Six Months On: ‘When I saw the campus, I knew this was my school’ - Duke Kunshan University
Six Months On: ‘When I saw the campus, I knew this was my school’
Six Months On: ‘When I saw the campus, I knew this was my school’

Donghyun Shim, left, attends a Thanksgiving reception at the Duke Kunshan campus.

In each installment of Six Months On, we catch up with an early decision student from Duke Kunshan’s inaugural undergraduate Class of 2022, to learn about what it’s like to make such a big decision at a young age, and to find out about their experiences on campus.

This time, we talk to Donghyun Shim, 20, from Ulsan, South Korea.

Signing an ED agreement is a big step for a high school student. What was going through your mind?

When I first became a senior in high school, I didn’t know at first which colleges to apply to. In South Korea, the new semester starts in March, so I had a long time before November to prepare my college application. I talked a lot with my college counselor, and he recommended I look at a new university in China where I’d be part of the first undergraduate class ever.

I researched a lot, mainly on Google – 18 years of Google skills finally put to use! There wasn’t that much information about the school at the time. There was a lot about the master’s programs, but not about undergraduates. So when I first told my parents about this interesting school, I couldn’t even answer the questions they had.

After you graduate, will you work in China? I don’t know. Will you be studying Chinese? You don’t know any Chinese. How will you survive? I don’t know. I just had to explore by myself because the counselor also didn’t know. But I thought it was a really great opportunity. I could get a Duke degree and a quality education in China. That’s why I decided to apply ED, because I wanted to show that I’m really into this school. I had no backup plan.

I prepared a lot for ED. I wrote essays day and night. It gave me the motivation to study hard, because I had a goal. I told my friends I could see myself there [at Duke Kunshan].

So your parents obviously had a lot of questions. Were they nervous about you coming to study at Duke Kunshan University?

Before I decided to apply to DKU, I really wanted to study in the United States. So when I told them I wanted to study in China, they wanted to know why the sudden change. DKU is an American university but in China. And I really liked how I’d be in the first-ever class.

Did you have any preconceptions about what Duke Kunshan would be like?

When I first came here for the International Admitted Student Experience [in April 2018], I saw that it was a clean, new and high-tech school. When I see my friends’ schools, usually in the U.S., they are really old schools, traditional. At DKU, it has a lot of brand-new technology.

Before that weekend [the student experience], DKU was just pictures. When I saw the campus for real, I knew this was my school. It inspired me to prepare for Chinese and prepare for college life. After that weekend, I had an image of what college life would be like. And it was good.

So how have you found life since starting college?

At first, the biggest challenge was the Chinese. I was confident speaking in Korean or English, but not in Chinese. In high school, my second foreign language was French. So Chinese was a new language. The Chinese course is really good, but it’s really tough. Because I live in China, there’s a survival instinct. I have to learn Chinese. It pushes me to learn. And there are lots of Chinese students, too. If I want to be closer to them, and if I want to be a part of the community, then it’s obvious I need to learn Chinese.

Duke Kunshan has students from so many different backgrounds and cultures. How have you found settling into a diverse environment?

I really like the diversity. Before coming here, I didn’t know any foreigners except my foreign teachers, so only two or three in my life. But there are so many students from so many different countries here. Almost anywhere in the world, I can now say I know someone from there. Before coming, I never thought I’d meet a Moroccan. Now I have a Moroccan friend who takes classes with me.

The students are all really kind. I was worried there might be conflicts between such a diverse group of people, fights maybe. But people are really nice.

What message do you have for the parents of the ED students who’ll arrive in the fall?

They have nothing to worry about. This is a really good opportunity for their children. They made a good choice, and I don’t think they’ll regret that they made DKU their ED choice.

If you could travel back in time to when you were making your ED decision, what would you say to yourself?

I would tell myself not to worry, because I worried a lot. When I was applying and preparing, I was really confident. But when it was really imminent, it suddenly started to feel real and I started thinking what if. … So many what ifs, so much worry. But I’d say “Don’t worry” because when I got here, people were so nice and we all got along well. The classes are tough but manageable. It’s challenging, but a good amount of challenge.

Hear from other ED students in this series: John Aniekan Lewis from Nigeria, Karen Nielsen from the United States and Uros Osmokrovic from Serbia.