Photo by Andrew Wilkinson

Peter Singer: Maximizing Impact

Peter Singer: Maximizing Impact

Peter Singer’s arguments raise interesting questions about the intrinsic obligation to help those in need.  On one hand, his anecdotal examples are compelling and memorable, and I do believe in his message that we should not ignore those in need just because they are living in far off countries; on the other, he focuses too much the guilt that the wealthy should feel for having the fortune to be born in a developed, Western nation rather than in poverty.

The graphics he includes in his TED Talk do pack a powerful emotional punch: in particular, the visual representation of how much money is required to raise and train a seeing eye dog versus to provide treatment to cure certain varieties of blindness in developing countries was shocking and impactful.  But Singer’s methodology rigidly focuses on the effectiveness of various charities as the sole measure of whether they deserve donors’ support, ignoring the emotional component of donation.  This narrow-mindedness is both ignorant and unnecessary.

In the case of a person who decides to donate time and money to assisting blind people, Singer argues that donors should only donate to effective charities, since they will then impact the most people.  However, isn’t it enough for a person to feel passionate enough about a cause that they will willingly donate their time and money to it?  If a person chooses not to donate to charities for whatever reason, but is passionate about raising and training seeing eye dogs, why should their contributions be ignored or belittled as being “ineffective”?  Certainly, the $40,000 that Singer cites as necessary to train the dog and the recipient ultimately only had an impact on one person; but that $40,000 was donated nonetheless.  Someone was suffering, and someone else sacrificed their own time and resources to help—just as Singer advocates.

In reality, not everyone is willing or able to donate such a large sum of money or an intensive amount of time; most donations will be relatively small sums of time and money that, when added together, can have a significant impact on the recipients.  In these instances, donating to a charity that will maximize the use of your time and money is a worthy goal.  But for those people who are willing to give up thousands of dollars and years of their lives for a positive cause that they are passionate about, I don’t believe that the by-the-numbers evaluation of effectiveness that Singer prescribes is a viable examination of how we should donate.

Sans Souci, Potsdam, Germany

Apprehensive? Not for the Usual Things

Apprehensive? Not for the Usual Things

Since I have already studied abroad once before in high school, I am not particularly apprehensive about the usual aspects of spending several months in another country. Of course, I was a little intimidated before I studied in Germany. I was worried that I didn’t speak enough German to live with a host family and to attend school, and that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself so far away from my family. I knew I would be flying across the country by myself to join 35 people I had never met before and travel to an entirely new continent, but I didn’t expect that a delayed flight would have me running from the domestic to the international terminal in Newark, persuading a ticket agent to accept my late bag, and racing through security to my gate.

In Germany, my initial fears were unfounded and my experience abroad was amazing. Since then I have flown alone to several places within the US with no trouble, and over the summer I went back to Europe with my family. I am confident enough in my own adaptability and independence to not be too worried about the language barriers, logistics, or homesickness that I was concerned with before I first studied abroad.

On the other hand, I am concerned about how to have the best study abroad experience possible. I am currently an aerospace engineering major, and the course sequencing is quite rigid. There are options to study abroad through the College of Engineering, but I don’t think that I would like to travel to a new country only to spend all of my time stressing about thermodynamics or physics; I would rather immerse myself in my host country’s culture, both in my classes and in my free time, so that I get everything possible out of my experience abroad. Of course, I may transfer out of COE, in which case it will be much easier to find courses that are both offered abroad and which will allow me to enjoy the culture more fully. I hope to address these concerns by meeting with my academic advisor to discuss whether engineering is the right fit for me, and if so, how I should schedule my courses.

My current plan is to take advantage of COE’s planned spring semester in Augsburg, Germany, which would allow me to take my junior-year aerospace classes in English while living in abroad. The advantage to this program is that instead of coming back home in May or June, COE would help me find an internship in Germany for that summer. This would provide me with real work experience in aerospace at a German company, which could potentially lead me into an international job after I graduate.