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Month: March 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

Καλημέρα!

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!***

Faculty Interview: Dr. Li

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.

dr-li

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.”

Traversing Italian Time and Space

Italy was an awesome historical overload of knowledge. This past week, I dove straight into the Roman empire in an action-packed week of late nights, early mornings, and an impossibly long list of monuments, museums and ruins.
My journey started in Venice, and Carnival was going on, and watching the beautifully costumed and masked Venetians walking the streets was a dream. Venice used to be an independent city-state famous for it’s rich trade network and impressive navy. After touring the beautiful cathedral of St. Mark and the opulent Doge’s palace, we were ready to continue our journey into the heart of the Roman empire.
Rome was absolutely jam-packed with history. You couldn’t even walk two blocks without finding an obelisk, pillar, campanile, fountain, or other monument. After taking our traditional touristy pictures in front of the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps and the Campidoglio, we went to bed early to queue up the next day for the Vatican Museum. The Vatican was overwhelming, with every inch of free space filled with priceless art and artifacts. We learned the history of the many popes that lived in Vatican city and viewed Raphael’s famous paintings and Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We then climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, so rich and opulent that my brain ceased to process it and I needed to go to sleep.

 

View from St. Peters Basilica.

The next day we hit the Capitoline Museum in the morning. The museum boasted many original sculptures, including fragments of the statue of Nero that once stood 100 ft tall in bronze. Let me pause for a second to talk about Nero, because this guy was something. He declared himself divine at an early age, and considered himself to be perfect in every way. He commissioned this enormous statue, along with many other monuments in the Roman forum, destroying other monuments to Roman gods to make room. It is also rumored that he started the great fire of Rome to make room for his ideas in architecture, playing his fiddle and dancing while thousands of citizens perished in the flames. Sounds pretty metal!

 

What’s left over of Nero’s Face.

The ruins of the Roman forum were amazing. Walking around the ruins of old temples to gods and goddesses, seeing previous senate and meeting houses, and seeing the remnants of the once magnificent residences on Palatine Hill were all so fascinating. Once the heart of Rome and the intersection of the three main Italian roads during the reign of the Roman empire (hence the saying, all roads lead to Rome), one can imagine the grandeur of the heart of all Roman civilization.

The Roman forum!

The next day we visited the Colosseum, which, as you can imagine was absolutely spectacular. Learning about the intense theatrics, with imported exotic animals, stage sets that emerged through the floor with complex pulley machinery, and the

Michelangelo’s David.

intense training schedules of gladiators, we walked around it with wide eyes. Not only was the Colosseum a source of entertainment for the senate and emperor, but the masses as well. The violent place brought a whole civilization together.

Florence was absolutely fantastic for a crazy history buff like me. I got to see so many Michelangelo works (including the David!!!!) and see the famous Dome. But what I found especially fascinating was the Medici family. They started out as bankers, lending money to many city-state rulers and important dignitaries. As they amassed wealth, many city-state royalty borrowed more than they could pay pack. Threatening these families with a hired mercenary army, they were able to gain power. Like, ‘Hey Prince, we are going to attack if you don’t pay back your debts, with our impressive mercenary army. We might consider letting it slide this time if you marry your heir off to our daughter…” and thus they became one of the most powerful families in Italy. They were like the OG mob bosses. Sounds super Game of Thrones-y! Needless to say, they weren’t very well liked and built private walkways above the city and above to Ponte Vecchio bridge to avoid being assassinated in the streets.
Our journey concluded in Cinque Terre, the region of, well, five cities, who – against all odds – managed to farm the rocky coastal soil on mountain and cliff faces. Each city with it’s unique personality, was an absolutely lovely ending to a perfect and jam packed week.
 

View of Manarola, one of the 5 cities of the Cinque Terre.

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