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Category: Why GTL? Page 1 of 4

Looking Back on the Se-Metz-ter

How could I end my time at Georgia Tech Lorraine with anything other than a bad pun? I can’t believe that the semester is already over, it seems to have flown by so quickly. Now that I’m back at home in the USA, it practically feels like I never even left—I’d almost believe that GTL was one long, crazy, wonderful dream if I didn’t have the pictures that proved otherwise! Thankfully, it wasn’t a dream, and I’m so thankful for the friends I’ve made, the memories I have, and the growth I’ve experienced that I know will last.

At Mont-Saint-Michel on my very first weekend trip!

This semester, I rode on a total of 64 trains and 4 flights, visited 10 countries (8 of which I’d never been to before), took 5 classes and 16 exams, and consumed more baguettes than I’m comfortable counting, all over the course of 17 weeks. It was definitely a whirlwind! More important than the numbers, though, is the quality of the incredible experiences I had. There were the big, exciting events, like visiting Mont-Saint-Michel, climbing a mountain, or spending a day in the Lego House. Then there were also the more everyday things, like the food eaten, games played, conversations had, and the many, many jokes laughed at. There were the hours spent in the library and in the student lounge at GTL, and the interesting things learned—from delving into society’s relationship with technology, to calculating that yes, wearing a tin foil hat actually would shield you from certain electromagnetic wave frequencies. All these things together—the highs and the lows, the big things and the small—helped to make my abroad experience as great as it was!

Sarah and I, halfway up the Schilthorn summit in Switzerland!

Laughing at dinner in Portugal over the long break 🙂

As to what I would have done differently, in general, I wish that I had taken more opportunities to push my own limits. Many of the experiences that I’m most grateful for or where I feel like I learned the most are where I was outside of my comfort zone: experiences like practicing my French “in the field,” or speaking to strangers and learning about their country and culture. (Not to mention hiking up a mountain; that was several thousand feet above my comfort zone!) I can think of many instances where I painstakingly composed sentences in French, about to pose a question or try my hand (tongue?) at a conversation, but chickening out at the last second. It may have saved me a couple of trips to Auchan, as well as given me a huge confidence boost, if I had only plucked up the courage to ask a stranger, “Excuse me, do you know where the bouillon cubes are?” Similarly, striking up conversations with people I didn’t know, while intimidating, usually resulted in an interesting conversation where I learned something new about the country or culture I was visiting. The funny thing is, every time I did go for it in these scenarios, I never regretted it. The worst thing that can happen is that someone won’t understand you or they won’t respond, which, although awkward, otherwise has no negative impact on you whatsoever. Bottom line: with things like these, if it scares you, you should probably go for it!

My blue octopus creation at the LEGO House in Denmark!

Although I regret never taking a solo trip to explore a new place on my own, I’m glad that I took a couple of weekends in Metz just for me when I needed to slow down and relax. GTL is filled with lots of fun and excitement, but all that activity gets pretty tiring, so I would recommend setting aside enough time to recuperate. Plus, Metz is such a beautiful city anyway that it’s a wonderful place to spend your time! Studying at Fox Café, walking along the Moselle, and taking in the Metz Cathedral are just a few of the activities you can do that are both fun and a relaxing break from the frequently fast pace of weekend travels.

I can’t even count how many great experiences that I’m grateful I had over the course of this semester. I’m really glad that I visited such a variety of countries that I’d never seen before, and that I had the chance to experience and learn about a wide breadth of cultures. On a more everyday note, I’m also happy that I branched out in the cooking department and tried lots of new recipes—my favorite dish that I made was Thai coconut chicken soup! I do wish that I had gotten to know more people better; there are tons of amazing people at GTL that I wish I had the chance to spend more time with. At the same time, though, I’m really glad that I got to know the people that I did spend lots of time with so well. (And that I’ve accumulated so many funny pictures of them sleeping on trains!)

 I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to come to GTL and experience how amazing it is. I know I’ll treasure these memories for life. Thanks so much for following along with me on this journey, and best of luck to any future GTL students reading—I hope you’re ready to have the experience of a lifetime!

My GTL Experience

The first week in Metz!

When I stepped off the plane and landed in France for the first time, I had no idea of what to expect. Immediately that first day, I was in a shock: I was surrounded by people speaking French, rushing through border control to get my luggage, and arriving at the Lafayette dorms exhausted from traveling. Little did I know, that first day would be the beginning of an important moment in my life, one that I will never forget. Since the beginning of Georgia Tech Lorraine, I had the opportunity to grow as an engineering student, a young woman, and as a traveler.

My dream trip to Paris!

 

Ever since I was younger, I dreamed of doing something exciting with my life, inventing things as an engineer, and traveling the world. Originally being from a small town in Louisiana, I always wanted to get out and see what the world had to offer. My acceptance into Georgia Tech was my first ticket to seeing more of just that. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that Georgia Tech would not just give me one ticket, but two: attending Georgia Tech Lorraine. This semester I was able to accomplish one of my greatest goals of traveling to Europe. While studying abroad in France, I was able to travel to 10 countries and over 20 cities. Through my travels, I was able to gain a better understanding of people from different cultures, develop a better perspective of the world, learn about and experience different traditions, make memories of a lifetime, and learn more about the countries I traveled to. Since starting the program, I became more adaptable and flexible to change as well; I no longer feel I need to know everything or plan every step to feel secure or have a great time while traveling.

Kayaked for the first time in my life. My smile does not show how much my arms were sore from paddling.

London!

I sprinted to catch trains, took tours around cities, slid down a mountain in a metal slide, kayaked in one of the biggest lakes in Switzerland, danced around Spain, and stood in front of the Anne Frank House. Some of my favorite memories from studying abroad were my trip to Switzerland, getting to see the Berlin Wall, climbing up the Eiffel Tower, standing in a crowd of people to see changing of the guards in London, and eating the most delicious fries and waffles in Belgium. The memories I made abroad will be some of the greatest ones of my twenty-somethings.

Coming to GTL, I knew I was going to have some great opportunities to travel, however, I was not expecting to grow as much as an engineer. I would say that this semester has been one of my most challenging ones yet. Throughout my time at GTL, I took courses in Deformable Bodies, Fluid Mechanics, System Dynamics, and Statistics and Probability. I was challenged, I was corrected, and I became a better future engineer because of it. Even though my classes were challenging, they were exciting because most of them were explicitly for my major and all the content from the preliminary courses I had taken were combining together to make more conceptual sense.

Where the Berlin Wall used to stand. One of my historical-rich and heart-touching trips!

There are some things I wish I would have done differently at the beginning of my semester at GTL. First things first, remember why you are at GTL; most people would say they are there for travel and school. However, at the beginning of the semester, the school part does not seem as important because you are in a new exciting place in Europe and are making travel plans to visit other countries, which is great! Something I wish I would have done differently was studying more before my weekend travels, do work on the train rides, and learn my teacher’s testing strategies earlier on. Another piece of advice that is important and rarely discussed

Fall break in Spain and Portugal!

is being flexible with the people you travel with. I can honestly say in the beginning, I was more focused on who I was traveling with than where I wanted to go. Do not be afraid to travel with another trustworthy group or person who may not be your best friend, because trust me, others will carry on with their plans, and you may miss out on a weekend of travels.

The most important part about traveling around Europe are the destinations, and you may even become friends with other people with being more flexible with your travel group! Also when traveling in Europe, I highly recommend getting a Eurail pass if you plan on traveling almost every weekend or want to catch trains often. It really paid off to have one for convenience and was a large cost saving on transportation. Another piece of advice for studying abroad would be to set a hard budget before getting to France; for every trip, you should calculate a projected cost of that trip and extras such as groceries and shopping. Trust me when I say the cost of living in France and traveling will add up quickly if you do not watch your spending. My last piece of advice is the most crucial: have the time of your life! Ask yourself, how many times will you be in Europe in your twenties with no commitments besides to pass a few classes? Remember that this experience is supposed to be fun and challenging, so make sure every day you find the good in the experience and to enjoy yourself.

Thanks for tuning into my study abroad journey!

During this program, I have made memories of a lifetime, grown as a person and student, and have been challenged beyond measures I never thought I would be. Coming to GTL, I would have never expected to be able to travel to as many countries as I did, or grow as much as I have. Studying abroad is truly a life-changing experience; from being abroad I have learned how to budget better, be stronger emotionally, be quicker to react to certain situations, make the most out of every moment, and have the time of my life. Thank you for keeping up with my study abroad adventures this semester. With this being my last blog post of the semester, I must best wishes and au revoir!

What Drives You—An Interview with Timothée Despruniee

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Timothée Despruniee about his time as a graduate student at Georgia Tech Lorraine! This is his first semester at GTL, and he’s studying mechanical engineering. He is also getting a dual degree with one of GT-Lorraine’s partner institutions ENSAM, which stands for Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers.

Tim is on the front right, and his little brother (who is also studying mechanical engineering) is to the left.

At Georgia Tech-Lorraine, Tim is taking three courses on campus and one that is online with a teacher at Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus. He has a bit more additional work due to his double degree with ENSAM, the equivalent of maybe two or three added courses. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s manageable for Tim because he, like some other French students, was in the classes prépas system prior to this. This classes prépas system required 45 hours of presence in class per week, with midterms every Saturday for different courses for at least four hours—this adds up to almost 70-75 hours a week of work! About GT-Lorraine, he says, “It’s a bit difficult, but not too much because there are not so many hours of courses, you just have to work a bit when you’re home. It’s very good, but it’s not as tough for those of us who did classes prépas. We are quite comfortable here, and the teachers are very nice, so that’s pretty cool.”

     I asked him which classes he was taking at Georgia Tech-Lorraine and ENSAM, and he mentioned acoustics and continuum mechanics as some courses he was taking. About the differences between ENSAM and GTL, he said, “At ENSAM, it’s more permeable, I would say. It’s not, ‘this class is about only this and you don’t do anything else,’ it’s a bit broad. I’ve been at ENSAM for two years now and it’s always been like this: a lot of presence in class, but very broad topics. It’s not the same, but it feels refreshing to have courses here since it’s very different from what we’re used to having. It’s less volume in hours and a bit more work at home, but it’s always in the idea of mechanical engineering to conceive, to think.”

When I asked Tim what he’d like to do after he finishes his degree, he talked about “I would want to be in the automobile industry. I’m very passionate about that. Since Georgia Tech is very well known for its mechanical engineering degree, I would want to use it to be able to go to interesting firms like Ford, Tesla, stuff like that. I’m really excited about the fact that the degree is well known, that it’s recognized and that I feel it gives me a lot of tools to be able to be a better engineer in the future.” He also told me about his passion for working on cars: he has a small red car that he’s made some alterations to, and it doesn’t look it, but it can go really fast!

It was great to talk with Tim and to hear about his passion for both mechanical engineering and the automobile industry—best of luck as he finishes the rest of his time at GT-Lorraine!

Interconnectedness and Exploration: An Interview with Patrick Weathers

Last week I had an excellent conversation with Patrick Weathers about being a graduate student here at GTL! This is his first semester in graduate school towards getting his Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering; he’ll be graduating next year in 2019, likely in the fall as he’s planning to do an internship during the summer semester. I first met Patrick at the student cafeteria, CROUS, where we bonded over our shared major and our shared tendency to resemble lobsters if we don’t apply enough sunscreen. I also learned then that he had gotten his undergraduate degree in materials science and that he had been working with semiconductors for a few years before deciding to return to school.

Patrick is scaling new heights academically and literally!

When I asked Patrick why he chose Georgia Tech-Lorraine, he talked about how he had done lots of lab work during his undergraduate experience, so a big part of his choice was the partnerships that GTL has with French research organizations. “I had worked in Grenoble one summer previously, and when I worked there I saw the strength of partnerships within France, especially within their research. Part of the benefits from that are not only diversified expertise and resources in terms of equipment, but also how the problem-solving approach when you unify a lot of different organizations becomes richer and more powerful. GTL stood out to me as an example not just of the research that Georgia Tech is capable of, but as a bridge to a previous life of mine working in France.”

One of Patrick’s favorite aspects of Georgia Tech Lorraine far is the degree of involvement that one can achieve both in terms of academics and in terms of exploring applications of those academics. The closeness of all GTL’s resources, the proximity of facilities like the Institut Lafayette, the small classes, and the availability of the professors all contribute to the ease with which he can deeply dive into the topics he’s passionate about. “Between academics, applications, and the world that is immediately around us outside of GTL – all of it is kind of laid out in front of us, meaning that the limitation is really only your own commitments, your own time management, and your own prioritization in terms of what you want to get done while you’re here.”

In a similar vein, he’s most excited about taking the things he learns from his classes and not only connecting the concepts between courses (for instance, comparing numerical analysis methods between his machine learning and image processing classes), but also about applying these things in the lab. “Going into the lab and microfabricating LEDs, microfabricating solar cells…those kinds of resources are as available, if not to some degree more available, here than they are on Tech’s campus. The exciting part, to kind of connect this back with the first question, is that there’s the connection and the resources of the expertise within professors and coursework, but then there’s also the ability to go and try to see it work out in real life in the lab.”

Patrick appears perfectly poised to get the most out of his semester here at GTL and to take full advantage of the amazing resources available, and I can’t wait to hear about the awesome things he learns and creates during his time here!

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!”

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.

Redefining Home

Written by Aria

An inactivated Eurail pass, residual jetlag, and a knack for procrastination
compose the exact ingredients for a weekend at home. Despite months of
asking every person I have ever met for suggestions on where to travel, I had
made no plans. Everyone always talks of the opportunities at GTL, but they
don’t mention how overwhelming that ability is. In an unfortunate catch-22,
my desire to make the most of my trip to a city, given a limited number of
weekends, causes me to want to plan extensively, which leads to a need for
more time than I have, and a resulting lack of an itinerary by the time the
weekend rolls around. Four days feels much shorter when you have to fit in
all your schoolwork as well as travel research. Instead, I took the weekend to
figure out this city a mere bus ride away, with no pressure from an inability
to return or need for a hotel.

Voted the most beautiful train station in France. Has the friendliest pigeons and “sunflower” street lamps that fold down at night.

To travel such a short distance seems trivial. I know people who have
walked to the train station. But I, struck with both laziness and a remarkable
lack of experience with public transportation, was immobile. Fortunately,
Metz has a wonderfully easy bus system. With some tips from other
strugglers, I still managed to walk past the convenient bus stop right outside
my dorm, for about a half mile before settling in at the next. However, I
experienced great success mumbling something about “deux pour deux”
(two for two) to the bus driver while presenting my 6 EUR, which managed
to elucidate my need for a two-way bus pass for two different people. I
believe this to be the most complicated concept I have successfully
conveyed to a local in French. Eventually, it is wise to get a monthly bus
pass, but that requires the ability to abandon my poor habits.

The cathedral. A free shelter from the wind.

Not immediately adjacent to GTL with all its English-speaking inhabitants and simultaneously less touristy than Paris, downtown Metz does not guarantee that someone nearby will be able to speak English. This has exercised my very limited French more than any other area, as I racked up my French-only conversations like medals. These, of course, largely consisted of repeated simple sentences beginning with “Je voudrais” for “I would like” followed by a failed attempt to pronounce whatever looked good. I have developed a healthy acceptance of any French food offered to
me, as my attempts to communicate with locals often do not take into
account the fact that I panic when talking to strangers even in English. I say “oui” to every question asked, whether it can be answered as such or not, and occasionally end with a flustered “bonjour” instead of “merci” as I gratefully accept a pastry I had not realized that I ordered. It is all delicious, regardless.

13th century fortress, now used by locals as a shortcut on their daily commute.

While photographing a particularly cute pigeon, a seeming caricature of an
older French man sauntered up, expressing joyously to us some sentiment
involving the bird. I soon gave up my French, and he switched to the most
whimsical English as he described his love for the birds, both to watch and
to eat. At times his words failed him, as he exclaimed that his “English flies
away!” while mimicking the flaps of the bird itself. Despite the reputation of
French snobbery, I have experienced nothing but endearing cheer from my
interactions with the locals.

Centre Pompidou-Metz. Temporary exhibitions rotate through, with a current focus on modern Japanese art.

Metz is dichotomous in personality, with vibrant modern life amid
ancient architecture. This is common in Europe, but for me, the novelty of
the juxtaposition is fresh. From city scenes viewed through the opening of a
13th century fortress gate, to rock concerts held in an old monastery, the
history is not only praised, but incorporated into an evolving culture. It is a
city on the rise, home to the first satellite branch of the Centre Pompidou of
Paris and other growing attractions. Despite its old roots, Metz has a
youthful feel. It seems fitting for us to discover Europe through a city
transforming with us.

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