Han Zhu: 'Approach every opinion with caution and respect'

Mon, 05/23/2016

Han Zhu

Mathematics & Philosophy

Wuxi, China

What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?

I am a member of the Cornell Speech and Debate Society (CSDS). I belong to the world division that focuses on the British Parliamentary (BP) debate. As an international student, I cannot stress enough how debate has helped me improve my English significantly, in terms of argument construction and oral communication. The benefits manifest themselves in my academic study and personal life. But more importantly, the experience of thinking hard about controversial issues – sometimes even arguing for the side you personally feel uncomfortable with, such as why China is so wrong on certain issues – is really the spirit of debate. It opened my eyes to the arguments that I had not thought about. I started to appreciate the merits of arguments I had promptly dismissed in the past. It taught me to approach every opinion with caution and respect and without prejudicial preconceptions.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

I believe I became more compassionate about ordinary people's experiences and hardships, and I grew more attentive to the structural and institutional causes behind such experiences. In the past, I had a naive comprehension that an individual is solely responsible for who she is and where she stands socioeconomically. But now I can understand that the social, cultural and political forces beyond an individual's control can nevertheless predestine that person's life. The classes I have taken, including those in philosophy and sociology, and the many talks I attended helped change my beliefs.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

Don't feel bad about yourself when you do not KNOW a lot of people. It's OK if you do not force yourself to go to parties. Cornell students are understandably busy and constantly under pressure. However, do talk to people. Especially, be more active in initiating a conversation with your classmates and, most importantly, professors. You will enjoy the insight and knowledge these people can share with you.