Teaching and Research: Initial Experiences

It’s time to focus this blog on professional topics.  Fulbright U.S. Scholar programs in different countries have varying expectations for teaching and/or research.  In Chile, grantees must do both.  Therefore, I submitted a sample course syllabus as well as a research plan with my application materials.  I will follow up this post with an update in July when my work here is completed.

Teaching.  Although I’ve taught in Latin America before—five months in Cuzco, Peru as an English instructor and two years as full-time faculty at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico—I’ve had to adapte to the Chilean classroom.  My host institution, the Universidad de los Andes (UANDES), invited me to teach an intensive Ph.D. course in mid January.  The program directors and I had discussed topics during a prior visit to Santiago in October when we settled on “Popular Culture and Rock ‘n Roll.”  A majority of the eight students enrolled are college-level communication instructors, which as I learned in Mexico can be intimidating, yet that prior experience yielded some enduring friendships and I hope for the same outcome in Chile.  Preparing the course required research and advanced planning because I wanted to assign relevant readings in Spanish, and the students would have to prepare readings during December: the program is designed such that they took three straight weeks of intensive courses in January.  (Another set of intensive courses will be offered in June.)

Autumn at College of Communication, UANDES

Prior to the first class meeting I assigned a response paper to a rock and roll film, to get the students thinking about the course topic in advance, and to help orient me (interestingly, three wrote on Almost Famous and two on High Fidelity, chosen from a list of more than 30 possible films).  By the time my course started, the students had already bonded during two weeks of coursework; like their undergraduate counterparts, they will take the same classes together throughout their degree program.  The students were participatory, and very patient with my accented Spanish, which I deliver at a considerably slower pace than they speak.  Chileans also use a lot of distinctive slang for which neither my knowledge of informal Mexican Spanish or perusing a “Chilenismos” dictionary and phrasebook adequately prepared me.  An interesting outcome resulted: although most of the theories and examples I used in class were U.S. or British, the students prepared their final papers on Latin American popular music in regional contexts.  Nearly all of their topics include elements of hybridity or influence from other cultures, a common characteristic of popular music.

My undergraduate course began in early April because the students, in their fifth and final year, were doing off-campus internships during the first month of classes.  This provided me additional time to adapt the course I had originally proposed to something fitting the needs and interests of the students more closely.  As the U.S. is geographically distant, and many Chileans feel only tenuous cultural connections with its Hispanic/Latino population, I modified the course plan to focus more narrowly on the population and the media that reach it.  As revised, the course begins with basics of international communication, focuses on the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population and media, then concludes with international elements of popular culture and rock ‘n roll.  The students have been energetic and engaged thus far—I’ll try to maintain that environment through the end of June.

Edificio Central at dusk, UANDES

Research. I proposed to conduct both collaborative and individual research in Chile.  UANDES and the Harris Institute in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech have teamed up with Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico to conduct a comparative study of how young adults use, and feel about, their smartphones.  Last year each site conducted focus groups and surveys; this year we are analyzing the quantitative and qualitative data we collected, making cross-national comparisons, presenting the research, and preparing it for publication.  I was also invited by my friend and host Dr. Cristobal Benavides to join a study of how and why “millennials” in Santiago access audiovisual content on different screens: computers, tablets and mobile phones.  We revised the original draft, translated it to English and submitted for presentation at an academic conference.  Such cross-lingual work, my participation on several dissertation committees at Texas Tech, and my writing in English has created a sort of linguistic limbo that my bilingual readers will recognize (readers of Spanish may find this profile informative).  It has also deepened my admiration for the many scholars worldwide who work and publish in non-native languages—largely English.  This has long been an area of interest, and my next book project will focus on language difference in electronic media.

So it’s hardly surprising that my individual research concerns language, examining how electronic media professionals understand the parameters and impacts of language difference (a challenge we “Fulbrighters” in Chile face daily).  I am gathering trade journal material and conducting interviews with local professionals to learn more about how language difference plays out in Chile’s media.  Please check back here for an update in late July.

Teaching and Research: Initial Experiences