Algerian linguist finds community in Deep South


Photo by Brain Winters.

Born in Algeria, Keltoum Rowland has spent over 20 years living and developing a community in the Deep South. Apart from teaching French at Southern Miss, Rowland is one of eight Honorary Consuls of France in the Southeast United States and the only honorary consul in Mississippi.

Rowland moved to the United States in 1993 to finish her English degree and married her now-husband Richard Rowland. Twenty years living in Mississippi has led to Rowland establishing herself in the local French community through her roles as honorary consul, Southern Miss professor and study abroad director. As a Hattiesburg local, Rowland has made herself known for her energetic personality and intense love of language.

“I taught Spanish and Latin. I love languages, and I love being a linguist. Languages fascinate me,” Rowland said.

Rowland became the Hattiesburg Honorary Consul of France in 2011. As an honorary consul, Rowland’s main role is as a communicator between France and Hattiesburg. Her role as honorary consul led to a trip in November 2018 to a French village with the family of a World War II pilot who was killed while flying over a village located near Normandy.

Hattiesburg-born Sam Bond Dale Jr.’s plane was shot down in 1944 by the German military in Le Mesnil-Fuguet, France. The village wanted to reach out to his family and honor him, but that was difficult because the American Army retrieved the body after the war ended. Thanks to social media, the village was able to reach out to Dale Jr.’s family. Rowland accompanied them on a trip to France, so he could be honored on Veterans Day.

“My job is also to promote the French culture and the French language in the state of Mississippi,” Rowland said.

Rowland’s office bookshelf is filled with reference books on Spanish, French, English, Latin and more. Language-related knick-knacks clutter her shelves and desk. 

While there might not be too many French people in Hattiesburg, Rowland said she has been able to connect with the few that do live in the area.

“We try to get together sometimes, but it’s not easy when you only have two or three in Mississippi, and most are along the coast,” Rowland said. “When we get together, it’s an amazing opportunity just to speak the language and just to go over what’s happening in our country.”

One topic that Rowland said comes up is the yellow vest protests throughout France that started as a way of protesting President Emmanual Macron’s economic policy. These protests have made their way to U.S. news, which led to some fear surrounding the study abroad program in France this past summer. Despite the protests, Rowland said that Paris seemed fine.

Rowland has made herself known through the university’s French study abroad programs. Last summer, Rowland led a group of students through Paris in the month-long French in France program. While French in France is being taught by Joanne Burnett, Ph.D., next summer, Rowland will be the director of the semester-long Château Program Spring 2020 in Strasbourg, France.

Rowland’s role in the school’s study abroad programs has received a lot of positive feedback from students over the years. 

Sophomore English licensure major Abigail Jordon said she found Rowland’s energy to be extremely contagious both in class and on the trip.

“As soon as she walks into class, it’s all smiles and a big happy ‘Bonjour,’” Jordon said. “Because she was so high energy and cared about students actually learning, it made me want to learn [French] better for her.”

Former student Korina Lopez changed her major to foreign language licensure after taking Rowland’s French class.

“She honestly was so awesome,” Lopez said. “She was kind and listening to all of her students. I could tell she really cared about all of us because she really hated the distracting students.”

Today she might be at Southern Miss, but Rowland would like to explore and move around some more. She said she would love to live on the beach, making Florida a spot she would not mind settling down in. Dreams of owning her very own bistro also exist in the front of Rowland’s mind.

However, Rowland’s goals of having her own spot for charcuterie does not mean she plans to stop teaching.

“When I retire I think I will never stop teaching. I will still be teaching one class or two,” Rowland said.