea sharing.

During the process, there have been moments where our team may have gotten stuck in the middle of a discussion or found our own ideas to be different from other team members, but we were always able to reach an agreement in the end. Having gone through the process of organizing many important events together has been really beneficial for us to look back on what unites us at NYU Shanghai: the willingness to walk out of our comfort zone and to be able to sometimes compromise and cooperate in a team.


Promoting at this semester’s involvement fair with the TEDx president


“I had to adjust to a different way of studying, which requires critical inquiry and peer learning.”


The biggest academic challenge for me so far would be the language barriers I encountered in the beginning. Coming from a Chinese high school where English was not the teaching language, I was afraid to speak up in class during my first several months here. Also, I had to adjust to a totally different way of studying, which requires critical inquiry and peer learning. Luckily, I received much support along the way from all professors and peers who were always appreciating my ideas. So after a while, I successfully overcame these barriers.

One class I am taking this semester which amazes me is Introduction to International Politics, taught by Ivan Rasmussen. The professor is super humorous and it’s just great to be exposed to this humorous tone when reviewing serious international issues. Also, having students from different backgrounds in this class offers me all different types of perspectives, which can then lead to the formation of my own unique thoughts on certain international issues.

My dream job is probably being a lawyer in the international law field or getting involved in international organizations. On one hand, this is closely related to my academic knowledge. On the other hand, I’m always interested in knowing how to conduct negotiations on the international level by engaging all different parties with different interests.