From yen to euros: teacher makes cents of global economics

As you sit on his couch, you can’t help but notice the myriad of foreign artifacts strewn across his walls; Balinese masks, Thai silk, rows upon rows of foreign currency. At first, you might not know what thing to ask about, but pick one and you’ll find that there is a story behind it.
This is the office of Tim Payne, professor of Micro and Macroeconomics at Shoreline and while his stories range from road trips to retired CIA agents, Payne’s most noticeable passion is traveling.
“He takes his love for his subject and brings it into the real world,” says Diana Knauf, a professor of Psychology at SCC. “Economics doesn’t mean much if you’re stuck in a classroom. The world is Tim’s classroom.”
Having accompanied Payne on study abroad trips to Bali and Thailand as well as many eastern European countries outside of work, Knauf says Payne has a playful and original approach to engaging people from other countries.
“He once taught an entire village how to make paper airplanes,” Knauf says. “He is one of my favorite people to travel with.”
Having grown up in a small town in Missouri, Payne says that he wasn’t always interested in international travel, for the knowledge he had about the outside world was obscured by economic reality. His family had a modest income and Missouri was relatively isolated from international opportunities.
“International travel for any reason wasn’t on my family’s radar,” Payne says. “I realized pretty early on that if I wanted to learn and travel, I needed to get out there and work.”
By “out there” Payne meant agricultural work, beginning his first job at age 14 picking onions in Walla Walla, Washington. By 16, Payne was packing and shipping produce in processing plants and by the time he had graduated high school he had begun doing wheat seed hybridization research while simultaneously pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business administration.
Researching wheat and improved farming technology, “I thought I was going to save the world,” Payne says. “What better way than to have a job making more food for the planet?”
Conducting fertility tests on female and male wheat seeds, Payne’s optimism came to a halt when he realized that the non-fertile seeds he thought were being discarded by the company were actually being sold to farmers.
“I said ‘Hey, why are these seeds that don’t grow plants still in the mix?’ And then the light bulb went off, There’s no money in selling seeds that the farmers don’t have to buy back…This was a landmark moment in my life and I said, ‘I gotta quit. I’m working for the devil.’”
Having already paid his way through undergraduate school through this work, Payne quit his job to pursue a Masters in Economics at Washington State University where he says his interest in international travel first started. While the faculty of the school were discussing the need to teach a new economics class in energy economics, Payne was considered for the job opening although he was still a graduate student and not a professor.
“I had never done any teaching before but the material interested me so much that I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ and that’s when my teaching career started.”
Payne says that while he enjoyed teaching, he began to feel slightly disingenuous when he started teaching a class on international economics, for he had never done any international travel of his own.
“I did a really random thing at home where I had some friends over. I said ‘There’s a map on the wall, let’s just pick a country’ and they said ‘Hey do you have some darts?...So I threw a dart and it hit somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean. I threw the dart again and it hit Thailand.” So his first international experience started in Thailand.
Today, having led several study abroad trips to Southeast Asia and having traveled extensively on his own, Payne realizes that travel and economics have become a way of life for him.
Payne says when he travels, “I ask people which way the tourist attractions are and then I say ‘OK’ and I go the other way,” says Payne. “I’m not interested in the places everybody goes… What’s being made, how it’s being made. To me that’s what’s fascinating.”
While other people are out snapping pictures, Payne says he’s watching people living and working and shopping, building merchandise and cultivating farmland to stimulate their economy. In his classes at Shoreline, Payne incorporates these travel experiences into his lectures, making his material applicable to an international audience that may not be as invested in the American economy as domestic students.
“We’ve got students from all over the world here,’ says Payne. They’re here to study but many of them are going back home afterwards… I make a lot of comparisons to other countries to give them something they can hopefully relate to.”

Sometimes a professor’s office isn’t always a place where students feel they have something to relate to. Any student that steps into Payne’s is bound to find something.

_Gregor Elgee

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