17 free weekends, 4 Planes, 40 trains, 17 Buses, 18 Metros/Trams, 2 Car rentals, 12 countries, and 6,450 miles. These are my statistics from this semester, the numbers I have racked up traveling across Europe. Yet, one run-on sentence can’t describe what this semester has been – not even close. An incredible gift! This is the best way I can think of summarizing this semester. Not everyone is given an opportunity like this in life. While many will just see this as studying in another country, this was much greater than that. By being based in the “Gateway to Europe,” each student that attended GTL was allowed to experience more than just the great country that is France. If we played our cards right, and many of us did, we could get a real glimpse of what the whole continent of Europe had to offer.
Early on, before I had even stepped foot on that first transatlantic plane back in August, I had a mission to experience the most that I could in these short four and half months, and that’s something I proudly think I achieved. Many firsts were had on this adventure. Many great friends made along the way, the kind of friends you don’t just forget or lose touch with. Bonding over new drinks, shisha, football, international travel, both good and bad creates a much stronger friendship. Friendships much stronger than I could’ve asked for.
Starting with that first application I wrote, I expressed my ideas regarding photos; how the experiences and moments we share with our friends and loved ones are the greatest triumphs one can achieve during travel. It is these experiences that you will remember for years and years. The photo may trigger them, but it should never be the proof of where you went, the stories you tell may well be all the proof you need.
So, as the days counted down, the finals taken each day, a somber mood descended over our Metz family. We all felt the bittersweet moment approaching. Friday morning we would all be flying out, going home, and with a few exceptions, the semester would be over for all. Yet for me it was still grindin’ time, as I still had two finals left. So early Tuesday morning I stumbled into GTL half asleep. “Bonjour,” I said to the security guard, feeling a small ping in my chest as I did so, knowing it would be one of the last times.
The afternoon saw one of my longest finals, followed by my last game of ping pong against Giuseppe, I didn’t know it, but we wouldn’t play another that week. A late night saw an early morning, as Wednesday seemed a dreaded repeat of Tuesday. In the lounge by 7am, leaving only to take my final. But it was different; it was my last final. Statics, and all other classes were done, I was a free man. Downtown we went that night, not to get drunk, or go crazy, but to just spend time with each other. Nothing would ever be like those moments again.
We may come back later, but not as students, not as fresh-faced youngsters with burning desires, but rather as old friends. So to ‘La Suite’ we went for some cards and great tea. The usual crew, who I am sad to say I feel I joined too late in the semester: Jahin, Yousef, Rafa, Alexander, and me. A few games of President and the laughs were evenly spread around. It’s something that thinking of now still leaves me feeling sad.
The next day would consist of much the same, interspersed with peoples’ bizarre cleaning patterns. As I traversed from room to room, the walls of Lafayette were lined with trash bags and luggage – yet another sign of ending semester. By nighttime, the mood began to change. In true celebratory fashion almost everyone agreed to pull all-nighters for early morning shuttles. From the cleanest rooms in Lafayette, we emerged and filled its halls with song and laughter for one last time.
Travel buddies stood side by side telling old stories to new listeners and vice-versa, making sure everyone was on the final page for GTL. As we gathered down in the Lafayette lobby to say our goodbyes to the 2am shuttle people, more than a few shed a tear. As bear hugs went around, I felt bittersweet again. “This feels like senior year of high school,” I said to Jahin and Sara. “It kinda does,” they said. As we waved goodbye to John, Austin, Rob, and more, it was official; the semester had ended.
In the end, these are just words, only those who were there with me can share those memories and experiences. What words must I use to convince you that this semester was a life changing experience, that I now look at life differently, and view everything else differently, what more can I say? This is my story, and I hope you remember it, retell it, and one day add your own chapter!