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 so far on campus.
This time, we talk to Uros Osmokrovic, 19, from Belgrade, Serbia.
A relatively small percentage of students sign early decision agreements, so what made you so confident it was the right choice for you?
You can’t be 100 percent confident with any decision, right? But this was something different. We all go into our senior year thinking about where we’re going, where to apply, what to look for in a university, and everything else. The mentality of my peers at high school was going either to Britain, the Netherlands or the United States. But I was thinking, “Why only those three options?” Then I came across Duke Kunshan University.
This decision wasn’t something I just said “Yes, why not?” First of all, I couldn’t find much information about DKU. As it was the first undergraduate class, everything was hypothetical. Before I ED’ed, I talked to Russell Davis [Duke Kunshan’s director of global student recruitment] and he helped a lot and reassured me, because I really liked the idea of going to China to acquire a diploma and study Chinese.
One of the things behind my decision was the cultural difference between Serbia and China. I knew nothing about what it’s like to live in China or what kind of culture they have. I was excited when hearing the word “China” and seeing the writing style, seeing Chinese characters and thinking that I could learn to understand what they say. That’s what made me apply to Duke Kunshan. Plus, the fact that it would be such a mixed group of people, and that it’s a new university and I could actually contribute valuable feedback that would shape it.
You are students, but they [Duke Kunshan administrators] actually value your opinion. It’s not something you’d find at big universities. There, one is a statistical point. Here, we’re individuals. Even just being able to talk to a professor and them knowing my name. It’s something I love the most. We’re close and connected.
It was a hard decision to go ED and become part of the inaugural class, but it was a decision I was willing to make because I saw myself here, I saw myself actually making an impact.
It sounds like the opportunity to be a pioneer with Duke Kunshan’s inaugural class was an important factor in your decision. Have you always had an adventurous spirit?
I went to a normal Serbian school for eight years of middle school. As a kid I’d always had this fixed idea I’d go to this really prestigious high school, the same one my brother went to. But when I was 14 I saw an opportunity for a scholarship at an international school, something totally foreign to me. I didn’t even know what an international school was. I started looking into it and I saw how exciting it looked; they went on trips and played different sports – football [soccer], basketball, volleyball – against other schools. There were so many extracurricular activities.
Surprisingly, I got in. And my whole life changed. I was speaking only Serbian until then and had only Serbian friends. Everything changed so fast and my mind was opened. That was another reason I chose China. At age 18, I asked myself, “What can I do now?”
I like getting out of the comfort zone, and I wanted to change my life again. I chose China. I chose an American university. Well, it chose me, so I was really lucky. If I’d just followed the path I was on at 14, I wouldn’t have experienced or learned as much. I came here to DKU and it’s been another life-changing experience.
Did it come as a surprise to your friends and family when you said you were going to China?
My parents, they don’t speak English and they’re not familiar with overseas college applications. They just told me, “OK, we trust you.” Then, I asked them what they thought about China, and I told them about DKU. My dad, the first thing he said is “What are you going to eat there?” My mom was like, “If you feel that’s a good decision, do it.”
My friends wanted to know why China. But the fact no one knew anything about this country was one of the things that pushed me. I can’t say I knew much more than them at the time, but I wanted to know. I wanted to dive into the unknown.
So how has it been this life in the unknown? Is any of it like you imagined?
I didn’t imagine anything. I had a blank slate. I didn’t want DKU to exceed my expectations or fall short of them. I didn’t know anything so I didn’t know what to imagine. Of course, I did my research about DKU and Kunshan. But I didn’t want to know how they looked, whether there were big malls in Kunshan. I wanted to experience everything firsthand.
If you had to sum up this past six months in one word, what would it be?
Challenging. But a good challenge. Being the first class is the biggest challenge because you’re forming the university. The fact I didn’t know a single word of Chinese also meant it wasn’t easy. Now, my Chinese is pretty good after some intensive study.
My whole environment changed, the whole culture changed, my diet changed. It was a profound change in my life. Just coming to university as a freshman is a big change; signing up to classes, meeting new people, trying to fit in. It just makes it that bit more challenging because you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language. You need to understand the community before you come, so you know not to insult someone, how to greet someone, what is polite, what is not. That’s the first thing I researched.
Six months in China changed me profoundly. I’m speaking Chinese now. I’m talking to the locals, ordering my own food. I feel proud. Now in Chinese class we don’t use English at all.
So what’s your message to the new crop of ED students heading to Duke Kunshan?
I would honestly first talk to their parents, as they are the ones who are probably more stressed out. I’d tell them to understand their child’s decision, that there are no concerns. It’s not a big cultural shock, so parents, relax, and kids, you’re going to have a blast. If they research about DKU and Kunshan they’re going to see that it’s a really peaceful city.
For the academics, it’s challenging. But nothing a university shouldn’t be. Primarily it depends on the courses you choose. Be enthusiastic, but don’t be overly enthusiastic. Choose courses wisely so that you will be able to plan your time efficiently. They [new students] should think about it before they come, because clicking a button for course registration is easy, but you could feel the pain of that button later.