Reflections on my time in China

Ethical Issues in Engineering:

One of the things that comes with experiencing a different country is learning about their customs and practices. The subtle differences between China and the United States are actually very important in the context of doing business, or working on an engineering project. It’s easy to overlook the small things, like how it is considered rude to tip, or when it is appropriate to haggle, yet they influence how foreigners are perceived and treated in China. Given that Americans in particular are not known for their understanding of other cultures, it is especially important for our engineers and businesspeople to conduct themselves in a way that is respectful to the local culture, and to take the time to learn about how things are done in the host country. It is easy to become frustrated or confused when things like the language or system of government get in the way of a project, but often the best way to resolve these issues is by communicating plainly, without being arrogant or condescending.

One of the ethical issues that companies and institutions will have to deal with in the future is how data on individuals is protected. Right now, there is a large emphasis—particularly in China—on harnessing user data through apps or browsing history in order to make businesses more efficient. However, it is important that this data, which is bought and sold as a commodity, has some sort of regulations placed on it to ensure it is not abused. This is also important in the context of academic research such as medical studies, where participants need to fully understand any potential risks, and also how the information collected is being used. This becomes especially important when conducting research in a foreign country, where the language barrier and different legal system makes study participants particularly vulnerable.


Educational Breadth as Personal Development:

There are many different aspects that make a person educated. As an Engineer, an emphasis is placed on math and science, which makes it easy to lose sight of how valuable the “soft” skills of language and communication are. Going to China made me realize how lost I would have been on my own with no ability to speak the language. Going forward, I would definitely like to round out my education more, hopefully by taking a course on a foreign language or on the history of a region other than the United States.

Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education as Professional Development:

The pace of the 21st century definitely suggests that in order to remain useful and competitive, I will need to keep learning long after I graduate. This is in part due to the emergence of competitive countries such as China and technologies such as automation, which have the potential to disrupt the status quo. Many people believe that the answer to this is to resist change; to fight against globalization, and to continue to do things the way they were done in the past. However, the reality is that the people who are willing to embrace change are going to be the ones who succeed in the long run. During my time in China, there was definitely an awareness of this; the surprising amount of resources that was being poured into education and renewable energy showed that the nation was willing to face the challenges that come with globalization, rather than pretending they don’t exist. As an individual in the 21st century, this means being willing to learn new skills, whether it is a new software package or a foreign language. Even though increased globalization can lead to problems in the short term, it also offers opportunities for collaboration, which can potentially improve the lives of people all over the world.


The Social Environment of Professional Life:

During the company and university visits, it was interesting to see how each institution had its own workplace culture. Cheetah mobile emphasized its work-hard-play-hard culture; TE connectivity was all about efficiency; DuPont wanted its employees to understand the importance and impact of their work. All of these companies conducted business in multiple countries, and clearly put a lot of care into ensuring that they respected the culture of both their employees and the country they were operating in. Cheetah mobile clearly took inspiration from the offices of Silicon Valley, but at the same time tried to incorporate aspects of the tradition philosophy of Feng Shui into their campus. In order to do business or research internationally, it is important to foster an environment that encourages collaboration and that draws on elements from both cultures.


Functioning of Multidisciplinary Teams:

Most of the people I was exposed to during my first year at the University of Pittsburgh were also engineering students; this was in a large part due to the classes I took, and the dorm I lived in. However, in the professional world, I will be working alongside people from a variety of backgrounds—those who studied different disciplines, and who are from other countries. By getting to work with business majors on this trip, I was able to learn how to approach the same problem from different angles. In addition, by meeting students from China, I learned more about their culture and how to work on a diverse team.

Final Thoughts:

There are so many people who I would like to thank for this trip! In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Li, Jordan, and the study abroad office at Pitt for the work they put in to make this trip happen. In addition, I would like to thank Francis, William, Hillary, and all the other students at the Asia Institute who were extremely helpful and welcoming as guides in China. Finally, I would like to thank all the friends I made for making this trip such a great experience!

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