Guest Author: Siobhan Powers
My roomie Chi-Chi recently blogged about miscommunication between clients and architects so I thought it may be timely to bring to light some of my own recent difficulties in conversation and work development. I could not even begin to blog about engineer-non-engineer relations as that would take all day and there’s no point-we’re nerds to the core, I’ve realized and thus, misunderstood. Recently, however, I’ve found not just confusion between myself and non-engineers, but also with my fellow engineers-my people!
I have had few moments of serious language barriers during my time in India. Most people speak at least a little English, and if not there are pictures and hand gestures that can get points across. Shopping and dining is easy enough. Camping with strangers? You’ll find something to talk about (reference my other blog post– shout-out to Chief and Wise Eyes!). Engineering conversations, however, are not like this-there are no commonalities across language boundaries that can be pointed at and then nodded about, but instead there are abstract concepts like energy and science (gasp!).
Yes, we have math and our beloved numbers but the day when an engineer speaks in numbers alone is the day we have isolated ourselves completely, but for mathematicians and maybe scientists. Don’t get me wrong, there are engineers here who know more about computers and generators in a working sense than I might ever have the privilege of discovering. They speak English very well conversationally, and can communicate with the other interns seemingly effortlessly. Yet when I need specific data, I am at times at a loss or have to find it on my own as “specific electricity loads per building” doesn’t always translate. If I need a reading or measurement, I have to find it myself.
Some of this is not due to language. Instead, sometimes I struggle to overcome lagging technology and practices (which Sunnie is helping in developing). Also, this is obviously not a problem specific to India-I could face these very same situations in the U.S. as there are disparities in knowledge when it comes to science and technology that can be limited depending on where you go to school and how much real-world practice you have, or even down to a specific class you took.
This was not meant to be a series of complaints: in fact, I meant it to be quite the opposite. This has been an instructive experience that has made me realize just how independent and productive I can be on my own and with my fellow interns. I have had fun bonding with these engineers (brothers from another mother country) and finding new ways to ask questions besides the English words I find so easy.
About the author: I am from a small island in southern New Jersey but have spent the past four years in Ithaca, NY attending Cornell University. I have a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Engineering and will be going back to Cornell in the fall to get my Master’s in Engineering in the same subject with a particular focus on water processes. I like hiking and going to the beach. Indoors, I enjoy reading books and watching movies and baseball ( go Yankees!).