New Orleans: Where a French expat finds enthusiasm for life

  • French expat in New Orleans
    Image by Céline
Published 8 months ago

Céline, a French expat in New Orleans, Louisiana, has a rewarding job and leads a full life in this historic city of jazz music and swing. She loves cycling to work, seafood gumbo, and the friendliness of the people. Follow her unique expat story in New Orleans as we unfold it, and learn more about this expat destination from someone who found home away from home in it.

Hi Celine, please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in New Orleans, and what were you doing before you arrived?

Hi, I am Céline. I am 31 years-old, and I’m from the west coast of France, from a region called Poitou-Charentes. I am currently living in New Orleans, Louisiana where I work on the creation of a civil rights museum and educational space with an overall mission to undo structural racism.

Sunset in New Orleans
Image by Céline

What brought you to New Orleans? How long have you been here?

I have been captivated by this city since my first road trip in the Deep South in 2013. After six years working and living in Paris, I had wanted to move abroad, and my dream came true when a professional opportunity came up in New Orleans. I have been living here for over a year and a half.  

What is the process of moving to the U.S.?

First, it’s important to get familiar with the various U.S. visas. I wanted to stay for longer, so I was looking at work visas. I found out that the J1 visa under the Professional Career Training Program was the best way to get a professional experience without frightening employers with paperwork.

Then, the hardest part was to find a company in the U.S. willing to go through the process of hiring a foreigner. From France, I sent spontaneous applications to many potential employers, explaining the process of a J1 visa. After a few months, I was lucky to find an employer who wanted to use my expertise and skills, and who is also located in the city I truly wanted to live in.

When the employer confirmed my position, I went through a designated sponsor to supervise the application process to obtain my visa from the U.S. embassy.  It took about six months to complete the process.

What is your favourite thing about New Orleans, and what is your least favourite?

I love the architecture of the city, its artsy vibe, and the warm weather. I would say the enormous mosquitoes are my least favourite thing.

Street art in New Orleans
Image by Céline

How would you describe New Orleans in one sentence?

A magical city rooted in rich history and culture. People here know how to enjoy life, but they are tangled in issues of gun violence and poverty.

What has surprised you the most about New Orleans?

The friendliness and hospitality of locals.

How is today’s expat job market in New Orleans?

I do not know very well the expat job market in New Orleans, but most expats are francophone teachers coming through the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). They support Louisiana's francophone communities through various programs.

housing in New Orleans
Image by Céline

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in New Orleans, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

It’s pretty easy to find accommodation in New Orleans compared to Paris, but it is expensive. Here, many people live in charming and colourful shotgun houses -- long and narrow houses where one room leads to the other.

What are the biggest holidays in the U.S.?

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day are the biggest holidays in the U.S. However, in Louisiana, Mardi Gras is the most popular, celebrated for two weeks before the holiday with parades and parties.   

What is some essential etiquette in New Orleans and the U.S.?

I would say the Southern hospitality. Here, people take time to greet you even if they don’t know you. They often start with a “Hi, how is it going?” And when you are waiting at the bus stop, or in a line, people will chat with you. They easily open up for small talk with anecdotes and personal stories.  

How do you find the lifestyle in New Orleans?

For me, slow pace and hospitality define the lifestyle in New Orleans. People are not in a hurry and enjoy simple things in life such as food, listening to the music, and interacting with people. In New Orleans, it’s much harder to avoid having fun than having to find it. There is always a brass band practicing on the street corner or a free park festival during the weekend.

transportation in New Orleans
Image by Céline

How is the transportation system in New Orleans? How do you move around?

Except for the terrible roads full of potholes, the city is friendly to cyclists thanks to the flatness of the land, bike lanes on most roads, and one way-streets. Many people use their bicycle to commute to work. Some neighbourhoods of are also highly walkable. From my experience, the best way to move around is by bike. I do also like taking the bus and streetcar but are not as reliable and fast as cycling. Buses are convenient because they are equipped with bike racks on the front so you can ride your bike and then continue by bus.

Do you feel that you have adapted to your new life?

Yes, completely. I also feel I have a healthier lifestyle here, riding my bike, being less tired, and more positive. New Orleans forces me to pause and enjoy life at its best.

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

As the birthplace of Jazz, New Orleans has many bars featuring live music and swing dancing.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in New Orleans?

The cost of living, in comparison to big cities in the U.S. like San Francisco, New York City or Chicago is affordable. But coming from France, the cost of living is high. Housing and healthy food are expensive. A bus ticket is $1.25; a beer will cost anything between $3 to $7 and a loaf of bread $5.

Nature in New Orleans
Image by Céline

What is something that you would like to do in New Orleans and the U.S. but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

I would like to go to California and Oregon to explore nature -- a landscape very different from Louisiana.

Share your most memorable experience in New Orleans or the U.S.

I spent Christmas with an American family, and it was fantastic to immerse myself in a different world. It was precious spending my time eating gumbo, talking about customs, and meeting generous people.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

I like the local cuisine, especially when it’s spicy, colourful, and creative. My favourite dish is seafood gumbo.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

I miss having affordable bread, cheese, and wine. I miss good transportation that is also cheap and easily accessible. I miss exploring France and its various landscapes and cultures. And of course, I miss my people, my friends and family.

Can you give some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in New Orleans might benefit from?

My best tip will be to download the app I created for soon-to-be expatriates.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them to New Orleans, what would they be?

I would say hat for the summer, an adaptor plug, a pair of comfortable shoes, which you don’t mind getting dirty during Mardi Gras or other festivals, mosquito repellent, and your smile.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to go back to France to see family and friends, and then I might go to Canada or Mexico for a while, or stay in France.

What is one thing that you will take with you from New Orleans?

My enthusiasm for life.