Student life at Duke University | Duke Kunshan University

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Student life at Duke University


By Yingjie Chen and Fan Wu

Students Are Weaving Themselves into the Fabric of Duke

The second cohort of students from the international Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) program has settled down for their study abroad experience at Duke this semester. All thirteen of them are here to start the second year of their master’s program. They spent their first year on the Duke Kunshan University campus, completing iMEP’s intense core curriculum in environmental economics, policy-making, environmental science, statistics and more to fill their environmental policy-making toolkit.

They travel led more than seven thousand miles away from home across the largest ocean in the world to get here, and for many iMEP students it’s their first time in the U.S. One student has returned home, rather than left it. Kameron Schroeder, Duke Alum Class of 2018, is the only U.S. student in this cohort, and he is spending this fall semester at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. With the information and experience passed on from their peers in the first iMEP cohort and a week and a half of orientation activities, they seem well prepared and have hit the ground running. Yingjie Chen shares her experience of acclimating to life at Duke. Through her story we read how exciting and challenging an iMEP student’s life can be.

Maria - Kees van Dongen, 1907-10. This picture was taken at the MET.

If I had the opportunity to talk to myself in early August, I would definitely comfort the girl who was too anxious to welcome the coming excitement of traveling to Durham in the US. I worried, what if I forget to take some important stuff with me, what if I encounter danger in an unfamiliar country, and what if I cannot mingle very well with my foreign classmates… I felt like I was standing on the edge of my comfort zone, counting the last “safe and sound” days.

The dusk outside my window

Even though illusions sort of overwhelmed my mind, I got on the flight from Shanghai to JFK airport as planned, spent five days in New York, which is the most famous metropolitan city in the world, and finally arrived in Durham on August 10th. Soon I realized living in North Carolina, or more specifically by the Duke campus, was not a “to be or not to be” question. It is more likely that my time at Duke will be an exploration of both the outside world and my inner self, now that I know I am sage and I can live well.

iMEP Orientation at Sanford,Picture credits to Yidan Chu

Orientation activities were really helpful for learning about Duke and feeling more ready for the semester. We first joined many orientation activities designed for international students by International House (iHouse). Through an orientation fair, student committees and other organizations across Duke campus  provided students with important information and living necessities. I got to know the Duke transit system and the school buildings through a campus tour. I received the GoPass, which allows Duke students to take all the buses in NC freely. A dinner reception followed, and I made an acquaintance with a PhD student, who just can’t wait to impart his hands-on experience to new comers.

Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, a fascinating Global Connections Working Event

The Nicholas and Sanford School orientations welcomed iMEP students in a more academic way. As a second year graduate student, this manner actually gave me a warm and homey feeling. We listened to the speeches of deans from both schools. We had a library workshop guided by the librarians from both the Sanford and Nicholas school. We enjoyed free lunches and chatting with other students from various backgrounds. The characteristics of my peers from the environmental school and public policy school are quite different. This fact keeps reminding me that iMEP is an interdisciplinary program and we should be equipped with diverse skills, including how to communicate with many kinds of people.

The scenery on my way back home

If you are a future iMEP student, I suggest living right next to campus because you don’t really want to get up early. There are some good options along Erwin Road: Trinity Commons, Lofts, and Flats. It will take you less than 10 minutes to walk to the Nicholas classrooms, and about 15 minutes to Sanford. The Duke van service is also available after 5pm if you live in these communities. During the first several days of your arrival, the restaurants and cafés in the neighborhood can save your life. But after a while, cooking could be a better choice. Personally speaking, when I was in China, the elementary cooking skills I had resisted me from cooking anything complex. However, now I believe cooking is merely another “start or not” problem. In other words, your decision determines what you will encounter. I have even learned to think of cooking as a recreational activity. It helps release the stress of studying and appease any bad moods. Strangely, I might never have had the opportunity to rethink trivial things in life if I did not go abroad and study at Duke.

After shopping in Costco

Supermarkets and malls are basically tolerable distances from Duke. Having your own car can certainly bring convenience, but public transportation almost covers every place that you might visit. For example, I go to the downtown area in Durham on a Duke bus. Walmart is a little bit further but the No. 400 bus can reach there within half an hour. The mall (I would say the real downtown district) is in Southpoint. Take the No. 6 bus, and you will arrive at Macy’s an hour later. The transportation I mentioned above are all free for students with GoPass, so I cleverly take advantage as a Duke graduate student and enjoy a lot of activities every weekend.

Dinner with Duke Faculty,Professors are Billy Pizer, Stuart Pimm, and Elizabeth Losos (from left to right)

Apart from figuring out routines, life here is full of surprises. The range of recreation activities is beyond my imagination. As part of the Nicholas School orientation week, our iMEPers went to the notable Duke Forest, a vast university-owned secondary forest for research, civil science, and sightseeing. We were also invited to attend a dinner party with Professor Stuart Pimm, where we also chatted with other prestigious Duke faculties such as Billy Pizer, Elizabeth Losos, Erika Weinthal and Dalia Patino-Echevereii. My email inbox is usually filled with advertisements about diverse workshops, conferences, seminars and field activities. Hiking, surfing, and camping…I wish I could have Hermione’s time-turner because I do not want to miss any of them.

Duke Chapel

I hope you can come here in person and experience even beyond what I have depicted. I will end right here with the lyrics of Duke’s Alma Mater (under the dome of Duke Chapel we sang together, one of the most touching moments I have had so far): “Dear old Duke thy name we’ll sing. To thee our voices raise. To thee our anthems ring, in everlasting praise. And though on life’s broad sea, our fates may far us bear. We’ll ever turn to thee, our Alma Mater dear.”