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ALUMNI STORIES | Zhou Xiaofeng: a SISUer behind U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

06 November 2015 | By Li Meihui and Gu Yiqing | SISU

  • Zhou Xiaofeng

    Graduated from SISU in 1998. Zhou (right) is an interpreter at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.


e is the witness of the bilateral talk between Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and President Xi Jinping of China. His role is Ban’s interpreter. Now Zhou Xiaofeng, an alumnus of Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), is continuing his journey.

University life: vivid and dramatic

Zhou graduated from SISU’s School of Journalism and Communication in 1998. He summed up his four-year university living track briefly as: doing light reading in the fresh years, preparing for TEM 4 in sophomore year, involved in club activities in junior year and practicing, preparing for postgraduate entrance exams and having a love affair in senior year.

During his university life, Zhou passed TEM4 and TEM8 easily, minored in International Economic Law, learn Germany as second foreign language and learned Japanese by himself.

In junior year, Zhou was elected to organize the Communications Team at SISU’s Students’ Union. During the following year, Zhou spent his most spare time in the career in which he could bring his drawing skills into full play.

It not only strengthened his drawing skills, but also developed his leadership. He often needed to communicate with superiors, coordinate with other teams, find a way to arouse the enthusiasm of team members and arrange work according to individual ability. After one year practice, Zhou became confident, calm and expressive.

“Whether I was a college student, or I became a professional, I have always been following two principles: one is that never let you get idle, the other is that do everything to the best. I live a fulfilling life according to the two principles.” Zhou said.

Translation career chooses me

In junior year, Zhou participated in the speaking contest of Shanghai college students commemorating the returning of Hong Kong on behalf of SISU. He never thought that the contest would change his course of life.

With great interest in media, Zhou successively went to broadcasting station and television station for interview but all failed. In senior year, he worked as an intern in the sports channel of Shanghai’s Oriental Television Station, now Dragon TV. Depending on his strong writing foundation and excellent technology skills, Zhou stood out from many journalism interns. At that time remaining in employment almost became a certain.

Then Zhou met a dilemma. On one hand, he really liked media, which is challenging and exciting, on the other hand, however, he had little interest on sports. Here came the turnaround. One day, Yao Fumin, one of Zhou’s tutor, asked Zhou to have an interview. The interviewer is right Zhou’s future leader— Chen Longxing, Director of the Translation and Interpretation Department of Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office.

A few days later, Zhou received the admission notice: if accepting the admission, Zhou would be enrolled in the United Nations’ Interpreting Program in Beijing after graduation to learn simultaneous interpretation. While the precondition is that he passed the national postgraduate entrance examination first. The result, not accidentally, turned out to be good.

After a long time, Zhou learnt that it was his performance in the lecture that gave him the chance of the interview.

“I feel somehow regretful about not being a journalist. But being an interpreter brings me into a broad world I have never imagined. I never regret making the choice.” Zhou said.

Eleven years in foreign affairs office

The harder, the more progressive.

During the time working at the Foreign Affairs Office in Shanghai after graduation, Zhou had been translator for three mayors and five municipal party secretaries successively. From the perspective of translation work, he said, Mayor Xu Kuangdi was most influent.

According to Zhou, as the first academician mayor with metallurgy professional background in China, Mr. Xu was talkative and never constrained by points prepared in advance by his staff. He had a wonderful memory and perfect spoken English, so his requirement of the translator was quite high.

At first, Zhou was not professional enough to reach Mayor Xu’s requirement, and he had made some mistakes while translating. But Mayor Xu and leaders of the office didn’t criticize his nor give up on him. On the contrary, they gave him more chance. Gradually, Zhou became better and translated Mayor’s thoughts precisely. When he and the mayor showed tacit cooperation, he felt excited. Maybe that was the best reward a young translator could get, Zhou said.

Step by step, Zhou Xiaofeng climbs on the way of translation slowly and steadily.

The United Nations

New challenge, new breakthrough.

“If interpretation has a peak, then I think, interpretation at the U.N. counts. Such a broad platform involves many different themes, like international politics, economics and culture, science and technology, laws and rules. So in my opinion, it’s a great challenge doing interpretation work at the U.N., and it’s also a glory to pass the test and be a qualified interpreter.” 

Through unremitting efforts, Zhou passed the test and received an invitation to work in the headquarters in New York. The difficulty of working in the U.N., is not only about the widely known “high pressure, fast pace and easy fatigability”, nor communicate crossing cultural gap with people with various cultural backgrounds. The most difficult is about details, Zhou said.

My experience to work in the U.N. is that you should have a very independent spirit first, the spirit to work independently and solve problems independently. Of course, the so-called independent also means knowing how to go for help in time of need and find whom to ask for help.

I have broad interests myself and I like miscellaneous work. What translation involves is just colorful. I like challenges as well, translation, especially simultaneous interpretation is very challenging, and I really like my current job. 

Go further happily together

Huang Zhenzhen comes from Shantou, Guangdong Province and she was the President of the Student’s Union of SISU’s Law School. After graduation from SISU, Zhou came to Beijing, and they kept their relationship basically on telephones and letters. So they cherish it very much. 

Huang first worked at Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office, then she went to the Queen’s University in Canada to get further study and gained a master’s degree in international politics. Later she encouraged Zhou to take the entrance exam of the U.N., however she passed the test for social affairs but Zhou failed the interpretation test. 

“Her going to work for the U.N. gave me great encouragement and inspired me to strive to pass the second test. Finally I got the chance to work at the headquarters in New York, stepping into a whole new world,” Zhou said. He hopes he can support his wife go further on her career, and her courage can inspire him make breakthroughs and find new coordinates of life. 

Now he is learning French, “I don’t have a long-term goal, just do my present job better.” 

Making progress and study hard, being stable and make breakthroughs all the way along.


Press Contact

SISU News Center, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Tel : +86 (21) 3537 2378

Email :

Address :550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China

Further Reading