A New Orleanians’ Exchange Trip to Orléans
Increased student exchanges are among the many benefits of the New Orleans-Orléans sister city partnership. This summer, native New Orleanian Sajedah Qanadilo went on a one month exchange to study at the Université d’Orléans, allowing her to immerse herself in French culture while teaching others about her hometown. Below, Sajedah describes her experience abroad:
"Sister cities. The term itself implies cities that are similar in history and culture, but different in personalities. I am from the city of New Orleans, and have lived here for the entirety of my life; I recently had the marvelous opportunity thanks to CODOFIL to study at the Université d’Orléans in the city of Orléans, France for one month this past summer. Coincidentally, it is also the year of the New Orleans tricentennial, which made it more exciting to further explore the roots of my city. Naturally, I was anxious about traveling alone for the first time, the classes, and the unknown of everything that would happen while studying in France.
The classes were divided into four groups based on a placement test. They were ranked from one to four with the fourth group being the highest level; I was placed into group four so naturally, all of the courses were in French. There were four courses five days a week which each lasting one hour and ten minutes. The topics included literature, writing, French culture and history, and phonetics. There was also a workshop I chose in order to learn to play French games. Each Friday, there were field trips to locations important to French culture and history. I also really liked the classes being taught in French- the immersion aspect helped me improve significantly. I used the language daily to carry out tasks such as ordering at the bakery and communicating with my host family.
The adjustment to French culture was, at first, overwhelming. Naturally, nothing was going right; from figuring out the correct bus line to take to get to class or home (I took the wrong bus, twice), to how to interact with my host family and other locals, and how to make friends. However, I thought about how it’s all part of the experience of studying in a different country, and things would improve so I just need to embrace the challenge. After the first week, everything clicked and felt like second nature. I went out of my comfort zone by putting myself out there by talking to more people, although I felt very nervous since I am very quiet and shy. However, it was so worth being uncomfortable because I made a lot of friends from South Korea, China, Finland, and of course local university students.
The experience of watching France win the World Cup with my friends was one of the best experiences of my life. There was so much excitement and pride for France. This was shown with people draped in French flags, painting their bodies blue, white, and red, and the copious amounts of French flag face paint. After the match, everyone was celebrating with friends and flooding the streets. It felt surreal to be in France while history was made for the country.
The history of New Orleans is intertwined with Orléans. While New Orleans was celebrating its tricentennial, Orléans made this more visible to everyone in the city. Thanks to this awareness, anytime someone found out I was from New Orleans, they were enthusiastic and asked me so many questions about my city. I felt like a guru giving them recommendations on where to eat and what to see that the typical tourist would not. This experience gave me a new appreciation for New Orleans, and the excitement gave me more assurance to interact more with locals.
The locals of Orléans are some of the nicest and most patient people I have ever met. Whenever I was lost the first few days, they went out of their way to help me (hint: Google Maps is not always accurate). Another example is that after making small talk, a girl invited me to eat lunch with her friends and sit on the river banks. While hanging out, they would correct my French and teach me slang to sound more “French”.
I without a doubt believe that had it not been for the kindness and enthusiasm of the locals, I would not have had an amazing, authentic experience. After all, the whole purpose of studying and living in a different country is to immerse oneself into a different culture even though it may not be comfortable.
I am in my final year of college so plans for post-graduation need to be set. Although I am not able to finish my final semester in Rennes as I originally planned, I plan on teaching English abroad for one year in France. After that one year, I plan on working for an international business in Spain or France, or as a translator for the United States embassy in those countries."