To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Month: January 2018

Maxime et la nouvelle année

In high school, I was a part of an exchange program where I hosted a French student for a week during my junior year, then I spent a week at his house my senior year. His name is Maxime, and we have remained in contact since this program began. He lives in a small town called Carling that is close to Metz. Because of this connection, I decided to leave for GTL early and spend a week with Maxime and his family.

Picture with my siblings at the airport in Atlanta.

I arrived at their house (after 2 planes, 2 trains, and a bus) at his house the afternoon of December 30th. He is in university at Nancy, but when he is home he lives with his mom (Sabine), his step-dad (Fred), and his step-sister (Manon). Maxime’s mom takes care of two children for her job, so they also live in the house. Their house is beautifully decorated and always very clean and proper. When we are in the house, there is usually music on in the background and we talk non-stop. We also eat dinner together, and I always get a small lesson on manners. Maxime is the only one that speaks a lot of English, so it is an amazing opportunity for me to practice my French. I have learned so many expressions (“Oh la vache” which literally means “oh the cow”, but is used in Lorraine to mean “oh my goodness”), and I am very thankful that they are not afraid to correct my grammar. Life in the house is pretty sweet, and it always surprises me how similar daily life is to that in the United States.

Maxime, my French exchange student, and I accidentally twinning.

For New Year’s Eve, Max and I went to his friend’s apartment in Strasbourg. (Strasbourg is so, so beautiful, but for this trip I didn’t even leave the apartment). We spent the night playing games (“jeux de la société”) like Limite Limite (the French equivalent of Cards Against Humanity), poker, and MarioKart. Limite Limite was difficult (and even more inappropriate than Cards Against Humanity) because I didn’t know a lot of the references, like one of their new anchors. However, I did win one round, and I was very proud of myself. Then at midnight, we crowded around the windows of the apartment to try to see whatever fireworks we could. People shouted across the street, “Bonne année !” then we went in a circle and said where we see ourselves in one year from now. After midnight, we played some more games, started messing around with a violin that only had two strings, and little by little people started to go to bed. It was really simple and exactly like a laid-back hangout with friends in the United States would have been.

One of the best things I got to do was visit Maxime’s grandmother. She was so similar to my own grandmother.  She loved sharing stories and explaining things to me. Then she took us to a room where she was going through some possessions and showed us a pile of books that she offered us. Maxime took about 5 cook books, and I got some French novels (including a beautiful hard-back copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables). After the books, she showed us drawings of her grandparents and the town where she grew up. Then, she sent us to run her errands, and when we came back, and she gave me a little jar of elderberry jam that she made herself and sent us on our way.

My first time eating snails!

The last night at Maxime’s house was bittersweet. I was very excited to get to Metz and start GTL, but I was sad to leave the family. We were already very close, and over the course of a week, they had really become a second family to me. However, they are only a 25-minute train ride away, so I am sure that I will be home soon. Dinner consisted of potato-balls and beef cheek, with snails (escargot) as an appetizer. (I ate two servings of the snails – they were delicious.) It was absolutely delicious, and only the company surpassed the meal. Maxime’s grandmother as well as two friends of Sabine’s came over, and the conversation was lively to say the least. There was not a moment without a story, and they were enthusiastic to include me in the conversation.

And now, for this week’s phrase: “Niquel.” Niquel is a slang word that means very cool or very fun. I learned this phrase when I asked Maxime what he thought of the New Year’s party. This word sums up not only this week, but my entire relationship with Maxime. I am so fortunate to have a partner who is as open, creative, and fun-loving as Max. Hopefully this first week is a sign of the weeks to come.

Redefining Home

Written by Aria

An inactivated Eurail pass, residual jetlag, and a knack for procrastination
compose the exact ingredients for a weekend at home. Despite months of
asking every person I have ever met for suggestions on where to travel, I had
made no plans. Everyone always talks of the opportunities at GTL, but they
don’t mention how overwhelming that ability is. In an unfortunate catch-22,
my desire to make the most of my trip to a city, given a limited number of
weekends, causes me to want to plan extensively, which leads to a need for
more time than I have, and a resulting lack of an itinerary by the time the
weekend rolls around. Four days feels much shorter when you have to fit in
all your schoolwork as well as travel research. Instead, I took the weekend to
figure out this city a mere bus ride away, with no pressure from an inability
to return or need for a hotel.

Voted the most beautiful train station in France. Has the friendliest pigeons and “sunflower” street lamps that fold down at night.

To travel such a short distance seems trivial. I know people who have
walked to the train station. But I, struck with both laziness and a remarkable
lack of experience with public transportation, was immobile. Fortunately,
Metz has a wonderfully easy bus system. With some tips from other
strugglers, I still managed to walk past the convenient bus stop right outside
my dorm, for about a half mile before settling in at the next. However, I
experienced great success mumbling something about “deux pour deux”
(two for two) to the bus driver while presenting my 6 EUR, which managed
to elucidate my need for a two-way bus pass for two different people. I
believe this to be the most complicated concept I have successfully
conveyed to a local in French. Eventually, it is wise to get a monthly bus
pass, but that requires the ability to abandon my poor habits.

The cathedral. A free shelter from the wind.

Not immediately adjacent to GTL with all its English-speaking inhabitants and simultaneously less touristy than Paris, downtown Metz does not guarantee that someone nearby will be able to speak English. This has exercised my very limited French more than any other area, as I racked up my French-only conversations like medals. These, of course, largely consisted of repeated simple sentences beginning with “Je voudrais” for “I would like” followed by a failed attempt to pronounce whatever looked good. I have developed a healthy acceptance of any French food offered to
me, as my attempts to communicate with locals often do not take into
account the fact that I panic when talking to strangers even in English. I say “oui” to every question asked, whether it can be answered as such or not, and occasionally end with a flustered “bonjour” instead of “merci” as I gratefully accept a pastry I had not realized that I ordered. It is all delicious, regardless.

13th century fortress, now used by locals as a shortcut on their daily commute.

While photographing a particularly cute pigeon, a seeming caricature of an
older French man sauntered up, expressing joyously to us some sentiment
involving the bird. I soon gave up my French, and he switched to the most
whimsical English as he described his love for the birds, both to watch and
to eat. At times his words failed him, as he exclaimed that his “English flies
away!” while mimicking the flaps of the bird itself. Despite the reputation of
French snobbery, I have experienced nothing but endearing cheer from my
interactions with the locals.

Centre Pompidou-Metz. Temporary exhibitions rotate through, with a current focus on modern Japanese art.

Metz is dichotomous in personality, with vibrant modern life amid
ancient architecture. This is common in Europe, but for me, the novelty of
the juxtaposition is fresh. From city scenes viewed through the opening of a
13th century fortress gate, to rock concerts held in an old monastery, the
history is not only praised, but incorporated into an evolving culture. It is a
city on the rise, home to the first satellite branch of the Centre Pompidou of
Paris and other growing attractions. Despite its old roots, Metz has a
youthful feel. It seems fitting for us to discover Europe through a city
transforming with us.

Great Expectations

Written by Aria

Bonjour! Welcome to a travel blog brought to you by the Champion of the
Uninformed, bearing the wisdom of a week’s experience in international
travel.

I began precisely as planned, easily navigating through airports alone for the
first time. In an effort to sneak experiences in wherever I can, on as little a
budget as possible, I switched out my 6-hour layover in Chicago for a 23-
hour one. This meant I could stay with a friend from Tech, play in some
snow, and go to the Museum of Science and Industry in the morning. Instant
Chicago vacation, friend not included.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Visualization of me trying to decide where to go this weekend.

With Part I of my 3-day travel to Metz completed, I settled in to wait for the
plane to Paris, when given the tantalizing offer of a $1,000 voucher to give
up my seat and take the next flight. While there are backup plans ready for
latecomers, I had a shuttle awaiting me, a dorm to check in to, and an overall
strictly programmed schedule to follow. In the end, desire for a real bed won
out.

My time here has been full of…surprises? The word doesn’t quite seem
right – too cliché. But in an almost comic trend, I seem to experience the
opposite of my expectation at every turn. For months, I dreamed of that first
sight of NotNorthAmerica, coming out of an endless ocean and basking me
in its snowy, foreign mystique. Instead, I got clouds so low that by the time
we cleared them, it seemed as though we were about to slam into the
runway, just like my hopes of a view of the French landscape. From there, I
connected with other GTL students, navigated an airport subtitled in
English, and managed to scam my way onto an earlier shuttle that included
reconnecting with my boyfriend. The scenery was gorgeous, but besides the
quaint buildings, it really felt quite American. With familiar faces, language,
and landscape, I wondered where the magic was.

My notable lack of view of the European landscape.

Yet now, every time I start thinking I’m getting the hang of living in France,
I’m struck by something so totally alien that I’m reminded of how out of my
element I really am. Immediately upon arriving at the dorm, our attempt to
get off the shuttle (the audacity, I know) was met by the police promptly
showing up to yell at us in urgent, incomprehensible French. It turned out to be an issue with where the bus driver had parked, but all we knew was that
the nice little trailer with all of our belongings was driving away, and
perhaps we had experienced our first European swindling.

These blunders never seem to end, yet they give me a sort of comfort in
knowing that there really is something utterly different about this place.
Living is France is at times absurd. There is a mysterious, ubiquitous mud
despite seeing no rain. I have purple toilet paper that brings me joy that
cannot be underestimated. Drivers, even at high speeds, stop for pedestrians
and expect you to start crossing before they give any indication of slowing.
The tap water tastes odd, leading to a series of heists as students smuggle
bottled and filtered water back to the dorms. I am unsure if I or my
microwave is not operating correctly. Students must take a designated path
to class under the threat of not getting insurance coverage if hit by a car.

My first week has yielded some knowledge of essential staples to the GTL
experience, listed below:

1. Crous Cafeteria: a treasured gift to my wallet and stomach

Cheap, delicious, close to class, and one of few motivators to eat non-
bread. One employee delights in teaching the Americans French words, exclaiming “très bien!” when we come back with more phrases
than last time.

2. Cora

Breads come in such forms as “pain long” and as Google translate
suggests, “pointy wand.” Fruit is surprisingly challenging to buy, so
stalk the indigenous inhabitants of the environment to observe their
behavior.

3. Paul

The Waffle House of Boulangeries (bakeries): found on every corner,
solid food, but you could do better (Aux Petits Choux, a block away). They have two options: to go (Vente a emporter) or eat there (Vente sur place). It’s cheaper and faster to take it to go, but if you don’t realize which line you are in and then go sit at a table, they will not be pleased.

Yours truly, with hood at the ready for any sign of snow.

 Ultimately, my advice is to stop
anticipating anything. Plan, yes,
and definitely budget, but your
constraints should not limit your
perception. I was only ever
disappointed whenever I had an
image in my head of what my
experience would be. When I
stopped trying so hard and just
started to let the country be what it
is, I could revel in the details of
this strange culture.

Oh, La Vache!

Written by Robby

I made it safe and sound to GTL! Because I got to France on December 29th, I didn’t take the shuttle with the other students. (My next post will be all about what I did for the week that I was here, so be on the look-out for that!) So, check-in was Monday the 9th, starting at 1PM, so on the night of the 8th, I spent the night with my friend Clémentine who lives in Metz. I got to her place around 6:30 PM, and then we went out for dinner. We stopped for a quick kebab at a restaurant downtown called Burger Kebab. (A kebab in France is not the meat and vegetables with a skewer, however, a wrap that is kind of like a gyro. You can choose to either have it on bread or in a tortilla, or gallete in French.) Then, we took a quick walk around the downtown area, and she showed me where everything is.

Words cannot describe how beautiful it is. Most of the buildings are very old, and none of them are more than 4 stories. The streets are all quaint cobblestone paths, barely big enough for a car and dominated by pedestrians. I was lucky enough that the Christmas decorations were still up, and there were lights and ornaments hanging over the streets. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then, with no warning, we passed by the cathedral. I have been to the cathedral before when I was in high school, but it still took my breath away. I just kept repeating, “Oh my goodness. Holy cow. Oh my goodness.” (I have done a presentation for a French class before about the cathedral, so it is very near and dear to my heart. I am sure that at some point during the semester, I will visit it and write a post for it.) After that, Clem showed me how to take the bus, and we went back to her place.

I know that it is super cliché, but that night I had a really hard time sleeping (and not just because I was on a sleeping bag on the floor). I was so excited to get to GTL, move in, unpack my bags, and start living my daily life.

The next morning, I was a little worried because check-in didn’t start until 1PM, but Clém had to be at class at 8AM. I decided to arrive early, and worst-case scenario I could read in the lobby. However, the best-case scenario took place and I was checked in to my room by 8:45am. Then, I was able to go downtown, where I was again struck by the beauty and the quaintness, to run some errands. However, I got downtown before most stores opened, so I had about 45 minutes to kill. I walked around until I found a stereotypical French café. I had a wonderful breakfast while listening to some older French women talk about the TV shows that they liked when they were kids and televisions were first coming out.

After breakfast, I went grocery shopping, bought a SIM card, got my bus pass, and also went clothes shopping. (All over Europe every store has sales right now that last until February, so I convinced myself that I needed new clothes.) 

That first night we had a pizza party. It was really exciting to meet everyone and hear about their plans for the semester! I am so excited for this program because everyone seems like they are really going to make the most out of their time here.

On Wednesday, I had my first day of classes. This semester I am taking FREN 3813: Advanced Conversation, ECON 2101: An Introduction to Global Economics, and MATH 3670: Statistics and Applications, as well as completing an independent research project for credit about the French economy. Despite the fact that GTL is not an exchange program, I am striving to make this program  as similar to an exchange program as possible. All of my professors were thrilled when I asked if I could communicate and complete the homework assignments in French. Additionally, my professor for Economics, who is also a professor at the local business school ICN, said that she would be happy to introduce me to her students, so that they can practice their English and I can practice my French. She even said that she would help me audit an economics class that is taught in French at ICN, so that I can live the life of a real French student. It is super exciting and encouraging to see how willing everyone at GTL is to let me practice French with them and immerse myself to my heart’s content.

As far as the resources, all of the buildings are amazing. The best part is the lounge in the GTL building. There are plenty of tables where students can study and work together, and there is also a foosball table, pool table, and ping pong table so students can just hang out. From day 1, there is a really strong sense of community in the program. I have already started to recognize the other students by face, and I always make sure to wave at them, whether I see them near campus or downtown. It’s kind of like the first day of high school all over again. Most people don’t know too many other students, so everyone is very nice and excited to make new friends. Everyone is super friendly, and the friendliness is extremely authentic. People actually want to find friends, not just be nice so that other people say they are nice.

Also, throughout the course of my blog post, I would like to do a favorite French expression or word of the week. This way, I can teach all of you a little French and share some part of the language that has been especially fun for me each week. This week the phrase that I want to share is “Oh la vache.” This literally translates to “Oh the cow,” and it is used the same way that someone would use “holy cow.” (This expression is even more cool because it is very typical for the Lorraine dialect of French.)

I have found myself using this phrase constantly over the course of my first week. Arriving to the train station, seeing the Metz train station, stumbling upon the gorgeous cathedral at night, not knowing that you weigh your own fruits in the grocery store thus causing everyone to wait for me while I sprint back to the produce section to do so and consequently receiving dirty looks from impatient French people – are all situations when I used this expression. This entire first week has consisted of me being blown away, overwhelmed, challenged, exhausted, and shocked, all in the best way possible. And so, I leave you with this summary of my first week at GTL (a TL;DR if you will): “Oh, la vache.”

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