How Two NYU Shanghai Roommates Became Best Friends

For Frank and Justin, sharing a room was the first step in a pivotal friendship

Portrait of NYU Shanghai roommates Frank Zhou and Justin Zotos, they are sitting in a row of seats

Many first-year students are nervous about living with a roommate. And while there will definitely be negotiations regarding sleep habits, your roommate can also become one of your first—and sometimes best—friends on campus. For Frank Zhou and Justin Zotos, from China and the United States, respectively, being NYU Shanghai roommates their first year was the beginning of a lasting friendship. They have continued to live together ever since—even when they studied abroad in New York City—have visited each other’s families, and supported each other through countless finals and study sessions. Here, Frank and Justin share how their friendship pushes them forward—and is the key to their success at NYU.

JUSTIN: When we first became roommates at NYU Shanghai, you were worried about your English, and I was worried about my Chinese. We made this pact to practice with each other, and that was one of our defining moments. We set goals for each other and help one another accomplish them.

FRANK: For me, our first defining moment was when we moved in. We had to sign a roommate agreement, and there was space to add whatever we wanted. You wrote: “We will love each other.” I was so moved. We don’t need any other agreement or rules, because we know we can work anything out

JUSTIN: I think the ability to care and work together is something that really sticks out about the students here. They care about careers, and they care about school, but they also care about other people. And I learn from them, and from you, all the time. You’re always finishing projects way before their due dates. I was not like that at all, at first. You taught me the importance of waking up early, eating breakfast, and practicing time management. Right now, my GPA is the highest it’s ever been.

FRANK: And you’re so great at making friends. One of my goals in college was to be more outgoing and meet more people, and you’ve really helped me push myself socially.

JUSTIN: And one of my goals was to never turn away new foods. You’ve definitely pushed my limits on that front, but I’m very thankful for it. I remember the first time we really hung out was at this Peking duck restaurant and you ordered duck heart. That freaked me out at first, but it was not bad. A lot of our best moments have been around food.

FRANK: Like when you came to visit my family for Chinese New Year.

Frank Zhou and Justin Zotos making silly faces for the camera
Portrait of Frank Zhou and Justin Zotos

JUSTIN: The very first night we got there, we had this big dinner, and they brought out an entire roasted lamb. It was delicious, and I’d never had anything like it before.

FRANK: My hometown is not very international, so when I brought you back to my grandparents’ house, everyone, even people we didn’t know, invited us to their houses to chat. You played mahjongg with my grandparents, and I also brought you to my dad’s old factory, which produced razor blades.

JUSTIN: It was really cool getting to see what we learn in the classroom about China as a country and their place in the world just by walking around your hometown.

FRANK: Yeah, if you want to experience Chinese life, you’ve got to go to some more remote, developing cities.

JUSTIN: It was amazing, and then when we studied abroad together in New York City, I was so happy that I got to bring you to meet my family over Thanksgiving. They all wanted to meet you, so that year we had 30 people over and called it “Franksgiving.” It was a very special event. And you got to try turkey, which you had never had before.

FRANK: I’d heard that turkey was not-delicious chicken, but I thought it tasted so much better. You can have some American dishes in Shanghai, but it’s not like in a real American family. And I had the chance to hang out with your cousins, and we watched American football together and I learned the rules.

JUSTIN: Being in New York City together while we studied abroad was great. I was finishing my Chinese minor, and speaking Chinese with you really helped me get through it.

FRANK: And you helped me apply for the Interviewing Strategies course that I took the next semester. I had to talk about my leadership experience, and I hadn’t had any formal leadership experience since high school.

JUSTIN: But there are two kinds of leaders. I think you can be a leader through power and position, or you can be a leader by being the kind of person people respect, confide in, and come to when there are issues. And you’re definitely that kind of leader.

FRANK: That’s the example I used in my application, and I got into the course!