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Sincerely, us: Letters from incoming DKU first-years

Undergraduate students at Duke Kunshan University in China are contributing written and multimedia content to The Chronicle, usually published every other Friday.

Zoé Murphy

To my future self,

Wow, these past four months have been a roller coaster, and college hasn't even started. In March, you were accepted to DKU, and you almost dropped your computer from excitement. In June, you realized that going to China for the fall semester would be impossible. It was okay, though—you were given the amazing opportunity to study at Duke. 

With the pandemic, however, there was only so much Duke could do, and as everything at Duke went virtual, from extracurriculars to many classes, you began considering a new option. You would create your own opportunity. Wanting a stimulating environment and to reconnect to your French roots, you decided to reach out to fellow European DKU students about studying in Paris for the semester.  The straightforward journey from high school to college had become a twisting road of questions: Where would you go for the fall semester? Yet, even amid the confusion, one conviction remained: Choosing DKU was the best choice you’ve ever made.

During the shelter-in-place period, you realized how, now more than ever, the world needs individuals who understand more than one side of the narrative. The world needs leaders who think globally, and you know that DKU will help you grow into such a person. So, although college may be to a bit of a rocky start, I hope you took advantage of your university's international setting and grabbed on to every opportunity presented so that you will have the tools to make an impact on the world. 

Sincerely,

Zoé

Ooha Reddy

To my future self,

I know that you will never completely understand who I am here, in the present, ever again. You will never again fully comprehend my aspirations, troubles, passions and aversions—not to the extent I do in this exact moment.

Hopefully, my correspondence serves as a reminder of what it felt like to be 17 years old. To be Ooha Reddy, an incoming freshman at Duke Kunshan University, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Currently, it is the concept of what is “right” that has been bothering me the most. It feels impossible to know if the choices I am making for me and my future are the correct ones in these turbulent times. I often contemplate my motive behind choosing to attend classes in person this fall in Durham—whether I am doing this for my own academic benefit or just for the feeling of going to college. I wonder if I am ready to leave my comfortable bubble of San Ramon, Calif. and face a new chapter as my own person. I worry that I am being robbed of the study-abroad experience I chose when I committed to DKU. And most of all, I question whether I really deserve this at all. What, after all, makes me special enough to have the unique opportunity of combining a Duke University education with a life-changing four-year program abroad in China?

When my thoughts spiral down this path, there is only one thing I can do: peek back and continue to move forward. I remember my elation on March 11, 2020, when I received my acceptance letter and my best friends ran around our high school psychology classroom screaming in excitement for me and all that my future held. That hope, that golden optimism, has never left my spirit, regardless of all the worries that plague it. And when I touch down in Durham in August, I will still shine with anticipation of all that is to come. Because deep down, I know I have earned this and that I am ready. After all, it is my instincts that have gotten me this far, and I have yet to lose faith. I will make the most of these next four years, regardless of whatever obstacles fall in my path, because that is who I am, right now.

Sincerely,

Ooha

Nelson Aknin

To my future self, 

I’m sitting among members of my family, explaining what the next chapter of my life will consist of, when it hits me: I am off to college. Who would have thought that I, a kid who left everybody back in France to live in the United States, would end up in China? In a way, it does not surprise me at all. The new life I am going to begin at DKU already started as soon as I met my admissions officer. Having been a nomad and a passionate traveler for most of my life, I am sure that at DKU, my desire to create tight relationships with fascinating people from the four corners of the world will be fulfilled. I hope that studying in a country overflowing with intense energy will fuel me to become a member of this new generation, striving to shift this world toward a brighter path. I am also excited and honored to become a member of the DKU and Duke families, who both will help me grow into a man able to overcome international challenges in a way that through a one-directional education path would never be possible. Being in a new environment, as exciting as I try to make it, can be quite intimidating, especially after freshly coming out of high school. I am confident, however, that with the already-strong bonds I have created with many incoming and current students, this minor distraction will be replaced with joyful memories.

I hope that when you read this, you will agree that this was the best decision you have ever made.

Sincerely, 

Nelson 

McLaren Christensen

To my future self,

It has been many months since I made the biggest decision of my life, and still I feel an equal blend of anxiety and excitement for the possibilities that await me in China. Don’t get me wrong, I have never been more sure of myself, but I will admit I am a little nervous. That being said, let us start on an optimistic note. My greatest hope for DKU is that I form deep bonds with my classmates that last long after graduation. I hope to make a small group of close friends like the ones I have at home. Thankfully, I can already feel promising friendships beginning to grow, and so I am endlessly eager to finally meet everyone. The beautiful thing about DKU is that it is so young, and with its youth comes an endless supply of opportunities. I fell so in love with its potential that I eagerly pressed submit on my Early Decision application so long ago, but at that moment a few worries took root. I know this is cliche, but my greatest worry stems from the fact that I will be so far away from home. I have been away from home before, but never for this long. Although I am terrified, I know that in the end, I will be that much closer to my new friends at DKU.

Sincerely,

McLaren

Zoé Murphy, Ooha Reddy, Nelson Aknin, and McLaren Christensen are freshmen in the third-ever graduating class of undergraduate program at Duke Kunshan University, located outside Shanghai.

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