To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Category: Semester (Page 4 of 29)

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.

A Very French Lunch, Round II.

(Please read this title in a French accent for full comedic effect.)

The Very French Lunch was absolutely amazing. I am sure you guys can tell by now, I am a little bit of a snob about authentic cultural experiences: I am always looking to get in the daily life of people, I don’t enjoy sightseeing very much, and I love just walking around places. So, at first glance, I was not too excited about the French lunch. For me, it was just a bunch of GTL students eating a fancy lunch together. However, I was able to invite my mom, my best friend, and my best friend’s mom, so it seemed like a great opportunity.

Of course, I woke up late and SPRINTED over to GTL where I was just able to catch the group of students leaving. I found my mom and my best friend’s mom, Susan, in the back of the group talking to Dr. Birchfield, one of the coolest GT Faculty members that I have ever met. We had a great conversation on the walk over.

The event was hosted at a hospitality school, so it was an opportunity for French students to practice serving a fancy meal. The students were really cool and very proper, always serving from the left, the perfect tone when saying “Je vous en prie” (you’re welcome), and making the perfect level of eye-contact: not too much, but not too little.

Additionally, it was a free class on etiquette. I had a general understanding of etiquette rules, but Madame Serafin, one of the French professors at GTL, was there to guide us through each step. Madame Serafin is a super blunt, quick-witted, and dry person, all the while being incredibly warm and loving. She made jokes about American students not knowing the rules and explained each dish as it was served.

The food was so so so so so amazing. Oh my goodness. It was a full 5 course meal, which was a nice change of pace from the spaghetti and meat sauce that has become my go-to meal. The main course was chicken served with three sauces, and each of them was more delicious than the last. The entire meal was great.

As far as cultural differences between fancy dining in France and in the States, I am sad to report that I didn’t find any. That being said, I am a 20-year-old college student that doesn’t have the most experience with fancy dining, so I am not the best person to pick up on these differences. I will say, it was a more authentic cultural experience than I expected. (This is beside the point that not everything you do in a foreign country needs to be “an authentic cultural experiences.” In the end, I am here for 5 months and if everything I do is an authentic cultural experience, I would not be able to live my daily life.) However, I was able to interact with the servers and ask them about their program, had some delicious French food at a traditional French table setting, and had a wonderful espresso after the meal. (One difference is that French people call it expresso, with an x, which is a big pet-peeve of mine in the States.)

For the word of the week, I want to give you all a phrase that goes with the post and is probably not very well known. I am sure that you don’t know this, but before a meal, French people say, “Bon appetit.” Doesn’t that sound so weird and unfamiliar?

Hopefully that sarcasm was received via blog post. (Conveying sarcasm is hard via writing.) However, I would like to give you a phrase that is not so well-known, so this week’s actually phrase of the week is: “Je suis rassasié.” This is an extremely formal way to say that I am full or satisfied. Look up how it is pronounced in French, because for me it is one of those words that sounds exactly like what it means.

Horror and Fantasy

In its variegated history, Germany has been the setting of fairy tales and real-life terrors. These are joined in Munich. Originally, I chose to travel to this city for my most depressing motivator: the belief that while I am able, I should witness firsthand the remnants of a concentration camp. Poland is a bit out of reach for me, so I decided on Dachau. I will not discuss this much further, as the experience is distinctly disturbing and to detail my thoughts would not be quite in line with my intended mood for this blog.

In contrast to Dachau, my other intention for visiting Munich was to take a day trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein, a nearby castle and the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Despite not allowing any photographs indoors, it is the most photographed building in Germany. This means that tourism runs rampant, and I learned an hour past the deadline that to see the inside of the castle, reservations must be made two days in advance. I held on to the hope that I would be able to buy tickets on site, given that it was snowing, not tourist season, and I intended to arrive at 9 am. It turned out to be a shorter line to buy tickets than to wait in the “express line” for those who reserved in advance. I don’t exactly advocate showing up unprepared, but at least in this case, most things that I was completely unprepared for turned out better than my series of plans and backups. On a whim, I bought a combined ticket that included a tour of the nearby Schloss Hohenschwangau, a much less remarkable structure externally but still another castle to visit.

As with most visitors, my intentions were primarily visual – Neuschwanstein is a beautiful building, after all. The castle was entirely satisfying in this matter, but I found myself most fascinated with the building’s creator. My tour inside this building turned out to be fairly unremarkable, but after further research I attribute this to a lackluster guide. Certain highlights interested me, such as the modernity of its design. Electricity, central heating, and running water (from the mouth of a swan statue into the King’s washbasin) were cleverly designed amenities incorporated in the overall elaborate aesthetic. The entire interior was intricate and beautiful, including such odd choices as a faux cave and extensive murals detailing scenes from the operas of Richard Wagner. This made me question how such things came about – a lucky choice of designer, or a King who actually took the time to think of all of this? The building’s beauty is self-evident, but there were few mentions of the people and stories that normally populate such a project. Small comments in passing hinted at more: the castle is largely unfinished, and only housed the king that built it for less than 200 days, before he died under mysterious circumstances.

 

As I waited for my tour at Hohenschwangau, I began researching this King Ludwig II. It turns out, his life is utterly fascinating. My tour in his childhood home of Hohenschwangau turned out to be fantastically informative of him and his family as well. This actually is a great combination – Neuschwanstein’s beauty attracts you and presents the mystery, while Hohenschwangau, less dramatic in its exterior, holds the information and history of the family. Due to the fact that it was actually lived in, the interior is filled with stunning gifts and intricate details. The king’s bedroom was even outfitted with glowing stars and a moon that changed to match the actual moon’s phase. The details of Ludwig’s life started to come together, centering around the theme of fantasy. He was utterly obsessed, and his entire life seemed to be out of some tale.

Ludwig ascended the throne at only 18 and was known to have little interest in ruling. According to Wikipedia, “he was not prepared for high office, [but] his youth and brooding good looks made him popular in Bavaria and elsewhere.” This trend marked his life and eventual death. His fantasies appeared most notably in his obsession with Wagner, going so far as to consider abdicating the throne to follow him when he left Munich. Instead of getting too concerned in politics, Ludwig wished to elevate the cultural aspects of Bavaria, by investing in the arts and using his personal fortune to build an assortment of castles and palaces. His advisors believed this spending to be unreasonable, though they have now paid for themselves many time over due to the high-traffic tourism. Ultimately, they conspired to depose him and had psychologists declare him insane. The next day, he and his psychologist were found in the nearby lake, drowned allegedly as suicide. As his cousin, Empress Elisabeth of Austria stated, “he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams.” Perhaps he should have left the throne for a life that suited him better.

As we travel, we unkowingly walk in the wake of uncomprehensible depth of history. I often get caught up in what is availible for me to go see right now, but forget to research the lives of those who came before. Even when there’s no tour guide or sign detailing what was significant, I can take it upon myself to follow leads that interest me, adding significance where little was before. That’s not to say that the present is less important. The entire history of a place should be appreciated and enjoyed. On this note, with my little remaining time in Munich I decided to follow a recommendation by my Grandpa. He travels constantly, and as he is of German heritage, he often comes to this country. As an inspiration in both my desire to travel and to become an engineer like him, he recommended I visit the Deutsches Museum. I only regret not being able to spend as much time here as the museum deserves, given that it is the world’s largest STEM museum, with substantial amounts of English descriptions! Any Tech student would love this museum, and I highly recommend setting aside as much time as you can to explore.

When in France, Do As the Germans Do

The great benefit of GTL as a study abroad program is the pure freedom. Initially, I thought of this in terms of time and space – 4 months of unlimited trains spanning most of western Europe. The longer I am here, though, the more I realize how many different ways this program can be experienced. I have been talking to many other students at GTL about how they have shaped this program for themselves.

The student population is small enough that everyone becomes a familiar face after a while, so it’s not unusual for me to beg for homework help from someone I’m only vaguely sure is in that class. This odd familiarity we’ve found ourselves in leads to small talk of weekends in Italy and bruises from Swiss Alps: the kind of chats I figured only those rich enough to use “summer” as a verb would be having, yet here we are. But my foolproof blueprint for social interaction has begun to fail. It’s almost as if I can’t just ask every person the same question and have conversation flow flawlessly. I thought this was like FASET, where you just ask every acquaintance what their major is and promptly form arbitrary cliques. But now, not every time I ask where someone went this weekend is it met with tales of an exotic trip 4 countries away.

It began with the graduate students. Most of them are not Americans partying abroad, but French or other nearby European students studying in a program that allows them a dual degree from both their home university and GT. To them, GTL isn’t the haven of travel I see it, but could be a bridge to a job in America, or just a diversification of their education. I commend all of them – I can’t understand fluid mechanics when it’s taught in my first language.

My friend Seth, a fellow American undergraduate, has spent, as far as I know, every weekend at GTL in Metz. I was shocked at first. I had once considered doing this as a means to afford going to Europe without paying for travel every weekend, but to voluntarily ignore all the easily accessible countries for just our corner of France? The more he explained though, the more boring my own approach seemed in comparison. Unlike me, Seth has actually learned French fairly well, and he came to France not for “that constant vacation feel” but to solidify his knowledge of the language while forming bonds with those of another nationality. His approach is not to use Metz just as a gateway to other attractions, but as an opportunity to experience living somewhere entirely new. This is an uncommon experience – not just living in a new location, but in a novel country and culture.

Since talking with Seth, I’ve tried to focus more on imagining life in the countries I visit, on a more day-to-day scale. My purpose in coming to GTL was to experience more than my little corner of the world, so I put an emphasis on breadth in order to generally calibrate my understanding of places. Now, I also imagine what living in these locations would look like. France, I can certainly comprehend, as I’m doing it right now (albeit in a sheltered GTL bubble). Regardless, I love the French people, language, and food. More interesting to me, however, is comparing this experience to the other countries I have visited. I have a running theory that the ideal sample of a European country can be found in its public transportation. The Italians sang and played guitar, the Germans passed around beer, and on one train the French were so utterly silent, I was too self-conscious to eat a sandwich. All of these I enjoyed, but in different manners. Italy is a beautiful, lively country, but I cannot imagine myself living there. I’m too introverted for their familiar style, and I prefer the quiet of a French train. The Germans seemed surprisingly jolly in most of my interactions with them and spoke more English than most other countries, making for another appealing option.

Ultimately, my strongest driving factor in evaluating countries is on their food. The Germans brought me the best new food: currywurst. France has the most diverse food, with a surprisingly strong Asian trend that satisfies my cravings. Italy, of course, has pasta, pizza, and gelato to die for, but it seemed comically void of literally any other food. Every meal was simply a choice between the three (yes, gelato is a meal to me). My ultimate favorite remains the glorious Belgian fry. Street carts and café’s devoted to fries line the streets of Belgium, and people wait around the block. Sauces come in more flavors than you can imagine, and the little forks make eating somehow so much more enjoyable. For this alone, I could thrive in Belgium. I may not quite want to give up my nomadic lifestyle for the sake of cultural acclimation, but “playing house” internationally has become my new favorite game.

Page 4 of 29

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén