What is business? Before this trip I would have answered that business is about making money. The only problem with this is that it’s simply wrong. Of course, a primary goal of a business is to make money, but what’s important lies in the way a business goes about that. Business can be personal, helpful, innovative, along with many other positive attributes. Business is not its own field like I thought. Business is merely a foundation that allows us to fund, research, and create, when done responsibly. Before participating in Plus3, engineering and business didn’t seem very related, to me. After this trip, I see that they are intertwined. The innovation an engineer creates will help society, but only if society has access to it. While it is a nice thought that engineers will be willing to give away their creations for free, it’s simply not reality. This is where business comes in; it answers the question of how an engineer shares his/her creation. Business provides an avenue for the engineer to make a living while improving society. Business relies on engineering equally because without innovation, a business has no new revenue streams, and its existing ones begin to deplete. The business/engineering relationship comes full circle, so having the opportunity to meet twelve engineering students and learn from them will definitely be an advantage to my professional development.
Traveling to China opened my eyes in many other ways, as well. Not only is business intertwined with engineering, business operations are intertwined with culture, too. This past year I learned through organizational behavior that culture impacts the workplace in many ways. I did not understand it fully, until I traveled to China. An interesting difference between the Chinese and American workplace I noticed was the view of the boss. In America, the boss may or may not be liked, and may or may not care for his/her team. However, in China, the boss is viewed as a father figure, so inherently there is more of a personal connection. This example is something I may have read about at Pitt, but never would have truly understood. Traveling abroad, especially to a culture very different than America, allowed me to broaden my educational breadth. I now understand, at least in part, that what I’m learning while in class at Pitt, could be completely different than if I went to school in China. While facts are facts and business processes are business processes, the way everyone views them can vary drastically. Having been exposed to this so early on in my college career gives me an edge in understanding personal and cultural differences.
As I previously said, business can allow innovation and improve society when done so responsibly. However, it seems many business professionals fall into unethical and immoral behaviors. Greed is a strong force, so when someone is presented with a chance to make themselves better off, many people take it. I learned in my managerial ethics and stakeholder management course this past semester, that ethical issues arise in many different areas of business. Of course, there is the obvious issues of employees stealing from the company or using the company’s resources for his/her own self-interest. Then there are the more concerning issues related to customer privacy and the customer’s best interests. All too often, we see scandal after scandal connected to the leading companies. These scandals undermine society’s beliefs in big business, and rightfully so. While laws and regulations can help prevent these downfalls, I don’t think they will ever disappear. The last ethical issue that arises is when business and innovation push a product on a group that doesn’t want it. One example is with playpumps. Basically, an engineer invented a water pump that kids could play on for African nations. While it was a good idea with very good intentions, the playpumps failed for many reasons and the locals did not want them. The issue here was that no one asked these local communities if they wanted these playpumps installed. While ethical issues may seem straight forward and easy to spot, there are many areas where unexpected pitfalls are waiting.
When it comes to lifelong learning, I think it is true that learning never stops. Right now, I’m clearly learning technical skills at Pitt. These skills are required for a job in business. I am also learning how to market myself and make me a leading candidate for whatever job I eventually want. Learning won’t always be so book focused though. After graduating and landing a job, there are still many ways to learn. In the workplace, I will learn how to handle conflicts and better my interpersonal skills. When I travel, which I plan to do a lot of, I will learn about different cultures and different ideas. Traveling to China has enforced this belief for me. I learned about business, China, the engineering school, and so on. Learning takes on many forms, so I think it will be easy to stay eager to learn.
Reflecting on my time in China, I feel like I saw it all. The country is growing and improving rapidly. It makes for an incubator of innovation in areas ranging from urban planning to technology. While cities like Beijing are chaotic and crowded, the countryside is pretty and sprawling. The greenery found its way into Shanghai which I was not expecting. The mix of old buildings, brand new sky scrapers and tree lined streets made Shanghai one of the prettiest and unique cities I have traveled to.
Having the opportunity to study abroad in China for two weeks was an amazing opportunity. I already loved to travel, but studying abroad with twenty-two other students made the experience even better. It was a privilege to travel with professor Dr. Li to his home country; I may have to transfer into Swanson just to take a class of his. I learned more in two weeks than I did in some of my classes this past year. I would say it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I hope to study abroad two more times before I graduate. Any motivation or desire I had to pursue more abroad experiences is now ten-fold because of Plus3 China.