Lujain Al Ali '20: Multicultural Learning Competency | University of Portland

Lujain Al Ali '20: Multicultural Learning Competency

As an international student, I believe traveling around the world is an exceptional learning experience. As an Entrepreneur Scholar, I participated in a global business trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, China, to meet with professionals in the engineering and sustainability sector to share my venture and receive insights and feedback. During my trip, I also learned about infrastructure in China. As a senior, I also participated in the 2019 Global Grand Challenge Summit in London, UK. There, I was able to navigate a city with unique infrastructure. Using experiences in my home country of Kuwait, as well as visits to UK, and China, I was able to reflect on my grand challenge from a multicultural lens.

Improving and Restoring Infrastructure: A Global Perspective.

Viewing infrastructure from a global perspective, it is now clear to me that different countries and continents around the world have varying infrastructures and infrastructural developments. Traveling to various countries such as China, the United States, and the United Kingdom in addition to living in Kuwait City has broadened my perspective and exposed me to the unique infrastructures in each of these countries. And, no matter how different the infrastructures are, countries depend significantly on their infrastructure. In the Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program, restoring and improving urban infrastructure is my main topic of study. Infrastructure is critical because every day, we utilize these services, yet many of us are unaware of the lack of necessary infrastructure in some areas as well as the problem of infrastructure aging and deterioration. Infrastructure projects provide day-to-day services, and their improvements are essential to society, the economy, as well as other aspects such as the movement of goods, services, and people, delivering clean water, allowing trade, etc. Furthermore, different countries around the world have different priorities regarding their infrastructural improvements.

During my trip to New York City as part of the Entrepreneur Scholars Program, I was able to learn about the transportation infrastructural systems. In the New York Trip, I met with several professionals in the engineering field to share my venture. One of my meetings happened to be with a lead transportation engineer that works with WSP who explained to me that many locals do not need to own a car due to the efficiency and accessibility of the subway system that is located within a short radius that is of walking distance to most places. And, after utilizing the subway system for a couple of days, I realized that a majority of locals and tourists do use this service regularly. That said, “as influential and innovative the global metropolis is in New York, its aging, outdated mass transit infrastructure has not kept pace with other leading cities around the world” (Lyskawa, 2019). Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the transportation system continues to improve and is up to date since New York City specifically has one of the most substantial subway systems in the world that many rely on. Currently, there are several large transit infrastructure projects in New York City in the works aiming to transform the image of New York. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is looking at investing $51.5 billion, “the largest amount in the agency’s history, to improve New York’s transportation system with a focus on the city’s subway” (Ricciulli, 2019). Around $37.3 billion will be going towards the subway system, which includes the Staten Island Railway. This significant investment will go towards modernizing signals, implementing new subway cars, making stations more ADA accessible, and revamping stations by including escalator and elevator replacements. These improvements will transform the subways into a more reliable system with improved accessibility and equality for all users of the system.

In addition to the New York trip, the Entrepreneur Scholars Program allowed me to visit Shanghai and Hong Kong, China. During my trip to China, I set up meetings with urban planners and professionals in the sustainability sector to share my venture, learn about how it relates to projects in China as well as receive feedback. In terms of my venture, it is an elevated walkway structure similar to the Highline in New York City that is built and engineered for the use of pedestrians and cyclists. In these meetings, I learned that with growing societal and economic growth, there comes a need to develop greener and more sustainable urban living environments. I became more aware of the different types of infrastructure in China, such as skywalks, elevated walkways, and skyscrapers. And with more research, I discovered that to encourage safe, traffic-free, and carbon-free methods of transportation, China is implementing more pedestrian bridges and improving existing ones. Being the world’s largest manufacturing economy and leader in exporting goods, China produces a considerable amount of pollution and compromises a relatively large carbon footprint. Thus, such green and sustainable infrastructure projects will work to solve current challenges that require a need for change.Furthermore, with growing urbanization, cities in China are exploring a variety of strategies for pedestrianizing their streets and open spaces to benefit urban development (China's Pedestrianization, 2017). As an example, Lujiazui, a district in Shanghai, implemented walkable urbanism through the addition of a pedestrian walkway that joins together a series of shopping malls and links the metro station with the area’s parks, office towers and waterfront promenade (Shao, 2013). With a country that has an urban population is 813 million people, projects like such will have a positive impact and contribution to the economic reforms and future of China.

As a Grand Challenge Scholar, I had the opportunity to visit London, UK, to take part in the Global Grande Challenge Summit. The summit brought together a new generation of engineering leaders, mentors, innovators, and change-makers to examine two major challenges that will shape the world. The first challenge was related to global sustainability, and the question was, how can we sustain 10 billion people? The second topic was associated with the impact of AI and disruptive technologies on humanity. Apart from the summit, I was able to explore London and discover the unique structures in the city. I realized that brick was an important building component. Brick is being used in housing, cathedrals, tower structures, underground stations as well as the most original architectural buildings. That being said, there are common problems that arise with bricks. With time, they age, deteriorate, erode, and begin to show signs of cracking. The issue here is that many historical and significant structures face these issues. And full restoration is not the most strategic approach as these buildings hold value because they have aged and worn for years and cannot easily be replicated if they are taken down. As a result, several companies that provide renovation services have emerged. They provide services necessary to expand the life cycle of bricks as well as restore damaged ones, given that the structure has the span to remain.

Saving my hometown for the final piece, Kuwait is a relatively small country in the Middle East with a population of around 4 million. Putting things into perspective, Kuwait is approximately 38 times smaller than the state of Texas. Being a small country with a growing population, Kuwait is in need of major transportation infrastructural projects that will reform the city, resolve commuting problems and ease the ongoing problem of traffic congestion that is worsening with time. Compared to many cities in China, New York, and London, which all have bigger populations than Kuwait, Kuwait lacks an important piece of infrastructure, a metro rail line. As a result, Kuwait is in the process of developing a five-phase metro. The project is currently 11% complete, and the first phase is expected to be completed in 2025. The metro will “provide over 1,500 job opportunities at the operation stage and reduce the rate of traffic congestion” (“Kuwait Metro Project, 2017). The metro is a much-needed addition to the transportation system that will make the daily commute smoother and provide many with a better means of transportation.

To conclude, visiting different countries has allowed me to widen my horizons and learn about the unique and different infrastructures as well as gain further knowledge regarding new infrastructure projects that are being implemented to improve the current stage of infrastructure in each country. Infrastructural improvements, especially transportation projects are important and necessary as they affect many aspects of everyday life. Embarking on different journeys to countries and cities around the globe has opened my eyes to the importance of infrastructure and how it really is a grand challenge that yet remains to be solved.

Works Cited

“China's Pedestrianization: Reviving a Tradition of Walking for Healthier Cities.” Latest News, Embarq Network, 2017,

“Kuwait Metro Project to Cost Approximately KD 3.460 Bln.” ARAB TIMES - KUWAIT NEWS, 16 Dec. 2017, 

Lyskawa, Madeline. “9 Big New York Infrastructure Projects.” CSNY, 25 Nov. 2019,

Ricciulli, Valeria. “9 Big New York Infrastructure Projects.” CSNY, 16 Sept. 2019, 5:26pm EDT,

Shao, Heng. “People's Streets: What Will Walkable Urbanism Look Like in China?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 4 Dec. 2013,