What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Haiti? If you’re like one of Dan Louis’ students in his SLE Creole course at Columbia, it probably has something to do with an earthquake and not much else. When Dan posed this question to his students, he had hoped it would turn into a lively discussion and was surprised when he realized how little people knew about his birthplace.
Dan was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and lived there for eleven years – until his family immigrated to the United States in order to escape from the increasing kidnappings that were going on at the time. After Dan arrived in the United States, he moved from Connecticut to Georgia, eventually arriving at Columbia University where he was eager to reconnect with his culture through the Haitian Students Association and, eventually, SLE.
When Dan thought about approaching the issue of how to teach his students more about Haiti when they knew so little, he realized that he had to get back in touch with the culture that he had left behind so many years ago. Dan says, “Teaching forced me to ask questions about the language and it opened up a lot of conversations about the language and culture that I had never thought of before.”
“The first day that Dan ever led a course was the day that I knew he was special,” said Cole, fellowship coordinator at Columbia. “Dan always meticulously planned lessons and focused on making parallels between both language and culture. His lesson plans included music, numerous speaking activities, language tricks, and other unique and fun ways by which those taking his course could best learn the language.”
Through YouTube videos and Instagram posts, Dan taught his students about the true culture of Haiti, all the while becoming more interested in the country where he had spent his childhood. Dan’s courses captivated his students and made them love learning.
Rose, campus coordinator at Columbia, gushed about Dan’s teaching style. “Dan has the unique ability to be simultaneously joking and having a legitimately deep conversation that is disarmingly charming and comforting…He is also incredibly enthusiastic about sharing his culture and language that he was basically overflowing with lesson ideas and activities for his classes.”
This year, Dan travelled back to Haiti for the first time in eleven years. “SLE definitely influenced my decision to go back. It really opened up internal questions because of how inquisitive my students were and made me more curious about the culture and what it really means to speak Creole in Haiti.”
Going back to Haiti showed Dan how the language is really used and what he found surprised him. He was particularly interested in the blending of French and Creole. “I went to a wedding ceremony and it was all in French, when someone they were telling a story of something that happened but it would be in Creole…there is a nice blending of languages.”
When Dan went back to Haiti, he realized that there were holes in his Creole that had been created from years away. After only 18 days in Haiti and three months teaching Creole with the Student Language Exchange in New York City, he’s begun to fill those holes back in.