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Scattered to the wind

the Kunshan report

<p>Students from Duke Kunshan University. Photo taken by Ray Zhu, a DKU student.</p>

Students from Duke Kunshan University. Photo taken by Ray Zhu, a DKU student.

Undergraduate students at Duke Kunshan University (DKU) in China will be contributing written and multimedia content to The Chronicle to be published every other Friday. 

Opening the emails back in late January to early February that revealed to me and my cohort of international students at Duke Kunshan of the university’s plans to evacuate us to our homes and set up online classes was an experience that at the time I thought to be rather unique to our specific circumstance as international students studying in China; but the progress of COVID-19 across the globe has made that experience nearly universal. Chances are, COVID-19 has negatively impacted your life just as it has for students on the other side of the world.

There is little to say about the novel coronavirus that another disheartening news update about its spread, transitioning experiences to an online classroom or work environment or #FlattenTheCurve social media initiatives could not better elaborate. However, having undertaken online classes for the better part of a month, and having experienced déjà vu in seeing the virus spread in our own neighborhoods after escaping it in China, there is perhaps something to be gained from Duke Kunshan perspectives.

Perhaps the key emotion to overcome any struggle is solidarity; and in the context of the virus, it materializes as that invisible thread that binds us together—a tap-on-the-shoulder reminder that we aren’t alone. In fact, this solidarity does not have to be grandiose; in a time of crisis like this, it can even be as simple as the honest communication of our shared struggles, or gentle flexibility in our expectations of the people and things that are important to us.

With the students of Duke and Duke Kunshan scattered the world over, there has also arisen the opportunity to find commonalities in unsuspecting places—from waking up at ungodly hours for Zoom discussion groups to gripes about the inconveniences of online assignments, shared experiences do help in creating an almost communal resilience against letting these circumstances affect us.

And that feeling isn’t restricted to only our struggles—even better are scattered happy moments of shared triumph. Yes, we did finish that presentation together minutes before the deadline, and we did it three timezones apart and with four litres of caffeine between us—but that’s what makes it all the more special. 

Moreover, solidarity further branches out into collective action.  One of the positive outcomes of the current situation (in which no one has social engagements to keep their schedules busy) is that it creates an environment conducive to communication and creativity borne out of, if nothing else, boredom. From online P.E. Sessions to collaborative Independent Research Projects, working together on something exciting at a steady, no-pressure pace can truly help with motivation and finding purpose in these turbid times.

However, what is absolutely key to the idea of solidarity is a rather simple element—it’s pivotal that we express it. No feeling of community arises out of people simply working or living together by circumstance; carving out an identity as a group requires us, no matter where we are, to explicitly identify and express our identities, and share how our experiences shape them—whether it’s as members of Duke, students living through this crisis, or any group we identify with. Simply letting each other know that we are all still a cohesive whole can remind us all that we’re part of something bigger.

Share a poem, tag a friend, chant a Blue Devil slogan; maybe even write about your experience and share it in the Chronicle. There is little our true solidarity as a community of worldwide learners experiencing this crisis together cannot withstand.

Aryan Poonacha is a first-year student in the second-ever graduating class of the Duke Kunshan campus’ undergraduate program, located outside Shanghai, China.

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