Skip to main content

Children of A Common Mother, Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity — Corbett Scholar Piyush Awasthi

Headshot of Piyush Awasthi

April 8, 2024

Sunrise over the HESB building at UW

Sunrise over the HESB building after a morning run with ROTC Cadets (yes, anyone can join the MSCI classes!). Photo credit: Piyush Awasthi.

Hello there! It’s nearly been a full year since I traded my toque for a beanie and set foot on the vibrant campus at the University of Washington. During this time, I’ve taken numerous courses, attended a few Husky football games, and explored a bit of the countryside. While I’ve never thought the Americans to be very much different from my fellow Canucks. This view changed quickly as I spent more time in Seattle.

My journey began with crossing the iconic Peach Arch Portal at the Blaine-White Rock crossing. The plaque on the American and Canadian sides of the portal read “Children of a Common Mother” and “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity” respectively, referencing the two countries shared origin within the British Empire, yet the subtle differences while in culture and customs that our people bridge to work together. These differences become evident right when we transition from the BC-99 to the American I-5. Although the BC-99 is better equipped and maintained (with more lamplights, fewer potholes and fresher paint), I feel the American I-5 is a better planned system that has kept up with population growth – widening considerably closer to bigger cities, with 2 lane HOV segments close to Seattle. Although a million potholes and debris-strewn shoulder lanes away from perfect – the I-5 keeps traffic moving, while the BC-99 tends to have standstill traffic for most the day.

A view of Downtown Seattle, with the I-5 bypassing it

A view of Downtown Seattle, with the I-5 bypassing it. (They have a highway through the city – isn’t that cool!). Photo credit: Piyush Awasthi.

So why talk about highways? I think this difference in the degree of perfection boils down to a fundamental difference between American and Canadian work ethics, at least in the Pacific Northwest. While taking my engineering classes at UW, I’ve found my American peers to be aggressive go-getters with their projects, prioritizing results, while my Canadian compatriots tend to have a more perfectionist attitude, prioritizing versatility. This difference in work ethic manifests itself in course syllabi too – while my biomedical engineering classes at UBC are very theoretical, with lots of exams and labs testing theoretical knowledge before being allowed to develop technical skills through Co-Ops, my American BIOEN are a lot more technically challenging, where instructors focus more on mastering the utilization of specific technologies while skimming over the theoretical science behind it. As a result, I noticed my bioengineering buddies at UW being very technically adept in their coding and fabrication techniques, but finding theoretical biology physics classes challenging – despite the content being much shallower than what we would find at UBC. Nonetheless, I met a lot of Americans who have worked for Canadian PIs and biotechs, and many of my classes mentioned joint Canadian American research endeavors. Despite a surprisingly different approach to engineering education, both groups integrate well into each other’s biotechnology industries and enrich our collaborative economies.

Microfluidic Chip

A Microfluidic Chip I built in Dr. Folch’s BIOEN 455 class using a laser cutter. UBC SBME offers very few lab courses like these! Photo credit: Piyush Awasthi.

Going back to the highways, BC-99 is a well-thought-out and planned project that ran overtime and overbudget but is of undoubtedly higher quality. It has dedicated lanes for buses, carpools/HOVs, and well-demarcated shoulders (which seem to be an afterthought on the I5). It becomes apparent that a lot of thought and effort was put into designing a system that, at the time of its conception, applied the most advanced principles of highway design – however, the resulting delays have led some parts of the highway to become obsolete a lot earlier than planned. While the American I5 does not have bells and whistles of the same caliber, it excels at its chief function – moving traffic. Throughout Seattle, I see instances of systems being designed to be extremely efficient for their intended functionality, but the designs feel a little rushed, or cookie cutter – not accounting for the advantages and disadvantages of individual locations. Although this is just a personal hypothesis, I believe that this is a byproduct of the “go-getter” culture. Nonetheless, both systems work well, and I’ve seen people from both sides argue that the grass is greener on the other side.

Light rail train car

An American “Light Rail” train pulling into UW’s very own station! The campus is so vast, I actually take the Light Rail to get from the western half to the eastern half! Photo credit: Piyush Awasthi.

As I reflect on my exchange experience so far, I realize it has been more than just an academic or cultural experience, but rather a testament to the enduring friendship that binds our countries together across the 49th parallel. As I continue to embrace the Husky spirit, I am excited to see what more I can learn from my fellow coffee-loving, Gore-Tex-wearing Pacific Northwesterners about the threads that weave the rich tapestry of life on both sides of the border.

Until next time!

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.