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Category: Pre-departure (Page 1 of 2)

Living and Learning in France – and Loving It!

I can’t believe that I’ve already been in France for a week. I also can’t believe that I’ve only been in France for a week—the days have been so packed that it feels like much longer. I arrived early to spend some time with my family in Paris, so each day from Wednesday to Sunday was filled to the brim with tours, trains, restaurants, and wandering the streets of the City of Lights.

My family’s arrival to France was not without its obstacles. At the Minneapolis airport, a couple of hours before we were supposed to board, we discovered that my mom’s passport expired within three months and that she wouldn’t be able to take our flight; my brother and I would go alone, and she would attempt to get an expedited passport and arrive the following day. My mother is an airline pilot and is consequently a pretty experienced traveler and planner (this snafu is an anomaly for her, trust me) so entering France unexpectedly without her was a little intimidating, but also exciting. (Not that you aren’t exciting, Mom.) It felt sort of symbolic, in a way, reminding me of the fact that I’d be navigating unfamiliar countries throughout my semester abroad.

As our plane finally approached Paris after a long overnight flight, I eagerly took in the red rooftops and rolling fields of the countryside. When my brother and I walked through the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I listened, uncomprehending but fascinated, to the sounds of softly spoken French around me, and silently mouthed the words on every sign and ad I saw to practice my pronunciation. I started processing that yes, I really was here, in France—there were the kisses on the cheeks between family members as they were reunited. There were the Euro signs on the taxi driver’s dashboard as we sped on our way to the city. There was the Eiffel Tower in the distance as we neared Paris, and the shimmering Seine as we crossed one of the many bridges on our way to our hotel.

I soon found that the Eiffel Tower was even more beautiful when viewed at night from a boat on the Seine!

Throughout my travels with my family, I had to keep reminding myself that this was the country where I would be living not just for the next couple of days, but for the next four months. It didn’t seem possible, in the midst of many tours and stereotypical vacation destinations, that I would be remaining in such an amazing place. Now, though, I’ve gone through the whirlwind of arriving at Georgia Tech Lorraine! Taking the shuttle from the airport, unpacking, seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones, absorbing the info dump that was orientation, going to the grocery store twice, and starting to explore Metz doesn’t seem possible to fit into three days, and yet somehow it did. And that doesn’t even include going to classes! Now that I’m here at GTL, settled into my dorm at Lafayette, and experiencing the joys of Metz, I don’t need to remind myself anymore—I’m living and learning in France, and I’m loving it.

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.

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.

Vlog 1: Lubby Goes to Metz

The Beginning: Nostalgia & Dreaming

Have you ever had a move-in day like this? A move-in day where you’re completely wiped from traveling for what feels like days and you’re not sure which way is up? A move-in day where despite the weariness your stomach is a bundle of excitement from the culture shock you’ve been anticipating for months now as you walk through the CDG (Charles de Gaulle, Paris’s main airport) terminals and see an explosion of French writing and ads? This could describe many international student’s experiences simply coming to Tech, yes, but arriving at GTL means Europe is now your oyster: this is something totally unique, and I’m so excited for others to experience this incredible opportunity! 

Coming back for my second round of GTL, I’ll admit, I wasn’t as pumped as the first time. With just a summer of office work in between 8 months of adventure, this lifestyle is my norm now. I know it won’t be this way past 2017, and I will be filled with remorse to see this chapter of my life end. However, the idea that this way of living is sustainable is just a fancy lie I like to tell myself: it’s absolutely exhausting. 

Some of you will be totally fine and take the whole continent head on, without stopping for breaks. Some of you will need some weekends in Metz to ground yourself and catch up on sleep/work. There’s no right way to do it: you do what’s best for you. I will say that I tend on the side of “no ragretz,” (translation: “no regrets”) constantly trying to push and see and experience as much as possible, but when I found myself with a stable cold for 2 months and an overdue need of a long night’s sleep, I had to slow down. Walking 10+ miles a day under those conditions is ill-advised. 

On this note, I will give some sage words of advice. Going out and clubbing can be an incredible time (I love dancing and so do Europeans). HOWEVER, if you can’t function the next day, you’re just doing a massive disservice to yourself. How are you going to explore the Churchill War Rooms if all you want to do is sleep? Granted, people come to Europe with different agendas and desires. I’m not judging them if that’s what they’re here for. But for the (I think) majority of us that truly want to experience the culture and see that museum or church we’ve always

How can you hike up 8 miles to see the entirety of Interlaken if you’re too lethargic to move??

been interested in, all I’m saying is be wise with your time as we have so little of it. 

Okay, enough mom stuff. One thing I absolutely love about GTL is that it’s kind of like the fall of freshman year, round two. Everyone is completely open to meeting each other, there’s no boundaries among friend groups yet, and the amount of times I hear “yeah I’m down, what’s your name again?” just makes me smile. 

You won’t believe how close you’ll get to your travel partners. You’ll quickly find out who takes charge, planning and navigating with an itinerary, and who likes to wander and stumble upon things as they go. Over time you’ll learn your friends’ most fundamental personality characteristics and in a variety of ways: sometimes through shouting matches over when you get lost and someone didn’t want to ask for directions (there’s always a dad), or simply ordering a meal through charades. I’m currently seriously missing my old travel group, and while I’m jealous that they’re all together back at Tech, I know I made the right choice to come back to Europe, and I’ll find a new group of my own that will be just as tight. 

 

And so on that note, GO HAVE FUN!!! WOOOO YOU’RE IN EUROPE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!!! WITHIN THE LAWS OF PHYSICS!! 

A “Metz-y” Start

Hi Everyone! It’s Sam again, this time writing to you from my cozy little dorm in Metz, France (which, as I learned in the very first orientation meeting, is actually pronounced “Mess,” hence the clever blog post title)! I flew into France on January eighth, and since then, have kind of figured out the bus system, learned how to say please, thank you, and various items of food in French, and I even went grocery shopping a couple of times! *Applause, applause*

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The shuttle! Note to self: next time you decide to ride in the back of a bus, take some motion sickness medication beforehand!

While I was waiting for the day to come when I would leave my comfortable, American dwelling, I got really nervous about the idea of living in a foreign country without a basic grip on the language or culture. Well, Christmas and New Year’s came and went, and it seemed like January eighth came rushing towards me at high speeds without so much as a warning. That day, I spent nine hours on a plane, four hours on a cramped shuttle, and I had the rest of the time to lie in my new bed and sleep off the jet lag. :’) I already knew two of the other GTL students, Adam and Lina, before this new adventure, and since our arrival, have become closer friends with them and some other students.

With that, here is a short recap of my first week living in France!

20170110_085959

A picture from the GTL orientation on Tuesday.

Monday was my first day of classes, and I was already looking forward to the courses I have this semester. I spent about half the day in classes, and the other half at home, unpacking and getting everything set up. The new student orientation for GTL was on Tuesday, and later that day some friends and I explored a little bit around campus. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at a huge grocery store that loosely resembled Walmart, which, if I’m being completely honest, made me feel a little more at home! Here’s a little pro tip for when you’re grocery shopping in France, or really anywhere: don’t buy a giant pack of steaks just because it is only five euros – THERE IS A REASON IT IS ONLY FIVE EUROS!

By Wednesday, I started to get the hang of things around campus. I had figured out where the cafeteria building is, and I didn’t get lost that day either! That day, my breakfast and dinner consisted of steak and mushrooms. So did Thursday, Friday, and Saturday’s meals.

Bed, sweet bed 🙂

On Thursday I became very aware of the fact  that I hadn’t actually ever taken a public transportation bus in my whole nineteen years of living. That, to say the least, was a bit of a nerve wracking realization, seeing as now I had to do everything for the first time in a language in which the only full sentence I had memorized was ‘the boys eat the apple’. Shout out to Duolingo for this incredibly useful information. I eventually got over my fear of buying the wrong bus pass and went over to the little ticket machine to find out that there is actually an English option! It was a blessing from God. Friday rolled around and I went to the store again to finally buy some spices so that I wasn’t just eating salted steak and mushrooms, but salted steak and mushrooms with garlic and onion and chili powder! I consider myself a seasoned chef these days.

Here’s the view from the door.

And finally, this weekend was spent catching up on sleep, finishing homework, and visiting an old high school friend who lives not too far away from campus. I went grocery shopping again, but this time, I bought reasonable amounts of food so that I wouldn’t be eating the same thing every day of the week. I also bought plenty of garbage bags and plastic wrap- two essential household items I highly recommend stocking up on!

 

And here’s a new segment I call ‘French Word Of The Week’ to leave you feeling a little smarter than you were five minutes ago:

Pain (noun): bread

Example in a Frenglish conversation-

Adam: “Hey, what did you have for breakfast this morning?”

Sam: “Pain.”
Until next time, have a wonderful week, and be sure to try some fresh ‘pain’ if ever you find yourself in Europe!

Planning With The Parents

Photo courtesy of Travel Trazee.

As a tangent to a blog post I had a couple weeks ago about doing fall break with my parents, I’ve decided to give an overview of coordination and planning to help assist those who might want to do trips with their parents while at Georgia Tech-Lorraine in the future!

 

Pre-Departure

Well first off, you and your parents have to pick a time to do the trip. Popular choices are usually before the semester starts, fall break (since it’s a week long), and after the semester ends. Some parents decide to just drop by for a weekend, and that’s not usually too tough to plan since it’s a couple of days.

Next, is the “where” of the trip. I’d say this is pretty important since this is a picking a place that both you and your parents want to go and visit. It’s also very important because from here, train or flight schedules need to be made to match. I offered to buy tickets for my whole family but my parents opted to buy them online. We simply decided around a certain time to leave cities and I let my parents book first. After they got their tickets, I cross referenced them with my Eurail app and proceeded to buy the matching ones. It was quite interesting, as some of the trains they bought weren’t on Eurail plan (ex. Italo in Italy is not part of the Eurail network) so I had to improvise and buy train tickets that were close to the same arrival and departure times.

Once that was settled, we needed places to stay for the night. I let my parents take the reins on this one, as they booked hotels for all three of us.

 

Arrival

“All roads lead to Rome” – and that is where we decided to meet. I took my overnight train from Munich to Rome, and they took a shuttle from the airport. I arrived two hours earlier than they did so I did some exploring before meeting up with them. We decided that in case the train station Wi-Fi wasn’t working, there would still be a rendezvous place. Notably, this was going to be the McDonald’s in the Roma Termini station. Luckily the Wi-Fi did work, but we still met at the McDonald’s since it was convenient.

 

During the Trip

Plan out some things that you would want to see and see what your parents want to do as well! Things should run pretty smoothly from here, since we’re basically all pros at traveling at this point and can point our parents in the right direction. Gotta keep in mind that they aren’t college kids and won’t do the typical “college” things that we’ve come to expect when traveling.

 

After

I don’t think there’s anything left to do but to give them goodbye hugs and wishes until you see each other again! Or if you’re traveling with them back to the United States, enjoy the trip back to the homeland.

Dorm Essentials

Posted by Harry.

After spending about a week in the dorms, I’m lucky to have some extremely useful things laying around. HEADS UP: Some of the stuff I got was from the beginning of the semester “fire sale,” which was a giveaway of items that have been left by from previous semesters’ students to help us out. Other stuff I bought in the US and brought over.

A Universal Adaptor. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

1. Universal Converter/Adapter (Bought in US)

This little piece of hardware is the Swiss Army Knife of electrical converters. It has a voltage capacitance of 100V – 240V, converts any type of plug into any other type of plug, and has two USB ports on the side to boot to help charge those smaller devices you have.

2. Trash Can (Picked up at fire sale)

When I first arrived in my room, it did not come with a trash can. Luckily, picking this up allowed me to compact all my trash in one area with a fitted bag. Easy to clean and just really handy overall!

3. Laundry Basket (picked up from fire sale)

The laundry room is quite a walk from anywhere in the dorm, especially if you have some stairs to climb. Makes the trip much easier and helps contain the bad smell of dirty clothes. Many of these are available at the fire sale!

harry w2 p1 p3

4. Power Strip (picked up from fire sale)

There are a limited number of outlets in the room but this little guy transforms one outlet into five. Which, if you calculate it out, is 500% more than you originally had. Snag one from the fire sale as there are plenty of these to go around as well.

 

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

5. Traveling Backpack (Bought from US)

A must-have for weekend trips! It will store everything you need that weekend and some. For other purposes, it also serves as a great shopping bag for when you make those runs at Cora.

 

One Down, Sixteen To Go

Posted by James

It’s been quite an eventful first week here in Metz. Seven days and nights and I’ve already had a number of firsts. First time in Luxembourg, first European soccer game, first time using a train all by myself, first European festival, etc. However, before any of these could happen I had to travel over 4000 miles, board two planes, and go through two countries before even stepping foot in France.

Metz Cathedral

The centerpiece of Metz: its towering cathedral, nicknamed “The Lantern of God,” because it is the most luminous cathedral of France.

Saturday, August 20th

My alarm clock sounds: beep, beep, beep… As I look over to snooze, I read 6:00 A.M. and instantly jump out of bed both scared and excited. It hits me that today I’m going to France. All summer I’ve been bragging to my friends in Michigan about this, but at this moment it’s not pride I feel – it’s fear. I NEED TO PACK! This week I had to concentrate all my efforts on a physics final and wrapping up things at my internship. My plane leaves in 8 hours, and I have to take everything I need to live for four months to Europe. I feel my heart pounding, and I start sweating as I run downstairs and grab my suitcase. So begins the most frantic packing of my life. 3 hours later I sit down on my bed with a sigh, “I’m ready.” All I can recall about checking in and boarding the plane is a feeling of numbness. As I took off my shoes, and took out my computer for security I kept looking at my family, my mom and dad, and my brother, all just standing there smiling. As I collected my things and took one final look, time froze. I would not see them for over 4 months. I turned and slowly made my way to my gate.

Sunday, August 21st

As I stumble through Frankfurt International Airport and find my gate, the first onset of jetlag starts to set in. In a few hours I land in Luxembourg and await another GTL member’s flight. An hour later we are downtown in the middle of a summer festival. As we walk around and the sounds of French and German from outside conversations interrupt ours, I start to grasp the essence of GTL’s message. Immersion in a separate country does far more than allow you to experience culture. Five days later I finally understand!

Friday, August 26th

“Hey Clyde, what time are we going downtown?”

“The Last bus leaves at 9:40, I think?”

It’s been an odd first week filled with orientations and runs to CORA, the huge supermarket in Metz. A few friends and I are looking to blow off some steam, and experience some true French culture. As we’re waiting for the final bus, we receive a friendly surprise. A GTL grad student comes and sits down on the stop’s bench. Within minutes we’re deep in conversation as the bus arrives. His name is Peter, and he’s a nuclear engineer who has been living in Metz for the last 8 years. This is his last semester in France and he is heading downtown to meet some friends who also work at GTL.

We tag along and spend all evening with him. The night begins with the Mirabelle festival, an amazing display of local pride in Metz’s rare prune. A beautiful exhibit is held in the center of the city, next to the famous Metz Cathedral. A jazz band hovering above the ground provide the baseline to a group of acrobats and a singer who are tangling over the crowd by way of a crane.

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The amazing performance in downtown Metz!

Throughout the night we talked to Peter and his friends about many things. Peter was able to describe a lot of distinct differences between the French and outsiders, not just Americans. For instance, a local cultural conflict between French of North African descent not assimilating into French culture. However, the largest takeaway from the night was a truly unique experience. The next morning we all agreed that had we not met Peter, or his friends Jeremy and Jacques, we never would have done anything similar. We experienced local music, food, conversation, etc. All while learning more about Metz and France.

First Impressions

Posted by Harry

Left: Photo Courtesy of Patrick Morand; Right: Photo Courtesy of The Wine Guild of Charlottesville

I wish I had some wild story to tell about my journey to Metz and Georgia Tech Lorraine, but I don’t. Rather, I just took the shuttle (free!) that was provided by GTL from the Paris-Charles De Gaulle airport. Usually, I’m a person that sleeps on long bus rides like the 4-hour trip it takes between the two locations, but I didn’t. The reason why? I was blown away by the stunning views of the French countryside. It really was something else. Something about the hills that stretched on for miles (or kilometers, I should say) and the quaint little villages that we passed by just took my breath away. Even if the majority of the scenery was farmlands and fields, my eyes were locked outside nearly the entire time. The pictures you see above are some stock photos off of Google Images that I found, since the ones I took really don’t do it any justice.

Upon my arrival in the outskirts of Metz where GTL was, there was something specific that really stood out to me: the silence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like a ghost town-ish area we are in, but it was just very peaceful and it’s something I’ve really grown to enjoy. The walk from my dorm to school is no longer filled with the loud sounds of construction or the conversations of thousands of students, but just a relative quietness.

Even on my first day, the GTL experience has far exceeded my expectations.

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