Damon Dominque describes himself in his Instagram bio as an expat who “puts the ‘lust’ in wanderlust.” An Indiana native who speaks five languages fluently and has lived in Paris for the last several years, Dominique boasts 221,000 followers on his Instagram and another 422,000 on his YouTube channel while putting out content around travel and languages. (He and his best friend ran an old channel together, amassing over a million subscribers before they split up.) He credits his love for travel and new locales to watching episodes growing up of MTV’s seminal The Real World reality show, of which he’s seen every episode of every season.
“From a young age, I was just enthralled by travel, culture, and language despite being from the cornfields of Indiana,” Dominique told me in an interview earlier this month conducted via videoconference.
The origins of Dominique’s career grew from multiple roots. Money, of course, was a driving force. Dominique describes the desire to travel and become culturally literate has always been there, but in the early years he was “always broke.” It’s not easy to globetrot when you don’t have much money, after all. Moreover, Dominique was bored with all the travel vlogs that focus on food; as a vegan, he felt there wasn’t much out there that was considerate of his dietary choices. “That’s kind of the angle I’ve been going with [with the channel]—every other part of the travel industry besides food—languages, culture, [and] law,” Dominique said.
For Dominique, the linguistic component to travel is the key to success.
“I’d say there’s never been a more accessible way or accessible time to learn a language—you don’t actually have to travel anymore. You can do it all online: you can Zoom, you can FaceTime every single day with somebody from the country,” he said. “I still do it to this day to keep up my language skills. I’m booking classes and doing it all online. I’ve never even met these people. I wouldn’t get to do anything I do if the internet were not around. It’s [been] a blessing.”
Dominique’s career as a travel vlogger ties in well with disability and accessibility despite it not being a real focus of his. To wit, people with disabilities are, for the most part, relegated to live in poverty for myriad, arguably ableist, reasons. To qualify for any sort of governmental help or social service, the expectation by the bureaucracy is that members of the disability community remain poor indefinitely. For Dominique’s purposes, that means travel is impossible due to the expense involved. So it goes with learning a foreign language. Instead of fumbling with a traditional guidebook or a similar app such as the popular Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, interested parties can instead sign up for one of Dominique’s courses.
Of course, the driver for these opportunities is technology. It’s the internet. As he noted, were it not for the existence of YouTube or TikTok or Instagram, Dominique wouldn’t be able to do what he does. Likewise, travel and languages would not be accessible to millions of disabled people who are unable, for a variety of reasons, to traipse the planet in search of cultural enlightenment. The power technology wields helps illustrate the ultimate silver lining of the years-long pandemic; the pandemic has forced the mainstream to finally confront the fact how tech makes the world a more accessible place when life changes drastically.
Domonique designs his videos and language courses to be as practical and easy to use as possible for his customers. Linguistically, for example, he doesn’t want people to be bogged down with what he calls “catchphrases and textbook jargon.” Dominque wants people to learn a language—rather than empty, random verbiage, he wants people to live with it as best they can to really internalize it.
Being the American in Paris he is, living with French is a necessity for Dominique.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve done here: open a bank account, renew my visa, find an apartment, sign the lease, if I didn’t speak French,” he said. “I think that’s where people are finding my French course in the first place. They’re finding my videos, I’m documenting all this—I’m documenting me, trying to get my repairman to show up because he never shows up. These are all videos on my channel. People see me speaking in French and actually interacting with daily life. That inspires them. They’re like, ‘Oh, if this guy can do it, then I can.’”
“When you have to call your landlord or do your taxes in French, you better know [how to speak] French,” Dominique added with a laugh.
Feedback on his videos and courses has been positive, Dominque told me. He’s “shocked” at the sales numbers for his courses, and gets numerous DMs of people sharing screenshots of the lesson plans they’re working on that day. He shared an anecdote of a person he heard from who works in an emergency room somewhere in Europe (Dominique couldn’t recall exactly). The person told him of a woman who came into an ER looking for care for her broken arm—but they only spoke French. “How beautiful,“ Dominique explained to me, that this woman who took my [French] course was able to converse with this poor woman in the emergency room? She was the only one who could communicate with [the woman].”
The poignancy of the aforementioned story is part of what fuels Dominique to keep pushing forward on his work. “[Travel and languages] was always what I was passionate about, from the beginning,” he said.
Dominique is a true believer of the power of languages to connect people through communication. He has plans to expand his language offerings, and has altered his entire business plan based on the successes of his videos and of his courses. He has a book, You Are A Global Citizen: A Guided Journal For The Culturally Curious, coming out in mid-January, and even pitched a concept for a TV show.
“My mission is just to take what I’ve been doing digitally [and] socially and keep expanding it… I still see [myself] traveling this world for the rest of my life. I’m not satisfied staying in one place, even here in Paris, my dream city. After a few years, I’m ready to go to the next one. There’s just too much to see,” Dominique said.