I am not entirely sure why, but for some reason ping pong is the most enrapturing and competitive thing to exist among Georgia Tech student activities. I witnessed this phenomenon all through the spring at GTL, in which all kinds of people – undergrad and graduate, American and French, expert and amateur, bourgeoisie and proletariat – come together over the sacred game that is ping pong.
And now it is happening again. This time with a little more gumption, I might add. A ping pong tournament has already been created, with no BDE involvement whatsoever. A fellow classmate asked me to join the roster, definitely because he didn’t want there to be any bye’s and simply needed another person, but I am determined to believe that he saw potential in my swing. Realistically, I could quite possibly be the worst person at ping pong in the entirety of the GTL student body. I can volley maybe a few times, usually hitting the tiny ball way out of bounds or sometimes at the opponent. My aim is random but hey, maybe that’s the power behind my technique…?
In contrast, some students have such control over the ball that they can make it go one way and when it hits the table it goes a completely different way. This is some sort of magic to me. I understand that they’re putting “spin” on the ball, it’s been explained to me 14 times, however I still just don’t truly get how in the world they do that. To get more insight on the competition, because I obviously have none, I interviewed local ping pong master, Chris Tugman.
When did you start playing ping pong?
“I played tennis as a kid, but as for ping pong I just played with some friends in high school and didn’t really play too much until I got to GTL.”
So, would you call yourself a master?
“I am beyond a master, I am the Prince of Ping Pong. The Tyrant of Table Tennis. Look out opponents.”
This is all he had to say, so I guess everyone find your partner on the roster and get ready!
Europe: Is cold. This is a subjective, grammatically-incorrect statement: however, this is my blog post so I’m going to establish it as fact within the bounds of these internet margins. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, where people wear their heaviest puffy coats when it gets to be 40 degrees. Coming to Atlanta for college even required some adjusting to, and so when I prepared for January in northern France I tried to be optimistic, thinking “Eh, there’ll be snow so the cold will be worth it.” Fast-forward to January 17th-ish, when I’ve been at GTL for almost a week, the winter-wonderland effect has worn off, and I’m looking back on December 2016 Maddy in pure, unadulterated jealousy.
Dramatics aside, the fall season doesn’t get nearly as cold. Compared to the spring when my cheeks became freezer-burned on the walk to school, a measly low of 32°F is entirely bearable. My southern disposition was scarred, though, and so I began planning my fall around minimizing the amount of time spent as a popsicle. I knew I wanted to experience the Alps in the warmest weather possible. I started researching popular day hikes near Metz, keeping in mind that the first and warmest weekend was also unfortunately shortened by a day. All of the hikes that I found were incredible, of course, but they were mostly farther than I wanted to travel. I had heard of Interlaken from my friends that did the Oxford program in the summer and thought to look it up. Turns out one of the “best hikes in the world” looms right over the incredible town of Interlaken, called the Hardergrat. I saw some photos and was hooked immediately.
I’m going to say it out loud: I am an adrenaline junkie. I love any and everything that goes fast/high, but I also do like to keep safety in mind (death prevents you from continuing to go fast/high). I am a somewhat experienced hiker, having gone to Colorado and Utah to do some pretty amazing stuff in the past, and so I felt prepared for what the Hardergrat was asking of me. Boy, was I in for a surprise. We set out early to get hiking poles and get up the mountain, taking a cog train to the Harder Kulm, a restaurant that overlooks the Interlaken valley.
We spent maybe 10 minutes here admiring the view, and then we set up to the first part of the trail: summiting Augstmatthorn. The trail up to this point was honestly one of the hardest hikes I’ve done possibly ever. It was like climbing stairs for miles, with incredible views, yes, but so SO difficult. There were some horizontal pasture areas with fields like you see in The Sound of Music, but most of it was along a densely forested uphill ridge with an incredible view of the Interlaken lakes.
After about 2-3 hours of huffing and puffing, we could finally see Augstmatthorn. Our hearts sank. Not only was it a good ways away, it looked MUCH steeper than what we’d been conquering since 9 am. We took a quick “I’m tired, but not defeated” break and started on our way.
We maybe took oh, I don’t know, seven breaks to climb Augstmatthorn? Yeah. It was insane. Some of the stairs had the height of my legs, so I wasn’t necessarily waltzing up like my two tall marathon-running companions. In fact I was nearly
climbing. When we got to the top I collapsed, partly from exhaustion but partly from the scenery. We took in the view while I shoved a sandwich into my face as quickly as I could. You could see off both sides of the ridge we were on: to our left were beautiful pastures and farmland, while to the right were the lakes and the edge of Interlaken. You can see the glaciers and white-topped mountains in the distance: it was absolutely breathtaking.
At this point, we had to decide if we wanted to continue to the actual Hardergrat trail (which we hadn’t even gotten to yet), or if we wanted to make our way down. I only had a little bit of water left, and even though the Hardergrat was the reason I’d
chosen to come to Interlaken in the first place, we figured it was better safe than sorry. The photo on the right is the rest of the Hardergrat trail.
Going down was almost as hard as going up, simply because of how steep and slippery the eroding dirt path was. We ran into some cows, had to say hi of course- aren’t they beautiful?? I’m no cow expert but those are some good looking cows.
At the bottom was a cheese-making restaurant, in which I promptly spent ten euros on cold water without looking back. It was worth it.
Long story short: Switzerland kicked my butt, but if it hadn’t then it wouldn’t have really been Switzerland.
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
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!!