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Category: Semester (Page 2 of 28)

From Morocco to Metz: Bennis’ Story

I met Bennis Mamoun the first week being at Georgia Tech Lorraine. I remember walking up to him and his friends to introduce myself. Upon meeting him, I found out he is from Morocco! That moment, I realized that not only was I studying in France with students from the Atlanta campus, but I was also studying with other students from all around the world that are at GTL for the same purpose I am.

Bennis, who goes by Ben, is from Morocco and completed his undergraduate studies in Aerospace Engineering at the Université Internationale de Rabat. Even though Ben is from Morocco, this is not his first time in France; he previously came to France as a tourist traveling to a couple cities – one of which being Paris. In comparison to being a tourist, he says that his experience of living in Metz has been great (and less expensive).

When it comes to being away from his family back in Morocco, Ben says he feels comfortable as he is used to being away from his family for school due to his previous university being in a different city. Aside from the different cultures between Morocco and France, he has been pleasantly surprised to see how well organized everything is especially when it comes to the school and transportation systems of France. His adjustment to life in Metz has been great, except when it comes to the shift of his meals to consisting mostly of bread, croissants, and delicious chocolate.

At Georgia Tech Lorraine, Ben is pursuing his master’s in mechanical engineering. Even though he is not doing research at the moment, he hopes to begin his research next semester under a mentor. When it comes to future plans for his career, he is very open to see where his career will go. Having his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and getting his master’s in mechanical engineering, Ben realizes the broad and significant number of opportunities he will have in the future. When I asked him what made him decide on getting his master’s in mechanical engineering, he said “It gives you enough tools to work in every other industry.” Long term, he hopes to one day live and work in Europe, and to have an internship experience to discover his interests before completing his master’s degree.

While Ben continues to pursue his asters, he hopes to have some new fun experiences along the way. This semester at GTL, he looks forward to planning a skiing trip, as that is something he has never done. Something many people do not know about Bennis is that he has been to four countries, loves cats, and is a “meme addict” – and for those who do not know what a meme is, it is a picture that has a funny caption on it. He says they make his day just a little brighter. Aside from reading memes, he enjoys watching TV series and playing video games such as League of Legends in his spare time. Best of wishes to Ben in the future as he work toward his master’s in mechanical engineering, try skiing for the first time, and continues laughing at funny memes!

Marvelous Meandering in Metz

After a busy, exciting, and syllabus-filled first week at Georgia Tech Lorraine, what better way to spend the weekend than by exploring the city of our new home? Last weekend, several friends and myself spent our time wandering the beautiful city of Metz and experiencing all that it has to offer. A disclaimer for you, readers: my excitement about some of the things we did, sights we saw, or food we had in Metz is probably going to sound exaggerated because I use lots of superlatives, but I mean them sincerely! It was really that awesome. Now, let’s go! (Or should I say, METZ go? …I’m sorry.)

Pictures don’t do it justice; the movement, optical illusions, and music are what made the experience truly amazing.

On Friday night, our motley group of nine GTL students wandered aimlessly for a long time, trying to decide on a restaurant, plagued by the indecision that increases exponentially in larger groups of people, until finally we stopped walking in circles and just sat down at the nearest place. The restaurant we chose was called Mamie M’a Dit (which, according to Google Translate, means Granny Told Me), and it was excellent! Luckily, we were sharers and we all exchanged bites of our food, so I got to try duck, veal, and what appeared to be the French equivalent of chicken pot pie in addition to the steak that I ordered.

After dinner, we made our way to what would become the highlight (literally) of the night: the light show on the Cathedral that took place as part of the Constellations festival. I don’t know what I was expecting before seeing it but it turned out to be, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The sheer scale of the projection, the way the images perfectly complemented and seemed to change the face of the cathedral itself, the way the accompanying music reflected and enhanced it—it was absolutely incredible.

The cathedral in Metz is nothing to sneeze at even when it’s not covered in a projection performance. And by nothing to sneeze at I mean stunningly beautiful.

The other Constellations exhibitions included a lit up arcade; a large, spinning, glowing ring with unearthly music playing in the background; projections on the roof of the ceiling in a museum; projections of pop art onto walls of buildings; colorful paper boats on the river; a glowing line sculpture by the castle on the river; and some glowing mannequins, all interspersed around Metz and all free to experience.

This is my sketch of the view from the park where we were sitting.

On Saturday, we went to the open market in the plaza near the cathedral, where we bought peaches, tomatoes, some beautiful strawberries (some of the best I’ve ever had—again, no exaggeration here), and some kind of pancake-like food that was thicker than a crepe and had cheese and vegetables on it. Then we wandered to a park and sat and talked for a couple hours while I sketched the scene in front of us.

Lastly, we visited the Pompidou, with its lovely color exhibition and some art that was fascinating and other art that was just peculiar. I could talk about the pieces we saw for hours, but I’ll save it for the future post I’m planning about the art I’ve seen in France so far (which is kind of a ton considering I’ve been here for just under three weeks). Strangely, there was also a giant, empty room bathed in pink light with a humming sound in the background that had delightfully soft carpet and was very soothing to sit in.We stayed there for an hour, and it was the best giant pink museum room that I’ve been in in my life. (Ok, now I’m just messing with you. This is still true though!)

One of the main pieces at the Pompidou exhibition.

This post doesn’t even cover all of the great experiences we had in Metz. I could spend ages talking more about how lovely the city is, describing the deliciousness of each pastry we tasted, waxing poetic about the loveliness of each park we explored, of each building, from ornate edifices to quaint cafes…but instead I’ll just recommend that you visit and experience the wonders of Metz yourself!

Metz is an Underrated City and Here’s Why

Before coming to Georgia Tech Lorraine, I heard of other classmates’ experiences and would see all of their lavish travel pictures on their Instagram feeds. I was always in awe to see how students were able to travel to so many different countries in a short period of time while studying as well because of our central location to many major cities in Europe. While I would hear about the coursework, traveling Europe, and funny memories, the stories lacked details about the city whose downtown center I would be less than 20 minutes from: Metz, France.

The Mirabelle festival parade

After completing classes on Friday of the first week, a group of fellow classmates and myself went into the city at night to watch the constellation show on the cathedral. We also toured the city the next day, eating in a local café, shopping, visiting the French market, walking through the cathedral, and visiting the Museum of La Cour d’Or. To conclude the first weekend adventures, I was able to see the traditional Mirabelle Festival Parade that rolls through the center of the city every year. People were crammed in the streets standing on their toes to see the parade, soulful jazz music from saxophones filling the air and colorful floats rolling by. As

A concert for the Mirabelle festival

the Mirabelle Festival was coming to an end in Metz, I was also able to see hot air balloons rising high in the sky from the view of my dorm window.

Last week, I was also able to learn even more about Metz and its neighboring cities during a speech from the President of the local government and a visit around Moselle with this semester’s Georgia Tech Lorraine class. On the tour for GTL, I was able to go to the Museum of the War of 1870 and Annexation. While visiting the museum, I was able to better understand Moselle and the German influences that still exist in Metz today!

The Cathedral of Metz

From touring the city and experiencing the jaw-dropping constellation show and parade, I can truly say that Metz is a beautiful, unique city to be in. Walking along the streets you can see the history and growth in the architecture, the peace and happiness in the air and locals’ mannerisms, and the fascinating history in the museums and artifacts. From the few days that I was able to walk through the city, I was able to appreciate more where Georgia Tech Lorraine is located.

Overall, I am truly in awe at how beautiful and historical Metz is: from the museums and architecture to watching the skills of a baker or musician while roaming through the city. From my experiences, I can say that Metz is underrated; it does not get the credit and exposure that it deserves. It is truly a beautiful, friendly, art-loving, cultural city. While it is not a typical tourist city, it is beautiful to observe a more local life of France, and gain better knowledge on French history and culture.

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.

Getting to GTL and an Electrifying Culture Shock

A Week Before Leaving for GTL

Orientation day at Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

As I began getting ready for my semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, I was overcome by a wave of emotions. I felt ecstatic, nervous, upset about being away from my family, and proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone to study abroad all at the same time. About a week before I left for GTL, I entered what I would call a phase of “extensive research.”

During my time of extensive research, I watched YouTube videos on what to wear in France to blend in with the locals and everyday French customs; went shopping for a more neutral, minimalist wardrobe; and gathered advice from female solo travelers and young students on the best ways to safely travel abroad. This research was a result of my nervousness: by doing this, I felt ready and more comfortable with what to expect while traveling in Europe and living in Metz, France.

As the days began to wind down and I got closer and closer to leaving, my nerves and excitement started to kick in even more. This semester is my first time going overseas; I had no idea of what to expect besides from what I could learn online. This program has provided me with the opportunity to be the first in my immediate family to ever travel and study abroad. Saying this, the last few days were not only nerve-wracking for me, but also for my family.

The last three days before I left, I spent time with family and friends by going out to eat, binge watching tv shows and shopping with my mother, and watching the exhilarating, well executed Mission: Impossible – Fallout with my father in theatres. While I do travel and am away from home due to internships and school often, this experience of studying abroad is slightly out of my comfort zone. This is truly an experience that I am ready to fully immerse myself in every day.

First Week At GTL

Leaving for GTL.

Being at Georgia Tech Lorraine for the first week, my experience thus far has already taught me some lessons and has me eager to learn the mechanical engineering coursework to come. Stepping off the plane in Paris the first day, I was exhausted. I was not expecting my flight to be so long and turbulence-filled. I remember an hour before my plane landed in Paris, I awakened from my 2 hour nap to look at my flight attendant with my sleep eye mask still on my face, as she placed my prepackaged breakfast on the plastic tray in front of me.

As a group of Georgia Tech students and myself made it to our meeting spot at the Paris airport, I collapsed on the ground and patiently waited for the shuttle. On the shuttle to Metz, I had the best sleep I had in 24 hours. The first day, many of the students and myself worked on cleaning our rooms and getting rest to start the next day off the right way, as day 2 would be orientation.

On day 2, everyone went to orientation with bright smiles and excitement in our trot. We took a tour of the Georgia Tech Lorraine building, grabbed leftover items from previous students, and went to class and an after-party. This day, I also truly experienced culture shock for the first time in France. After digging around the leftover items from previous GTL students for appliances and toilet paper like my life depended on it, I had my first French food ordering experience all by myself!

I ordered a sandwich and a Coke from a restaurant on the corner near the Lafayette dorms. The fun part about all this is that I don’t even really like Coke, and I had no idea what sandwich I ordered until I took a bite into it. The reason this happened is because I hardly know any French besides the basic greetings, and the woman who took my order did not know much English. The sandwich actually tasted very good as it had chicken and cheese stuffed in the bread! When I left the restaurant, I was not upset that the woman did not know what I was saying. Yet I realized how ignorant I am to the French culture and that in order to survive and be more respectful to other cultures, I needed to quickly learn some French. After all, I am in France!

Daily walk to class at the GTL campus.

Overall, the first week mainly consisted of getting settled in the dorms, grocery shopping, attending classes, and making weekend plans to see Metz. Already I have learned a few lessons such as: French greetings, how to navigate the GTL campus, and to never again try to carry two 30-pound bags from the grocery store for a mile to the dorms. Regardless of the jet lag and new cultural immersion, in the words of Annie, “I think I’m gonna like it here!”

Breaking the Rules: Studying Video Games in Metz

 

Written by guest blogger Kevin Chen

I studied video games in Metz… wait a second. Since when did the words “study” and “video games” ever go together? Something sounds wrong. But here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, I was able to break this rule.

As part of HTS 2100, I studied the growth of eSports, the competitive aspect of the video game industry. On March 23, I got the dream opportunity of meeting one of the eSports leaders in Europe, Thomas Willaume. Willaume is the founder and CEO of Helios Gaming, the largest video game tournament ladder in the Grand Est, or “Great East,” region of France. Willaume describes Helios Gaming as a “video game ecosystem,” in which all types of players and teams gather to share their love of video games.

Our meeting with Willaume occurred at a startup incubator named TCRM-Blida in Metz. During our meeting, I was able to sneak in a stellar photo of me, one of my classmates Akib bin Nizam, and of course, the tall and handsome Thomas Willaume.

After the meeting, our hosts at TCRM-Blida invited the class to an Indie Game festival that evening. I was hesitant to accept this invitation. I did not know what to expect – I have never attended any video game event. Despite my uncertainty, I decided to give it a shot. I promised myself I wouldn’t stay long…an hour at most.

That evening, I was amazed by how energetic the event was. It felt like a disco, with dark yet colorful lights. A crowd of roughly 400 people gathered, eagerly sharing their affinity for video games.

My Georgia Tech friends and I played nearly every video game that was offered. The video game that stuck with me the most was a fast-paced time management game, somewhat similar to Overcooked.

The one hour that I promised to spend slowly became 2, then 2.5, and then 3 before my friends and I finally left.

When people say that studying abroad is a new experience, they cannot be more correct. For me, this came in the form of a new video game experience! Never before have I experienced playing video games outside of a home environment on this scale. Maybe one day I’ll be a professional video game player, battling dragons and opponents to take down the enemy nexus while a lively crowd cheers behind me.

Taking Off in the Pink City with HTS 2100

Featuring guest bloggers Soon Keat Ong, Jenna Lecates, Kaleb Senator, and Yang Chen.

No Yellow Jacket’s journey through France is complete without a visit to Toulouse. Home to Airbus and a museum that houses two Concordes, it is an aerospace  engineer’s playground. As part of Professor Tim Stoneman’s HTS 2100 class at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, we had the opportunity to visit this amazing place with Dr. Stoneman and Professor Turab Zaidi. It was enlightening to learn about the history and stories behind the aircraft on display in the Aeroscopia Museum, and the experience of being inside the Concorde was extraordinary. The highlight of the trip was definitely the visit to Airbus, where we got to see aircraft at various stages of completion on the final assembly line. Of particular significance was the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft — it is impossible to get a sense of scale until you realize that you can stand inside the base of the wing! Later in the afternoon, the good folks at Airbus gave us the chance to try out their state-of-the-art VR and 3D scanning equipment. Airbus researchers use these tools to create and test virtual models of their aircraft, and we learned a great deal exploring virtual models of airplanes and taking 3D images of ourselves.

 

To the Mediterranean!

The second part of our field trip was a visit to the Canal du Midi that connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. It was humbling to see the result of the ingenuity and hard work of the men and women who built the canal, all of which was dug by hand more than 300 years ago. We also stumbled across a bridge dedicated to Thomas Jefferson! He had journeyed through the canal from Sète on the Mediterranean coast to Toulouse, and our visit retraced a portion of the route he took over 200 years ago. Lunch was devoured at a tasteful restaurant right next to the 9 staircase locks of Fonserannes, near Béziers, accompanied by a nice view of the city’s cathedral. We also got the chance to see some boats passing through the locks, just as they have done for over three centuries.

Overall, this field trip was an incredible experience. Special thanks to Professor Danielle Andreu, head of partner school ENSEEIHT’s International Office, and the students of ENSEEIHT, recently renamed the Toulouse School of Engineering, who graciously provided us food, transportation, and camaraderie.

Barcelona Monday

The train strike calendar.

Life in a foreign culture is polarizing. Trains are now constant companions, yet many of those involved in the system seem to be attempting to dampen my fierce joy in extensive public transportation. I would venture to say that I am experienced in train riding, but all my anxious backup plans and preparation still leave factors I cannot control. The SNCF (French train company) workers have all decided to begin striking.

Now, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I have developed the theory that Europeans don’t actually get more vacation time than Americans, they just strike consistently enough to satisfy any need to take off work. Earlier this semester, the employees of a nearby prison decided to strike and make bonfires every day for a while, which itself was concerning. Now, SNCF took it further and is striking 2 days of every 5 for the remainder of the semester. While I am unsure of the exact implications of this, it seems highly discouraged to travel within France on these days. This is slightly inconvenient as a resident of France. Despite obstacles, we persevere.

For the most part, we GTL students are a nomadic people. This tendency is tempered by the necessity to be back bright and early for 8:30 am circuits class on Monday. As a result, and in keeping with the defiance of the local culture, an underground movement has developed the concept of a “Barcelona Monday.” In entirely unintentional circumstances, it is evidently common for students who have traveled all the way to the titular city to “miss their train,” forcing them to forgo Monday classes for another day in Spain. While the frequency of these circumstances is a bit skeptical, it arises out of the legitimate difficulty of consistently returning on time while maximizing travel. I always try to have backup plans and avoid taking the last train for this reason. An extra hour of travel would be nice but is not worth the 40-minute walk at 2 am if you end up getting back after the last bus.

This weekend resulted in a new level of travel-related struggling. As mentioned, SNCF has designed a schedule as inconvenient and difficult to remember as possible. This wasn’t much of a problem after deciding to leave at 6 am on Friday, instead. On Sunday we miraculously avoid the striking of the French, but were no match for the superior inefficiencies of the Germans. Despite their reputation for engineering, all of my issues with delayed trains (excluding those in Italy which are honestly expected) have been in Germany. This time, a 35-minute delay caused us to miss a 20-minute connection (long by our normal standards). Of course, we had backup options and elected to splurge slightly by getting a last-minute reservation high-speed train instead of taking the option that would get us home after midnight. This plan was promptly jeopardized when our train arrived at the exact latest time we needed to leave to make our connection possible. The clown-car-like amount of people who poured out brought some levity, though this took so long as to dash any hope of making the next train. Just to emphasize the point, the train proceeded to arrive 60 minutes late, leaving most of the passengers stranded.

I am no stranger to the ephemeral homelessness of sleeping in a train station just to be kicked out at 1 am while your train leaves at 4. This night was to be much longer and would still result in being late for my first class. At this point, giving in and paying for a hotel seemed to be the best option, despite the already lost money on the reservation train. Yet in times of trouble, friends come out of the woodwork. This most recent delay resulted in meeting up with 3 other GTL students in the same predicament, as well as accidentally befriending a German-Canadian student on the train, who planned to major in Mechanical Engineering as most of us are doing now. Banding together proved to save the situation for us all.

To attempt to reclaim the money for the reservation, we ran into a crowd at the information desk. In contrast to their spotty work schedule, the SNCF employees worked hard when they were there. We soon found ourselves on a list for a free hotel room, and our fellow GTL student who hadn’t made a reservation managed to make it on the list also. I emphasize the importance in trying. Instead of accepting the fate we were used to, just simply showing up got us handed a hotel stay, a free dinner, and an excuse to miss class, though Strasbourg is not quite as thrilling as Barcelona.

Our hotel instructions were fairly vague, simply stating to go to the Ibis across the street. We were then met with two Ibis hotels, one specified to be the budget version, so of course we went to the full experience first. They feigned ignorance of any accommodation for us, and discretely explained that there were in fact three Ibis hotels: this one (red, for “stop, you’re too poor”), the blue one next door (notably avoiding the word “budget” prominently displayed on its sign), and the green one that we had not seen (speculated to be located in a dark alley on the other side of town). The blue turned out to be our home away from home, and we settled in, thankful for our welfare-esque dinner boxes and shared beds after offering to house other GTL friends who had not gotten rooms of their own. Awkward sleeping arrangements are welcome in comparison to a station bench.

Senegal: JAMM REKK!

So, this spring break I had the opportunity to return to one of my favorite places in the entire world, Senegal. Last summer, through Georgia Tech’s LBAT (Language in Business and Technology) program, I was able to spend three months in Senegal doing an internship and taking French classes. These three months definitely had their challenges, but overall it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I was so grateful to be able to go back for Spring Break.

That being said, I am trying to not double-dip with my blog posts, so if you want to read about my previous trip to Senegal you can find out all about it at www.robbytakesdakar.weebly.com !

I flew into Senegal very, very, very early Friday morning (most of their flights land and take off around 2 am). I rented an AirBNB from a wonderful family in a fun neighborhood (Sacre-Coeur 3), so I had the address. It was about a 20-minute drive from the airport and taxis in Senegal are very safe, so I was just planning on getting one after I made it through customs. That is, until I land in Senegal and realize that the new airport is open and I am now about 50km outside of the city at 2 am. Not exactly an ideal situation. However, I thought back to a Senegalese proverb, “ndank ndank muy japp golo ci nay.” Which literally translates to, “little by little you will catch the monkey in the forest,” but is used to mean have patience and everything will work out.

So, I do some quick research and find that the average fare for a taxi is around 40 euros, or there is a shuttle that runs directly downtown for 10 euros. I was definitely a little nervous about taking an unknown shuttle 50 km at 2 in the morning, but since I had been to the country before and knew how patient and accepting Senegalese people are, I decided to go for it!

Took the shuttle no problem, got off near the largest soccer stadium, and got a taxi to take me to the location of my AirBNB that I had marked on my map. Now, the tricky thing about taxis in Senegal is that Google/Apple Maps/Waze are not used. The way it works is that you give the neighborhood of your destination, a little tricky if you’re a toubab (wolof word for white foreigner, not usually used hatefully), with nothing more than a street address. I got through this part with no problem. Then, they will ask you what part of the neighborhood you want to go to. The tricky thing is that you still can’t use street names, you have to use landmarks. The harder thing is knowing which landmarks are acceptable. For example, one time I tried to use this huge shopping center, “Central Park” as a landmark, and the driver had no idea what I was talking about. However, other times I have successfully used a deformed tree to direct a driver. Usually, when it gets to this point, I direct the driver close enough and walk the difference. However, this time, the location that I marked was right near the interstate and I was able to direct him exactly there. 3:30 am and I finally made it to my AirBNB, right? WRONG. I had saved the wrong GPS location and had absolutely no idea where to go. So here I am, 4am, a 6’2” red headed toubab lost with a giant suitcase. That is how you get to know the character of a city.

I find someone sleeping in the street, and I gently wake him to ask him for directions. This in turn starts a chain reaction where he wakes someone else who has to go buy credit for their phone so I can call my host and then the host talks to my two new companions and explains to them where to go, so we set off. We get there, and the two men that helped me turn to leave, not even expecting any compensation. That is such a typical experience in Senegal. People are so ready to help you and are so willing to go out of their way to guide you. It was an amazing start to the trip.

For the rest of this post, I am going to break-out of a chronological narrative and just talk about the highlights of the trip because I would otherwise write an entire novel.

The Family:

My AirBNB family was composed of a man from the Ivory Coast that married a woman from Senegal and were raising their two children: Momo (about 2 years old) and a 10 month-old infant whose name I do not know. Momo was so shocked that a toubab was able to dingue oulof (speak wolof), so every time he saw me after the first day, he would SCREAM “Na nga def?” (how are you?) over and over and over. He was so sweet and we ended up spending a decent amount of time together. One day, when I was leaving, he grabbed on to my leg and cried and didn’t want me to go. We even watched Mickey Mouse and Peppa Pig together on Netflix. The family also invited me to eat with them every single day. Unfortunately, I was only available to eat with them once. We all sat around one bowl and had ceebu jen (rice and fish) and it was absolutely delicious. There is a special type of community that is formed when the entire table shares one dish. Often times, the women will cut off pieces of fish and vegetables and pass it to the others around the table. I like to do this gesture as well because it shows that you are thinking of the others. On my last day, I had some fruit left over that I would not be able to take on the plane, so I gave it to the mom of the family. By the afternoon, she had taken it and turned it into a delicious orange-grapefruit juice that she shared with everyone. This was the absolute best experience that I could have hoped for.

The Weather:

Hear me out, I love Metz, France so much. But, it was very nice to see the sun. Throughout the week, it was between 17 and 23 celsius, with dips in the temperature at night. It was also sunny with pretty strong winds throughout my stay. I was so happy to see the sun, so I spent a lot of my time outdoors and even went to the beach. The Senegalese people, who were mostly wearing jackets (and even winter coats at night), looked at me like I was crazy.

The food:

The food in Senegal is the best I have ever eaten. Everything is so fresh, natural, and flavorful. Meat nad fruits are the highlight, but food in general tastes better. Combine that with the delicious recipes that comprise a Senegalese diet, and I was well-fed and happy the whole time. Highlights include: Mafe (peanutbutter meat sauce), Cebu yapp (kind of like Jollof rice with meat), Yassa (a sauce made with a ton of onions that can be served with fish or chicken), and soupou kanja (some type of sauce with okra (I think)). Dibi, which is roasted goat served with onions and spicy mustard is also amazing. It can sometimes be hard to pass the next day, but suffice it to say, that I have had dreams about Dibi when I returned to the States.

Seeing old friends:

I was able to see my friend Ndeye two times. Once, I went to visit her where she works, and another time we went out to get Dibi together. She and I have stayed in contact since my trip to Senegal, and she was easily my best friend while I was there. I was also able to go back and visit my host mother, tata Aby, and her nephew Alasane. (There is also a cat in the house named mous (the wolof word for cat), who remembered me and gave me lots of hugs.) Finally, I got to see Tata Charlotte, my self-titled Senegalese mother. Tata Charlotte runs a stand selling fruit and snacks at a moving market in Senegal. We met on my first week in Senegal when we were both in line to buy phone credit. She offered me the girl next to her in line as my wife. I laughed it off and said I need to graduate first, but the weirdest part was that Tata Charlotte did not know the girl in line. She has an infectious personality that makes everyone in the room feel like family. I was able to stop by Tata Charlotte’s stand and catch up with her for a couple of hours. As always, she gave me gifts of various snacks and cooking ingredients, and refused to accept my payment. Tata Charlotte is another perfect example of the endless hospitality that can be found in Senegal. Unfortunately, my friend Thiat was not able to hang out.

Football

About 2-minutes away from my AirBNB home there was a football field. It was always full of various local teams playing games, and it was such an amazing place to just hang out. I would go to the side of the field, enjoy the sun, watch the game, and do some light reading. It became a really peaceful part of my daily routine.

In the end, a week in Senegal was exactly what I needed. The openness of Senegalese people, demonstrated by the fact that I got phone numbers from 5 people that I just met in the street, is a little bit different from the daily life in France. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and it was a very slow-paced week. The only problem is, that after a week I was definitely not anxious to go home.

Although I have already given some wolof phrases, I am going to include one more as the phrase of the week. Jamm rekk (literally “peace only”), is such a great way to sum up my time in Senegal. It is commonly used in response to how are you, or how is the family, and it is a super useful phrase to know. So, here, I am going to use it like peace out: Jamm rekk!  

My Grandfather’s Cousin and Colmar

Prepare yourself, because this week’s post is full of wild parties, endless nights, and general craziness. This weekend, I finally had the chance to meet my grandfather’s cousin, Monique. My great-grandfather was born in Europe and moved to the States when he was quite young. I never knew that I even had family in Europe, but apparently I do! Monique and I met once, 17 or so years ago, but I really do not remember it at all, so it was basically our first time meeting. I was definitely nervous to spend an entire weekend with an 84-year-old French woman that I had never met before, but it was a relatively welcome change of pace from the non-stop busyness that is GTL. So off I went, to the cutest little town of Colmar.

When I got to the train station, Monique and I did not recognize each other, so we definitely passed each other about 7 times in the span of 15 minutes (and Colmar’s train station is not exactly huge). Finally, after seeing her for the 8th time, I said Monique and gently touched her elbow. At least that’s what I thought, but the elderly French woman I was touching did not appreciate the gesture. However, the real Monique did hear her name and was able to find me. Finally, reunited at last.

We went back to her house for dinner. Dinner consisted of a picnic of traditional Alsatian food. Some delicious bread, some charcuterie, a salad, and of course—cheese! (It was even better than a kebab.) Thankfully, I had nothing to be worried about. Monique and I hit it off immediately. We talked about French culture, American politics, and art. After dinner, she shared stories about her time in Alsace during the German occupation in WWII, including a story about a classmate who got sent to a concentration camp for 6 weeks because she asked a question in French. (At the time it was illegal to speak French.)

The next day, we spent the morning and most of the afternoon in the Musée Unterlinden which had an amazing mix of modern art, ancient artifacts, and pre-Renaissance religious paintings. It was an amazing museum, especially considering how small Colmar is. Then, we went driving all through Alsace to see some Cathedrals. We even got to see the Cathedral where Monique’s sister, Betty, was married.

The next day, we drove along “la Route des vins” to get some amazing views and have lunch. Then, we spent the afternoon indoors playing scrabble and sharing stories.

Let me tell you, scrabble in a foreign language is much harder than expected. That being said, I did a lot better than I thought I would and only lost by 30 points.

This week, I feel like I did not have much to write about because so much of the experience could not be put into words. It was surreal to connect with such a distant relative, and I was shocked by how well we got along, despite our differences. There were certainly periods of silence, but none of those silences felt heavy or uncomfortable. It was just such a special opportunity and I am so lucky that I had it.

Now, for the phrase of the week. This week’s special comes from Alsace: “Il ne vient pas de Guebwiller.” Guebwiller is a small town in Alsace that is loosely based on the German word for generous. So the phrase literally translates to, “he does not come from Guebwiller,” but it is used to mean that someone is not generous. So, at the end of the weekend I tried to tell Monique that she IS from Gueberwiller, but the joke did not translate well. In the end, it was an amazing weekend, and I am just blown away by the connections that life throws to me.

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