By Howard Clemens
New Orleans is one of the most iconic cities in the world, and its French Cajun history has culminated in one of the most famous and vibrant fusions of multiculturalism in the US. One of the most exciting educational experiences students can embark on is the New Orleans/Louisiana French Immersion tour. The sensory stimuli of “The Big Easy” is an ideal environment for learning. For students, a visit to New Orleans is bound to be as unforgettable as it is fun.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter (old square in French) —is New Orleans’ first neighborhood, established shortly after the city’s inception in 1718. This National Historic Landmark, often credited with being one of the birthplaces of jazz, includes the legendary Bourbon Street (with its shops, restaurants, and beautiful Spanish rule-era architecture), and Jackson Square Park. It’s also home to the Cabildo Museum (site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase), St. Louis Cathedral, and many other attractions students have certainly heard of, and will now be seeing for the first time.
The Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and the Bayou Swamp Boat Tour
The Mississippi River is part of the continent’s largest river system and subject of Mark Twain’s greatest works. Along with Lake Pontchartrain, it has been the subject of many celebrated traditional songs and stories of Louisiana and New Orleans. Students will learn about them while enjoying the ambiance of a Bayou Swamp Tour, Cajun style. The tour includes a visit to the Aquarium of the Americas, which houses 530 species, including animals native to the Amazon and Mississippi Rivers. Students will also enjoy an authentic Cajun Creole dinner under the stars, with live Cajun music.
The Garden District
The Garden District, also a National Historical Landmark, is as famous as the French Quarter. Students will stroll through streets seeing magnificent architecture, lush gardens, and the ambiance of the old South. They will also visit the beautiful St. Louis cemetery, in which many historical figures of French and Cajun descent are laid to rest. Walking through the graveyards, which have been featured in many films, is a history lesson in itself. Visits to Loyola and Tulane Universities provide a vivid glimpse of college life.
Mardi Gras World
Mardi Gras, a celebration originally brought to Louisiana by its early French settlers, is known all over the world, and every year thousands flock to New Orleans to take part in its merrymaking and parades. At Mardi Gras World, students will tour the factory where Mardi Gras’ famous floats are assembled, and will go behind the scenes for a sneak peek into the many preparations that go into the making of this renowned festival.
French Acadian Village
The French Acadian Village in nearby Lafayette is a must-see for those studying Cajun and French culture. It is a re-creation of a 1800s Cajun community in New Orleans. The Village encompasses 10 acres that are home to many 19th century buildings, including the Civil-War era Billeaud House of the Billeaud Sugar Plantation, the Bernard House, (circa 1800), and the Castille House of 1869. The village is host to a variety of Cajun festivals every year, and has a blacksmith’s shop and an art gallery.
Immersion in French/Cajun Culture the most exciting way to learn language
Outside of France itself, there is no better place for students to master the French tongue than New Orleans and its surrounding areas. If learning is best when it involves fun and being exposed to new and exotic cultures, students will undoubtedly find that immersing themselves in the vibrant music, food, and history of Cajun culture fits the bill perfectly.