Students in the United States might find it hard to visualize a place where there are no toilets, no running water and only very basic medical care. For Pat Singer, seeing these places gives her and her students a new understanding of life in the developing world.
A professor of biology at Simpson, Singer has visited Peru, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, Namibia and Thailand, as well as developing countries in Central America, with a second Namibia trip planned this May.
Her focus is not always on biology or a country’s famous landmarks. It’s often about something simple: listening.
“The trips that I think are most valuable for me and for the students aren’t sight-seeing trips,” Singer said. “The trips that I think have been most transformative for the students are when we sit down and listen to the stories of people who live there. It’s listening to all those different voices.”
Singer wants her students to listen to a variety of voices, ranging from someone scraping by in a barrio to a local business owner to government officials. She said that hearing all these different viewpoints will help students gain an appreciation of life outside the developed world that they could not receive from a class or a book.
“Later on, students can go travel as tourists, but this should be a unique opportunity to meet people and talk to people and listen to what life is like in that country,” she said.
Back home, Singer considers her field a fast-moving, hard-to-predict discipline, and preparing her students for the future is a challenge because of it. “The curiosity that students gain from studying abroad will help them later,” she said.
“I’m a molecular biologist, and I see my field moving extremely fast, and it moves in very surprising ways,” she added. “I don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s going to be discovered 10 years from now. And so I think about how I am going to create and develop for a future I can’t even imagine. I think the most important thing is to give students the curiosity and the skills to be learners. The facts are going to be outdated five or 10 years from now, but how one discovers and how one learns are way more important.”
Singer said she will continue traveling, listening and learning. She hopes her students will, too.
“Every time you learn something, there’s another question,” she said.