Featuring: Professor Lodz Pierre-Juanso, Professor of French
Originally published in Winter 2019
Lodz Pierre-Juanso is sometimes still surprised that her life’s journey led her from Pension Andre, the Haitian manor in which she grew up, to her corner office in Asbury University’s Reasoner Hall, where she spends time grading papers and sharing coffee with students when she’s not teaching French classes.
Since last year, Pierre-Juanso has been heading up the University’s French program. Though Pierre-Juanso hails from Haiti, she arrived at Asbury by way of Louisville, Ky. Adopted twice, once by her parents in Haiti and again at 17 by her family in Louisville, Pierre-Juanso arrived in the U.S. in the midst of her high school years. She’ll be quick to point out, with a grin, that she attended the same high school as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Upon graduating, Pierre-Juanso pursued higher education in Kentucky.
Her father in Haiti, a member of the Haitian bourgeoisie, worked as both a doctor and professor. He valued the French language deeply, so Pierre-Juanso grew up speaking French at home in addition to Creole, the primary language spoken in the country.
“In Haiti, there’s an amount of respect that comes when you speak French,” Pierre-Juanso said. “Creole is basically for everyone, but if you speak French, people think that means you’re educated and kind of have your life together. Understanding the value of speaking French was from him. [During] my freshman year of college, my father passed away. That was kind of like his memory that I was carrying around by continuing to study French and eventually teaching it, as well.”
It was in her father’s honor that she continued her studies in French, choosing it as a major and later pursuing a master’s degree in the subject. Even now, the Haiti native honors her father through sharing his love of the language with the students in her classroom.
Pierre-Juanso still manages to get back to Haiti every now and then as much of her family still lives there — her last visit was in 2016. She’s even working with her mother to open a summer school for children; the project is still in its early stages but Pierre-Juanso hopes to develop it further this year.
What does she miss the most about la vie haïtienne?
“I miss the cooking a lot,” Pierre-Juanso said. “That’s one of the things I really wish I had more of. Homesickness is hard because I’m so far, but I’ve been managing.”
Here in Kentucky, Pierre-Juanso cooks up some of her favorite dishes at home including legumes and black rice.
As language-learning can be an oftentimes sensitive task where students feel especially timid and insecure throughout he process, Pierre-Juanso makes it her goal to ensure that students of all levels feel comfortable and free to try their hand at speaking French without fear of ridicule or judgment.
“It’s those little things and those ‘aha’ moments where they finally get something that I’ve been teaching for a whole week and they’re like, ‘Yes, I got it!’ You see a different side of the kids,” Pierre-Juanso said. “They become so vulnerable because they’re like, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. Help me!’
“And also, I have native speakers. I have a student from Haiti and another student who is of African descent so I can have a different conversation with them and just flow. Some of them, I’m like, ‘Remember that word je?’ and they’re like, ‘No, I have no idea.’ We’ve got everybody on the spectrum. It’s kind of nice to have that.”
Some call Pierre-Juanso’s teaching style one of a kind. Perhaps, the special relationship she has with students comes from her classroom hospitality. She also mixes in stories about her home country into her lessons on francophone culture. For Pierre-Juanso, it’s important to not only let the students see parts of her life but to also create a space where they can feel safe and have fun.
“I joke a lot in the class,” Pierre-Juanso said. “They call me savage or sassy, but I always encourage acceptance.”
Though she is now living 1,489 miles away from her childhood home, Pierre-Juanso remains deeply connected to her roots each day, sharing her culture and language with students of many different cultures and languages of origin. For that opportunity, she is supremely grateful.