To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Author: Robert Johnson

Lyon On The Fly

So, this weekend I was supposed to go to Colmar, a beautiful little town on the side of a river in Alsace, France in order to visit the cousin of my grandfather. Her name is Monique. I met her one time when I was 3 years old when she came to visit my grandparents in Atlanta. However, in the past couple of years, she has started writing letters to my grandparents again, but she doesn’t speak very much English, and my grandparents do not speak French. And so I was dubbed as the family translator. Through that, I started writing letters with Monique to learn more about her and to practice my French. All of this to say, she has a disease that disrupts the communication between her eyes and the neurons, and it sometimes flares up to the point that she cannot leave the house. So, on Thursday she called saying it was flaring up and asked if it was okay to cancel.

While it was pretty stinky that I couldn’t see her, it presented me with an amazing opportunity. A weekend of spontaneity: no planning, no itineraries – just go and explore. So, I looked all over Europe for an AirBnB under $25, that were available the next day, and that were in a fun city. I found one that was perfect in Lyon. So I booked my train and went.

I got to Lyon at about 5 PM, and I was so so excited to be out of Lorraine, so I could escape the daily rain that haunts the region in the wintertime. I get to the Lyon train station, and it is bustling with life. So many people going in so many directions, no matter where I went I felt like a salmon swimming downstream. (Get it? Because salmon usually swim upstream, so if a salmon was swimming downstream, it would be going the opposite direction of all the other salmon, so this salmon would feel like an American in the Lyon train station.)

I walk out of the train station for my first taste of Lyon, and of course, it is overcast and raining! I go to take the tram to get to my AirBnB so I can drop of my bag, and because it’s rush hour, the tram is packed. I can’t even fit on the first one that comes, and on the second one, I am smashed against the door the entire time while simultaneously having body contact with 5 different people. Of course, I love big cities and huge crowds, so I am thrilled and look like a total weirdo on this crowded bus because everyone is bothered by the crowd, and I am just smiling from ear-to-ear.

I get to my AirBnB and get all checked in, and it is exactly what you would expect for a $22 room. Clean, easy to find, but not much more than a mattress on the floor. (Albeit, a mattress that is 30 times more comfortable than I expected and 50 times more comfortable than the mattress in my residence.)

So, I leave my AirBnB, find the metro, and hop on. Like this entire trip, I have planned nothing, so I decide to get off at “Hôtel de Ville,” which I now know is in the center of “Vieux Lyon” (historic Lyon, literally “Old Lyon”). I walk around and find directions to a theatre because I bought a ticket for a play. I get to the place, called “Théâtre le nombril du monde,” and check in. There is a bar part that is separate from the theatre, where you can wait until the show starts. So, I waited around and made small talk with the other people there.

The show was amazing. It was another small café, even smaller than the one in Nancy, and so personal. It was about two people that get stuck in an elevator, so the stage was very simple, and it made the play more intense and intimate. The play was so good, and it was a lot more serious and heavy than the one in Nancy.

After the play, I was soaked and tired from having walked around, so I went home and went to sleep.

On Saturday morning I woke up with 0 plans for the day. I decided to start off by walking around the Hotêl de Ville area, this time in the daylight. It was beautiful again. I looked inside the courtyard of the Musée des Beaux Arts but didn’t have time for a full visit. For lunch, I found a cute little bagel shop, that turned out to be an American-themed restaurant. Everything was in wood: the walls, the tables, the plates. The walls were covered with old-school American advertisements for milkshakes and bubble gum. It was a quaint lunch, and I got a turkey bagel with a side of nachos with guacamole. (It was the worst guacamole I had ever had, but the rest of the meal was pretty good.)

After lunch, I just walked around all over the city. Lyon is beautiful: much bigger than Metz with many different architectural styles. Some of the highlights of my exploring include: accidentally stumbling across a zoo in the “Tete en or,” getting churros and coffee on the side of the road, a 90-minute walk along the Rhône, and an impromptu break in a small park.

Now, I am going to warn you, the next part of this blog post is going to sound super hippy-dippy but bear with me. At one point on my walking journey, I stopped in a little park covered in pebbles nudged between two buildings. I sat down to just enjoy the scenery and closed my eyes and just listened. At first all I heard were the cars on the road nearby. Then, slowly, new sounds started showing up. Peoples feet crunching the pebbles, a woman spraying her hairspray with an open window, and the last sound to come was birds chirping. It was a really beautiful moment to sit there, do nothing, and just enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city around me. I know that it sounded super wanna-be artsy, but you should all try it whenever you visit somewhere new.

Anyway, Lyon was super amazing, much larger than Metz, and very welcoming. But now, it’s time for the best part of every week: PHRASE OF THE WEEK, woohoo, wow, amazing. This week’s phase is going to be “J’en ai marre” which means I am fed up or I have had enough. I thought about this as the phrase of the week because of all of the kebab’s I have eaten, however, it doesn’t apply.

Nancy and All of Her Libraries

Just as a head’s up, this week’s post is not the most exciting. However, I think it really provides a good look into some of the every-day things that happen in Lorraine as well as some fun traditions/cultural aspects. Also, this is the stuff that I enjoy the most, so this post is very long-winded.

This weekend, I decided to go visit my friends at Nancy. Nancy is a city that is in the Lorraine region, about an hour away from Metz. It is bigger than Metz, with 105,000 inhabitants or so. However, the most exciting part about Nancy is that it is full of university students. There are plenty of universities and “Ecoles Prépa,” so the town is always bustling with the excitement of an overworked and under-rested college student – it feels like home!

I took the quick train over to Nancy, where my friend Laura picked me up from the train station. I would be spending the weekend with Laura and Maxime, so we went home to drop off my stuff. Unfortunately, it was about 1:30pm, and Laura had already eaten, while I had not. So, I talked her into stopping for a kebab (I should really get bloodwork done to make sure these kebabs are not killing me), so we stopped. Then we dropped my stuff off at Laura’s house and headed out for the day.

Laura and Max are both in their first year of university studying to become doctors. In France, the path to becoming a doctor is extremely competitive. You don’t just have to get good grades, you have to get grades better than anyone else. For example, at Laura and Max’s faculté (sort of like a discipline – find an explanation of the concept here), in order to continue after your first year, you have to have scores in the top 300 students. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you hear that every year there are 1,500 students that sit for the exam. Needless to say, Max and Laura work practically all the time, and don’t really take the weekends off. So, I got to spend a weekend like a real French medical student: in the library. Friday, we got to the library at about 2 PM and we stayed there until 7 PM. Max finished classes and came to join us around 4 PM, and we all worked side-by-side. The library itself was very comparable to a library in the States; there were group-work areas, silent areas, and even a student-run café in the basement. (Café is a generous description, it was the reselling of some prepackaged snacks and baked goods at a table with a sign. I like the idea of a student run café in the building, especially compared to a Starbuck’s in the library, but the number of options and quality of products was not even on the same planet.)

Anyway, after our library grind, we got home and just spent time together. We watched TV, specifically the French version of House Hunters, with which I am totally obsessed. They put a fun little spin on it, in that they have 2 real-estate agents compete to best meet the needs of the client, and at the end the client chooses a winner. It is very formulaic, but I have still not once predicted the correct winner. Then, of course, we had dinner and went to bed.

The next morning, Saturday, we woke up at 7 AM to go to the library. Yes, three 20-year-old college students woke up at 7 AM on a Saturday morning to go to the library, and they do it every weekend. (For reference, they told me that the study habits are even more intense in the “Écoles Prépa.”)

“Écoles Prépa” are a crucial part of French education, and there is not a good American counterpart, so I am going to take the time to explain it. If you aren’t interested, there’s a TL;DR at the end of this paragraph! After high school, you can go to an “Ecole Prépa” which is two years of extremely intense education to prepare you for a series of exams. These exams grant you entrance to what are called, “les grands ecoles” (directly translated, “the big schools”) which are essentially the best institutions of higher learning in France. It’s similar to the medical school predicament, in that you are competing for a limited number of spaces – except there are fewer spaces, and everyone in these schools is practically a child prodigy. It is an intense process, but if you make it into one of the “grands écoles” your life is made. It is a track for a life of success and academic rigor.

TL;DR: Crazy-hard schools to prepare you for the best schools in France.

Saturday we had to go to a different library because the other one is closed on the weekends. This time, we went to a library downtown and worked from about 8:30 AM until the library closed at 5 PM. For lunch, we met up with two of Max and Laura’s other friends, and they chose to get kebabs. You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh no! Poor Robby had a kebab the day before; he isn’t going to want another one.” You would be horribly mistaken. I was thrilled for a socially justifiable reason to eat kebabs 2 days in a row. (Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Oh no, Robby is going to clog his arteries, gain weight, and experience negative health effects of eating so much red meat.” You may be right, but I only have 4 months left at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, so live and let live.)

That night, we went out to dinner at a delicious Italian restaurant, and just walked around Nancy. It is important for you to know that Metz and Nancy have a fierce rivalry, and I love any type of rivalry, justifiable or not, but for obvious reasons I am firmly planted on the Metz side. Because of this, I have a tendency to compare Nancy to Metz, especially in subjects where Metz has the upper hand. All that to say: Nancy was beautiful and stunning and a fun city to be in. But, VIVE LA METZ !

Anyway, after walking around and dinner, we went to a comedy theater to see a play. However, when we arrived we were promptly asked for our reservation confirmation. This was a comedy café that could seat maybe 45 people, so of course we didn’t make a reservation. The person working the ticket stand said to sit tight, and if there was any room she would sell us the tickets. Two other people in our situation came in, and we all waited together and cracked jokes about how we can watch it from the side of the stage.

The theatre itself was adorable. Brightly colored walls plastered with posters of plays that had been shown there. And on the lights, there were inflatable pool toys so that the naturally harsh lighting became a little softer.

In the end, we were able to get tickets. We watched one of the funniest plays I have seen. It was called “Tabernacle” and it was about a woman who managed a cabaret learning to interact with the Canadian niece of the cabaret owner. (They made fun of the Canadians as being loud, clumsy, too laid-back, and of course for having a different accent. I related so, so, so much to this Canadian character.) It was a two-woman show, and it was so funny. If you are ever in Nancy, I highly recommend this café, “La comédie de Nancy.”

After the play, we went home and went to sleep. The next day, we had a very authentic French Sunday where we lounged around, talked casually, and moved slowly in general. (Although Max and Laura did this while reviewing their notes from class.) Then, Sunday afternoon, I returned to Metz to get a good night of sleep.

Like I said at the beginning, this is not the most exotic location with the biggest buildings or the oldest cathedrals. However, these are the memories that I am going to cherish for the longest. This weekend is such an insight into so many parts of French life, and it was a really special time for me. Anyway that’s enough sappiness for one post.

I guess that brings us to everyone’s favorite section: The word of the week. This week’s word is “Pas de soucis, pas de problems.” It means “no worries, no problems.” This was important because my friends were always worried about me coming for the weekend just to sit in the library, but I kept reassuring them that there were no worries, no problems because I was happy to see their daily life (and I had plenty of homework to do myself)! This is also a useful phrase if you run into a problem somewhere. Hypothetically, let’s say a kebab restaurant is out of your favorite sauce. You could use this phrase to let them know that it is not a big deal, and you will still love the kebab. (This is the most Robby-ish example I have ever thought of. Also, I am sitting on the train right now and very hungry.)

Journée Portes Ouvertes

The first weekend of February is an exciting time for the scientific high schoolers of Metz. It’s the opportunity for them to see all of the great engineering and technology schools that are present. Centrale Supélec, Arts et Métiers, and even Georgia Tech Lorraine all host their open houses over the course of the weekend. The students get to have tours of the campus, mingle with current students, and see all of the cool stuff going on in the laboratory.

For Georgia Tech Lorraine, it is an opportunity to share with the community exactly what GTL is. No, it is not a separate university from the one in Atlanta. Yes, graduates receive a degree from “the real Georgia Tech” in Atlanta. Yes, classes are taught in English. All of these questions may seem more obvious to us, but French people are extremely proud of their education system (rightfully so), so they are not familiar with other systems – much like we don’t know much about others ourselves.

As part of my French class, I was given the daunting task of explaining the American education system, with an emphasis on university, in under 15 minutes. Our class worked together, over the course of two weeks, to prepare a PowerPoint. We spent hours deciding whether to explain quality points on GPA’s, how to best explain the process of high-stakes testing, and how to give the cost of universities without completely scaring them away. (For a public university in Europe, the cost of attendance is usually between 250-500 euros per semester.) After the presentation was ready, I was volun-told to be at the open house to present it to visiting high-schoolers.

When Friday rolled around, I was definitely nervous. We crammed a TON of information into the presentation, and I was going to have to present it six times, to a total of 150-ish people. However, as soon as I got to the GTL building, I was eerily calm. The presentations went well, although we were running on a 7-minute delay, so I really had to hurry through all of the information. Nonetheless, I think I was able to give the students, at least an idea, of how education works in the states.

Saturday, there were no organized visits. People were able to come in at their own pace, ask questions, and look around. Most of the people that came were students interested in engineering, however, there were some people that came by just to see what was GTL.

Now that all of the logistics is explained, I can move on to what I learned and observed from this open house. Lesson 1: the world is so small. I met a student that did a year-long exchange in Roswell, 15 minutes away from where I grew up, and we even had mutual friends on Facebook. I also met a girl who does the exchange program with my high school, so she has a pen-pal that is a current high-school student at Campbell, and I have been to her school before. It is just a reminder that you never know who you know, and you never know who knows who you know, you know?

Lesson 2: French education is like a self-serve ice-cream machine with 4 flavors, and the American education system is a visit to Menchie’s. Every school in the US has their own spin on scheduling, grading, courses offered, etc. In France, you choose your path for the baccalauréat and the rest is pretty standard.

Lesson 3: The French master’s students that are doing dual degree through GTL are geniuses. In order to do GTL, most of them have to make it through an “Ecole Prepa” and place in the top 15% or so on the national exams, then make it through 2 years at a top engineering school in France, and then be selected by their school and pass admission criteria by Georgia Tech in Atlanta. These kids are so, so smart.

In the end, la journée portes ouvertes was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the French education system and promote Georgia Tech across the Atlantic!

 

The First Weekend

The first weekend at GTL is a very special time. There have only been 3 days of class, so nobody has too much homework to do. Everyone is new and trying to find the people that they will call travel companions for the rest of the semester, so students pair off into groups of 6, 9, or even 15 (which is stress-inducing number of people to plan for). However, there were classes on Friday, so the week-end is a normal length, instead of the 3-day weekends that we will enjoy for the rest of the semester. So, there is a certain sense of calm going into the week-end that I don’t expect to be there for the rest of the semester.

I had a bit of a split weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday during the day in Saarbrücken, Germany. But Saturday night I went to a birthday celebration and spent the rest of the weekend in St. Avold, France.

The first lesson I learned in Germany: the only thing worse than a language barrier is a language barrier similar to your own language. I am such a big fan of languages, but I have never learned German before. (I know “Guten tag” and the other basics, but other than that, nope). However, because English is a Germanic language, there were just enough similarities to lure me into a false sense of comfort. I went out to lunch with my friend Saturday, and I was super confident that I could order my own lunch. Needless to say, I goofed. The worst part is that I thought it went flawlessly. I ordered a schnitzel sandwich with extra onions, some sauce I didn’t know, and a cup of coffee. My friend, who speaks German, laughed throughout the whole order, and I thought it was because of my accent. But, I, being the stubborn person that I am, said I didn’t want any help. So, when my food arrives and it is not a sandwich, but rather some type of baked pasta with raw onions on top, my friend explodes into laughter. Of course, the poor restaurant employee looks so concerned because he just put a lot of effort into this super weird order, so my friend explains to him what happened. (So of course, he laughs too.) I was just happy that I got the coffee right! (And, the pasta dish was absolutely delicious, so no harm no foul.)

Also, we went shopping and came across a beauty contest in the middle of the mall, so that was unexpected and fun to watch.

Saturday night, I went to the birthday party for my friend’s mom’s friend’s husband, who also happens to be my friend’s step-dad’s cousin, named Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc. Maxime’s mom and step-dad have a couple friend (you know, typical married people stuff), Jean-Luc and Sylvie. Anyway, I got invited to Jean-Luc’s birthday party and it was a hoot.

It was my first time seeing Maxime’s family since I left, and it was such a treat. I also got to meet so many cool people. Jean-Luc’s niece, Priscila, and I hit it off. When I arrived, she was raving about her recent trip to Harry Potter World in London, and we spent the rest of the night talking about Harry Potter. It was super interesting to see how some of the words translated. A wand is a “baguette magique” (literally magic baguette). The best one is the sorting hat is the “choipeau.” (A combination of “choix” and “chapeau,” the French words for choice and hat!) She also taught me about the southern French accent. Her husband, Bruno, is from the south, so he talks with this accent. (One of the main characteristics is that they replace the usual nasal n for “-ain” with something close to a nasal “ing” sound. Hard to explain, but very fun to experience.) She also gave me an open invitation to her house with her husband in southern France. (Stay tuned to see if I can make it work.) The party was so much fun, and the food as so amazing.

Sunday was great because it was a very authentic Sunday. I woke up late and did nothing. Just hung out with Max and his family, and then I went home. It was a very fun first weekend, calm and relaxing, just as I expected.

An American Grad Student in Metz: Meet Taylor!

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Taylor Spuhler when she was on her way back from class one day. I had already met Taylor at the pizza party on the first night. Immediately, it was clear that she is very outgoing, passionate, and always had an inviting half-smile on her face. So, I decided that I wanted to learn more about her and why she chose to do her Master’s at Georgia Tech Lorraine.

As we were walking back to ALOES from the GTL building, it started to rain (really, more like something between rain and sleet—very unpleasant). I, being the award-winning journalist that I am, know that you have to start off every interview with a softball question. So, I asked her why she chose to do her Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at GTL instead of the Atlanta campus. She told me that it was her first time to ever leave the country. (What an amazing way to spend your first time outside of the states—living in another country for an entire year.) She also talked about how important it is to learn about things from as many perspectives as possible, and at the end of the day she still gets a degree from Georgia Tech, so her degree is still easily recognizable in the states.

Continuing with the softball questions, I asked her what her favorite thing so far was. She talked about the cheese, I mean duh, but the part of the answer that stuck out to me was how happy she was with the French students in the Master’s program: her entire face lit up when she started to talk about how easy it was for her to make friends, and how everyone was so nice and welcoming. She even went into how she was nervous at first because she felt like every time that French people didn’t understand or agree with the United States, it would affect how they viewed her personally. This is something I think about all the time when I travel, and time and time again it gets proven wrong. Fortunately, this was also the case in Taylor’s experience. However, this did open the door for me to ask her about some of the difficulties she had been having.

I eased into this by asking if she spoke any French. She said no, but obviously she has picked up on the very basics, “bonjour, merci, je ne parle pas français.” Then I asked her what her least favorite thing was so far. She looked up at the miserable weather and said she is not a fan of all the rain we had been having. (If you haven’t heard, France is experiencing some intense weather: there is heavy rain and flooding across the country.) Other than that, she didn’t focus too much on the negative.

With the personal questions exhausted, I moved into the “formal” part of the interview. I asked her about her classes, potential research, and the facilities. She’s not doing research because she is not doing a thesis. This was a personal choice, certainly not the lack of research options at GTL, as there are plenty of graduate students doing research at GTL. Then I asked her which class was the most exciting one for this semester. (Granted, it was only the second week of the semester, and during the first week we only had two days of class, so it was very early and most of the interesting work for the semester hadn’t started.) She said that she was really excited for wind engineering, and that she already had a report for that class due in 2 weeks. Graduate classes don’t waste any time in getting started!  By this time, we had made it back to the residence building, and neither of us particularly wanted to stand out in the rain any longer. So, I thanked her for her time, and we went our separate ways. I really liked the approach and format for this interview because it was in the middle of her day and very opportunistic. I feel like it gave me a snapshot of her daily life, and made her more comfortable and give more natural answers. In any case, it was a delight to get to meet a graduate student, see what they were working on for the semester and the opportunities beyond undergraduate studies – and pick their brain to understand their decision-making process for studying at GTL.

A Visit to the Football Club de Metz

I am so very thankful for my French class because on the first day of classes, I made a friend named Fernando. And on that first day, we decided to go to a soccer game together. And we bought the tickets on the spot.

Fast forward to Wednesday, January 17th, when FC Metz takes on FC Saint-Etienne. To give you all some back story, I am not the world’s biggest soccer (football if you’re feeling European) fan, but I do enjoy watching it – a lot. I am a HUGE Atlanta United fan, but know next to nothing about the French football leagues. I did learn a couple of things before the game: FC Metz is dead-last in the league, French people are just as fiercely loyal to their teams as southerners are to college football, and the logistics of trash-talk are just as nonsensical here.

However, the game was absolutely amazing. We got to the stadium, and although it was very small, it felt just like a sporting event in the States. You could feel the excitement: there were tons of  people walking in every direction, and the stadium and surrounding area was full of “ball park foods” (a.k.a. kebabs).

One of my favorite parts of the match was the cheering. Fernando and I had some pretty sweet tickets, in the fourth row right behind the goal, so we were right next to what I have decided to call the “wild fan section” (think of it as a student section but no students). There were all types of chants that lasted throughout the entire game. Some were very creative, some were very vulgar, but most of them consisted of “allez” (the French verb for “go”). The opposing team’s wild fan section even lit road flares throughout the game. These fans were enthusiastic, to say the least. Keep in mind that it was raining, around 40 degrees farenheit, and the worst team in the league. There was no stopping these fans.

Apart from the wild fan section, the stadium was pretty empty. There was not a single person in front of us, and the 4 rows behind us were completely empty as well. However, the game was wildly exciting. FC Metz scored one goal off a free kick and then another goal within the first 25 minutes. The rest of the game was action-packed and lively, but not another goal until around the seventy minute mark, when FC Metz scored again. So, end of the match and FC Metz won 3-0. After the game was over, a lot of the fans went down to the field and sang one of the chants to the players. The players came to the goal box, clapped along, and waved their appreciation, and then everyone filtered out.

Instead of going straight home, I decided to force Fernando to come get a kebab with me. (He hadn’t yet been fortunate to have the deliciousness that is a kebab, so it was heavily suggested on my part.) On the way, we did get a little bit turned around, thanks to me. And, I forced Fernando to follow my rule, that when I am lost with no time crunch, I don’t use a map. It forces me to really get to know Metz, although it may sometimes be unpleasant (especially in 40-degree rain). Finally, we had a beautiful meal at BurgerKebab, what is surely the most authentic kebab in all of France, and then walked around downtown. We walked through the tiny winding streets and then to the cathedral. (Fernando hadn’t seen it at night yet, so I also “heavily recommended” this.) Of course we got a little lost again, but we found it, thanks to the other benefit of my no maps rule: it forces you to practice the language by asking random people for help. All in all, the evening was a full two hoots. Who would have thought I could have this much fun on a Wednesday?

And now, for this post’s phrase: “Où est …. ?” This is how you say “Where is…?” in French. It came in very handy when we wound up on the opposite side of town from the cathedral, and in trying to find the bus to go to BurgerKebab, BurgerKebab itself, the soccer match, our seats in the stadium, and so on. I decided to share this phrase with you because not only is it helpful, but it also gives you a good idea of how our night went.

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.

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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