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Student news: Living and learning in China: Engineering students travel to Hangzhou

The World Expo 2010 grounds in Shanghai.
The World Expo 2010 grounds in Shanghai. Submitted photo.

They have visited public gardens, climbed mountains, navigated a megacity, attended the World Expo, and toured factories. On top of all that, the 17 College of Engineering students spending the summer in China also are taking college courses.

The students — many of whom have never traveled far from home — hail from virtually every College of Engineering department and arrived May 25 in Shanghai. After spending a couple of days in that city, they traveled to Hangzhou, a city of six million people about 120 miles southwest of Shanghai.

In Hangzhou, the students live in the Zhejiang University international student dormitory and take classes in a building adjacent to the Institute for Refrigeration and Cryogenics, which is run by Zhejiang University Professor Limin Qiu.

This 6-week Zhejiang University Summer Program began in 2008, thanks to funding from the College of Engineering EB2, or Engineering Beyond Boundaries, initiative. The program is administered through the college International Engineering Studies and Programs, which Amanda Hammatt directs. Several faculty and staff, including Mechanical Engineering Professor John Pfotenhauer and Technical Communications Director Laura Grossenbacher, play key roles in overseeing the program. “John met Professor Qiu several years ago at a conference, and through their mutual interest in creating international experiences for engineering students, this program was born,” says Grossenbacher, who with Engineering Professional Development Associate Faculty Associate Tom McGlamery and Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Ryan Kershner traveled to China with the students.

A Shanghai market.
A Shanghai market.

Kershner is teaching ME 306: Mechanics of Materials, while Grossenbacher and McGlamery are teaching EPD 397: Technical Communication. Both courses include Chinese students, and the Americans took a Chinese (Mandarin) course in their first few weeks of the program. “This has made the course truly multicultural, and we have designed an assignment that puts those Chinese students in teams with our students to give presentations comparing several aspects of Chinese and American culture,” says Grossenbacher.

As part of the Technical Communication course requirements, the American students also are blogging about their experiences in China. However, due to Chinese governmental restrictions on Internet access and technical difficulties, the students haven’t been able to post their entries online. Here are a few excerpts:

Nick Olp, about Chinese food

“I study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and am a true Madisonian, born and bred. I love brats, beer, and cheese. Beyond this, I have never been a very adventurous eater. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. When it comes to eating, I have always found it easiest to stay within my own preset boundaries. However, during my time here in China I have been exposed to a wide variety of new foods.... I have had the opportunity to explore and try many different foods. At this point I can safely say that I have found a favorite lunchtime place to eat. Outside one of the many cafeterias there is two outdoor kitchens tucked into the side of a building under a large bright red canopy with white Chinese characters written on the front. Ordering is usually awkward and most often a mystery. I usually point at pictures on the menu on the left wall or point at the dishes of the people eating around me. After several days of this cycle, I approached with my friends once again and heard one of the cooks in the back say in English, ‘The American boys are back.’ Everyone laughed when we heard this, including the other cooks that have seen us there day after day. This is the only thing I have ever heard them say in English. Eventually, I found a dish that I really enjoyed. I don’t know what it is called but it is made up of cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, a red semi-spicy broth, and short flat noodles that are made and cooked right in front of me. It is by far one of the healthiest lunches I have ever had, all for under $1 USD.”

Michelle Murphy.
Michelle Murphy. Submitted photo.

Michelle Murphy, about her first day in China

“Somehow, I had to find my way through the heavy crowds and arrive at a hotel miles away in the heart of the city. The task was made even more daunting by the foreign symbols everywhere I looked.

After a few moments of confusion, my group found our way to the Maglev train that would take us further into the city. I was surprised by how fast it moved. A train that went over 200 miles through a huge city was a totally new experience for me. Yet, the train ride was incredibly smooth. We arrived at our stop within minutes.

The second the train stopped moving people rushed from their seats, eager to continue their busy days. I was left fumbling with my enormous suitcase, trying to get off before the doors closed on me. Once we made our way off the platform and down to the street it was time to hail a cab. One rushed over easily, so we loaded up the trunk and climbed in. Out in the sea of traffic, cars were everywhere. Rushing by, cutting other cars off, and driving on the wrong side of the road, drivers spared no aggressive move that would save them time. In the backseat, I tightened my seatbelt and held on for my life. Thankfully, the ride left me in one piece. “

John Emholtz at the Great Wall of China.
John Emholtz at the Great Wall of China. Submitted photo.

John Emholtz, about visiting Beijing

“Our first objective in Beijing was to find our hostel and drop off our bags. We were able to do this with relative ease. The hostel was very nice, comfortable, and the people were very friendly. While paying for our rooms we noticed that the hostel provided transportation to a remote part of the Great Wall where we could take a four-hour hike. We decided that would be our activity for our second day, and on the first day we would see as many other attractions as we could. We started by touring the Forbidden City. The intricate paintings and moving statues were very impressive. The fact that people created them hundreds of years ago with no power tool is simply is amazing. Walking through the city took most of our morning, but before lunch we had time to see Tiananmen Square. After lunch we were able to visit the Beijing Zoo, and we were so tired we decided to skip the Summer Palace and explore the area around our hostel.

The second morning we woke up at six to catch the bus to the Great Wall. The two-hour bus ride to the Great Wall took us through some interesting parts of the city, so instead of catching up on sleep I was staring wide-eyed out my window. Upon arrival at the Great Wall, I looked up the mountain and already knew I would be exhausted afterwards. I took a cable car up to the first watchtower and marveled at the ingenuity the ancient Chinese people used to craft the most amazing creation I have seen to date. The view from atop the wall was absolutely breathtaking. We walked up for miles along the top of the wall, stopping at each watchtower to rest and appreciate the view until we reached our final destination. At this point we had a choice as to how we wanted to get back down. We could either walk down or take a zip-line over a man-made lake. As young adventurous college kids, we took the zip-line to the bottom where we were relieved to collapse into our bus seats.”

Jacob Kilbane, about trips to two factories

“The first company, Actuator motors, was located in what I remember considering a 3rd worldish part of China. I haven’t seen a lot of this part of China yet and it was unnerving to see how many of China’s people live. I saw countless homes that looked as if they were about to fall over and almost every building had broken windows or a crumbling foundation. The local people did not appear to have access to large quantities of clean water, as most of them wore dirty clothes and lived in dirty homes. The amount of trash piled around the village was incredible. That village must not have a dump nearby to put their trash because I saw entire lots piled up to the fence full of garbage bags. Even the irrigation ditches were full of old food and trash (which might be one reason they do not have clean water). I also saw a lot of animals roaming around. I assumed these animals belonged to a home, but I’m guessing the animals find food on their own since I saw several dogs eating old food out of the irrigating ditches. Seeing how some of these people live made me appreciate the basic amenities I take for granted.... The second tour of the trip was the by far the most unique experience of the day. We got to tour a factory that made large nuts and bolts for wind turbines from raw materials. Although I found the processes for forging, cutting, bending, and threading to be very interesting, I found the lack of safety regulations to be of greater interest. In the factory there were workers working with glowing, hot red pieces of steel, massive pneumatic punches, lathes and cranes and yet only a handful of workers wore safety glasses. I thought this was insane. We were even allowed to get within three feet of any machine we wanted to without safety glasses, gloves, or words of caution. Our tour guide explained that in some factories, workers may purposely hurt themselves to collect insurance, so factories put up security cameras to deter them. We ended the tour by choosing a large defect nut or bolt to take home as a souvenir.”

Elise Gale, about a day trip to Thousand Island Lake

“Apparently, because the weather was sub-par (73 degrees and cloudy), there weren’t any boats going out on the lake. However, this also meant that tour guides were having a hard time getting work, so we were able to get a really good deal on non-lake activities. We got a driver for 20 yuan a piece (that’s less than 3 dollars and as expensive as a one way cab to downtown Hangzhou) and he drove us around all day, waiting for us when we made stops. The hotel guide recommended that because of the weather and our short time span, that we go white water rafting. It was not the first thing I expected to do, but it sounded fun so we went for it.

After a surprisingly tasty lunch of local fish and veggies, our driver took all 9 of us in his huge, rickety van up the mountain to one of the tributaries of the lake. We got our life vests and helmets at the base camp, and headed out with a group of about 30 other people further up the mountain where we would get in our rafts. We all got into the inflatable rafts and were set afloat in a pond. We quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to be too scary: we were going down a stream that was carefully controlled by locks, with water-slide like declines made out of concrete if the descent was too steep. So we weren't too worried about safety or needing any extra skills. Before they sent us down the first slide, Will decided to start a water fight with the other American boats, and surprisingly, some Chinese people joined too! It was a lot of fun, and no language skills were necessary.

The trip down was awesome. Just riding in the water was really fun, if a little cold. And the scenery was gorgeous. There were mountains on either side of the stream and large patches of bamboo. Unfortunately, there are no pictures, because if I had tried to take my camera, it would never have survived. I was drenched at the end and very cold, but it was completely worth it.”

Renee Meiller
6/24/2010