Interview by Calista Shang. Photos by Victor Alvarez.
Shortly after receiving his. Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2002, Pedro Dal Bó began teaching at Brown University. Dal Bó, Associate Professor of Economics, is an applied theorist and economic experimentalist, focusing on political economy, experimental economics, and game theory. In 2010, he joined the Population Studies and Training Center and is a frequent attendee of the seminars in applied microeconomics as well as race and inequality. Dal Bó’s recent work concentrates on the consequences of economic policies on society as well as the relationship between violence, corruption, and the work of politicians. Below is a closer look into the life of Professor Dal Bó.
Where are you from? Where do you consider home(s) to be?
I am from Argentina. I was born in the northern part of Patagonia. I consider home to be Providence, since I have lived here for about 14 years, but I would also consider Buenos Aires as my home, since the majority of my family, including my parents, reside there.
What languages do you speak?
I speak Spanish and English.
What is a food or dish you miss from home?
In my free time, I do cook a lot, so I am able to make many of the foods that I miss from home. My favorite dish to cook would either be pasta, empanadas, or Milanesa, which is a traditional Argentinian meal, resembling Wiener Schnitzel. Milanesa is a breaded meat dish that is popular throughout South.
What is an Americanism you’ve picked up, if any?
When I first moved to America, I found it especially difficult adjusting to how early Americans eat. In Argentina, people usually eat around 9 PM, but in America, people start having dinner at 6 or 7 PM. Because of this, most restaurants close very early. I remember one night when I first came to America, my friends and I were trying to find a restaurant that was still open. The only place nearby that was still serving food at such a late hour was the drive-through at a Jack In The Box. However, we were walking, so they wouldn’t serve us food!
Has living in the US changed your relationship to/perspective of your home country/culture?
When you live abroad, you learn a lot about your home country and yourself. You go through all of these new experiences and all of these changes in your life, and then, you go back, and it takes you a couple of weeks to fully adjust. It’s always amusing to return to Argentina, because the cashiers aren’t as nice there as they are in America. In America, cashiers always greet you at the door and smile at you, but in Argentina, if they are having a bad day, they won’t put on a face. They will act how they really feel.
What do you teach/specialize/research? Why did you choose this field?
I teach courses on intermediate microeconomics, the economics of Latin Americans, mathematics for economists, and the political economy. I’m very excited for my class on the economics of Latin Americans. The course will explore, immigration, discrimination, development, historical issues with institutions, and the political economy of the economic system in Latin America. I specialize in the political economy, game theory, and experimental economics. My main concentration is on political economy, which focuses on where policies come from, how people vote, why politicians do what they dom and how institutions work. I am currently doing research on game theory, working in Brown’s Social Science Experimental Laboratory. I chose this field, because I deeply care about social problems. Why are some countries/people poor, and what can we do to solve these problems? I’m interested in issues with development. I want to know what policies can be implemented to make people happier, to improve the standard of living. I was first drawn to this field, because there were a lot of political shifts in my home country. Studying economics allowed me to understand what policies would lead to better economic development. There issues with the political economy that I couldn’t understand and wanted to. I couldn’t comprehend why bad policies were implemented, why people chose to support policies that weren’t beneficial for society or for the country.
Why did you decide to teach in the US and Brown?
I was searching for the best opportunity, trying to get the best job possible. The application and hiring process was very competitive and intense. When I visited Brown, though, I knew that it would all be worth it if I received the job. Providence was beautiful and exciting. I welcomed this adventure with open arms.
How did living in the US differ from expectations you had? What did you find most difficult/easiest to get used to?
Life is overall easier in America. Things are easier and more efficient. In a developing country, things don’t usually work so well or go as smoothly.
It was difficult getting used to speaking a different language; you lose a lot of the subtleties. It’s as if you’re learning to walk with ski boots. You feel clumsy all of the time. It was also hard being away from family. There’s a general sense of missing everything: missing food, missing friends, missing family. Nothing is quite the same. I miss going to a supermarket designed to sell everything that I need, but here, there are a lot of things that I couldn’t get back home, too.
What do you find different about teaching in the US versus where you’ve taught before?
In the past, I have worked as a teaching assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles and at the University of Buenos Aires. Immediately after receiving my Ph.D., I came to Brown.
There are approximately 300,000 students at the University of Buenos Aires, which puts it on a totally different scale from Brown. There are no dorms, no cafeterias, no sports teams, and no social activities at the University of Buenos Aires. Students attend with the sole focus of studying. Anyone can attend the university, since there are no admission exams or selection process. Therefore, the student population at the university is very diverse as opposed to the population at Brown. At the University of Buenos Aires, there is also no freedom in choosing classes; everything is pre-decided. The students at Brown, I think, are very fortunate they are able to devise their own schedules and paths.
How do you define good teaching?
Good teaching is all about your impact on your students. A good teacher will have a long-lasting impact on how his/her students see and understand the world. A good teacher will have taught his/her students skills necessary to face the real world to address social problems. It is difficult to convey the beauty of what you’re teaching and to explain why it’s important to students who are not necessarily interested in what you’re teaching.
What are some of your interests outside of teaching?
When I am not teaching, I spend most of my time either researching or with my family. During the wintertime, I also enjoy ice skating, cross country skiing, and sledding.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Any big plans?
I see myself still at Brown, with the same profession. Hopefully, I will have a better understanding of social problems in the future and be able to do more research and experiment on the topics I study now. I am currently working with my brother and another author on why people vote on policies they when they do not fully understand the effects the policy will have if implemented. This piece explores the mistakes people make in assessing policies and the main theories that affect the implementation and passing of effective policies. Hopefully, I will be able to finish this piece soon. In my free time, in the future, I hope to sail more in the summer and ski more in the winter.