This week, I was able to catch up with one of Georgia Tech Lorraine’s graduate students, who are part of our institution that we undergrads don’t really see much of. Meet Sarah Malak, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering and one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with. Sarah was born in Atlanta and grew up a huge fan of Georgia Tech, even attending Tech home games when she was younger. However, Sarah decided to move out-of-state for college and only just recently reconnected with the university from her home town.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Akron in Ohio, Sarah received a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Polymers and Applied Mathematics, while also minoring in Arabic – talk about ambitious! She then moved all the way to the Middle East on a program with Middlebury College where she continued her Arabic studies in Jordan. She lived there for 6 months, also stopping by in Israel where she studied in Tel Aviv for around 3 months. Sarah told me that she traveled all over the country while she lived there and said that Israel was the most beautiful place she had ever been.
After finishing school there, Sarah decided to move to Paris where she attended an engineering school, Le Mont, for 1 year. Around this time, she met who the man that would become her husband in Brussels and moved with him to live in Nice. Following this, Sarah decided to get her PhD, and when she learned about Georgia Tech Lorraine, and the fact that she could actually attend the university she had loved in her childhood, it became clear to her it was a perfect opportunity.
Outside of her quite impressive academic history, Sarah also actively pursues many hobbies and interests in her free time. Among these are a number of musical instruments including piano, flute, Balalaika (a triangular Russian guitar), and the Darbuka (a type of Arabic drum). Another very interesting hobby of hers is belly dancing, which is in fact more than a hobby, as she is actually a professional in the art.
Outside of her PhD work, Sarah also acts as a TA for the undergraduate dynamics class here at GTL, which is where I first met her. As someone who has enjoyed getting to travel all over Europe and see lots of amazing things so far at GTL, it was really cool to hear about all places Sarah had gone for school, work, and just for fun. She told me that out of everywhere she’d been, Tel Aviv and Brussels actually stuck out to her the most. Israel for the incredible beauty and history of the country and Brussels for being one of the most interesting places to be. Since Brussels is home to the European Union parliament and is a center for much EU related activity, there always tend to be people from all over the world staying in the city at any given time, this combined with the fact that, in Sarah’s words, “[t]hings just don’t close there,” it makes it an amazing place to meet interesting people and do fun things.
Maybe I should give Brussels a visit myself, it sounds like a great place and it’s just as close to Metz as Paris is. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking to Sarah and if you happen to be taking dynamics here (which seems to be a lot of us) don’t hesitate to come visit her for help during her office hours, she really is a very kind and helpful person.
Throughout all of my European adventures, I’ve noticed one thing that most tourist cities have in common: castles and cobblestones. The cities themselves are so old and commercialized that the house tech repair shops and Internet cafés are within one kilometer of their marvelous castles. Most downtown streets are covered with ancient cobblestone, and although, at times, you may trip or stub your toe (it happens to the best of us), it is so amazing getting to walk the same paths as so many people did before us.
This past weekend, I brushed up on my German “Ordering In A Restaurant” skills and sat on a train for three hours to visit my girlfriend in Heidelberg. Thankfully, with her German competence, I didn’t make myself too much of a fool! In all seriousness though, it was a great weekend!
Even though I’ve got some Irish blood running through my veins, I completely forgot that Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day, and so did my girlfriend. With neither of us wearing green that entire day, we decided that we were thankful we weren’t in middle school anymore, hiding from overly excited, shoulder pinching, four leafed clover, leprechaun lovers. This isn’t to say that I have anything against Saint Patrick or the day that honors him, in fact I love it, it’s such a fun holiday. However, we all know that one kid who went out of their way to find their non-green-wearing-peers and pinch them when they least expected it. Aside from that, this weekend was full of unnecessary amounts of broccoli, the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, and schnitzel with noodles!
Thinking it would be both frugal and fun to cook our own dinners while we were at our BnB, we stopped by a grocery store on Friday to pick up a couple of things. We wanted to make this kind of pork stir fry, so as we went through the ingredients we usually see in stir fry, we eventually came across broccoli. Instead of finding small, single stalks, we only found packs of three giant stalks, so we had broccoli for breakfast and dinner, the whole weekend. It’s safe to say that both of us can go without broccoli for a while now!
On Saturday morning, after having stir fry for breakfast, we made the trek up the the world famous Heidelberg Castle, home to the World’s Largest Wine Barrel, the Heidelberg Tun. Built in 1751, the Heidelberg Tun is seven meters high, eight and a half meters wide, and able to hold 220,000 liters of wine. It even has a staircase along the side leading up to a dance floor at the top of the barrel!
After our trip up to the castle, we went back down to the main part of the city for lunch at a typical German restaurant. Now, I really had no idea what schnitzel with noodles was before this weekend. I just remember Julie Andrews singing about it being one of her favorite things, so when I saw that it was on the menu, I immediately ordered it. What I got was this huge plate full of really, really thick noodles, an amazing mushroom cream sauce, and a giant chicken nugget to top it off. It was way better than how I’m making it sound, but really that’s how simple it was!
We visited the Lindt chocolate store and a couple of bakeries after that, but don’t worry, I will soon dedicate an entire blog post to all of my sweet tooth conquests! All in all, Heidelberg was good to us, and if I have another chance to visit again, I think I definitely will! So until next week,
As I look out my single window tonight and stare at the beautiful full moon, I am made to reflect on what else in life is full, or what makes life full? Is it good food and good company? Is it inner peace and joy? This may just be sleep-deprived me overthinking a giant, glowing space rock, but these things are nice to contemplate every once in a while. What do I really want from life? Well, I want to experience all of what life has to offer! I want to sail into uncharted waters, both literally and metaphorically, to explore and discover countless new places and states of being. I was a bit wary about traveling to one city more than once while I was studying abroad at GTL, but I fell too much in love the first time, that I couldn’t just do a ‘one and done’!
A couple weeks ago, I visited Amsterdam and got to see a maritime museum and a cat cafe, but that trip didn’t even scrape anything off what this beautiful city had to offer me, so I decided to go back this past weekend and see more of it with a couple of my friends!
On Saturday, I went to the Van Gogh museum, which was definitely the highlight of the trip. All of the exhibits were laid out in a way that, when they walk through, people are taken on a journey through Vincent Van Gogh’s life as an artist, which I thought was really cool. One of the really great things about the museum, is that there is a special interactive tour that people can take which lets them experience some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings through physical touch, smell, and song. This tour, fittingly named ‘Feeling Van Gogh’, was designed especially for the blind and visually impaired to enjoy Van Gogh’s works with their family and friends. Although I didn’t take the tour, I thought that this was a really interesting and cool way of experiencing visual art, and I think its very neat of the museum to do this kind of thing to accommodate to all kinds of people with disabilities that might otherwise keep them from visiting an art museum!
That cool feature aside, as I walked through the museum, I got to see a lot of beautiful paintings and prints that I had only seen in my high school literature books, including The Bedroom (1888), Sunflowers (1889), and Self-Portrait As A Painter (1887-1888). Still, I discovered a piece that I had not yet seen before, Almond Blossom (1890), which I’ve got to say is my favorite Van Gogh piece to date. I got chills a couple times as I stared at all of these paintings, and maybe it was just the intense air conditioning, but there is something about studying Van Gogh’s life while in his own homeland of tulips and clogs that feels so surreal.
Definitely feeling blessed and highly favored after this last trip to Amsterdam, I’ve decided that traveling and art are two things that make me feel complete, and that make my life feel full. Looking at the full moon tonight makes me want to explore so many places and do so many things with my life, and I have realized that just because I’ve already seen one place, doesn’t mean that I have actually experienced it. With all that said, I hope that if you ever get the chance to travel to Amsterdam, you’ll pay a visit to the Van Gogh museum, a truly magical place. I wish I had spent longer in the Netherlands, but alas, classes and studying were calling me back, and those are two calls that one cannot miss! Thank you for tuning in this week, and until next blog post, au revoir!
I don’t remember where exactly I heard this but I distinctly remember someone mentioning that in Europe, dryers don’t actually dry your clothes. They just make them less wet. This seems a little odd for me considering the name of the actual machines but unfortunately it seems to be true, at least in the Lafayette dormitory complex.
For whatever reason, I seem to always put off doing laundry until I literally am wearing my last few scraps of clean clothings as I haul my entire wardrobe down the stairs to the laundry room and completely fill up two washing machines. Due to Lafayette charging a small fortune for doing laundry I have to cough up almost 10 euros every 3 or so weeks I clean my clothes. So, due to the machines only taking coins, I have been hoarding those suckers like an old miser.
The very first time I did laundry here in France, I had no idea
what I was doing. Since I didn’t know that the machine only took coins (in hindsight that seems obvious) and I really needed to do laundry before leaving on a weekend trip, I ended up having to walk to a gas station and buy a bottle of water in order to get enough change. Now, not wanting a repeat performance of that, I have taken to paying for everything with cash and saving all the coins I get from those transactions so I’ll always have more than enough for my laundry and maybe even get something from the vending machine every now and then.
Now, back to what I think was a faculty member called the “European Dry.” Apparently most European households use a clothesline to dry their clothes and only need the dryers to get the fabric to a damp state. I don’t have a clothesline, and I don’t really plan on getting one, so I have to make do. This is the process that I have been utilizing to actually get dry clothes.
- Run your clothes through the washing machine
- Do one cycle in one of the dryers
- Take out dress shirts/sweater or other things that you hang up
- (Key Step) Switch dryers and do another cycle
- Fold your now dry clothing
The first time I did laundry I think I must have done 3 cycles through the dryer with the same result of very damp clothing every time until I decided that the dryer was broken and switched to another one, resulting in them finally being dried. I later realized that that machine wasn’t broken, it just had so much water vapor inside from the clothes that it was like a steam room in there. Of course this only works if you basically have the laundry room to yourself, but switching your clothes over to another dryer that hasn’t been used in the last few hours will do the trick almost every time.
You know it’s been a slow week when you decide to write a blog including a step-by-step process for doing laundry, but it’s just the calm before the storm here, waiting for the next round of tests to ruin everyone’s life. In the meantime I hope everyone enjoys themselves, and I hope you enjoyed another of my strange little insights into the life of a GTL student.
Berlin: the capital of Germany, known as the most international city in Europe, and the headquarters of one of the most evil regimes in history. The city is beautiful, modern and shiny (as a result of the old buildings being bombed so much), but dig a bit deeper and you find a scarred and difficult past.
My favorite activity in Berlin was the 3 hour walking tour we took. Beginning at the Brandenburg gate and ending in the square where the book burnings took place, I don’t think I have ever learned more about a place in that span of time.
The Brandenburg Gate, topped with the statue of Victory carried by her triumphant horses in her carriage holds a German joke. After Napoleon took the initial statue back to his personal collection in France, the Germans built the new statue to look straight at the French embassy that sits in the square, constantly watching. Funny right? Speaking of embassies, Berlin holds one of the few North Korean embassies in the world. Our tour guide joked that his hand had been to North Korea.
World War II, as you can imagine was not a good time for Berlin. Especially at the end. Citizens were not permitted to leave as Allied forces took the city, and many were caught in the crossfire. Our tour guide took us to the site of Hitler’s suicide bunker, which was below what is now residential apartments and a sad playground. In his final days, Hitler behaved very madly, obsessing over his dog and eating an entire cake for every meal. The bunker was blown up and filled in, and now is marked with nothing but a tiny plaque stating what happened. The city didn’t want to make anything bigger for fear of it looking like a memorial.
The Holocaust memorial, on the other hand, is a very powerful place. The large stones, situated in rows on uneven ground, and tilted slightly from one another give a sense of the anonymity of the Jews that were murdered in Europe. The museum below, tracing stories, quotes and the lives of the jews killed in mass shootings and concentration camps was exceedingly powerful. Another amazing museum was the Topography of Terror, with powerful photos of the atrocities committed.
Then, the tour shifted to the Cold War, and the very famous WALL. The wall went up to prevent the East Berliners, specifically academics, and skilled workers from leaving to the more prosperous and decidedly less Communist West Berlin. We walked past Checkpoint Charlie, the American controlled way from East to West, where Cold War tensions arose over one American man’s desire to get to the East Berlin opera. We saw the last remaining Nazi building, in grand but severe stone, that served first as the Nazi air force headquarters, then as the Soviet government building, and is used today as the tax department of Germany.
We also learned that the Berlin Wall came down entirely due to a TV announcer’s error. After delivering an exceedingly boring and dry report of the East German state of affairs, he was slipped a memo that said travel restrictions would be lifted for those over the age of 65 that could pay a hefty fine and give 12 months advance notice. Because he was flustered, he read only the first part. When the reporters asked him when “travel restrictions will be lifted,” he panicked and responded with the only date he saw on the paper: the very same day as the press conference. As a result, thousands swarmed the wall, overtook the guards, and were reunited with their western brothers once again.
Another really interesting thing about Berlin: the Nazi’s planned it to be the capital of the world. It was designed to hold 8 million people. Today however, it houses only 4 million. The sewers must be periodically flushed with water because their is not as much flow as anticipated. Lots of wild animals live in sewers and other such unused spaces. In fact, about 6 weeks ago a wild pig attacked two people at a bus stop in the city.
My absolute favorite thing about Berlin is the currywurst. Currywurst is a delicious snack consisting of a sausage in a curry ketchup, covered in curry powder and paprika. It is absolutely delectable. Total currywurst tasted: 4.
At this point, Elaine had to rush off to an RA staff meeting. But it was really great to get to know her a little better.
During GTL’s mid-winter break, I made my wallet pretty unhappy and traveled to Greece with my girlfriend! We spent about a week in Athens – walking through different flea markets, hiking up to various archaeological sites, and eating gyros pretty much every single day (and by the third day, we were considered regulars at The Pita Bar). We ate ice cream, laughed, and stood in awe underneath incredible and incredibly ancient feats of architecture, making for one of the coolest weeks of my life!
We arrived late Saturday night, and didn’t have anything planned for Sunday except napping all day to rid ourselves of jet lag and then maybe going out for dinner. As both of us are living in countries in which basically everything is closed on Sundays, we expected Athens to do the same. We were dead wrong. The plaza near our hotel was in no shortage of fresh fruit vendors, northern tourists who mistakenly packed only summer clothes for their trip, and the sweet, sweet smell of grilled pork and tzatziki.
As we squeezed our way through crowds of amateur photographers and convincing shop employees, we found ourselves adapting to our new environment. We crossed busy streets as the Greeks do, without a traffic light, and as hard as it was for two people who don’t like saying “no,” we learned to ignore salesmen without remorse. As unsafe and unfriendly as this may sound, that’s just how life in Athens is, or at least what it seemed to be. We were eventually pressured into eating at certain restaurants or cafes by very sweet and friendly waiters, who would wait just outside the building with a menu in one hand, ready to pitch to the next couple that walks by. Nevertheless, trying to blend in and seem like a local was a fun adventure. At one point, someone came up to my lady and complimented her shoes, then was surprised when they found out she was very much not Greek. Girlfriend: 1, Sam: 0.
On one of our last days of the trip, we decided to take a day trip to see the islands of Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. We made it through the somewhat seasick-inducing boat ride and arrived at our first destination – Hydra. Hydra is a very small island, and in fact, cars and other motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island. Even though we were given the option to ride donkeys around the island (I guess that’s a big thing on Hydra, all of their gift shop had donkey souvenirs. And yes, of course I bought one), my girlfriend and I wandered around the many, many sets of stairs, and found ourselves in what seemed to be the heart of Hydra. We ended up walking so far that instead of overpriced ice cream or even fruit vendors, we saw chickens running around and smelled fertilizer. Still, a very cool experience, and that was definitely my favorite island that we visited.
After Hydra, we hit Poros, where we wandered along the seaside and sat down after a bit of a break to have a picnic. We didn’t see much of the island, but the sun was shining, the water was glistening, and we were okay with just enjoying the beautiful weather. Thankfully, we picked the hottest day of the week to do this trip! We left Poros and sailed to Aegina, where I saw one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen before – a wild octopus! We were sitting on these big rocks on she shore, looking at the tide pools and pretending like we knew anything about marine biology, when we saw a tentacle unfurl under one of the rocks. My girlfriend instinctively took a stick and tried to coax it out, and we got so close to seeing the whole body, but the little guy was too shy. It was pretty amazing though to see something like that in the wild and up close!
We left Greece two days later, our bellies full (we took Pita Bar gyros to go), and our hearts happy (not just because we took Pita Bar gyros to go). Ha ha! You thought this post was going to be about the Parthenon and different ancient temples, gotcha! Even though those sites were really cool, there is so much more to Athens than just its history! Thank you all for taking your time to read, and tune in next week when I talk about Amsterdam: Part 2!
***Oh, and P.S. Καλημέρα, pronounced KalimEra, means “good morning” in Greek!***
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Wing Li, the mathematics professor at GTL for this semester. I attend the class she is teaching for undergraduates this time around, differential equations, twice a week and can personally attest to the fact that she is one of the most genuinely nice professors currently teaching at Georgia Tech, and someone who really does care about her students learning.
I learned from Dr. Li that she attended high school in Hong Kong, which is where she first realized that mathematics was the subject she wanted to pursue into college and beyond. After graduating from high school, she moved to the United States by herself to attend an American college, first receiving her B.S. from the University of Iowa, and then her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, both in mathematics. Now Dr. Li teaches at Georgia Tech and is currently in her 3rd semester at our French campus.
Dr. Li told me that she believes that many professors are reluctant to volunteer to teach at GTL, often due to having kids who are currently enrolled in primary or secondary school in the Atlanta area. However, Dr. Li is in the unique position of being married to a native of France and having kids who are fluent in the language. She told me: “it was an excellent experience for the children, not only did they get to learn subjects in French, but they also got to really see the differences between the American and French school systems.” Because of this, Dr. Li was more than happy to volunteer for the position multiple times.
Currently Dr. Li is involved in research related to a subject called operator theory, which she described to me as basically being linear algebra (matrices, subspaces, etc.) but with infinite dimensions. She says it is an extremely interesting subject since: “you can’t just use a calculator or a computer to solve for the answer when you’re working with infinite dimensions. You have to really break everything down to pure theory instead of solving for specific examples.” Also, “if you can understand how things work with infinite dimensions, working with finite dimensions becomes simple.”
Outside of math, Dr. Li told me she’d always had an interest in music. Following graduate school, she began taking piano lessons, but not having a piano of her own to practice at home, she switched instead to voice lessons. “It was convenient because I will always have my voice with me, but I didn’t realize how much of a strain lecturing for hours every day would be.” So, finally, she ended up choosing the violin, which she practiced an hour every day for 8 years until kids came into the picture.
At Georgia Tech Lorraine, students are encouraged to travel as much as they can, so I thought I’d ask Dr. Li a little about her travels. She told me that of all the places she’s been to the Greek islands struck her as the most beautiful, but the place that had the greatest impact, she revealed, was actually Alaska. “I had never seen anything so vast, yet in a way it was romantic and inviting. A place where I would very much like to stay and contribute to the land instead of just pass through.”
Dr. Li’s parting words to me were ones of advice for students here at GTL “don’t miss Metz,” she told me. “As you travel to famous locations all over Europe, don’t forget about the place you are calling home for these 4 months, and the incredible beauty and history that is right in our backyard.”
Page 1 of 18
Subscribe to Blog via Email
- Academics (18)
- Authors (175)
- Campus Life (76)
- Faculty & Staff (17)
- Field Trips (4)
- Food (11)
- Graduate Studies (13)
- Metz (28)
- Pre-departure (10)
- Semester (159)
- Sports (9)
- Tips & Tricks (22)
- Travels (57)
- Uncategorized (6)
- Why GTL? (21)