The University of Iowa

UI Prof Starts as Chilean Ambassador in January

December 16th, 2011

By Melissa Dawkins, The Daily Iowan

Though Roberto Ampuero will return to Iowa City today, he won’t return to his faculty position at the University of Iowa this spring semester.

Instead, he’ll begin serving as the Chilean ambassador to Mexico in January.

“In the future, my students will not only enjoy having a professor who is at the same time an internationally published author but one who served as ambassador to such an important country as Mexico,” Ampuero wrote in an email.

The UI assistant professor of Spanish said he was appointed because of his work as an internationally published author, his knowledge of Mexico, as well as his connections with influential Mexican politicians, businesspeople, and journalists.

His knowledge of the region, wife Ana Ampuero said, will also prepare her husband for the job.

“At this moment, he has unique qualifications,” she said. “And at this moment, Mexico is one of the most important embassies in Latin America.”

The Mexican economy has grown in recent years, following a 2008 economic crisis. The country is the United States’ second-largest export market, according to the State Department.

Roberto Ampuero, who is originally from Chile, first came to Iowa City in 1996 as a writing fellow in the International Writing Program.

He returned to Iowa City in 2000 to earn an M.A. and a Ph.D.

“I fell in love with the city,” he said.

He is an internationally published author.

“He’s one of the most popular writers in Chile. He has a large following,” said John Stamler, an Iowa City ophthalmologist and friend of Ampuero.

Multilingual Ampuero said he is the author of 13 novels published in 13 languages on three continents.

And he’s joining a list of accomplished authors who have served as Chilean ambassadors.

“There is an old and very distinguished tradition in Latin America of renown novelists becoming ambassadors,” he said. “I am proud of following that step, an honor and a challenge.”

He said he has been granted a three-year leave from the UI, and he will return to teach when he has completed his time serving as ambassador.

His wife was a Guatemalan ambassador to Germany, Chile, and Sweden before moving to Iowa City in 2000.

Tom Rice, UI associate provost for faculty, said having a professor with such global experience is especially beneficial to students.

“First of all, there’s all the experience you have of working in the field that would enrich any class, and enriches their teaching,” Rice said. “Any class with an international focus would benefit from this kind of experience in foreign countries; this is high level government experience.”

He was unsure if the UI has had professors previously serve as ambassadors.

Roberto Ampuero said he is looking forward to bring his experience back to the UI.

“I will be able to be, I think, a better teacher for the wonderful students of our university,” Ampuero said.