It’s a warm and sunny Saturday morning in April, and I find myself gliding in a canoe through the dark waters of south Louisiana. I was terrified of paddling as a child—I couldn’t get over what might be swimming beneath the mysterious, dark surface of the bayous near my home. But today at Lake Martin I’m mesmerized by the landscape and the unique on-water perspective I’ve missed out on for so long. There’s another element that makes this particular trip unusual: the paddlers surrounding me are conversing in French, a language that is not my native tongue but has been spoken here for centuries.
This is the heart of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area—a 14-parish region in the south-central part of the state—and I’m partaking in a half-day French Immersion Excursion. There’s one rule for the trip: speak only in French. Participants have varying degrees of ability to use the language in real-life. Some are native speakers from Lafayette or abroad, others learned French in school and a few can barely say, “Bonjour.” But one thing is certain. We arrived that morning as strangers—drawn together by a mutual love of adventure, culture, history and the outdoors—and after just a few of hours, I left feeling refreshingly connected to both the Louisiana francophone community and my natural surroundings. What started out as a half-day field trip became an exhilarating adventure, and I didn’t even need my passport.
The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area organizes French Immersion Excursions periodically throughout the year with various settings and themes. From paddle trips to museum visits and brewery tours to boat swamp tours, the program raises awareness of the cultural and natural resources in the region by combining Louisiana French language, culture and traditions into a fun-filled field trip for anyone wanting to practice their French skills outside the classroom.
For more information about these and other opportunities to explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, visit Atchafalaya.org or email Ashley Herrick at [email protected] to receive updates about these excursions.