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DKU international students express mixed feelings towards spring return to China campus

<p>DKU has asked students in Kunshan to suspend unnecessary travel, including to the neighboring cities of Suzhou and Shanghai.</p>

DKU has asked students in Kunshan to suspend unnecessary travel, including to the neighboring cities of Suzhou and Shanghai.

Duke Kunshan University announced Monday that most international students are expected to be on-campus in China in the spring. Some students are excited to finally study at Kunshan, while others say the news spoiled their current plans.

“It was not a huge surprise,” said senior Chase Pellegrini de Paur. “I think we’ve spent the last two and a half years waking up to emails that just dropped a lot of information with not a ton of warning or context.”

All first-years and sophomores are required to return to China. Exceptions are permitted for juniors who have not had the opportunity to spend a semester at Duke, along with seniors currently in Durham who plan to study at Duke in the spring.

The announcement came weeks after China opened its doors to international students on Aug. 24 for the first time in two years. Before that policy change, a group of over 100 DKU international students was approved to return to China in June 2022.

An exciting start

First-year Zoya Abbas was in Barcelona when the update was announced. Having never been to the Kunshan campus, Abbas was both surprised and excited. 

“We all came to DKU because it gave us this amazing opportunity to study in China and this was the main reason that a lot of us applied,” Abbas said. 

First-year Abdullah Javed felt similarly. Javed had been studying online since his junior year of high school and felt “glad that all of [DKU] can come together on campus.” He described his experience learning on Zoom as “too long.”

“Being on-campus and having that vibe of college, and being part of a community—that’s crucial to your overall learning,” he said. 

Both Abbas and Javed also expressed excitement to explore campus facilities for the first time and meet DKU faculty face-to-face. One of the first things Javed wants to do at Kunshan is to meet members of DKU’s Young Leaders of Global Health club because he is the co-vice president.

Despite the excitement, some students also shared frustration towards the announcement. 

Sophomore Marriam Chishti said that her peers studied in Durham or online a year ago, pivoted to a semester in Barcelona this fall and now have to spend next spring in China.

“We weren’t able to enjoy our summer because we were rushing around trying to get our visas and now we’re doing the same process again,” Chishti said.

Ruined plans

Junior Othmane Echchabi said that DKU’s sudden announcement ruined his plans. 

Echchabi studied his first two semesters online at home in Morocco. In fall 2021, Echchabi chose to take a leave of absence rather than continue to take online classes. After spending a semester at an exchange program in Madrid last spring, he’s now back in Morocco taking classes online this fall.

Echchabi had hoped to spend time with other DKU students in his year in Durham in the spring. Learning that many of the students from his class would be expected to go to China was “disappointing” to him.

“I’m not studying online to go to Duke to finally find myself alone,” Echchabi said.

Echchabi also explained that many of his classmates already made plans for the spring before Monday’s announcement. Some of his friends had scheduled their Medical College Admissions Test in the U.S., but now they will be in China during their planned exam date.

Echchabi plans to study in Durham in the spring but hopes to return to China for the rest of his time in college.

Finding community

Pellegrini de Paur, a senior, has been in Durham since the middle of his sophomore year. He said it would feel natural to him “to graduate alongside the people that [he’s] known for the past two and a half years.” He’s still unsure if he’ll stay in Durham or go to China in the spring. 

Many of Pellegrini de Paur’s DKU peers have become deeply involved in the Duke community as resident assistants, club members and researchers.

“To think that they’re providing this service of working for Duke and then being told that they might have to go back next semester is weird, almost disrespectful in some ways,” Pellegrini de Paur said. 

After spending only one semester in Kunshan, senior Aryan Poonacha said he did not feel much connection to the DKU community.

“The biggest thing is the shared drama over things like the emails,” Poonacha said, who plans to stay in Durham in the spring for his last semester. “I’ve not been part of a community since those first six months in China.”

According to Chishti, it’s been hard for international and Chinese DKU students to befriend one another because of the geographic separation. She hopes to “grow and become more of a family” with other DKU students when she arrives in China.

Pellegrini de Paur acknowledged that a lot of DKU students have had really unique journeys over the past four years.

“People have gotten really good at making the most of whatever situation they’re handed,” he said. 


Ayra Charania | Senior Editor

Ayra Charania is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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