by Larry Moneta

I’m writing this in Chicago awaiting my return flight to RDU. Just got off the nearly 14 hour flight from Shanghai and am very happy to be back in the US. Looking forward to being home later tonight.

My visit to Kunshan and to the DKU campus was terrific. The drive with lots of traffic was just over an hour from the opposite side of downtown Shanghai, so an easy trip back and forth for students, faculty and others. The bullet train is 19 minutes from Shanghai to Kunshan! I definitely want to train there next time I visit.

We went immediately to the DKU campus where I was greeted by several people mostly representing the construction teams. Mr. Gao, site manager, personally escorted me, Ming and our JLL team into each of the buildings and we walked nearly all the floors and the grounds of the campus. I was blown away by the overall size of the campus…despite having seen it on plans for years, it’s far more impressive in person. Construction is certainly moving along and we could easily picture academic activities in the academic building, residents in the residence hall and guests in the conference center. The landscaping work was also getting started and we could imagine the beautiful water features and gathering places. I got a great perspective on the campus and we were able to think about dining needs, recreation alternatives, the health facilities and other community building and campus support needs. I imagine we’ll have a busy Spring gearing up for the campus’ opening and I’m very happy to have ‘hands on’ sense of how campus life will work.

I was also pleased to see that surrounding the DKU campus were other construction projects all focused on education. Kunshan is building high schools nearby and there’s an International school under construction, too. There are plans for more educational projects and this sector of Kunshan will become quite the education park in the near future. Immediately surrounding the campus are residential projects and new retail and commercial developments are already on the drawing board.

Another great surprise was the city of Kunshan itself. I had been lead to believe that Kunshan wouldn’t offer much to DKU students and faculty but Ming and I drove through the city and I found it to be far more substantial that I had expected. This is a city of more than 2 million people…small by China standards, but twice the size of the Triangle. It had lots of shops, restaurant, entertainment and nightlife. There’s a gorgeous park and small but hike-able hill and several 5 start hotels. Next visit, I plan to stay right in Kunshan to learn more about the city. It’s only about a 10 minute drive from the campus, so we can easily run shuttles for DKU residents.

It was great to meet the entire DKU staff while there and I had to take a photo with them.

So, here are some overall impressions of my trip:

- The DKU project is exciting and I’m very optimistic of its success. The campus itself will be fantastic and the partnership with Wuhan and Kunshan offers tremendous opportunities. My visit to Wuhan revealed great interest in DKU and more and Kunshan’s leadership are clearly committed to this project. There will be challenges, to be sure, but there’s great, positive momentum.

- China is clearly in the midst of a transformation. As I said in earlier posts, leaving as the US elected a president and arriving as China selected a president offered a remarkable opportunity to reflect on our similarities and differences. The seemingly contradictory political environment – Communist Party lead but with obvious capitalist intentions – represents a clash of old and new. I met many people with tremendous aspirations for themselves and their families. But, the emerging affluence for many flies in the face of continuing poverty for many. This, too, is a US concern but tenfold more problematic, I think, in China. I’m only beginning to understand the plight of ‘migrants’ in China (rural province residents vs. urban) but others have written widely on this so better to read what the pros have written if of interest.

- Pollution! The air is horrible! I coughed incessantly for all two weeks (and will, I suspect, for awhile). I never saw a blue sky (well maybe Carolina bluish) on the sunniest of days. I can’t imagine the health crisis yet to come.

- China would love more US students to study there and is aggressively seeking more partnerships with US institutions. But, Chinese higher education differs substantially from US models (especially as regards student services) so I suspect that the numbers will grow slowly at their traditional schools. Projects like DKU, though, will be very appealing for study abroad, and similar opportunities for US and other international students.

- Websites (Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, etc.) were blocked in hotel internet connections, but students all told me that with local VPN’s they could access most anything. The students are technically savvy and I see no reason why DKU won’t feature full access to all internet sites.

Finally, I want to thank Ming, Albert, Roger and Frank for their wonderful hospitality (and food adventures) during the Duke week of the trip and the College Board (Jim, Steve, and Peter) as well as the Hanban/Confucious staff for the wonderful first week on the China Bridge program.

Time to get back to work in Durham, but I hope to get back to China again one day soon.