This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Teaching overseas broadens horizons

UB faculty members find teaching abroad offers the best of both worlds

Published: February 17, 2005

Reporter Contributor

Life in Singapore is good for Arabella Lyon.

She may spend a morning sitting in a state-of-the-art library, then "stroll to a fusion food café overlooking lush gardens of flowering trees and palms." Or she may spend a day with her children browsing bookstores where the English collections are larger than at home, and then take a swim in the Strait of Malacca.


Arabella Lyon, who’s teaching English in the School of Management’s new bachelor’s degree program in Singapore, rides an elephant with her two daughters at the Singapore zoo.

Sure beats shivering along the banks of Lake Erie. Or on the tundra of the UB North Campus.

In fact, Lyon, an associate professor of English who is more than halfway through her first year teaching in the School of Management's new bachelor's degree program in Singapore, says she probably learns more every day than do her students.

For faculty members like Lyon who teach in UB's myriad programs abroad, living and teaching across the world offers the best of both worlds: a unique professional experience with many of the comforts of home.

Lyon describes Singapore as a "tropical paradise, surrounded by ocean, rainforest and exotic destinations." The country, she says, "shines for its ethnic diversity, cultural richness and high standard of living," with a "superb" quality of life.

But things changed somewhat with the Indian Ocean tsunami. Lyon, who was vacationing in the mountains of Thailand when the tsunami hit, says she has felt a bit more disconnected from the U.S. since the incident.

"I was touched by the local response in Singapore and in Thailand," she said recently via email. "I think my connection is analogous to feelings about 9/11. If you were in the U.S. or New York City, it was a real and intimate concern. Otherwise, you easily became a spectator or voyeur, rather than a witness, seeing, seeking accuracy and telling. Witnessing in a meaningful way has always been elusive unless you are directly involved in the experiences. Since I'm living in Southeast Asia, the concerns of my neighbors increasingly become my concerns."

Lyon also taught in China as a Fulbright lecturer and says that communicating in Singapore is significantly different than trying to do so in China.

"Because English is the dominant language in Singapore, it is easier for me to share the local culture," she said. "In southwest China, the limited amount of English and my inadequate Chinese always circumscribed my ability to engage and experience in the richest ways."

But teaching in China also uncovered a pleasant realization for Lyon.

"I felt more secure of my effect in China than I do in a Buffalo classroom on any day because of the visible and audible struggle for understanding: man man shou (speak slowly), zai shou (say it again)," she said.

Lyon says she tries to keep up with U.S. news through the Internet and occasionally reading news magazines like Time, but she regularly watches local TV news and reads the Asian editions of news magazines.

"Malaysia or Indonesia's worries become as significant as those of Canada," she said.

Being in a foreign country also prompts her to look at U.S. problems differently.

"Things such as the decline of the dollar or the failure of the war on terror seem much more important here than they would in the U.S.," she said. "The standpoint of Singapore is a more telling one than that of Buffalo. One starts to imagine America as one's neighbors do."

Lyon says she stays connected with UB through email and regular visits from members of the Office of International Education.

While the UB-Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) bachelor's degree program is only in its first year, the School of Management has been in Singapore for almost nine years, establishing the first U.S. accredited Executive Master in Business Administration (EMBA) program in the country in March 1996. Some UB faculty members regularly teach in the program.

Natalie Simpson, associate professor in the Department of Management Sciences and Systems, has been involved in the EMBA program since its first year, when she was asked to teach the management science model and "Intro to Computers." She now returns every October for her annual assignment.

Simpson says the draw for her to teach in Singapore was the environment, with "palm trees and flowers, all the time." She also enjoys the food and says the excellence of the program and students "goes without saying."

Moreover, the "hustle and bustle" of Singapore appeals to her.

"Buffalo always seems quiet to me for the first few days after I return from Singapore," she said. "Someone once told me that Singapore is the busiest seaport in the world, and I think living in the presence of all that commerce somehow boosts the energy level of everyday activities. Taxis fill the streets, people fill the sidewalks and buildings fill the sky," Simpson said.

John Boot, professor of management science and systems, and a teacher of probability and statistics for managers in Singapore, finds it to be a city where "creature comforts" are readily available.

"The accommodations are in a spacious suite, kitty-corner from Borders, which has three restaurants and untold books and music, as well as a number of comfortable leather fauteuils, and very nicely orchestrated air conditioning-in Goldilocks' terms: just right," Boot said.

Boot also noted how clean and fit Singapore is, calling the city almost "anti-septic."

"No fleas and such, very few birds and hardly any dogs," he said. But he noted the plentiful zoos, bird parks, night safaris, aquariums and orchid parks. He also said he enjoys the metro system and untold taxi service. Singapore, he said, has "technological brilliance."

"If you push a button at an elevator bank, you immediately get a response as to which elevator will pick you up," he said.

Boot found the craze for popular movie showings amazing as well.

"One buys tickets a week ahead and receives a numbered chair, much as if it were a Bills game," he said.

Simpson doesn't find any difference in teaching students in Singapore and those in the United States. She said her Singapore students are "generally experienced managers from larger corporations" and that her "teaching style works as well in Singapore as it does in Buffalo."

She noted she is looking forward to using new technology to reach undergraduate students by developing a technological model where students in Singapore and Buffalo can share select courses through "digital access."

Lyon said that most of her students come from throughout Asia, including some from the United States. She finds the students' varied backgrounds contribute to the educational experience.

"Representing a range of preparations and cultural assumptions about education, every student offers a different vision of the planet's future, and Singapore has the resources to help them imagine that future," Lyon said.

While her large classes are less than intimate, she finds excitement in the expansion of education.

"Global education does not fit into a one-room school house, but as this new (UB) program begins, I can't help but think of pioneers and open frontiers," she said.

Simpson, like many of the other professors in the School of Management, teaches in Singapore for two "intensive" weeks, then comes home. She said that at first it was difficult being on the other side of the world away from friends and family, but now the assignment is much easier due to email. "Singapore doesn't seem very far from home anymore," she said.

Moreover, she appreciates the ability to live in both worlds.

"I love going to Singapore, and I love coming home again," she said. "To appreciate anything fully, I think you have to step outside of it occasionally. I have a renewed appreciation for (UB, Buffalo, and the U.S.) simply because I've had the opportunity to leave them temporarily and look back at them from Singapore. I would think that the traveling student could appreciate that just as readily as traveling faculty."