To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Trains, Trams, and Automobiles

Today, I write to you from the sweet and small balcony of room 412 at the Attalos Hotel in Athens, Greece. I can hear the quiet, perpetual buzzing of the street lamps, the metallic screech of car brakes, the deep roar of a tour bus, and people below carrying drunken conversations in a language I cannot even begin to start understanding. Klick-klack, a train goes by. The sound of a skateboard rolling past carries up high to my balcony, and a church bell rings to the turn of the hour. All of these night sounds have me focusing on the wheels that are constantly turning to get masses of people from one place in Europe to the next.

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Zoom! I wanted to take a picture of the aesthetically pleasing subway wagons before I needed to hop onto a bus, but it was already moving :/

The efficiency of public transportation in Athens is not really comparable to what we have in the more northern countries of the EU, like France and Germany, but it is still quite the feat. Back at my home in Washington, we only had a bus that ran through town maybe once every hour. In France, even in small towns, there is a bus that runs at least twice per hour, and there is a train station to get residents to further destinations. Because of this, everything seem more accessible here.

From what I’ve noticed by talking to EU citizens, most people prefer a reliable public transportation system than a car. Sure, sometimes cars can come in handy, but it seems that taking a bus or a tram to work and back is both cheaper and nicer than weaving a car through traffic. It especially comes in handy for students and younger people, and it really helps if they aren’t old enough for a driver’s license, which are often expensive and difficult to get. People can easily get from one end of town to the next, cheap and quick, which is really nice (especially when student debt is looming over your shoulder asking you when you want to make a deal with the devil for free education)!

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Frankfurt Am Main Hauptbahnhof was giving me really intense hanger vibes

Throughout my European travels, I have taken international trains only a couple of times, but I already know that I love it. There is almost always a restaurant wagon, the seats are gracious enough to be spacious enough for my giraffe legs, and you can look out the windows and watch the beautiful countryside pass as you sip your macchiato. All of this and more adds to the temptation of Europe, and it increases the chances of catching the travel bug by about 48% (these are not, of course, real statistics, but I feel like this would be a pretty accurate number if there even were statistics on this).

The other main mode of public transportation in Europe, besides long distance trains, are short distance buses and trams. The inner city public transportation is absolutely incredible, with different wagons coming in every 2 to three minutes to get you where you need to be. You can’t even compare this to the transportation back home- it would be a dishonor to European transportation. I, for one, love taking the buses and trams here. They’re so convenient and affordable, and now that I see it in action, I really wish the US had better public transportation systems. I thought I was fine with my car, but taking a train is so much more fun! Maybe that’s just because I’m still pretty new to all of this, but I guess only time can tell!

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A wild Public Bus has appeared! What will you do next?

And until then, here is your French Word of the Week!

Ballot (n.): bundle, package

Example in a Frenglish conversation-

Sam: “Hey, have you mailed in your ballot for the election?”

Tina: “What do you want me to send them? A care package? I mean I don’t know the senator personally, but I guess I will…”

Ciao!

Top Five Test Week Tips

This week has been a true test of the character and constitution of GTL’s students. As the week before spring break, this week is optimal time for tests, right before the long mental relaxation period know as Spring Break. Before we can go on our week-long travels, however, we must be put through the grueling week known as… test week.
I had three tests this week, and although I mostly felt like screaming at walls and curling up in a small ball on the floor, there are some things that are really helpful to do in preparation that can alleviate anxiety and help you prepare for the tests.
1. Make a crib sheet – even if you don’t get one on the test
A really helpful study tool that I have found is compiling all of the relevant formulas and concepts on one or two sheets of paper, neatly organized. This allows you to understand what you need to study. It allows you to know what you don’t know, so to speak. Crib sheets, or review sheets in general help take your chaotic notes and ideas and put them into one place. From there, you can use it to do practice problems you are stuck on, memorize formulas, and practice concepts.

My review sheet for Def Bods.


2. Make a study plan that involves sleep
It really helps me to set a goal for myself daily, whether it be doing a certain number of problems, reading a certain part of a textbook, or re-doing some in-class examples. If you set a daily goal, and make sure you meet the goal, you can feel prepared without cramming or staying up all night. I will be the first one to say, I am not very good at following this plan. However, at GTL, it is easier to focus. I usually stay at GTL until I am finished studying. Therefore, I can reserve the GTL student lounge for studying, and my dorm for relaxing and sleeping. This is much better for my sleep schedule, and general mental health.

 

3. Ask for help!
It’s a different atmosphere at GTL . The awesome thing about hanging out in the GTL lounge is that you are surrounded by people studying hard for tests, just like you. Although it can be a bit scary going up to someone you don’t know to ask for help on a problem, it actually benefits people to help explain a tricky problem or concept to you. Pull over one of the whiteboards, give it a go, and everyone wins!

Students relaxing after the final round of tests.


4. Don’t burn out
If you are feeling like you are reading the same sentence in the textbook over and over and over and over again, don’t worry. Take a break. Get up, walk around, play some ping pong, and then come back. You will retain the information better on a well-rested mind.

 

5. Don’t compare yourself to others
Everyone studies differently, and no two people learn the same. Don’t beat yourself up about not doing every single textbook problem, or not making that perfect review sheet. If someone says a concept is easy and you think it’s hard, do not despair. Just keep moving at your own pace, and don’t compare yourself. GTL can get like a small bubble sometimes, but comparing yourself to others will only damage your drive and motivation. The best person to beat is your past self.
So good luck test takers! Remember, relax and you got this!

Skiing Through History

When you think about it, skiing is actually really ridiculous. Someone was like, you know what would be really fun? Sliding down a bumpy mountain on two thin sticks attached to your shoes. And then people were like, yeah sounds great, and the rest is history.
This weekend, we began our journey to the ski-town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, close to the Zugspitze. The Zugspitze, close to the Austrian border, is the tallest mountain in Germany, measuring in at 2,962 meters in elevation. The town itself was quaint, with the traditional painted cabins lining the cobblestone streets.

The view from the Zugspitzbahn Station.


To get to the top of the Zugspitz, one takes the Zugspitzbahn, which is a scenic one hour train ride that takes you over 1.5 vertical kilometers to the top of the mountain. After climbing for about 40 minutes, the train goes through about 500 meters of tunnel straight through a mountain. Finally, we arrived at the top of the mountain, and took in the breathtaking views right outside of the station.
The ski resort itself is situated in a sort of bowl, with the barren snowy peaks surrounding the ski area on all sides. A cable car is available to take you up to the tallest peak. The ski trails themselves spanned all sides of the bowl, with two chair lifts and two surface lifts to take you up the sides of the bowl. Armed with a GoPro, rental skis and boots, my friends and I made our first run.

The view from the top of Germany.

 
The snow was light and fluffy, and although back in the town the weather was cloudy, up at the summit was above the clouds and completely sunny. We had to shell some layers to prevent overheating. The air was clear, and although we were a bit dizzy from the elevation, the amazing white capped mountains as far as the eye could see was the most breathtaking part of it all. We stopped for many photos for sure.
After our second day of skiing, I found myself in a small pub for dinner, with exposed beams, classic German clocks and carvings decorating the walls. I ordered some classic Wiener Schnitzel, which I found delicious (although my companion compared it to a giant chicken nugget). Because of the busy tourist system, there was no room at any restaurants, and the only reason I got a seat at that one was because the hostess was impressed with my attempts at speaking German. Even in a country where pretty much everyone speaks English, speaking the native language can really take you a long way.

The view from the bottom of my favorite trail.


The next day, before our return, we found ourselves in the Olympic Ski Stadium of the 1936 Winter Olympics that had taken place in Garmisch Partenkirchen. In addition to an Olympic ski slope, the stadium also had an Olympic ski jump. Outside the stadium, we saw many skiers and ski jumpers warming up, stretching, and practicing their technique. We watched a few children practice their ski jump approaches on small square platforms on wheels. They would crouch, head down and hands back on the platform down the street, and then leap up, arms outstretched. Then their coaches would correct them and they would start again.

The 1936 Olympic Stadium.


Ski jumping has always been really fascinating to me, mostly because it looks mortally terrifying. And if you think watching the Winter Olympics on TV is nerve wracking, watching someone ski jump in person nearly made me faint. I watched, heart in my throat, as the skier slid down the track and then leaped into the air, landing gracefully. I was in awe.
I love to ski, and was so happy I was able to do it in such a beautiful and quaint place over the weekend.

 

Battle of the Dorms (feat. Lafayette)

When coming to GTL we were given a choice between 3 dormitories to live in: Aloes, Lafayette, and Crous (SPOILER ALERT: Lafayette is the best). All have their own merits, with reasons for and against choosing them. Back in Atlanta, I could not make up my mind whatsoever on which one to choose and ended up making my decision based on the fact that my friend had lived in Aloes last spring and had a bit of trouble with spider (and I’m deathly afraid of spiders). That combined with the fact that Crous wasn’t a thing when he had done GTL was just enough to tip me over the edge to choosing Lafayette.

I have pretty limited experience with the other dorms and maybe Lina can respond

My own mini kitchen (minus the dishes).

to this challenge at a later week and tell us all why Aloes is actually the best (doubt it), but I think that my home in Lafayette is far and away the greatest because of 2 words: “Individual. Stove-tops.” (That might actually be 3 words, does a hyphenated word count as one or two and is stove-top even supposed to be hyphenated?) I may never know, but what I do know is that being able to cook myself a steak dinner anytime I want from the comfort of my own room is one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. Of course, every great thing must have its drawbacks, and in Lafayette this comes in the form of unreliable wifi.

I say unreliable when describing the internet in Lafayette but, at least in my experience, it has actually been quite reliable; just reliably bad. Basically every 10-20 minutes the wifi will just completely shut off for one or 2 minutes. While it does work, it’s actually pretty decent quality. I’m able to stream HD video and uploads and downloads are quite fast. However, with this reliable failure every 15 minute or so, I am rarely able to make it through a TV show episode on Netflix or a Skype call with my relatives without total failure, sometimes even resulting in my computer crashing.

It’s definitely a downer, but the outages are typically pretty short so I can resume whatever I am doing after going to refill my water bottle or get a snack or something. Every now and then, the internet will work great for the entire day, which has seemed to happen more frequently recently (thank goodness), but also on rare occasion the time intervals will reverse: so every 10-20 minutes the internet will work for about one minute. All in all, it’s not the end of the world. Not very much of my schoolwork actively needs the internet and I can get by with the delays when I’m just using the computer for my own thing.

The Lafayette exterior.

I’ve definitely enjoyed living at Lafayette and having my own mini kitchen for the first time, but of course, in all seriousness, it doesn’t matter where you live while you’re at GTL. This semester is an amazing experience that is related much more to the incredible places you’ll go and people you’ll meet than where you happen to sleep on the weekdays.

Top 5 Things to Do for a GTL Student

Let’s face it. We all need a break sometimes. Between school, traveling, and the general panic of grades, a girl needs to unwind, relax, and take some me-time. I’ve talked to many students, and the following is a general consensus of the best non-school related things to do in the great city of Metz.



1. Take a walk around Lake Symphonie.
Georgia Tech Lorraine is situated on a beautiful man-made lake, with some awesome paths in the surrounding area. You can feed the ducks and swans that commune there, enjoy some beautiful fresh air, and take in the beautiful scenery. If school is getting you down, there is no better way to clear your head than fresh air and lush foliage.

2. Go to the Gym
When I get especially frustrated, it really helps me to work out all of my internal aggression at the gym. Just a short bus ride away is the gym l’Orange bleue, open from 9am-9pm. Upon arrival, everyone greets you with a warm “Salut!” and even though I speak basically no French, I felt very welcome and happy to work out there. In addition to lots of workout equipment, the gym also offers lots of classes included in the price. If you talk to Katia Ménard-Pons, you can get an initial free pass, and then for 90 euros you get three months of gym visits.

This is what a free gym pass looks like!


3. Visit Mam Resto

Do you eat halal meat and are tired of eating fish in restaurants? Do you want something delicious and filling? Are you a fan of Turkish food? Well Mam Resto is definitely the place to go. Located close to both Cora and Aloes, Mam Resto has the friendliest staff, who were willing to work with our minimal french, and they were very happy to make us our pizza kebab, which was like all of the ingredients of pizza, and halal meat, wrapped in a tortilla. It was honestly the best kebab food I have ever eaten. It is an amazing way to forget you woes, and lose yourself in the tasty flavors of a delicious kebab.


This is a Google StreetView of Mam Resto.

 

4. Walk around downtown
Taking a quick bus to downtown Metz is always great. You can see the beautiful cathedral, walk around the amazing shops, visit some nice cafes and look at all of the local architecture.  I love stopping at a street bakery, buying a pastry, and taking a walk through the busy streets.

What your Crous card will look like.

5. Go to Crous
I love food. And as a college student, telling me that I can have lots of food for a low price is like telling me that the test will have a 20 point curve. And for both lunch and dinner, for only 3.25 euros, you can get a full hot meal at the Crous cafeteria. With options for vegetarians, baguette, salad and a dessert included, you can’t go wrong with this amazing cafeteria. Had a rough class? Go on over to Crous and have a good sized meal. Just load money onto your card, and you are all ready to go!

The Old World

Picture courtesy of Safari Wallpaper.

Having never traveled to Europe in my short life, my view of this continent has been purely framed through the looking glass of media and pop culture. In fact, everything outside of the United States has seemed like almost an abstract, foreign concept. I feel as if a lot of people, myself included, who have had few experiences outside of their own bubble are subconsciously fixated on the idea that people in other places are somehow different. But, after moving to Europe for the semester, I’ve realized that despite being thousands of miles away and on another continent, this is still planet Earth inhabited by human beings. This may sound obvious to you, and of course it should be; this thought process isn’t taking place on a conscious level, but a subconscious one.

Of course there are also a lot of little interesting differences I’ve noticed too, and just for fun I thought I’d share a few of my observations.

  • Unrefrigerated Milk: Apparently in France, and most of Europe, the majority of milk is sterilized by method of heating to an extremely high temperature for a short time. This kills all the bacteria in the milk giving it a shelf life of multiple months. The milk I’ve gotten like this weirded me out and I thought it had a bad aftertaste. Maybe that’s all in my head though.
  • Crazy Drivers: Everybody says city drivers are crazy, but I live in Atlanta, and those drivers are nothing compared to the people of Metz. I’ve noticed that drivers here are way more reluctant to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street and also will zoom past you as soon as you’re not in the way on a crosswalk (compared to America where it is polite to wait until the pedestrian has crossed all the way). This makes walking to school every day a little more “interesting” than usual.
  • European Outlets: I don’t know if it’s just me but I think that these things are terrible. Every outlet in my room causes whatever is plugged in to be extremely loose and fall out with the slightest bump. I’m not sure why the world can’t just have universal outlets, but if anybody changes, it should be Europe.

These were just a few of the things that stuck out to me since coming here, but are more simple quirks than real differences.

Going back to my main point, it’s easy for me to forget that I’m actually living in an entirely foreign country a lot of the time. I don’t know why, but when I’m walking back from a day of classes, there’s this one spot along my walk where I always just have a little mini realization: “Holy cow, I’m in Europe!” Nothing really looks or feels different in Europe, and it’s an amazing little epiphany that my subconscious has had in realizing we are in fact all living together on one planet that, whether we like it or not, we all must share.

A Grappig Weekend

If I told High School Me that I got to drink coffee in the same room as about twelve cats, explore a 19th century Dutch pirate ship, and make tacos in a stranger’s house all in one day, High School Me would probably have thought that Present Day Me was a fictional character living in the wonderful fantasy land, Future-Magic-ville. Well, dear High School Me, I got to drink coffee in the same room as about twelve cats, explore a 19th century dutch pirate ship, and make tacos in a stranger’s house all in one day, ALL IN AMSTERDAM (which pretty much is, for me at least, Future-Magic-Ville)! This weekend was, to say the least, pretty great!

First of all, let me tell you a little about The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in specific. The city of Amsterdam (earlier known as Amstelledamme, named after the dam in the Amstel river by which the city was centered) was founded in the 13th century as a fishing village. Or did you know that the Dutch East India Company is actually called Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Dutch?

This brings me to another fun thing about the Netherlands: their language. Let me declare how deeply in love I am with the Dutch language. It is the perfect mix between English, German, and magic, and everyone looks so cool when they speak it! My favorite word so far, is “grappig,” which means “funny”, and it is, in fact, said in a very funny way. I learned this word at a small white marble table in the corner of a cat cafe, where I saw a lady keep pointing at the cats and saying, “Grappig! Grappige Kat!” One of my high school friends who I met up with that weekend actually is Dutch, so he was my translator the whole time, and he taught me a couple phrases in Dutch. However, the only thing I can remember now is how to say funny, which will not help me out, except maybe in a conversation about cats living in a coffee shop.

Now onto the cat cafe. Picture this: you’re enjoying a nice macchiato, an old friend sitting on either side of you, the room temperature is perfect – warm and cozy. You’re just about to have a third sip of your coffee when you notice a slight shift in your friend’s eyes. You look down to follow their gazes and there, right in front of you, is a fluffy, white cat, walking past your table. Your eyes follow him as he struts across the room, and you start noticing more things, more cats. About twelve. There are about twelve cats in the same space as you. This was definitely a high point in my life.

After brunch at the cat cafe, my friends and I went to the Maritime Museum, where we spent about 20% of our time learning semi-useful information, and the rest of time playing on the giant pirate ship that was docked in the back. Granted, it wasn’t actually a pirate ship, but it was still really cool getting to run around on it, pretending to be crewmen! We were able to lay in tiny boat hammocks and walk through a life-sized whale sculpture within the same hour. We were having a wonderful day so far. Once we hit the three hour mark at the museum, my friends and I decided to head back to our AirBnB to make dinner. On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store and got all of the necessities for making tacos, plus a box of chocolates for our hosts (Pro tip: when staying with a host family, leave them a nice box of chocolates and a sweet note. You can never go wrong with a nice box of chocolates and a sweet note).

The day was over, our bellies were full, our spirits were high, and we all slumbered off to prepare for the long day of traveling ahead. One of my friends, who flew in all the way from Oxford had to leave the house at six in the morning to catch his ten o’clock plane. Thankfully, my train didn’t leave until about one, so I could sleep in a bit and have a slow morning. My Dutch friend took me to the train station with me later that day and we had brunch at a small cafe across the platform. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I hopped on the train for a seven to eight hour journey back to GTL.

Amsterdam was a beautiful city, and I am definitely going to visit it again. If you ever find yourself in the land of clogs and tulips, I highly recommend the cat cafe, Maritime museum, and checking out the local farmers markets. You can get a bit of culture, history, and cats in one day’s visit, and that, to me, seems like a pretty spectacular way to spend a weekend!

Before I leave you for the time being, here is your French Word of the Week!

Comment (adv.): how, what

Example in a Frenglish conversation:

Tim: “Hey Sam, comment in the world did you get that limited edition shirt?”

Sam: “Strange wording, but yes I can comment on my shirt. It has gray piping and a white base, and it actually used to belong to John Cena…”

In the Land of Salt

Salt, in my opinion, is one of Man’s greatest discoveries. Throughout Earth’s many, many years, people have figured out that excessive amounts of salt could preserve food, pinches of salt could enhance the flavor of your meal, and that one little grain could make a pesky slug shrivel up in fear and pain. When breathed in with humid air, salt can clear up your sinuses and leave you feeling rejuvenated (to an extent).

While I’m here at GTL, I plan on traveling every weekend – maybe every other weekend – to a new city. So far, I’ve only made it to Paris, but I spent this last weekend in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to – Salzburg, Austria. The name, Salzburg, quite literally translates to “Salt Castle,” so I felt almost right at home, with the city’s given name being a combination of two of my favorite things: salt and medieval things! Since the dark ages, Salzburg has definitely grown, both commercially and residentially, into a hotspot for tourism, which is what I assume to be a result of it both being the birthplace of Mozart, one of the history’s most well known and most talented classical composers, and it’s direct link to the Salzberg, which translates to “Salt Mountain”. Luckily, I had enough time in the nearly two days I was there to explore both of these sites and more, while having the best time ever!

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Part of the main square in Salzburg

After a nearly seven hour trip, I arrived at the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof late on a Friday afternoon.  I was with two of my friends from GTL, and for fear of getting lost and spending too much money and time trying to figure out the bus system, we walked the two kilometers to our hostel (which normally would not be a problem, but there was about two feet of snow covering the sidewalks, and where there wasn’t snow, there was very, very slippery ice). Once at the hostel, the three of us checked in, got settled in our room, and recuperated for an hour or two before deciding on where to eat dinner. Landing on a local schnitzel hall, we made our way, following the lust of our rumbling stomachs, into a large, loud, smoke-filled old monastery that had been transformed into a place of drunk and merry Austrians. We went back to the hostel that night, our bellies filled, our spirits high, and prepared ourselves for the day ahead of us.

Early Saturday morning, another friend of ours made her way to the hostel to drop off her things and set off with us on another great adventure. We left at around nine or so and headed to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a bus to the very famous salt mines that lay about thirty minutes away, nestled deep in the Salt Mountains. Unfortunately, we got mixed up in the bus system, missed the original bus we should have taken, and ended up waiting another hour for the next one. We killed a bit of time walking around the small shopping mall right outside the station, and got some tea and coffee to keep us warm until our transportation arrived. Finally, after an hour of waiting in and out of the freezing Austrian weather, our bus came, and we were headed towards a day of salt and castles.

Once at the salt mines, we were instructed to put on these black, thick, canvas-like body suits over our clothes, and were given small audio translators for the tour. We all followed a group of people onto this roller coaster/train thing that drove us deep underground. At the end of the ride, we got off the train and walked over to a giant slide that was to take us even deeper into the mine. The whole lot of us was being led by a tour guide who taught us a lot of interesting things about the mine, including it’s history, the salt-extracting processes, and the importance of salt in the world, but more specifically, Salzburg.

During the tour, there was a boat ride, complete with really cool visuals and music accompaniment, over the beautiful Mirror Lake. The water was so reflective, that it looked transparent. It was definitely one of the cooler things nature has shown me. Learning about salt all along the way, we had one more slide to go down, an elevator to go up, and a short train ride to finish the tour. Afterwards, I found myself in the gift shop, buying a 60 cent box of salt, because I mean, that’s a 60 cent box of salt, why would you not buy it?

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The salt mine!

Later on that day, we spent about 2 hours touring the castle and Cathedral. The views from the upper courtyards were spectacular, and I felt like I was a great king looking over his great kingdom. Not really, but it was cool to pretend for a minute! My friends and I had nearly explored the whole place, when, alas, it was closing time. My biggest regret of the day was that we didn’t visit the castle earlier (but hey, I can always go back for Salzburg part two). After leaving the castle, we traveled back to the hostel to drop off souvenirs and get pro-tips on where to eat. An Australian who was in our room ended up going out with us, which was actually really cool because I had never met anyone and had a meal with them that same day!

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A wonderful view from the top of the castle

On Sunday morning, we checked out, headed to the Hauptbahnhof, and started our seven plus hour journey back to GTL. On the train ride back, I was reflecting over the weekend and talking with my friends about how much life has to offer us. Life is full of really cool experiences, and really cool people, and I feel that if you open your heart and mind just a little, you can take a glimpse at what this world has to offer you! This weekend forged some really interesting friendships, and it made my relationships with my friends from GTL even stronger. The whole point of this extremely long post is that Europe is amazing, and that people should travel young, especially alone or with a very small group of people, while their responsibilities aren’t too much. I feel like I have definitely matured and become more independent than I ever was before, and most of that is due to me jumping head first into an ocean of different cultures and languages. Life is good!

And without further adieu (get it?), I leave you with the French Word of The Week!

Jars (noun): gander, male goose

Example in a “Frenglish” conversation:

– Sarah: “Hey Sam, come look at this cool Jars! It has a really long wingspan!”

– Sam: “Glass bottles don’t have wingspans…”

Prague: From Defenestration and Communism to Capitalism and Tourism

Prague and its people have been through a lot throughout the ages. From the 30 Years’ War to World War I, then from Nazi occupation to Soviet occupation, the Czech people have seen it all.
Pulling up to Prague after 18 hours of train rides, sleeping in train stations, and avoiding the cold, the city seemed to glow with an aura of warmth. The city itself sports amazing architecture in basically every building, beautiful stone facades adorning the upper levels of convenience stores and the like. Despite the slight drizzle, our arrival felt like something out of a fairy tale.

Almost every corner of the old city looks like this, so historical and beautiful.

The fairy tale feeling continued the next day, after having some sorely needed shut-eye, as we ventured across the bridge to the castle. The streets were lined with cobblestones and winding between rows of low-lintelled shops and pubs. The castle grounds contained very interesting museums and sights, including the amazingly spired and flying-butressed St. Vitas cathedral. We walked along the Golden Way, which showed examples of what life was like for those who worked on the castle staff that weren’t members of the nobility such as seamstresses, or guards. Inside the castle however, we were able to see the high-ceiling rooms, as well as read up on the history of the place.

In the armory exhibit, we saw some cool combination axe-pistols used by noblemen.

One of my favorite parts of the castle was a small, unassuming room off the main throne room area. It was my favorite because it is home to one of the most famous defenestrations in history. (Defenestration is a word which means the act of throwing someone out a window.) In the castle there was to be a meeting between some important Catholic regents and some Protestant representatives. During the meeting, an agreement was not reached, and the regents promised that they would talk to their superiors to come to a solution. However, the Protestants, knowing that the Catholic leaders would not take kindly to their demands, decided to defenestrate Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice, and Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum, through a window with a 70 foot drop beneath it. Although they survived the fall, this incident is attributed to being a cause of the 30 Years’ War.

You can see the Prague castle right there in the distance.

 

In the old city, close to the famous astronomical clock, we stumbled across one of my favorite museums I have ever visited: the Communism Museum. The entrance way was adorned with posters of a cuddly teddy bear holding an AK-47 and the slogan “Dream, Reality, Nightmare.” During the post-WWI period, combined with the economic turmoil of the market crash and Great Depression, the Czech people voted their communist party into office. At the time it seemed like the only option. Soon every seat in the government was occupied by communist party members, and those opposed were falsely accused of crimes they didn’t commit and were imprisoned. In WWII, the Czech region was taken over by Nazis, and later liberated by the Soviet Union. That’s when things started to get really bad for the Czech people.
The Soviet Union, in liberating the Czech republic, was able to gain much support for establishing Soviet communism in the region. They had a non-uniformed police that would make sure that no one spoke out against the party. People were not allowed to leave the country, and those who knew that people were defecting to other countries were imprisoned for not speaking out. Political enemies were tortured and burned alive, their ashes used to melt the ice on busy roads. The new communist system did not allow for imports and exports, and therefore basic essentials like food, soap and other goods were nearly impossible to find in stores. Media was controlled exclusively by the Soviets.

Here is the St. Vitas Cathedral.

It wasn’t until the late 60s, that groups of undergraduate students began to speak out against the party. Using techniques such as self-immolation, doing the work that strikers refused to do in Soviet-organized strikes, and having marches, they were able to spread their message of freedom. The government responded with violence, with secret police infiltrating and beating the protesters. It wasn’t until 1991 that they became truly free of communism and began their capitalist lifestyle.

The museum was cool because it showed a Prague citizen’s perspective on such violent events that were happening in his lifetime. Prague only became free six years before I was born. It was amazing to read about and honor the people that fought to make their own home country a better place for their children, and for tourists like me that can visit now but couldn’t thirty years ago.

Portes Ouvertes and French Education

Over the past weekend, our very own Georgia Tech Lorraine took part in a program for French high school students called “Portes Ouvertes,” or “Open Doors.” This involves French students being able to visit places of higher learning, including us, all over the city to get a glimpse into what it’s like to be a student at different universities and institutions. The event works like an open house where the students get to tour the facilities and hear presentations from college students and faculty on research, daily life, and other things pertaining to higher education and to the school in particular. This is a great opportunity for French students to preview universities, similar to how we do in the United States.

In my personal experience, as a high-schooler, I decided not to apply to any schools in my home state of Washington and, due in large part to that, I was not able to tour any of the colleges I wanted to attend. However, not everybody is as lucky as me to go in blind and love the school they chose. I believe that the more information students are given before they make such an important life choice, the better.

Something that amazes me about French students is their grasp of multiple languages. Almost every student can speak English quite well and most have some knowledge of a third language as well. This is due to the way language teaching works in the French school system. Through some research I found that French students choose their first language at age 11 from either English or German (with 90% choosing English). Then, two years later, students may select another language, this time with Spanish included. As a result of spending their years from age 11 to 18 learning two other languages, most French students are very linguistically skilled. Although English has become one of the biggest world languages today (behind only Chinese and Spanish), I wish our school system would stress learning a second (or third) language more, if only to improve cultural awareness among American students.

Another difference in the French school system comes with higher education. French universities tend to be quite small in comparison to those in the U.S., and most middle-sized French cities will have 2 to 3 universities – and even more specialized institutes. France also holds over 100 international universities, which is defined as a college where some or all studies are taught in a non-local language, which tends to be English most of the time. In fact, in Austria, I met a pair of American students who were studying at the American University in Paris, which is apparently an international university with campuses in multiple countries outside of the U.S.

And of course when it comes to tuition, French students also have it good. Public universities in France typically only charge from 150-700 euros a year, as higher education is state-funded. This allows French students to obtain a master’s degree for as little as €1000. Meanwhile, I’m here paying $30,000 a year tuition. Oh well, we can’t all be winners. I’m glad GTL is doing its part to help the local community and work to further public education.

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