A Duke education, but not in China: International students at Duke Kunshan University await their return to campus



Undergraduates at Duke Kunshan University in China contribute written and multimedia content for The Chronicle.

At Duke Kunshan University in China, a new normal has taken hold: students can walk to class without masks, attend office hours face-to-face with faculty, and share meals with friends. Next door, in what was still an empty field in 2019, tower cranes and hundreds of contractors are working around the clock to complete the second phase of the campus, scheduled for completion next summer. . The only thing missing are international students.

For hundreds of them who were scheduled to take courses in China, the fall was anything but a return to the status quo. Effectively stranded abroad since January 2020, with the exception of a handful of international students from more than 60 countries, they are still taking courses at a distance from their high school rooms or in “studies abroad” for indefinite on the Duke campus since fall 2020. This fall there are over 200. DKU students study abroad in Durham, and many plan to spend the spring semester here.

Now, with a full cohort of four undergraduate classes, the vastly different outcomes for DKU international students have been exacerbated by border closures, visa logistics, and the challenge of paying for college amid the pandemic. . The Chronicle met with DKU students at Duke and abroad to share their stories of struggle and resilience in the face of a seemingly impossible situation.

“There have been good times and bad”: the DKU experience online

Junior Saad Lahrichi is entering his fourth consecutive semester online, after spending his fall 2019 semester on a campus in China in his first year. Taking classes in Casablanca, Morocco, Lahrichi noted that “there have been good times and bad” regarding his distance learning experience. With a significant portion of DKU’s international students studying abroad at Duke, Lahrichi found himself in DKU’s hybrid classes as one of the only distance students.

“I hated it when the professor was also online and all the students (including those on campus) didn’t open their cameras,” Lahrichi wrote to The Chronicle, describing the challenge of hybrid classes.

Waking up for class at 1:30 am and 6 am due to jet lag, Lahrichi also feels physically removed from campus and regrets being “close to professors and classmates.”

Next spring, Lahrichi is delighted to come to Duke to resume his college experience in person. He plans to spend time with the seniors who will be graduating this spring, as well as with classmates he hasn’t seen in two years. It also aims to take advantage of opportunities to study on campus, including “making new friends at Duke, going for hikes, attending events – feeling like a college student again on a college campus.”

Study in Durham

DKU freshman Liam Powell started his college experience on the Durham campus.

“I chose to come here instead of going online because I knew a lot of other DKU students were coming here as well, and online class times would be difficult with the different time zones,” said Powell.

Powell also sympathized with international students taking distance education courses who cannot travel to China or afford a semester abroad at Duke. DKU students should consider Duke’s higher costs for accommodation, food and other fees compared to studying in China. Duke rates are estimated to be around $ 13,000 per semester, which is between $ 7,000 and $ 9,000 more than what a student would pay per semester at DKU. DKU scholarships and financial aid only cover full tuition fees, not room and board or other costs.

“I feel bad for the international students who were supposed to go back to DKU who are stuck here because the room and board are much more expensive here and they don’t offer any kind of help for that. You are not eligible for Federal Student Loans at DKU as it is a foreign institution and people’s 529 plans [investment accounts for qualified education expenses] was not transferred, ”explained Powell.

Difficulty transferring lessons

Other students pointed out the difficulties in finding Duke classes that will transfer to DKU. Duke offers thousands of courses, many of which are not offered at DKU, and DKU students should ensure that the courses they take are approved as equivalencies to meet major and distribution requirements. For most courses offered at Duke, DKU students must submit an equivalency application, which is submitted to DKU’s Undergraduate Studies office to determine if it is an equivalent course.

Josh Wagner, a freshman, described his frustration with registering for classes.

“The problem was, there weren’t a ton of freshman classes, so I had to do a lot of equivalencies myself, and they [DKU] weren’t as receptive to equivalencies as I hoped, ”said Wagner. “I’m limited on what courses I can take because I don’t really know which courses I should take at Duke or DKU. “

Despite the uncertainty surrounding their return schedule and the challenges of enrolling in courses, many DKU students in Durham enjoy their time here to meet other DKU students studying abroad at Duke as well as their peers within the Duke community.

“Not knowing when we can go to Kunshan Campus forces you to enjoy the time and your semester, not just worrying about where you are going to be next,” said Erica Ham, sophomore student at DKU, who has spent the last three semesters at Duke. “The good thing about being part of DKU and also going to Duke is that DKU is quite small, so we already had a pretty unified community online and we got really close here. ”

Ham also mentioned that a friend of his had successfully transferred from DKU to Duke.

“We don’t know if this sets a precedent as to whether or not we can transfer in the future or how difficult it will be, or if it was just because of COVID-19,” Ham said.

Transfer between DKU and Duke

Each fall, approximately 50 students transfer to Duke from another college or university. Duke has expressed no preference for transferring DKU students to Duke or has officially approved that this gives them an additional application advantage. If a DKU student transfers to Duke, they must drop their dual degree and scholarship.

Rachel Lee, a freshman at DKU, has no plans to transfer.

“We explicitly applied to DKU because we wanted to see a different part of the world. I love Duke, but I really want to go to DKU as it was my original goal to go to China and explore a place that I haven’t been used to yet. I don’t think I would give up on this opportunity, ”said Lee.

Some people study abroad at different universities under the DKU GO and DKU GO-FLEX programs, which are approved study abroad opportunities for students who prefer in-person university experiences around the world but cannot attend Duke due to travel restrictions or other reasons.

Back in China

On November 8, DKU senior management sent an update to international students regarding plans to enter China. According to the email, China is currently working on a “detailed plan to facilitate the safe entry of international students to the Chinese mainland.” Administrators recommended that international students start preparing the visa application documents needed to enter China and urged students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if they haven’t already.

China is currently forcing foreigners to quarantine for up to four weeks, which DKU students would spend in a combination of hotels and university accommodation.

A follow-up FAQ sheet noted that a decision will be announced by December 10, and students planning to study at Duke in the spring may continue to do so even if approval to return to China is given. Students are expected to travel to China after the 2022 spring semester ends, and if they have the option to attend DKU in the fall, they should do so.

DKU would also revert to “expected” Duke study abroad cycle, with juniors studying abroad during the academic year and all students eligible for Duke summer sessions.

Catherine Flanagan is a freshman at Trinity and Charlie Colasurdo is Editor-in-Chief of Kunshan Report and Junior in the Second Class of the Undergraduate Program at the Duke Kunshan Campus, located outside of Shanghai, China.



About Author

Comments are closed.