French 60 Gives New Vision of Haiti

Students learn of Haiti’s culture and heritage through volunteer involvement

Offered for the first time last semester, the course “French 60: French and the Community,”  is all about getting students out of the classroom. Students in the course learn about Haitian culture in addition to sharpening their French by volunteering as French tutors to Creole-speaking children aged 6 to 10 at the Haitian Community Center in Dorchester on Saturdays. Since last month’s disastrous earthquake, French 60 Senior Preceptor Carole Bergin has been working with the Harvard Haitian Alliance and encouraging her students to work as ESL tutors at the Center to help refugees in the area in addition to previous coursework.

While similar versions of the course have been offered in other languages, such a class has never been available to French students, according to Bergin. She was originally eager to create the class, she said, because Boston has the third largest Haitian population of any U.S. city.

Bergin hoped that the course would change the stereotypes students held about Haiti. By exposing them to Haiti’s literature, painting, music and food, she hoped that they would view the country in a different light, particularly after the earthquake: “Especially now, we don’t have to forget what’s happening in Haiti, but we don’t want to forget the beauty of it,” Bergin said.

Natalie E. McBride ’13, who took the course last semester and traces her roots back to Haiti, appreciated Bergin’s desire to debunk stereotypes, such as those about voodooism, which Bergin did by bringing in a voodoo priestess as a guest speaker. And while McBride’s Haitian heritage made the recent earthquake crisis in Haiti hit close to home, she said that taking this course and volunteering in Dorchester made her more “aware.”

Non-Haitian students in the course also developed a new viewpoint on the crisis. Gresa Matoshi ’13, who was also enrolled last semester, confirmed, “I felt like it was different seeing that stuff on TV because I felt like I was connected to it in some way.”

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