China… I love you 3,000

The last 2 weeks have been a transformational, eye-opening experience that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life. This trip may be one of the few times I will be able to explore in great depth the culture and way of life of a foreign country while learning about a focused subject and bonding with such an amazing group of people. Not only have I developed a broader understanding of another culture but in the process have undergone a journey of self-discovery that has helped me define my personal character and the course of my professional career.

As an engineering student I must familiarize myself with a code of ethics to which I must adhere as a professional in my area of work. Throughout this trip, I have witnessed many engineering endeavors that prioritize the interests of the people and strive to fulfill the needs of society. China’s rapid urbanization has demanded the implementation of sustainable practices to ensure the wellbeing of the public. As was explained by several tour guides, visible in the layout of major cities, and portrayed in Shanghai’s Urban Planning Museum, substantial attention has been placed on engineering more efficient resource utilization methods, reducing emissions and pollution, and improving renewable energy technologies. Reforestation and afforestation, upgrading power grids to consume less coal, and transitioning to alternative fossil fuel resources with lower carbon emissions are all examples of China’s efforts to promote sustainability. Other sectors of technological development in China have received criticism rather than praise. The advent of the digital age has led to questions regarding personal privacy. For example, engineers of consumer electronics can collect information that users may find personal and/or confidential. Issues relating to these potentially intrusive operations have affected major telecommunication and electronic manufacturing companies, such as Huawei.

One particularly fascinating topic that arose throughout our company visits was the breadth of knowledge required to be successful in the professional realm. It became evident to me that to further my career as an engineer I will eventually need to enhance my knowledge of other subject areas, particularly business-related fields such as economics and marketing. Many of the electronics companies that we toured, such as Huawei and Horiba, are prosperous because their well-designed products are complemented by a superior understanding of their market. Having only one of these traits without the other will almost certainly result in the failure of the business and likewise the products it engineers. Additionally, the business development project that we completed as part of the trip clearly demonstrated this idea. Although a strong grasp on engineering concepts was required to produce my team’s product (which was a solar powered phone case), knowledge of competitive strategy and the social, political, and economic characteristics of the market was necessary to sell the product. This concept of diversifying your knowledgebase goes hand-in-hand with the idea of lifelong learning and continuing education. Vocational fields are constantly changing and the subjects they explore are always developing and evolving. In order to be a successful and productive engineer I must always pursue new technological discoveries and breakthroughs. Using yesterday’s knowledge, I would simply be unable to produce the technology of tomorrow. Similarly, the volatility of the global and domestic business environment as well as unceasing societal developments calls for continual learning on behalf of marketing and finance professionals. This is especially pertinent in China, where economic growth and urbanization is occurring at unprecedented rates.

During our visit we were able to learn about the differences between the social environments of professional life in China and the United States. The expectations of professional interaction are products of social paradigms common to the given culture. Thus, there are not universal guidelines to professional conduct, as they may vary from country to country. The workplace atmosphere in China is much more familial and close-knit. Collogues typically develop intimate, personal relationships and often engage in activities together outside of the workplace. This family dynamic extends to the hierarchical relationship between boss and subordinate. Employees assume a more deferential respect for their boss, who is often referred to by a particular title. In fact, the boss is expected to function as a mother/father figure for his/her subordinates. Many of these characteristics are derived from the ideological principles of the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius. The professional atmosphere present in the United States differs from that of China, as different philosophical roots govern professional relationships. Relationships between associates is more formal and impersonal. It is atypical for workers to want to socialize with their group of coworkers outside of the workplace, given that their relationship is exclusively professional. Furthermore, the power differential between boss and employee is less distinct in the minds of American workers. Despite the many dissimilarities between the professional environments of China and the United States, the reliance on multi-disciplinary teamwork appears in both. Chinese and U.S. corporations recognize the benefits of group collaboration, as it permits specialization to improve efficiency while fostering creativity and innovation. As mentioned earlier, the projects we completed as part of the Plus 3 program involved groups of both engineers and business majors. While creating our imaginary product, I was able to offer my knowledge of physics and chemistry as an engineering student while my 2 partners each contributed their knowledge of marketing and finance as business students. Together, we were able to design an electronic devise and develop a business model for our company, a feat which none of us would have been able to do individually.

As this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience comes to a close I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to have been able to participate in this program. Dr. Li, Chris Kirchhoff, and the program coordinators and managers of the Asia Institute made this trip unforgettable. I learned so much about a foreign country and culture whose affect on the world is inarguable. The unprecedented growth of China’s economy, its continual technological and societal advancements, and its long, intriguing past have left me with three words to describe China: Development, Innovation, and History.  

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