Associate professor of public relations teaches in Chile as Fulbright Scholar

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru (MA '96, PhD '99), an associate professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, recently visited Chile for four weeks on a Fulbright Specialist grant to teach and to conduct faculty development activities.

“Being a ‘Fulbrighter’ means a lot to me, given the prestige and mission of the Fulbright program; that is, to foster international partnerships and mutual understanding between the US and other nations. More specifically, to be a Fulbright Specialist means that institutions overseas can request my presence for two-six week visits and collaborations,” Acosta-Alzuru said. “This is important for me, a Venezuelan American scholar, whose research and teaching are heavily influenced by multiculturalism and a self-awareness of her hybrid identity.”

Hosted by the Universidad de Chile, Acosta-Alzuru taught a graduate seminar focusing on the links between telenovelas, culture and society, and she led a hands-on assignment in an undergraduate course on strategic planning and organizational communication. 

“Teaching my graduate seminar was an awesome experience. It was challenging to adapt my JRLC 5060 class into a 12-hour graduate seminar for Chilean students. Thankfully, it worked very well,” she recalled. “The students were engaged and happy with the course. The level and quality of their class participation was very high. I managed to include videoconferences with two telenovela writers and one actor. These were enjoyable conversations and learning experiences for all.”

But helping with the undergraduate course posed some challenges, she said, as the behavior of the students was different from what she’s come to expect.

“Even though they were fourth-year students, they had difficulty engaging with class material,” she said. “I observed how their professor struggled to get their attention while he was lecturing. He is a fine instructor and, still, the students were distracted, talking among themselves, and even texting openly on their cell phones during his lecture.

 “So, when I took over the class on my second week in Chile, I was a smiling, but also severe, professor. I set strict rules and would call on them constantly, just to keep them on their toes. This was new to me and I realized that everywhere I’ve taught before, I’ve had the privilege of teaching students who were, generally, interested in the class.”

In addition to teaching, Acosta-Alzuru gave a university-wide presentation on the causes and consequences of the drastic reduction of the Venezuelan telenovela industry, and led two faculty seminars: one on the challenges of studying telenovelas, and another on the methodology used in her research. She also led seminars at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and at the Universidad de los Andes.

“I relished having the opportunity to talk about my research with Chilean faculty members who are also interested in the study of TV fiction and the links between melodrama and culture,” she said. “Conversations with professors Constanza Mujica, Valerio Fuenzalida and Eduardo Santa Cruz, who have also been engaged with the study of telenovelas, were particularly enriching.”   

Acosta-Alzuru gained many insights into the culture of Chile.

“It was my first visit to Chile, so it was a journey of discovery of the city of Santiago and a handful of other Chilean cities; particularly, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar,” Acosta-Alzuru said. “Chile is a beautiful country, a nation of poets and writers. I loved visiting it and learned much from the reflections of Chileans about their political past and present. It was both enlightening and sad to realize that some of the human rights abuses that occurred during Chile’s military dictatorship are already happening in my native Venezuela, under an authoritarian socialist government.” 

The experience also caused Acosta-Alzuru to reflect on why she is passionate about teaching and research.

“Distance always elicits reflection,” she said. “Leading seminars and presentations about my long time engagement with telenovelas as a research topic and about my teaching further deepened that reflection process. It’s only when you leave your fishbowl that you’re able to understand it and how you swim in it.”

Date: June 3, 2015
Author:  Stephanie Moreno,
Contact:  Carolina Acosta-Alzuru,