University is a place of learning and growth, but it is also where many lasting friendships are made. For Duke Kunshan alumni Yiqing Jin and Sage Wyatt, that has been very much the case, despite decades in age difference.
At 51, Jin (also known as Ammy) was DKU’s oldest ever student when she joined the university in 2019, while her classmate Wyatt was the youngest graduate student at 17. Unfazed by that, and the distance caused between them by the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair became and have remained firm friends, who speak almost every day.
“Somehow, despite our obvious differences, there is a core to our personalities that clicked,” said Jin. “We enjoy talking so much and exchanging our ideas on life. We both have a curiosity and openness to ideas. I hope in a decade or three we will still be in contact and perhaps arranging our next meeting,” she added.
Jin and Wyatt both joined Duke Kunshan in 2019, as part of an early cohort of graduate students, and met at a university-organized summer school before term began. Jin remembers seeing Wyatt for the first time there, a “young girl” who looked a little out of place compared to her slightly older classmates, while Wyatt recalls Jin wearing colorful clothes in an effort to fit in.
From then their friendship slowly grew, as each leaned on the other for support – Jin helping Wyatt adjust to life in China, while Wyatt helped her new friend cope with returning to university as a mature student.
“It was difficult getting used to being back at university, especially as it was a U.S. system, quite dissimilar to my undergraduate university in many ways. In the beginning I didn’t even know how to make a PowerPoint presentation,” said Jin.
“Sage helped me to adjust to university life, and in other ways, like checking much of my work for language mistakes,” she added.
Meanwhile, Jin comforted her friend through difficult times, taking on a “motherly” role.
“I remember one time, Sage was crying, though I don’t remember what for. I hugged her in silence. Because I’m a mother, I have two children, I know the difficulties young adults can face and when they need their mom around to help,” she said.
Their friendship was cemented gradually as the classmates spent time together doing ordinary things, like getting dinner, and by Jin’s “lovely personality” and willingness to step out of her comfort zone, according to Wyatt.
“I remember there was a Halloween party at DKU. Ammy went dancing with me and some of the other students, and I remember she told me, ‘I feel like a crazy person’,” she said. “She’s a very open person who easily expresses herself and is easy to trust.”
Their time at university together was cut short when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2019 and Duke Kunshan moved to remote studying for international students. However, it did not cut short their friendship.
Jin and Wyatt continued to talk regularly, engaging in intellectual discussions back and forth over text, much like a long game of chess.
“Ammy and I have somehow managed to keep texting each other almost daily since we left DKU,” said Wyatt. “We mostly talk about American politics. I think we always learn a lot from each other. It’s fun for us to each share the sources that we are reading or watching on the news and compare the different perspectives,” she added.
Since the end of the pandemic, they have also made time to meet, taking a trip to Taiwan together earlier this year, to travel and visit Jin’s daughter and son, Melody and Mike.
“We had a great time, visiting almost the entire island from top to bottom in just under two weeks,” said Wyatt.
“Ammy once again demonstrated her enormous openness to new experiences as we explored everything from the modern shopping malls of Taipei 101 to the wildest insects I’ve never seen before, deep in the jungle.”
One of her favorite memories from that trip was during a visit to Kenting, a small beach town on the southern tip of Taiwan.
“I really wanted to go snorkeling to see the coral reefs in the area,” she said. “Ammy and I, and her daughter, did our best to book a coral reef tour, but what we didn’t realize is that we had actually booked a thrill ride on a jet-ski. Ammy remained totally positive and enthusiastic about what was a new experience for both of us.”
Jin now works at Duke Kunshan University, as a faculty support worker, where part of her job involves helping new faculty members adjust to life in China, just as she did with Wyatt.
Wyatt is studying for a Ph.D. at The University of Bergen, in Norway, and has long term plans to “stay an international traveller and scholar”.
Wherever they roam they are determined to remain friends, despite time, distance or age difference.
Jin plans to visit Wyatt in Norway during the summer of 2024, and Wyatt hopes to make a trip to China.
“I would love to visit the new campus with the second part that was not built while we were there together and the new subway line that goes directly from Kunshan to Shanghai,” she said.