Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Love and Sustainability in Shanghai

By Matthew Lyons

This past summer I was lucky enough to travel to Shanghai and participate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department study abroad course, UTK Smart Infrastructure and Sustainability Engineering in China. This once-in-a-lifetime trip immersed us in Chinese culture, where we studied alongside Chinese civil engineering students discussing the aspects of sustainability and smart infrastructure within the field of civil engineering, as well as seeing everything Shanghai has to offer.

My favorite aspect of the program was the numerous field trips we attended, in particular, the Shanghai Maglev and China Mobile facility. The Maglev, a magnetically levitating high speed rail, was introduced to us by one of the lead engineers for the system. Later we toured the testing facility for an up close and hands on view of the working mechanisms. This included seeing the electromagnet system that is located on the tracks and cars allowing for the system to travel at speeds over 200 mph. This speed makes a trip from the Pudong airport to downtown, which is over an hour by car, take less than 15 minutes.

A second field trip was to the China Mobile Intelligent Mobility facility center, where they are working on the revolutionary technology of 5G mobile service that will revolutionize the field of transportation. This service will allow for true autonomous vehicles and integrated systems that will connect every vehicle to the local infrastructure. With future extensions it could include the real time optimizing of traffic signals due to demand or optimizing mass transit system flow, both of which would reduce the amount of wasted time for the consumer, and, more importantly, reduce the amount of non-renewable resources needed for each trip.

After classes ended for the day, all of the students would venture downtown to see attractions and get dinner at traditional Chinese restaurants, or when we were really hungry – American fast food – such as McDonald’s, KFC, or Papa John’s. An unbeatable site in Shanghai, and one of my favorites, is The Bund, which includes the seconded tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower, and numerous other modern skyscrapers. These sites contrast to the early 1900’s style buildings left standing from British colonization. Not far from The Bund is the Yu Gardens, which was created in 1559 and is a small part of traditional China in an otherwise rapidly growing and modern city.

However, my favorite part of the entire experience happened following the study abroad program. Katherine Tatum, who is a senior in the Haslam College of Business, as well as my girlfriend of six years who was also on the trip, and I traveled to Beijing before heading back home. While there, we toured The Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic venues and enjoyed meals with local families in a Hutong village. During our climb of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, I was able to let her in on a secret I had been keeping from her over the past month abroad, asking her to marry me. She responded first to my question of a lifetime with a kiss before answering with “Yes!” which concluded this adventure with a moment I will never forget.

This experience of a lifetime introduced me to a multitude of different educational opportunities I would have never received in the United States, along with cultural experiences that allowed me to create friendships, try new things and see incredible sights I will cherish forever.