As US Duke students grapple with pandemic, Duke's Kunshan University in China has returned to normal

Posted October 29, 2020 6:08 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2020 12:23 p.m. EDT

— In a best case scenario, Duke University hopes to fill classrooms, dorms and hallways with students and staff again – when the pandemic is under control. Perhaps some students will wear masks; perhaps some will take hybrid classes online to keep gatherings smaller.

However, according to photos from Duke’s Kunshan University in China, this dream is a reality – swarms of students gather on campus, playing games in the game room, and walking around the quad.

While students in the US are still living under strict pandemic rules, students in China said life there has basically returned to normal.

Why is there such a stark difference?

COVID-19 is still very much top of mind at Duke University.

"The first thing I do when I get up is complete a symptom monitoring application on my phone," said Charlie Colasurdo, a local Duke student.

Masks and social distancing are required.

"Most of us are taking mostly online classes. So our bedrooms are effectively our classrooms," he said.

From his Duke dorm room, he has been watching what’s happening at Duke Kunshan closely – because that’s where he is enrolled as a student, and where he would be now if not for COVID, which forced him to stay in the U.S.

"Our life goes on as normal, compared to the US," said Stella Wang, a junior at Duke Kunshan, where she says cases are non-existent.

Masks are a rare sight. And group gatherings have resumed.

"You can socialize with people, meet new people, talk to new people, it’s pretty surprising," she said.

"In China pretty much all the restaurants are open, the economy is back, people go clubbing, and we’re even going to a Halloween party," said Elva Yu, another student at DKU.

DKU students say from what they can tell – in China – the government took the virus more seriously from the start.

"We took it as a war against a disease, against a virus," said Yu. "I understand that a lot of people in the US, they value freedom over safety."

Now, as students in China go to classes, parties and all their daily activities without masks – and without fear – they feel lucky.

According to DKU’s website, they have had zero cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff since the pandemic started.

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