A national shooting champion, independent film-maker and therapy dog trainer are among the outstanding group of international students joining Duke Kunshan University’s sixth undergraduate class.
More than 100 young innovators, global thinkers and passionate campaigners from all over the world are arriving on campus to start their four-year bachelor’s degree as part of the Class of 2027.
For the first time, Duke Kunshan is welcoming students from Chile, Jamaica, Jordan, Sweden and Uruguay. In total, the incoming international cohort is made up of about 30 nationalities.
They will join their Chinese classmates in Kunshan before a convocation ceremony on Aug. 14 officially welcomes them to the university.
Meet some of the international members of the Class of 2027 below:
‘Exactly what I was looking for’
Davit Kavkasyan, from Armenia, has a passion for making films and has already seen two of his works screened at international festivals.
“I see my future in the cinema industry and plan to study media and arts at DKU. Yet, I am open-minded about other interesting tracks I will discover,” said Kavkasyan, who along with his classmates will select which major to study in his second year.
Joining Duke Kunshan will not be the first time that Kavkasyan has enrolled in a new educational venture, having studied at a start-up international school in Israel, where he served as class president and launched its after-school film-making club.
“DKU immediately stood out as an innovative school — exactly what I was looking for,” he said. “I want to get involved. I see so many opportunities at DKU and a myriad of things to create.”
Kavkasyan is “very excited” to travel around China and beyond. “I want to discover the Chinese culture, visit famous and not very prominent landmarks, as well as extend my journey to neighboring countries.”
The EducationUSA Academy member said he tries to find a passion for everything on his to-do list.
For example, he went from seeing a 20-page math research project as a tedious task to describing it as one of the “best academic experiences” of his life so far. “I even proudly hung a printed copy of it above my bed.”
Away from the classroom, the film photographer enjoys “extreme cycling” and plans to bring his BMX to campus.
‘Grateful to be a trailblazer’
Professional markswoman Ivana Nikolova from Bulgaria has nearly 50 medals and awards in the sport of shooting to her name, including a host of national junior titles.
Now, she has Duke Kunshan in her crosshairs — and is looking forward to embracing the diversity on campus as well as developing her game in China.
“I know I’m capable of much more and have no plans to quit competing,” said Nikolova, who is a member of the Bulgarian National Shooting Team.
“In that regard, DKU Athletics has been absolutely great and really helpful. They not only introduced me to a handful of shooting clubs, but also stated that they will fully support me if I wanted to establish a shooting club at DKU.
“The amount of support I’ve received has made me feel reassured and grateful to be a trailblazer.”
Among her medal haul so far this year is gold in the 10-meter women junior category of the National Tournament of the Bulgarian Shooting Union.
She also set a new national record in the same category to seal victory in the New Olympic Hopes international competition, and has performed strongly in adult competitions.
“I’m excited to see how my sporting career unfolds in China,” she said.
When choosing where to study it was the “truly diverse” nature of Duke Kunshan that stood out for Nikolova.
“Bringing together bright individuals who are so different in terms of ethnic background, opinion and upbringing, and exchanging cultural, historic and academic experiences, helps everyone to look at the world with new perspectives.”
With a passion for public service and people, she plans to major in political science at DKU and in the future wants to contribute to positive social, economic and environmental change in her home country.
“I see myself as an individual who thrives in more fast-paced and intellectually stimulating environments, and I believe that both the university and the political science majors are the perfect fit for me.”
‘I hope to find my niche’
Growing up in Shanghai with Italian and Uruguayan roots, Miguel Carriquiry Gomez speaks Chinese, English, Italian and Spanish.
A passionate skateboarder and surfer, he spends much of his free time filming skate videos around Shanghai and exploring different cuisine and street food.
“A liberal arts education with a strong emphasis on research is what attracted me the most to DKU,” he said.
“Being able to explore different areas of study before choosing a major is very appealing and I feel their interdisciplinary format allows a topic to be considered from varied perspectives.”
Given the research focus at Duke Kunshan, Gomez said he is looking forward to getting “hands-on experience” in areas he is interested in.
He said he was looking forward to “meeting people from all over the world and being able to learn about different cultures through conversation, cooking new foods and practicing different languages”.
“I especially want to practice my Chinese and Spanish with native speakers, as they are two languages I am currently trying to improve,” Gomez added.
His academic focus has so far centered on the natural sciences, particularly biology. But having recently developed an interest in psychology, he is planning to major in behavioral science with tracks in neuroscience, although media and arts (creative practice) has also caught his eye.
“During my time at DKU I hope to find my niche and develop a larger understanding of how it ties into other topics and social issues,” he added.
‘A college experience like no other’
As a therapy dog trainer and tutor for low-income students, Marcus Santoro from the United States has spent much of his life giving back to the community.
He works with pet owners to prepare their dogs for visits to settings such as hospitals and schools, where the animals can provide moments of joy, comfort and relaxation.
Santoro also passes on his academic skills as an SAT tutor, helping less-privileged teenagers to prepare for college admissions tests.
“It all started when I was young, when I made a lasting connection with, on one hand, animals and the elderly, and, on the other hand, helping others through tutoring,” he said.
“I furthered my interests in these areas by actually doing something to give back to the community, with my little dog, and my test-taking skills.
“I would definitely like to continue both volunteering and tutoring in college and even beyond.”
Having already visited seven countries in the past year, Santoro is keen to learn about more cultures within the international melting pot of Duke Kunshan.
“I chose DKU because I knew it would be able to give me a college experience like no other, where I could not only learn and live in another country, but also be surrounded by diverse, international students and teachers who come from completely different backgrounds than mine,” he said.
Santoro is looking forward to exploring his interest in environmental science, while also studying Chinese history and culture, and increasing his command of languages such as Chinese and Japanese.
Away from academia and volunteering, his interests include volleyball, anime and gaming.
‘Talented and adventurous’
The new group of undergraduates join Duke Kunshan at an exciting time, arriving soon after completion of the Phase 2 campus expansion and as the university marks a decade since it was founded in September 2013 as a joint-venture partnership between Duke University, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan.
Dean of International Enrollment Management Jessica Sandberg said, “We are delighted to welcome the Class of 2027 as we celebrate DKU’s 10th year anniversary.
“These talented and adventurous students will join a diverse and interconnected global community and be among the first to occupy our newly expanded campus.
“It is clear that they will contribute to the success of DKU and, before long, the wider world.”