ANNAPOLIS – Ray Fox thinks of himself as being on a kind of vacation.
But he’s not lounging on a beach or skiing down a mountain slope.
He’s in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a military base.
Fox is one of five teachers sent in late January by University of Maryland University College to provide college-level course instruction for American troops living and fighting in a remote country struggling to rebuild from a quarter century of warfare, turmoil and instability.
“I have been playing it safe,” Fox said of his previous position in Germany. “So I wanted to come and do something different.”
Dispatching faculty to places far from the ivy covered walls of academia is nothing new for the Adelphi-based university, which is part of the University System of Maryland, and offers courses online and has divisional campuses in Heidelberg, Germany and Tokyo.
The university first sent teachers to Germany after World War II and has sent faculty to teach U.S. troops in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and Kosovo. Currently, UMUC teachers work on more than 125 U.S. military stations in 28 countries.
Because Afghanistan is considered what the Pentagon calls “an active combat zone,” Fox went through five days of training in Germany before leaving for Afghanistan. The military training program taught UMUC teachers everything from landmine awareness to first aid.
“They have to go through special training … in order to make sure they understand the environment,” said Susan Aldridge, UMUC president.
Fox’s experiences will be unlike those of his colleagues in more peaceful areas such as Iceland, Belgium and Greece. In Afghanistan, the only way teachers like Fox are able to leave the military camps is in a military convoy.
But Fox said one of the reasons why he volunteered for the position was for the adventure.
In a phone interview with Capital News Service, Fox said he has been teaching for UMUC since 1988. As part of a military family, Fox moved all over the United States. He has never stopped moving: in the past 17 years, he has moved 45 times.
When his father retired from the Navy in the 1970s, his family settled in Florida. Fox earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cultural anthropology, as well as another master’s in 18th century English and American history with a minor in classics from Florida universities.
John C. Golembe, director of the European division of the university, said Fox’s extensive education was one of the main reasons he was selected. Because he has taught all over the world – he’s been in Australia, Japan, Egypt, and Iceland, to name a few – Golembe said he thought he would be well-prepared to adapt to a new location.
Fox also spent time in Bosnia. Golembe said they also looked for faculty that had experience teaching in remote places.
Aldridge said the Adelphi headquarters staff coordinated sending teachers to Afghanistan for a couple years. There are 18,000 U.S. service members deployed in Afghanistan.
Aldridge said she would like to send faculty to locations in the Middle East and is prepared to send more to Afghanistan if there is demand for additional classes.
So far, Fox said he has “been catching up on his e-mails and enjoying the food” at Camp Phoenix in Kabul as he prepares to start teaching government and history courses on Feb. 20. He even has the time to peruse local vendors’ stands on the base on Fridays and buy scarves for friends, he said.
Fox expects to have about 15 students in each of his history and government classes at Camp Phoenix. He plans on having classes twice a week for three hours. If there is enough interest in fill all three scheduled classes, Fox will teach in the evenings every day of the week for eight weeks.
Golembe said UMUC faculty try to plan around the soldiers’ schedules. Some teachers hold classes in the morning, others during lunch or on the weekends.
The classrooms at Camp Phoenix are no different from a typical one in the United States, Fox said. For instance, each has a blackboard and projector and video equipment.
Some teachers in remote areas, Golembe said, have to teach in tents and other nonpermanent structures.
The government provides the classroom materials and teaching space. UMUC is not paid directly by the U.S. Department of Defense and is the largest of five American institutions teaching troops overseas, Golembe said. The soldiers pay the university tuition and the government fully reimburses the students.
Fox said teaching troops in any secluded area has special importance for the students. “Education can also be a form of entertainment,” he noted.