UNC Around the World
Entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers, actors and volunteers are among the 800-plus UNC alumni living and working abroad. Ten graduates share their stories following their life-changing decisions to take their talents to countries spanning the globe.
From the Middle of America to the Middle East
Richard Morrell made a career move by exchanging America’s heartland for a new university in the Middle East.
Morrell became vice president for student services at Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research near Abu Dhabi. With 25 years of experience in higher education (Emporia State University, UNC, University of Kansas and, most recently, University of Central Missouri), Morrell and his wife, Kerry, have now settled into a cosmopolitan city.
There are differences living in a culture that requires Kerry to wear a black gown in certain places and forces Richard to rethink his duties.
The most interesting, even stunning, change was the way parents thought of his role as a kind of babysitter. He called students men and women in his previous jobs, but at KUSTAR, they’re still called boys and girls and aren’t even allowed to see each other outside of class. The coed arrangement, a social experiment, is considered a risky move by some in Abu Dhabi, and Morrell chuckles about the hand-wringing but takes it seriously.
The students are well-behaved for the most part. Morrell says the worst discipline he’s had to hand down was for the “boys and girls” spending time together, which even the starchiest administrators back home would find laughable. Morrell believes that the reins will loosen as the university reaches its goal of 6,000 students in the next few years.
Currently, there are 800 students — plus more than 250 workers at the university, who represent 50 nationalities. Morrell hadn’t really spent much time overseas beyond a safari hunting trip in Africa with his father in 1997 and a tour of Europe with his son a few years ago. He’s in the same boat with many others: Only 12 percent of the 1.7 million people in Abu Dhabi now are natives. The common language is English and the university is an English institution.
“So it’s not just knowing and understanding this culture, it’s knowing and understanding cultures and nationalities around the globe,” Morrell says. “Which makes for a really neat experience, but sometimes it can be a really trying experience.”
Given all that, Morrell doesn’t think the move was strange.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff, and I’ve moved around quite a bit,” he says. “I think just the maturity of being 56 and the years of experience really work in my favor.” NV
—Dan England is a Greeley journalist.