STEP Project: Engineering and Culture in India

My STEP Signature Project fulfilled the Education Abroad category and consisted of my participation in the Engineering and Culture Abroad OIA Program during the spring break of 2016.  This program included a semester long class to learn about Indian culture, and it culminated in a spring break trip to several northern cities in India, including Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi.  The main focus of this trip was to enjoy the architectural achievements and culture of India while also exploring some interesting institutions in India.


This STEP project helped to change my view on how different cultures should be viewed and treated from my own standpoint as an American citizen.  It also taught me how to become more fluid in regards to acclimating to new experiences and cultures.  I learned that India has a completely different culture from the American or even the European cultures, but even though our countries have some very innate differences, these cultures can still cooperate and collaborate.  Even with cultural differences, people from completely different cultures can still communicate and aid each other.  My experiences and education are completely different from another person’s, but both can be used together to work for a common goal, which is something that I knew intellectually but had not experienced before.


There are three different institutions that allowed me to see intercultural exchanges in a new light: the Jaipur foot, the Barefoot women’s college, and the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT).


The Jaipur foot is a revolutionary prosthetic that has improved and changed the lives of many Indians that have lost limbs in accidents.  The foot is exceedingly simple, easy to create/customize for a given customer, and costs 10 times less than an ordinary prosthetic.  Not only that, but the foot was created by several academic institutions (both from India and abroad) with the Indian culture in mind.  My class group visited the birthplace and the initial creator of the Jaipur foot and was able to learn its history and how students from OSU have been able to help improve on the foot’s design.  It was a product created for a specific culture, and the foot showed that different cultures have special requirements and needs.


Additionally, my class group visited an institution located just outside of Pushkar (a camel town), called the Barefoot Women’s College.  While the institution had many different functions, its main claim to fame is its ability to empower women to become leaders and solar engineers within their village communities.  Led by village men and women, the college itself is a grass roots movement that flies in women from different villages around the world to let them help themselves and their people.  When I visited, they had women from 10 different countries learning how to use solar power; and none of them could speak the same language.  This showed a huge amount of cultural communication and cooperation that I had not known was possible.


Finally, my class group also visited a national college in Jaipur, the Malaviya National Institute of Technology.  The Indian approach to higher education is much different from the American approach, where students study much harder and with much more pressure to be admitted into prestigious universities that only allow a small fraction of students to enroll.  The universities are seen as one of the only paths to success in India, and it’s a huge sign of honor for a student to be admitted to one.  We were able to talk to some of the graduate students at MNIT, and despite the cultural differences in India, they were very similar to graduate students that I know at OSU.  I even found out that some OSU students have come and studied at MNIT, and many of the graduate students knew those OSU students.


So, I found that from high academic situations to lower class grass roots movements, cultural communication was not only necessary but also thrived.  Different cultures can learn from each other while still respecting their own cultures to reach a common goal.


This revelation is very important to me both personally and professionally.  Personally, I believe my trip to India has allowed me to appreciate and understand foreign cultures better; and this will help me to better understand my foreign friends in a new way.  Professionally, I want to travel with my future job as a materials engineer.  This experience has helped me to adapt to new cultures and will help me with collaborating with foreign nations to reach a common goal.  I truly believe that my STEP project has helped me to become a better person and engineer.


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