Crossing traffic is Roger Geyer’s (Ph.D. ’08 IT) biggest safety concern, which may surprise you when you learn he lives in Iraq. The Kurdistan region, where Geyer lives in the city of Sulaimani, was bypassed by the violence of the eight-year war further south in Iraq.
Traffic, though, is definitely a problem in this city of one million plus. “The drivers are the worst in the world,” he says. “It’s pedestrian beware—even on the sidewalk.” Safety precautions, in general, are non-existent, he adds. “They have sidewalks with deep holes or a six-foot drop-off and no barrier to keep you from falling.”
In 2008, as Geyer finished his Ph.D program in Instructional Technology at Curry, he was 57, he was widowed and his children were grown. When he saw an ad for instructors at the newly established American University of Iraq – Sulaimani, 140 miles northeast of Baghdad, he jumped at the opportunity.
“It had a sense of adventure to it, an opportunity to participate in something brand new. I have always loved to do that,” he says.
Now in his fourth year in the volatile Middle East, Geyer still believes it’s a privilege to be there. “The objective of the university is to build educational infrastructure, to further democratic processes through education,” he says. “I’m making a contribution. It’s like working with the Peace Corps but with good pay.”
Geyer teaches undergrads in the school’s Information Systems and Technology program. He describes students as very respectful of authority and older people. “They respect knowledge, too,” he says. “They understand that education will help them move on to a better life. Most of them know at least three languages and some, five or six. They have a lot of energy and excitement, but they also grapple with huge issues. Many have endured terrible tragedy.”
The Kurdish people he meets off campus have been very welcoming, he says, although his tall stature and white hair draw some curious stares. “The culture was so constricted by Saddam [Hussein] for 40 years,” he says, “that this is the first time outsiders other than reporters have been able to go into this area and for Kurds to be exposed to outsiders.”
The Kurdish people he meets off campus have been very welcoming, he says, although his tall stature and white hair draw some curious stares.
In spring 2009 Geyer began helping out with the new AUIS women’s basketball team. As might be expected, he has witnessed some inspirational moments of self-discovery as the young women explore and push their physical limits.
“There are few opportunities for women here to engage in outdoor physical activity as they grow up,” he says. “They have not even experienced the natural motion of running.”
Last spring, he mentored one of four three-person student teams from AUIS in the Kurdistan Imagine Cup. The competition sponsored by the Kurdish Regional Government and the Microsoft Corporation rewarded innovative software design. His team developed an educational program designed to help Kurdish K-6 students learn English. Competing against 12 other universities in northern Iraq, the team won second place.
Looking back on his time at the Curry School, Geyer says he had a great experience that he continues to draw on. “There’s been a pretty seamless integration of what I learned at Curry and what I do at AUIS,” he says. The Curry School exposed him to new ideas, news concepts, and new software and helped him understand how to leverage technology to enhance learning. “I lecture very little,” he says. “Instead I lead lots of activities and interact with students. They really respond to that.”
Although he has enjoyed his experience in Iraq, as the 2012 spring semester draws to a close, the 63-year-old faces a decision. His contract with AUIS expires this summer, and he is exploring his options. Returning to the U.S. is one possibility, but there are so many others—maybe northern Thailand or Sri Lanka. Perhaps by the time he embarks on his summer vacation trips to Zambia and Namibia, he will know where the next adventure will take him.