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Category: Campus Life (Page 2 of 11)

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.

Losing is Not an Option

I once heard that Tech students “binge everything.” While people often bring a certain intensity to their main endeavors, I have never encountered a population with such competitive camaraderie in all areas, from optimizing their path to class to seeing how absurd a game of chess can get when you are allowed to add a new rule every turn. It comes as no surprise that the BDE’s first event of the semester – a game night – was a smashing success.

At least I can blame the bad pass on my teammates.

Given that I can only handle 3-dimensional mechanics when I’m in a dynamics classroom, as others flocked to the ping pong table, I stuck to the relatively less embarrassing realm of foosball. Still, I am quite terrible at all games, due to a lifetime of never winning against my brother (also a Tech student and ultra-competitive). I still managed a surprising number of points scored for the other team by my own goalie, but I chock that up to the frantic thrashing.

With my camera identifying me as a member of the media, I made a few connections with members of the BDE who wanted my photos, and got a bit of an inside look into future events. With the mix of personalities here at GTL, the board seems to be following a brilliantly varied trend, but I’ll let them reveal the coming surprises. For this event, free food, games, and danceable music formulated a lively atmosphere that continued on an hour past the intended end time of the event. In contrast, a presentation on four itineraries for visiting Berlin by a student who lives in the city, added an informative spin that led me to book an Airbnb promptly after.

The evening was given direction by a ping pong tournament building in the background. As the matches passed, it grew to become the center of attention for everyone, whether winner, loser, or unaffiliated. Not for the likes of I, who habitually misses while serving and once accidentally referred to the sport as “ping pong ball,” this event was the culmination of weeks of practice in the lounge and seemed, for some, to represent something greater. Going into the experience with
little knowledge of the sport, I thrived on the spirit of the crowd. The excitement was palpable. I found myself choosing favorites, and anticipating certain prodigious matches with the athletic contortions of the most dedicated.

It’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying.

The energy was at times released unexpectedly, with a backwards spring leading to a somersaulting fall. Unfortunately, the most comfortable seats with the best view are situated immediately behind one of the players, but a series of skilled defenders prevented my face from joining the casualties. In perfect moments, the beats of the ball synced with the music in an ephemeral flow. Rampant heckling bolstered the hype, and calls of “You got it buddy! No matter what we say behind your back, we believe in you!” brought back an element of humor. Still in the early weeks of the program, competitors would learn a name then happily vow to demolish them.
It’s this kind of instant friendship that characterizes the spirit of GTL, showing on their faces as the intensity melted into a grin between points.

As the final match geared up, calls for a more appropriate atmosphere were met with the beats of “Eye of the Tiger” and “The Final Countdown” blasting out and instigating a bit of dancing as it’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying. the competitors played. This extra-long match was hard fought for the title of “Supreme Leader” and a corresponding crown, but the crowd seemed eager to cheer for everyone involved.

Starvation Sunday

Written by Aria.

Alternative title: how I was 72% under my food budget the first week.

As Tech students, we all go a little overboard with quantification, but in terms of budgeting I find it helpful. In this case, it instigated genuine concern for my own well-being. Had I really been eating, or do the French stay so thin by inducing some hallucination of consuming endless bread? I had come to France with the anticipation of hemorrhaging money, and my savings were prepared for it. Instead, I seem to be doing better than in Atlanta.

The outdoor market in Metz, with some of the best food around. Unfortunately, only on Saturday mornings.

The secrets to my success are quite simple. Intuitive, really.

  • Skip meals because you woke up too late, forgot to include eating in your
    itinerary, and/or are too tired to grab bread. (Let’s be honest. This has nothing to do with being in Europe. This is college.)
  • While in French cities, have your entire food allotment consist of pastries picked up every few hours, each from a different bakery. Take them to go and keep touring.
  • Your sit-down meals are now a baguette with brie in the park.
  • When you can’t remember the last time you had anything that wasn’t a carb, go to Crous and spend 3.5 EUR for a meal with such novelties as fruit and meat. Don’t forget your side of bread and choose another carb to make up the bulk of your meal.
  • Plan to do your grocery shopping on Sunday. You will soon learn that most
    businesses are closed on Sundays, and that all you have in your fridge is ice and juice. Luckily, the corporate spirit of America keeps even French McDonald’s open. On the walk there, stop from exhaustion (who knows when you last consumed a calorie) and realize the Paul a block from your dorm is also open. Buy a baguette.

Fresson: the best cakes in all of France. Bring cash, because unless you are planning on buying too many cakes even by my standards, you won’t meet the credit card minimum.

College students have adapted to the harsh conditions of their environment. In this culture, they use every part of the baguette. The pointed end is dipped in olive oil for an appetizer as the meaty body simmers in the remaining oil. After Caprese sandwiches are consumed, the meal is finished off with Nutella spread on the fleshy innards. Despite their large size, baguettes are best consumed the day of their acquisition. Those less skilled in the art often partner up to complete the task, as it is frowned upon, albeit possible, to order only a half baguette.

The happiest moment in my life. Then I dropped the chocolate square on the ground.

To embrace the French culture, I highly recommend a diet consisting entirely of pastries. Your wallet and taste buds will drown out the complaints of your heart. While touring, we tended to rack up at least 10 miles a day. Instead of stopping for any significant meal, we simply located the best bakery nearby and shared a few pastries. Most places in France are cheaper if you take the food to go, so this leads to fighting off the pigeons as you eat your cake on the street corner like the desperate wretch you are. This is worth it for the ability to buy more cakes later. Nothing has topped Metz’s own Fresson, which was once voted as having the best cakes in all of France. Their raspberry tart may be the highlight of my time here so far. For a quality shop, their prices aren’t bad either.

The French cuisine lives up to its reputation, making my limited menu tolerable. This is no excuse to survive only on bread, however, so I now am striving to diversity my sampling outside the comfortable bounds of carbs. That flaky spiraled pastry, named “escargot” isn’t quite the same story as the original dish.

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.”

Dealing with Homesickness: A Long and Arduous Adventure

First and foremost, I am not one to get homesick. Ever. Yes, usually I’m in Atlanta which is only 5 hours away from Charleston, but a few visits with the family throughout the semester is more than enough to sustain my emotional support/family bonding health points. My 2017 has been very different than normal, though: I was in Europe for both spring and fall semesters while also working in Atlanta over the summer, so the amount of days I’ve seen my family has been quite sparing. I could probably count them on two hands, actually (okay maybe two and a half hands). I myself am also pretty terrible at keeping up with people, and it’s taken some real mental training to fight against this lackadaisical view of reaching out to my loved ones.

I hadn’t been feeling very homesick all year until a few weeks ago when everyone was home for Thanksgiving. My friend sent me a Snapchat of his dog and his wacky grandparents playing in a bluegrass band (I know, too cool), and my stomach nearly fell out. I missed my mom and my grandparents so, so much in that moment. I miss my dog tearing through the house while my grandmother can only hope to catch and cocoon her in a Christmas dog sweater. I miss those late night talks with friends that only happen by chance but last hours into the morning. I’d been missing southern food the whole time, don’t get me wrong, but in that moment I REALLY could’ve gone for a pimento cheese sandwich.

So obviously, talking to your family helps. I will say, though, a Skype call is really at a higher level than a normal phone conversation: you can get distracted by what’s on your screen or by things around you, but on Skype it’s nearly a face-to-face interaction so your attention is naturally all on the other person.

Get you some photos! And don’t have your family send you the same photos that are everywhere in your house: ask to borrow some pictures that are tucked away in family albums from when your parents dressed you up in a Halloween costume for the first time, or just photos of you and your siblings covered in dirt in the backyard. These will remind you of old memories that haven’t crossed the skies of your mind in a while and will make you appreciate your upbringing. Nostalgia is a great thing.

Schoolwork can loom over you and feel like you must hyper-focus to get anything done, but you need breaks! Use those breaks to chill out, of course, but every few breaks use the time to email your grandma or maybe send your dad an article that you’ve seen recently. Don’t shut yourself out or homesickeness is bound to get worse.

Thanksgiving in Metz!

Turkey Day has come and gone! Thanksgiving always marks that point in the semester in which beforehand you’re like “Oh, I have all the time in the world before finals,” and after break it’s more like “Oh, I have zero time before finals – how did this happen yet again.” Luckily, for one night GTL students were able to put their student worries aside and come together for the GTL Thanksgiving potluck!

If you’ve never been to a GTL Thanksgiving potluck, which most people only ever go once, it’s a grand old time. We rent tables and benches from the Metz town hall, and the BDE, along with a few volunteers, gets to work setting everything up in the GTL lounge. White boards are moved to make way for Christmas lights and tinsel while we put our studies on hold and enjoy the true significant holiday of fall.

Potlucks usually make me nervous (what if no one brings anything), and especially organizing them, but it ended up working out pretty well: yes, there was a lot of pasta and mac & cheese, and maybe even some cereal/milk combos, but some people really went all out with squash and herbs and even a Polish compote. I haven’t had good green beans with herbs and seasoning in waaaaay too long. People with names A-L made main dishes and everyone else made desserts, which also exhibited a wide range – from ice cream and toffee to Oreo fudge balls and Nutella pie. I still dream about that Nutella pie, so if you’re out there reading this, dear baker, then congratulations.

BDE supplied drinks, turkey and a (slightly ominous?) cake, while we set up Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving/Christmas on the big screen. We busted out the board games, and I personally witnessed and egged on an incredibly competitive game of Uno. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a Swap Hands Wild Card.

All in all, it was a very wholesome night for us hardworking/hard playing GTL students. Props to us all for making it memorable.

 

Also just an added point- we are all thankful for what we have, but there are so many with less and particularly there are individuals whose history is negatively impacted by what has grown into the national holiday of Thanksgiving! If you want to do something extra cool this giving season then donate to a charity that helps impoverished Native American communities!

A Look Into The Typical Week of a GTL Student

I understand not all of you reading this are current GTL students, so I’m just going to delve into the (slightly exaggerated) average week of a GTL student for those of you that may be wondering what it’s like.

Monday Morning: Welp, I’m still pretty exhausted from the weekend, but I’ll make it up later. All I have to do today is buy groceries (I really have to stop eating baguette sandwiches), get a head start on all the homework I have due this week, and maybe I’ll even have time to go to the gym or run at some point.

Monday Midday: Okay, so I may have been weak and bought another Fermie Chaud (curry baguette sandwich) for lunch from the sandwich place, but I swear I’ll go get groceries this evening, and I’ll cook everything else this week. Oh, you want to play ping pong? A few rounds can’t hurt – I have tons of time!

Monday Evening: Yes, I may have just played ping pong for two hours and foosball for one, but I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m cooking dinner! I’ll have a few hours to study afterwards and just do the rest tomorrow. Wait, how long does the lab homework take? Are you serious?? How is that even…okay, grocery store tomorrow, La Boite de Pizza tonight. It’s healthier than any pizza in the US probably. Maybe?

Tuesday Morning: Alright, today is the day! I’m going to catch up so hard from yesterday, and it’s going to be awesome. I still haven’t caught up on sleep because of that lab homework, but as long as the coffee machine works, then so can I! Or I’ll be like my dear friend Ben and bring a literal coffee maker to GTL. After class though.

Tuesday Midday: Only have one more class later, time to sit down and start on more homework. Wait…you didn’t book the hostel? I thought we agreed on that one with the nice rooftop…it’s totally booked? Are you serious? Okay, let’s figure it out – we only have two days before we leave and this homework can wait. I guess I’ll get another baguette for lunch.

*You can imagine how Wednesday went.*

Thursday: I’m exhausted, I’ve only eaten white bread this week and you’re telling me I’m leaving for London tonight when? In two hours?? Well, here we go.

And repeat.

Vlog 5: Adventures Around Metz

Crêpe and Game Night!

My favorite night of the year happened last week: crêpe making night!! Okay, it isn’t my favorite night of the whole entire year, but I love crêpes, and I love making crêpes, so it’s always a great time. The Bureau des Etudiants pulled out all the stops with assorted jams, hella Nutella, and even a jar of that Biscoff cookie spread (the only thing we look forward to on Delta flights – you know I’m right). We got the crêpe hot plates heated up, Ratatouille on the big screen, and a plethora of various board games that are usually stowed away in the BDE closet.

Giant Jenga was a big hit: I’m not sure whether to blame the design-oriented part of us GT students, or the need for a small no-stakes gamble. Regardless, it’s simply fun to watch this massive tower crash down and make everyone in the GTL lounge jump every 20 minutes. I haven’t played small baby (now) Jenga in a long time, but I’m nearly positive you couldn’t do the craziness that I saw with big Jenga. Or maybe that’s just GT engineers blowing my mind with their planning and balancing skills. To be honest I’m a little shocked that no one happened to get hit by the avalanche.

The crêpes were a bit of a mess at first: getting an even consistency is difficult the first time, and then flipping it just becomes a jumbled debacle not dissimilar to scrambled eggs. Soon enough everyone got the hang of it, and people not in BDE came over and just made crêpes for others out of personal enjoyment.

All in all, it was a very successful night, in which people from all realms of GTL – some that I see every day, some I’d never met before – could come together for games and food.

(Thanks, BDE!)

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