Garrett Byrd ’20 had never been west of Terre Haute. After a trip to Earlham’s Center for Career and Community, however, he was making plans for an internship in Shanghai, China.
Oh, and he had never been on a plane before. And he had never been to a big city.
“It was a little stressful and scary at first, but I feel that you should take hold of these opportunities because they may only come around once,” he says. “It was a big change going from living in Richmond my whole life to living in the third largest city in the world. I met a lot of cool people, and it was a good experience.”
Byrd, a Geology major with Environmental Sustainability minor, interned with Shanghai Winner Environmental Technologies, which focuses on industrial wastewater treatment and pure water treatment systems. Clients include Red Bull and Voss Water. Funding for the internship was through the Freeman Foundation.
After getting acquainted with Winner, Byrd spent the remainder of the eight weeks visiting sites where the company had installed different water treatment systems.
“I traveled all across the eastern side of China, mostly with the vice president, who is a super cool dude from Utah, which made the experience super fun,” he says. The vice president, Byrd and a translator were the only ones in the company that spoke English.
“At the sites, I learned about and took pictures of issues that weren’t going well and things that were going well,” he says. “I created an evaluation for each site, presented them on Monday mornings, and then it was off to a new site.” A typical week involved a day of travel to the site, two days on site learning about and observing the site, and then a day to return to Shanghai before presenting the report on Mondays.
One of the biggest lessons he learned was about communication. While visiting the sites, employees there would want him to fix or remediate problems with the different systems. As he was there only to assess, Byrd didn’t have the knowledge to fix the problems.
“Getting to see the business side of things and communicating with employees and clients was good for me,” he says. “Being put in situations where you don’t know what is going on but being able to manage it is a big thing.”
Byrd also gained insights on water treatment processes, which is in line with his career goals.
“I got to see how China’s environmental issues faced up against ours. My perfect job would be to work in geohazard management in Colorado because there is a lot of opportunity for geohazards there. And I like big snow.”
Experiencing big city life and Chinese culture were also important to the experience.
“In Shanghai, all you can see are skyscrapers,” he says. Traveling to the project sites gave him a different view, often to more rural, remote areas. “The scenery was stunning, absolutely beautiful.”
Byrd says he’s happy to help dispel incorrect assumptions about China, and he’s given presentations at Richmond High School, local churches and the local Lions Club, which also contributed to make the internship possible for Byrd.
“Americans have a negative perception of China,” he says. “They think China is polluted and overrun with poverty. Instead, I found it to be a super nice experience where people were very caring and welcoming and the city was super clean. I’m happy to bring back the real picture of China.”