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International students back in Kunshan after two years away

International students have returned to Duke Kunshan University for the first time since the pandemic forced their departure from China more than two years ago.

The arrival of students last month from overseas countries including the United States, Malaysia and South Korea paves the way for the entire group’s return to campus.

Their joy and relief at finally linking up with classmates and faculty is matched by the DKU community’s jubilation at witnessing the start of the international homecoming.

International students enjoying life in Kunshan

William Trowbridge was the first international student arriving from overseas to set foot on campus.

“It has been a huge relief to finally be on campus after what has felt like ages waiting for the winds to shift in favor of us international students,” said Trowbridge, a sophomore student from the U.S. who plans to major in environmental science and public policy.

“The thing I have most enjoyed so far is meeting my classmates and having real, in-person classes since it has been almost three years since my high school moved to online learning at the beginning of the pandemic.”

William Trowbridge (second left) among the international students taken for lunch on one of their first days on campus

Jordan Knight from the U.S. said it feels “amazing” to be in Kunshan after two years of remote learning.

“There are not enough words to explain how in awe I am of everything that has happened to me this past month as I navigated my way to DKU,” the Class of 2024 student said.

“I am ecstatic to finally be here in-person and meeting all of the people with whom I have shared classes online.”

Jordan Knight

The Class of 2025’s Faith Ho, from Malaysia, is also delighted to be connecting with faculty and classmates face-to-face after months of Zoom meetings and time zone management.

“While spending my freshman year back home in Malaysia and at Duke was a unique opportunity, ultimately, I signed up to study at DKU in China,” said Ho, who is interested in computation and design and political economy.

“I’m thankful to be able to return right as the new academic year begins.”

Faith Ho settles into campus life

Duke Kunshan’s international students left China when COVID-19 took hold in early 2020 and have been studying abroad ever since, many of them on the Duke campus in North Carolina.

A large number of the nearly 400-strong international cohort are expected to arrive in Kunshan over the coming weeks and months.

The target is for the return of the international cohort to DKU campus to be completed in the spring.

More than 20 students have already landed in China and are either on campus or being supported as they complete quarantine and related requirements. Others are currently going through the visa process.

Special authorization is no longer required for international students to enter China, which should accelerate their return.

The first batch of returning international students with staff

However, a significant proportion are taking advantage of the global opportunities available to DKU students and have already committed to spending the fall semester at Duke or the global education site in Barcelona, the location of a fully customized program designed for first and sophomore year students unable to return to China.

“This is a moment we have been looking forward to for a long time,” said Duke Kunshan’s Interim Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Francis. “We are very happy that our international students can now participate in the full DKU campus experience.”

Students on the Barcelona program lap up the local culture

DKU Chancellor Youmei Feng said, “The gradual and smooth return of international students to campus has been made possible by the support of government departments at all levels and the work and dedication of the university community.

“We look forward to more international students returning to campus, further enriching its diverse culture and the cultivation of outstanding international talent.”

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Scott MacEachern said international students “play a huge role in making DKU a global space here in Kunshan”.

“We are absolutely delighted to welcome them back to campus, and we look forward to the arrival of more of our international students in the near future.”

The Barcelona program is run for first and second-year DKU students

The offices of undergraduate studies, international relations, student affairs, government relations, global education, international student services and operations worked together to facilitate the return of international students, according to Xiaolin Chang, vice chancellor for government relations, and Marcia France, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate studies and the Language and Culture Center.

Among the key tasks have been liaising with government departments at all levels as well as embassies and consulates abroad, visa processing and post-entry logistical support.

The single-semester Barcelona program caters for about 125 undergraduates who have seen their DKU educational offering expanded to cover three countries across as many continents — China, the United States and Spain.

Run in partnership with the IES Abroad Barcelona Center, the program is a mixture of in-person classes, remote learning and direct enrollment in local university courses.

First-year student Matej Cacik, from Slovakia, said he is grateful for the opportunity to study in Barcelona.

“I believe it is very valuable to get a study-abroad experience anywhere in the world, including Spain, the U.S. and China, because of the uniqueness of the culture in each of these places,” said Cacik, who plans to pursue a politics-related major.

A number of junior and senior Duke Kunshan international students are based on the Duke campus in Durham this semester, where all DKU students have the opportunity to study during their third year.

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