'The kindness of people often far exceeded my imagination'

Claire Duan

Biological Sciences
Tokyo, Japan & Beijing, China

Why did you choose Cornell?

During my junior year in high school, I went to Cornell's summer college and studied conservation medicine in the Vet School. Cornell received me with a diverse, close-knit class of 50 people, an open-minded environment in which everyone was encouraged to ask "silly" questions and propose daring solutions to zoonotic disease containment, on a beautiful campus with forests, waterfalls and deer. This experience changed my plan of going to college in Asia completely. I applied soon after I finished summer college.

three people smiling in a town square

What was your favorite class and why?

My favorite class was ENGL 1111: Writing Across Cultures. I was exposed to many hidden gems written by authors from all races and cultures, from Archie Weller's "Land of the Golden Clouds," W.E.B. Du Bois' "The Comet," to William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Every week, we would sit in a circle and have a fruitful discussion on the interesting little details of the characters. This class focused on science fiction but transcended the boundary of science fiction, and cultivated my habit of reading throughout college.

person playing the keyboard

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

Most of my free time is devoted to playing Gamelan, a set of traditional instruments from Indonesia. I grew up playing the transverse bamboo flute for Kabuki theaters, and was intrigued by the rich and diverse instrumentations and melodies in world music. Cornell possesses a complete set of Javanese Gamelan instruments, and I was able to meet a knowledgeable professor and a small group of people from the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble who shared my love for traditional music. This wonderful experience eventually led me to pursuing a music minor at Cornell.

people with instruments on porch

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell?

My culture taught me: "do not bother others." When I first came to Cornell, I always felt guilty when I asked for help. It was as if I could only be "successful" and be the true me by being completely independent of others. But as I helped others and received help, I gradually realized that asking for help and getting help is a mutually beneficial process. Both parties learn and grow, and the kindness of people often far exceeded my imagination.


Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2023.

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Claire Duan