With Duke Kunshan University’s inaugural commencement ceremony approaching on May 19 EDT, seniors from DKU’s first-ever graduating class looked back on their four years attending Duke’s joint venture program in the suburbs of Shanghai.
When they chose to attend DKU, they knew they were taking a bold step in a new direction.
“I wanted a global community and DKU was able to provide that on top of a high quality education,” senior Spencer Reeves wrote in an email. “Having the chance to interact with people from backgrounds different from the one in which you grew up is such a wonderful, special and important opportunity.”
Others viewed their time split between China and the United States as a learning experience.
“Not only did I learn a lot about the world and my classmates’ perspective and experiences, but I also learned a lot about myself and where my own strengths and weaknesses lie,” senior Samantha Tsang said.
After reflecting upon her experiences—including helping organize the annual Duke-UNC China Leadership Summit; joining the national service organization Alpha Phi Omega; and traveling to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea—Tsang remarked on the “memorable” nature of her college education.
“I’ve learned you are capable of more than you think, your grades absolutely do not define you as a person and work/life balance is really, really important,” Tsang added.
Senior Huangrui Chu described his DKU experience as “colorful.”
A student worker in student affairs, Chu has made friends from around the world and has grown from a mere participant in activities and workshops to an event organizer, coordinating programs for all students to attend.
“I am more mature and know how to deal with different, complex situations at events now. Being a peer tutor, university programming assistant, and research assistant, I’ve learned a lot in many areas,” he added, reflecting on this growth.
The pandemic impacted DKU’s inaugural class in a variety of ways—notably sending international students home at the end of January 2020. Nearly all international students have been unable to return to China, and many have spent this past academic year studying on Duke’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.
Chu lamented the impact of COVID-19 on campus at DKU, including the “endless quarantine.”
“The pandemic is destroying my life in DKU,” Chu said. “I hoped my international friends could participate in the events I hold on campus. I really hoped to study with them in the classroom together. I really hoped to take a journey with them around China.”
Some, however, saw the upside, viewing this as a chance to expose themselves to new experiences.
“I was lucky that while I was unable to be in China for the past two years, I have been able to spend a significant amount of time at Duke—much more than I ever expected. That has afforded me other opportunities that I would not have otherwise had,” Reeves wrote.
Tsang echoed these sentiments, adding that the experience helped her get to know herself better, gain confidence and understand what drives her and her passions.
All three graduates shared optimism and excitement for a life after graduation.
“While graduating is a slightly scary thing, having to go out into the real world and do all the tasks associated with ‘adulting,’ I am excited for whatever my next steps will hold,” Reeves wrote.
“I feel a bit nervous but excited,” Tsang added. “I’m looking forward to moving on to a new experience and learning as much as possible.”
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.
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