Undergraduate students at Duke Kunshan University in China are contributing written and multimedia content to The Chronicle, usually published every other Friday.
Approximately 260 Duke Kunshan University students plan to study abroad in Durham this fall, according to the Office of DKU Relations.
In an April 12 email to students, DKU’s Office of Global Education outlined a plan to provide “flexible alternatives for students prioritizing in-person academic experiences this fall.” International students, including members of the Classes of 2024 and 2025 who have been unable to travel to Kunshan, were given the option to start their in-person college experiences in Durham.
“I didn’t really have another option,” first-year Liam Powell wrote. “I’ve done distance learning in high school, and it’s been pretty miserable. Being able to have in-person classes, no matter where they are, should help keep me on track academically, make friends, and get a tiny slice of that ‘traditional’ college experience.”
The cohort is expected to consist primarily of seniors in the inaugural class and incoming first-years. It includes around 100 students from the United States, 80 from China and 80 from some of the 50 countries that make up DKU’s student body.
First-year Haley Williams echoed the notion of prioritizing in-person learning but expressed sadness about missing her first semester in China.
“I really wanted to go to DKU—to be at my 'new home'. In addition, I was ready to step out of my comfort zone—out of my home country—and see another part of the world I'd never been to before,” she wrote.
Other first-years looked at the upside of spending a first semester at college closer to home.
“It takes off a lot of the pressure of what would have been scary about going straight to China first semester,” first-year Nicole Masarova wrote. “I get to explore a new place and it's comforting to know that I get to meet classmates before heading off to China.”
China’s March 2020 border closure to non-essential travel has barred most international students from returning to the country. In a May 17 email to DKU international students, DKU Dean of Students Raphael Moffett wrote that “all joint venture institutions are still waiting to get approval to proceed with students coming or returning.”
The email also highlighted a productive meeting between officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jiangsu Foreign Affairs Office, Suzhou and the city of Kunshan to discuss DKU international students’ return to China.
Some seniors from China who were prevented from spending time at Duke during their junior year by border restrictions are planning to spend a semester in Durham before graduating.
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“The lack of international exposure since COVID-19, especially the absence of international students on campus, made me miss the global environment we had in 2019,” wrote senior Elva Yu, who plans to spend fall in Durham. “I want to reunite with my international friends in the States and finally get to immerse myself in Duke’s campus.”
Despite challenges in securing international students’ return to China, DKU saw a record number of international applications for the coming academic year—1,800 students from over 100 countries. Nearly 180 international students have committed to the Class of 2025, to be joined by their counterparts from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan upon their admission later this summer.
Students from outside the U.S. intending to spend this fall at Duke have begun the complex arrival process, beginning with DS-2019 forms, purchasing insurance plans and scheduling interviews at embassies.
For Erica Ham, a sophomore who spent the 2020-2021 academic year in Durham, the decision to spend another semester at Duke was an easy one.
“Although I wish to be at the campus I should have been at all along, I’m excited to be able to spend another semester with my Duke friends and to hopefully experience a more ‘normal’ Duke campus than last year,” Ham wrote.
To prepare for the unprecedented influx of DKU students across four classes to Duke this fall, a new group of orientation leaders headed by the Duke Office of DKU Relations is launching to support students making the transition to life on campus in Durham. The Kunshan Student Orientation Peers (KSOP) consists of 14 Duke and DKU students that plan to guide incoming DKU students through virtual and in-person orientation.
Junior Aryaman Arora chose to be a KSOP because it gave him “a very unique opportunity to meet new people and help students out with adjusting to life at Duke.”
“My first semester at Duke was challenging with figuring everything out being an international student. I just wanted to help in any way I can,” Arora wrote.
In addition to a choice of taking remote courses or studying at Duke, students could choose to apply to over 30 pre-approved study abroad locations through Global Opportunities, or individually petition to attend a program through Global Opportunities-Flexible Learning Experiences.
The first study abroad cohort, consisting of 30 students, arrived at Duke in fall 2020 and was mostly underclassmen from the US unable to return to the DKU campus. They were joined by a small group of international DKU juniors from South Korea, Italy, Taiwan and Kazakhstan for the spring 2021 semester, studying on J-1 visas.
Charlie Colasurdo is Kunshan Report editor and a junior in the second-ever graduating class of the Duke Kunshan campus’s undergraduate program, located outside Shanghai, China.