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Discovering and Understanding Haitian Culture

Discovering and Understanding Haitian Culture
Discover Haiti’s vibrant history and culture through community engagement.
Miami, Florida; Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, Haiti
Language of Instruction: 
Academic Disciplines: 
-Open to All Majors
Latin American Studies
African/African American Studies
Global & International Studies
Program Type: 
Open to non-KU Students
Faculty Led
  • Delve into the history and culture of Haiti through readings, lectures, site visits and excursions. 
  • Gain a deeper understanding of Haiti’s complex connections to the United States as well as the state of post-earthquake Haiti. 
  • Engage with leading non-profit organizations in Haiti to learn best practices in respectful, responsible and sustainable development work.
Program Summary: 

Haiti is the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere and the second country to gain its independence in the Americas. Too often people think of Haiti as only a place of disaster and diseases. But Haiti is filled with a vibrant history and culture. This program will provide the opportunity to delve into the history and culture of Haiti through interactions with various partners that will challenge stereotypical representations of Haiti and Haitian culture.

This program is offered in partnership with two non-profit organizations based in Haiti: the N a Sonje Foundation (translated, as “we will remember”) and Beyond Borders.  Located near Port-au-Prince, the N a Sonje Foundation is a community-based foundation which supports visitors to Haiti through the provision of deep and insightful presentations about the language, the culture and Haiti's history in addition to supporting community programs as needs arise and change.  Beyond Borders operates in multiple locations across Haiti, including Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.  Key programmatic areas for Beyond Borders are protecting children and preserving families, preventing violence against women and girls, improving quality education for all, and supporting sustainable livelihoods.  Both organizations hold strong ties to the local Haitian community, allowing program participants to interact with staff and other community leaders to understand community-based development efforts and best practices in respectful, responsible and sustainable development work. 


The Republic of Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. It occupies the western third of the island, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.  With approximately 10 million inhabitants, Haiti is one of the most populated islands in the Caribbean. 

Port-au-Prince:  Port-au-Prince, as the capital of Haiti and the most populous town with its main port is the economic center of the country. Founded in 1749, it replaced Cap-Haïtien in 1770 as the capital of Saint-Domingue (the name of Haiti when it was under French colonial rule). Among its various attractions are the colorful 19th century Gingerbread- style houses reminiscent of the New Orleans French Quarter, and the Musée du Panthéon National. The city has ongoing building projects since the 2010 earthquake.

Jacmel: Jacmel is a port town in the southern coast of Haiti. The city center contains several 19th century French historical colonial architecture style houses. Jacmel is known for its carnival, its lush vegetation and some blue pools fed by waterfalls known as Bassin-Bleu.  In 1925, it was named City of Light because it was the first city in the Caribbean to have electricity.

Miami, Florida: The City of Miami is the leading cultural and economic center of South Florida. Miami is known as “The Capital of Latin America” due to the large immigrant population from Latin American and the Caribbean.  With an estimated number of about 200,000, Haitian immigrants make up about half of the black immigrant population in Miami. Haitians have created their neighborhood in the Edison/Little River area of Miami known as the Haiti Cultural Center where one can find churches, community centers, supermarkets and other stores catering to the Haitian population.

Academic Information: 

All participants will enroll in AAAS 301/LAA 318  Discovering and Understanding Haitian Culture for 3 credits.  This course will familiarize students with Haiti through historical, social, political, economic, linguistic and religious lenses. Through readings, films and discussions, students will begin to understand Haiti’s complex connections to the United States as well as the state of post-earthquake Haiti.  Students will critically examine the aid industry, its complexity and challenges as well as key reasons why aid to countries like Haiti does not always produce the intended outcomes. 

Students will meet five times during the Spring 2019 semester (April/May) in preparation for travel to Haiti.  Dates and meeting times TBD.  Non-KU students will be able to virtually join the pre-departure course meetings via Skype or Zoom.

Summer 2019 Program Dates:

  • Depart Kansas City for Miami:                     Saturday, May 18, 2019
  • Depart Miami for Haiti:                                 Tuesday, May 21, 2019
  • Depart Haiti for Kansas City:                        Friday, May 31, 2019

All students will be housed in double or triple occupancy rooms in hotels or guest houses.  In Port-au-Prince, participants will stay within or near Petion-Ville, a residential suburb and tourism center.  In Jacmel, the group will stay at the Hotel Cap Lamandou, a tourist destination located near the historic district of town.  Breakfast is provided daily at all locations.


Open to undergraduate students (sophomores and above) or graduate degree-seeking students from any accredited U.S. college or university.  Preference will be given to students in Liberal Arts and Sciences who have completed a minimum of one semester of Haitian Creole.

Program Faculty: 

Cécile Accilien is Acting Chair and Associate Professor of Haitian Studies and Director of the Institute of Haitian Studies in the Department of African and African-American Studies. She is also Associate Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.  Dr. Accilien is a native of Haiti and a fluent speaker of French and Haitian Creole.  Her primary areas of academic interest include Haitian Studies, Gender Studies and Film Studies.


Summer 2021 programs now accepting applications !

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