Robert Westerfelhaus

Robert Westerfelhaus

Robert Westerfelhaus received his Ph.D. (1999) and M.A. (1996) from Ohio University (OU), where he earned two awards for rhetorical scholarship and was named Graduate Student of the Year in 1998. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Charleston, where he has taught since fall 2002. His teaching repertoire includes courses in communication ethics, media criticism, rhetoric, and communication theory, with a focus upon American popular culture. In his research Westerfelhaus applies critical, rhetorical, and semiotic theories to communication issues related to ethics, religion, and American popular culture. He has presented more than 50 conference papers and has published articles in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Communication Quarterly, and other journals. He has also published chapters in several edited volumes, including Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice (4th ed.), Critical Approaches to Television (2nd ed.), and Communicating Ethnic and Cultural Identity.

It is hard to believe that a little over a year has passed since I left Lublin. I am still in attempting to process my experience as a Fulbright instructor and integrate what I have learned. Indeed, the time I spent at UMCS was a period of discovery that has enriched me personally and professionally. Many of my “discoveries” are the products of interactions with my UMCS students and faculty colleagues as well other Polish friends from Bialystok, Kielce, Lublin, and Wroclaw, whom I met through social and professional networks developed at UMCS. Naturally, I learned a great deal from these students, colleagues, and friends about Polish culture, food, geography, history, politics, religion, and – most especially – the Polish people. As a result, I developed an appetite for Polish cuisine, and often crave it. I expanded my appreciation of Polish classical music beyond the few Chopin pieces I knew to embrace works by Górecki, Kilar, and Szymanowski, to name only a few composers. With great interest I also explored Polish literature ranging from Mickiewicz to Milosz. Reading this literature opened up whole new worlds to me: aesthetic, cultural, narrative, and philosophical. This reading has paid dividends with respect to my teaching. For example, in the Ethics and Communication class I teach at the College of Charleston I have assigned group research projects regarding such Polish philosophers as Leszek Kolakowski, with good results. Other experiences have also influenced my teaching. I expanded the ethics course material regarding the Holocaust to include what I learned through visits to Auschwitz, Majdanek, and other concentration camps; to former Jewish neighborhoods and ghettos in Bialystok, Lódz, Lublin, etc.; to museums in Lublin and Warszawa; and at a Holocaust seminar I attended in Kielce.

Lublin is nicely situated to explore Poland and Central Europe. This allowed me to participate in conferences in Bialystok, Kielce, Lódz, Lublin, Pulawy, and Warszawa; to give invited talks at universities in Bialystok, Kielce, Lublin, L’viv (Ukraine), and Wroclaw; and to visit Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary), and Prague (Czech Republic). I was able to travel for pleasure throughout Poland, sometimes on my own (Czestochowa, Kraków, Oswiecim, Poznan), at times with Jurek Durczak (Kazimierz Dolny, Zamosc), and other times with Jurek Kutnik (Chelm, Kozlówka, Wlodawa). These trips are treasured memories. As a visiting professor, I did my best to expose my students at UMCS to aspects of American culture about which they might have been unaware, and to help them understand American culture by providing them with knowledge of such theoretical constructs as the American monomyth. I hope they learned something useful from my efforts. I can certainly say I learned a great deal from them. Indeed, the questions they asked, the observations they made, and the insights they provided regarding American literature, history, and popular culture taught me a great deal about my own culture. I continue to have correspondence with some of my students. I also learned much about America from conversations about literature with Jurek and Joanna Durczak; with Jurek Kutnik regarding music (and just about everything else); with Pawel Frelik concerning comics books, science fiction, and video games; and conversations with other UMCS colleagues. My experiences while at UMCS have widened my perspective and deepened my understanding of myself, others, and the world we share. While at UMCS I developed valued professional and personal relationships that will last a lifetime. In addition to the colleagues and friends discussed above I should mention Ewa Antoszek, Anna Bendrat, and Edyta Frelik, who – like their senior colleagues – were wonderfully hospitable and did much to make me feel at home. I value the time I spent teaching at UMCS and hope I will have the opportunity to teach there again at some point in the future.

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