By Lola Buonomo and Caroline Deakins
It’s crazy to think that three and a half weeks ago we were a group of thirty strangers. Coming into the trip, we all had various expectations of China as most of us had never been. The first days in Beijing were definitely a culture shock. Not only were we jet lagged, but the language, the food, and the people felt so foreign to us. Armed only with a few simple Chinese phrases, our group took to Beijing, struggled to eat with chopsticks, and attempted to shop at the markets.
By the time we made it to Shanghai, a lot had changed. New friendships had been formed, chopsticks and bartering had been mastered, and we knew many Chinese phrases. These changes in all of the students were the visible changes- something that could be assessed and graded on. But beyond that, what will never show up on our transcript, our group matured and became more independent as we absorbed the amazing culture around us.
As teenagers, most of us have never traveled or left the country on our own. Even with Xinli and the Chinese students as guides, there were many times when we had to fend for ourselves and speak on our own accounts. With the language barrier and cultural differences, this took some getting used to. By the end of the trip, however, most of us could order in a restaurant without speaking English, barter at a street market, and navigate public transportation systems like pros. The trip has increased our independence and maturity exponentially as we were put into positions that many would find uncomfortable or alarming. By the end of the trip, many students could even see themselves working or interning in abroad.
As for engineering, I think we finally understand how integral culture is to an engineering project. Not only does an engineer need to ensure structural safety, function, and efficiency, but many times, culture needs to play a significant role in design. For instance, Chinese find luck in the number eight. Many designs highlighting eight features are considered lucky and advanced. Another example are the fishtanks in front of most Chinese buildings. They originally served as a fire prevention technique, but now are a cultural necessity in most hotels and offices. As students at an American university, we need to keep these ideas in mind. If we want to be world-class engineers, before designing and implementing a project, we need to study those who are affected by our work. There are many reasons behind design features besides function and many times these cultural requirements can make or break the project. With culture and function in mind, our designs can assimilate into more societies and become more successful.
From friends, to culture, to engineering, this study abroad provided more opportunities than we could have imagined. Although we all came to China with different perceptions in mind, none of us could have anticipated such an amazing experience. Now that the trip has come to a close, we are not thirty strangers, but thirty best friends.