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Navigating life in a new land

For Duke Kunshan freshman Quinn Bradley coming to China has been a surreal yet exhilarating journey in search of “something different”.

Raised in rural Nebraska, he had never been outside the United States before boarding the plane to Kunshan, and just months prior had not considered that he might end up studying overseas.

Quinn Bradley (center) and friends from DKU try out some Kunshan street food

Bradley grew up in Papillion, a small town surrounded by yellow cornfields, and spent much of his spare time between martial arts training and playing clarinet for a local band. In his high school years, he began to develop an interest in healthcare and joined a hospital training academy where he shadowed professionals for part of the week.

That hospital experience attracted him to apply for a place at Duke University when he turned 18 years old, based on its reputation for medical training. And it was through that application that he discovered Duke Kunshan.

“I had spent my whole life growing up in Nebraska, and there was part of me that needed something different,” he says, recalling that application process. “I applied to Duke because it was a top school for medicine, and checked the box that would send my application to DKU.

“As I started getting emails from DKU and looking more into the school, the more I fell in love with it. It was everything I was looking for in a school and would let me see a whole different part of the world,” he adds.

Quinn Bradley during one of his hospital shadowing sessions

Before long, Bradley was sat, nervously, as his flight landed in China, not entirely ready, but very willing, to begin a new chapter of his life.

Looking back at a diary entry from his first week in Kunshan, he reads: “It’s crazy to think college starts so soon, I really don’t know what to expect. I feel a little incompetent, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I guess that’s how you learn.”

That statement summed up Bradley’s first few months in China well, as he navigated the difficulties of adjusting to a new country and culture.

The biggest learning curve he encountered was the language barrier, which he says has forced him to become a master of non-verbal communication, as well as leading to some interesting dining experiences as he rarely knows what he is ordering in a restaurant.

“I have gotten to eat lots of cool unique mystery foods like duck head, chicken foot, and duck blood,” he says.

Mastering chopsticks and contending with spicy food have also taken some getting used to.
“I ordered hot pot for the first time, and I asked if it was spicy. They said just a little, but oh my God it was the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted. I was crying,” he says.

Quinn Bradley (second from right) with friends at Duke Kunshan University

Despite the cultural hurdles, Bradley says he is enjoying life in Kunshan. “The community here is very kind and welcoming to the university students. As for its location, there are lots of malls nearby, and Suzhou and Shanghai are very close, many people go there over the weekends,” he says.

“It’s very different from the rural life, but the city itself is very green and you can see some great views at some of the parks nearby. Also, the food is great,” he adds.

He has also found the university to be everything he had hoped it would be when he first started researching it from the United States.

“What I enjoy most are the Fridays we have off. It makes the week feel like it goes by so fast, gives time to participate in hobbies, rest, catch up on schoolwork, party, and most of all explore,” he says. “While some classes have been difficult, none feel unmanageable so far. And there are always resources available to help. Mainly tutoring for me.”

Quinn Bradley (left) and friends enjoy a night out in Kunshan

Outside of class, he has joined the university running club, is in training for a marathon and continues to pursue his passion for healthcare by shadowing medical staff at a local hospital.

“I want to major in either bioscience or global health, on the pre-med track,” he says. “I hope to be a doctor, with a focus in neuroscience.”

The experience of living in Kunshan has also sparked in him a thirst for more adventure, he adds, with plans for trips around China, as well as to Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and Mongolia.

“I also hope to expand my worldview and continue to travel, learning about people and their cultures,” he says.

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