Keltoum Rowland, new Honorary Consul of France to Hattiesburg, Mississippi
When Keltoum Rowland came to Mississippi to teach French in 1993, she could not have guessed she would become Honorary Consul to Hattiesburg eighteen years later. At the time, she was still studying for her English degree at Université Jean Monnet in Saint-Etienne and flew to Hattiesburg at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to perfect her linguistic and pedagogical skills and to begin a master’s degree in teaching languages in the foreign languages department at USM.
That is where she met her future husband, Richard Rowland, a soon-to-be officer in the U.S. Army. Thus, Keltoum Rouwland settled definitively in Mississippi and quickly obtained her certificate in secondary education, with which she taught French in high schools for ten years. “It was a cultural shock and it really opened my eyes to the differences between French and American schools,” says Keltoum Rowland. According to her, the professor-student relationship is much stronger and personal in Mississippi. “We care about our students!” she says in English. More generally, she fell in love with the state because of the spontaneous hospitality and kindness of the people there. And despite some difficulties at first understanding the Southern accent, she says she never had problems integrating.
But this love story with Mississippi did not make her forget her first passion—French culture and language. As President of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) for Mississippi, a member of the Alliance Française and the French Society of USM, Keltoum Rowland has always been fond of promoting French in her environment. That is why she has been organizing meetings with French people such as the three Consuls General of France who have served over the past six years. Every year, during the “French week” and the “Francophonie Festival” at USM, the 300 French students participate, with all the other students, in cultural and gastronomical activities in order to further discover and understand French culture.
But her greatest achievement is the cooperation she instituted with the military post of Camp Shelby, nearby Hattiesburg. Twice already, she has gone there with her best students to teach the very basics of French to American soldiers who were about to leave for French-speaking countries such as Djibouti. “It was an enriching experience for those soldiers who were going to do humanitarian missions, but also for my students who had the opportunity to improve their French.”
Concerning her commitment to the French community in Mississippi, it all started in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane hit Hattiesburg, only a hundred miles away from the coast, her husband was in Iraq. Thus, she was alone at home with her daughter Nadia, with no water or electricity. Two trees fell on her garage. “When I heard that France, via the French Consulate General in Atlanta, was looking for me to see if everything was alright, it really comforted me,” she said. She then realized how important could the French diplomatic representation in the area was, and she decided to commit herself further by becoming, in 2006, a “ chef d’îlot”, helping with the safety of the French community in her district. Five years later, Mrs. Rowland was appointed Honorary Consul of France to Hattiesburg.
Keltoum Rowland has just assumed the position and she already has a lot of plans and ambition for her new job. Her priority is to get in touch with all the French citizens in Mississippi to let them know that they have a contact and a possibility of help if there is ever a problem. She would also like to launch L’Ecole du Samedi in Mississippi. Convinced by her experience as a French instructor at USM that “there is a demand,” Keltoum Rowland wants to successfully lead this initiative, just like she did with so many other projects, and always with the same goal—to promote French culture and language in the state of Mississippi that she loves.