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Category: Why GTL? (Page 3 of 3)

Back to Paradise

Lessons Learned

Posted by Morgan

Each week, after my travels have occurred and my adventures have been taken, I quickly post an instagram-worthy photo to my social media account, hoping to share with family and friends the amazing time I had in some new and beautiful country. Soon after, the likes on my photos increase and the list of comments become longer. It is clear that my friends, sitting at home or taking classes, are jealous, and why wouldn’t they be? I am spending my summer traveling around Europe! But the photos do not always capture those horrible times of stress that each student has faced or the exhaustion that each student endures. Just the other night for instance, as a group of GTL students and myself waited for the bus from the Metz train station back to our dorms, my friend got pickpocketed. Her phone was stolen, and she was left in a terrible state of confusion, anger, and disarray. I am sure the photos that she will soon post of her weekend in London will make her friends envious, but little do they know the dismal end to her trip.

Along the way, I’ve learned how to manage the stress of traveling and what precautions to take. It’s not always easy, but hopefully for those that study abroad later on, they can learn from my mistakes!

Paying for things: When traveling around with friends, you often end up paying for things of theirs and vice versa. Whether it is because a restaurant will not split a check or a friend is all out of cash, it inevitably happens. At first, I tried to log all of Venmothese occurrences on my phone, but it is an unorganized and hasty method. If you want to study abroad, you need to download venmo! It has made my life so much easier. Friends can easily pay each other back within a few minutes. All you need to do is convert from euros to dollars and connect a credit card or atm card to the app. This has helped me not forget who owes who and keep myself on track for my budget.

Travel with a backpack: Do not attempt to spend a weekend traveling by train, bus, or plane with a wheely suitcase or oversized duffle. It is simply too hard, and if you are running around trying to make a train, it becomes nearly impossible to manage the trip without your arms falling off. I learned this the hard way after my trip to Germany, hiking up a mountain with a duffle threatening to break off my arms. Ever since this trip, I have used a backpack, and let me tell you, it is a decision I have never second guessed.

portable charger[1]Bringing a portable charger: If you happen to have an overseas data plan or if you only ever take pictures with your phone, these things come in handy. You would be surprised how quickly my phone has died after using gps or looking up train times. A dead phone can cause a lot of commotion if you lost a travel buddy or even if you just don’t know how to get toyour next destination. Now, I can easily pack my handy dandy portable charger in my bag and I am good to go for the rest of the day! It takes up little room and makes sure that I am not left in any sticky situations.

Airbnb: I had never used airbnb before this trip. I was used to staying in hotels with my family when we traveled or in hostels while on my high school study abroad trip. Airbnb can be good or bad. It’s usually easy and you have the added MK-Lessons1convenience of having a place all to yourself, but you might be surprised at the hidden costs. Hostels usually have soap, towels, breakfast, and are centrally located, whereas with airbnb’s this is not always the case. Just this past weekend we stayed at a vineyard in Portugal, which, while amazing, cost an arm and a leg to taxi into town. Try and budget these additions into your trip when planning.

Eurail: The Eurail is what makes everyone’s life easier at GTL. It allows you to hop on and off trains throughout Europe without the purchase of a ticket or at least at a significantly reduced price. Of course, this handy dandy travel item comes at a cost: anywhere from 500 to 1200 euros, depending on how long you plan on traveling. Two weeks? Two months? Three months? I recommend purchasing the 17 days MK-lessons2within 2 months pass. While you are at GTL for longer than 2 months, most people end up flying somewhere. My one friend purchased a very expensive 3 month unlimited pass and is now left with little money to spend on flights. Try planning your trips before hand and then deciding on which pass to purchase!

Buy a lock for valuables: This comes in handy if you plan on staying at hostels. While hostels are safe, it is still always a good idea to take that extra precaution and lock up your things when you are sharing a room with a bunch of strangers. The hostel will usually provide you with a cubby to lock up your things, but if you want to save a few dollars instead of renting a lock, bring your own! When I stayed in a hostel, I accidentally left my wallet sitting out for a few hours. Thank goodness my roommates were kind and honest people, but I was definitely left in a state of panic when I arrived back and noticed I had left my valuables out in the open.
While these are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to manage the stresses of traveling, I’ve also had to learn to expect the unexpected sometimes. Not everything goes perfectly when you are traveling. I assure you that every GTL student here has had some major fiasco occur, whether it was a medical problem, a stolen item, a missed train, anything! Our amazing photos don’t always capture these occurrences, and from the outside everything probably seems perfect. Meanwhile, we are dealing with problems like a stolen phone. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. The stresses, the trials, the tribulations, have all been worth it, and I am sure each student at GTL would agree.

One Room Schoolhouse

When I started looking at colleges in high school, the one thing I knew that I wanted was a large school, a school so large that I could easily meet someone new every day of class. Georgia Tech proved to be a nice compromise to this desire with a student body of around 15,000. Having recently completed my freshman year at Georgia Tech I can honestly say that the classes, the people, even the professors in the large lecture halls were exactly what I wanted. Then came GTL, where the class sizes quickly drop from 250 to 20 students, the office hours are held by request instead of daily, and the TA’s are non-existent.

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Walking into the GTL building, you realize the sheer meagerness in size. It is not the Clough Commons where your legs tire from walking in search of your classroom. The entire campus is made up of one building. There are only about 10 classrooms, each colored coded instead of listed by room number. Instead of huge projector screens that span across the walls, there is one small screen at the front of the room. Add the fact that there is only one outlet in every room instead of a personal outlet rooted into your desk and it makes me feel like I am in a one room schoolhouse.  I did not think I would particularly enjoy this small environment of learning, yet GTL classes have given me a positive, new perspective for my education.

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There is a personal feel to it. For example, my computer science class has only about 20 students or so and one professor. The usual size for this class is closer to 150 students, but our small class size allows us to have a one-on-one relationship with the professor. The ability of our professor to ask us our opinions on tests and quizzes and then give feedback right away would have been impossible in Atlanta. Students can also ask in-depth questions, hold conversations such as “what works better, the enumerate function or a for loop?,” and can even take the time to learn more details about the professor on a personal level. I have learned, for instance, that Professor Simpkins is afraid of heights but used to be in the air force.

In short, my classes have a calmer more personal atmosphere, but I am still able to “enjoy” the rigors of sitting down and debugging some code with friends after class. With one building for a campus, we students get an idea of what a small college feel is like. While it might not be the hustle-bustle of Georgia Tech Atlanta, it is still a stimulating environment that we enjoying coming to, even if it is at 8:30 in the morning.

Train Strikes Can’t Bring Us Down

posted by Morgan

The 2016 summer semester for GTL students is quite different than most years. It is not because it is the 25th anniversary for Georgia Tech Lorraine, nor is it because the Euro Cup is being held in France. No. This year is different as a result of the record breaking rainfall in France and the almost daily train strikes.

As you can imagine, these two things are somewhat problematic for us students. Walking to class in the rain, while unenjoyable, is not the end of the world nor is having a train cancelled. Hey, it happens right? We all knew that getting stranded in a train station overnight with friends was a possibility when we signed up for the program (Believe it or not, we were explicitly told stories by former GTL students of these occurrences). I did not, however, expect for train problems to prevent me from leaving GTL. I can “deal” with being stuck in Paris or Rome for an extra day, but being stuck on campus for a weekend is not what I would call “appealing”. It appeared that a weekend at GTL might be the case for my friends last weekend. We had planned to go to Munich, but upon arrival at the Metz train station we quickly learned our train was cancelled.

So it was time for plan B! Off to Brussels we go! An hour later we were sitting on the floor of the Luxembourg train station with another disappointing look strewn across our faces. Our train to Brussels was canceled.

So now it was time for plan C! What was plan C? Well, we did not really have a plan C, so our plan C then became, “Ask the Woman at the Information Desk Where Four College Students Could Go For a Fun Weekend in Europe.” Cologne, a smaller city about 3 hours away in Germany, was the answer.

As we sat on the train with our eyes glued to our phones, we quickly learned that expensive shopping and few city sights was not exactly our idea of a fun 3 day weekend, so I looked at the train route and found a new destination: Koblenz. It was déjà vu moment. MK6-1-10 years earlierI had faintly remembered my experience there with my family when I was 8 years old. Something about beautiful rolling hills and a quaint town rang in my mind, and, seeing as we were all out of options, I figured we could just hop off the train at Koblenz and hope for the best!

And that’s exactly what we did. After an hour of wandering the streets and searching for the cheapest, last minute accommodations we could find, we finally found somewhere to sleep and it wasn’t even the train station. The next morning we were up and ready to go see what Koblenz had to offer; backpacking our way towards some fortress we went. Of course, we got lost on our way up the steep incline in the humid, slightly rainy weather, with our luggage weighing us down, but when we finally made it to the top, our eyes were met with the rolling hills I had remembered from my time in Koblenz almost ten years ago.

Quaint German houses lined the rolling hills, reminding us of the fairytales we read when we were children; picturesque vineyards wove their way up the sides of mountains, making us question how someone even managed to stand on something so steep; small boats sailed their way down the Rhine, inviting tourists to fill their cameras with photos. While the rain didn’t seem to leave us when we left for Germany, we were still met with these beautiful sights.

When we had finished touring the impressive fortress and observing the detailed architecture, we decided to make our way back down the incline, but this time we were going to find an easier, less physically exertive way. Using my rusty German to converse with a local, we found the cable car that made its way over the river and down the mountain. My high school German teacher would have been proud as I discussed directions, where we were from, and what we thought of Koblenz so far.

The rest of the day was spent wandering until we made our way towards the train station and headed to our next destination: Trier. According to a friend of

mine who was studying abroad in Germany, Trier was the place to

Quaint Trier

Quaint Trier

go if we wanted the traditional German experience. The oldest town in Germany, it is full of history: a cathedral, old town square, Basillica dating back to the 4th century, and the Roman baths. After hopping off the train and making our way to our last minute airbnb, we realized that Trier was the perfect place for us girls to spend a weekend. It was calm, traditional, quaint, and the most important part– it had delicious gelato.   

We still did not really have a plan at this point, but we just spent the rest of our weekend exploring. When we passed the palace and gardens, we took time for a photo op. When the rain began to pour, we found a local cafe that served Wiener-Schnitzel. When our feet began to drag, we found an international music festival to sit down and listen to.

The unexpected and unplanned weekend was a little anxiety-filled for me at first, but I could not think of a better memory to look back on. So I guess these train strikes are not as unfortunate as I thought. I was with three wonderful friends enjoying company and culture. We might not have made it to the castle of Neuschwanstein or the city of Munich, but I think our adventure in Koblenz and Trier made up for it. No train strikes could bring us down.

Praha

Posted by Morgan

Being a student at Georgia Tech is challenging, stressful, tear-jerking, and let’s face it, at times it makes you question why you decided to put yourself through such misery. I was asking myself this exact question, “Why did I choose Georgia Tech?,” as I downed my coffee, pried open my eyes, and hit the books during finals week.

I knew that my summer semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine was ensuing and I needed to start planning trips in advance so I could try and save what little money I had, but of course my studies took precedence. It wasn’t until three days before I left for France that my friend and I randomly decided we wanted to fly to Prague for our first weekend in Europe.

It was a spontaneous decision to say the least. I was sitting down watching “Chasing Liberty,” a clichéd but enjoyable chick flick that follows a rebellious teenager as she travels around Europe.

All I needed to see was the Charles Bridge, and that was it. I wanted to go to Prague. The clichéd “rom-com” had sold me on some destination I knew very little about, but it was new, different, and fun, which was exactly what I wanted after finals. Next thing I knew, a week later my best friend, Mirna and I were strolling the streets of Prague.

I am fortunate enough to say that I have traveled to many different places in Europe, but never have I been to a place as magical as Prague. You see, when you walk around Atlanta, or Amsterdam, or Barcelona, even some place as beautiful as London, you come across those buildings that try so hard to be the quintessential piece of modern art when in actuality they are nothing more than an ugly brown cube.

The same could not be said for Prague.

I saw only one ugly building–only one ugly building in the entire city. I know that sounds superficial and inconsequential, but believe me, it was a wonderful surprise. Perhaps that is why our trip was so enjoyable having had little to nothing planned. Everywhere we looked there was an old, beautiful piece of history. Even the McDonald’s was coated in ornate, romanesque architecture. It was just so easy to live in the moment, forget about the worries of school, and enjoy the beauty around us.

The cheap yet delicious food definitely helped intensify this atmosphere. When walking around old town for example, Mirna and I stumbled across a charming traditional Czech dessert. At first we were taken aback. What were this things? They looked like ice cream cones but they were being roasted over the fire. We figured the only way to answer our question was to perform a professional taste test! I can safely say that they were worth the few euro.

When our trip was coming to an end, we decided to celebrate our first successful adventure (no passports or money was lost, no people were injured!) with a traditional Czech dinner. We ate in a Ratskeller and oddly enough were seated next to two recent UGA graduates.

Of course, we took this opportunity to tease them over the rivalry, a rivalry they could care less about, but they had no qualms in admitting the supreme intelligence of our school (even though they believed their football team to be superior). It was a fun experience to be half-way around the world but still be so connected to our roots.

As I endured the laborious and long journey back to Metz, I thought back to that horrible time during finals week. This was why it was all worth it. This experience. This education. This adventure. Even our new University of Georgia friends seemed to agree.

Faculty Profile: Dr. Vicki Birchfield

Name: Dr. Vicki Birchfieldfd1d715c2a5b1582-8a5ff

Position: Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs; co-director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies; affiliated with the Jean Monnet
Centre of Excellence

Favorite color: hues of blue

Favorite food: French cuisine – especially “les fruits de mer,” a.k.a., seafood, and above all lobster

Interests/hobbies: Paris marathon in 2001, Chicago/Atlanta half – yoga, cooking, reading, theater/arts

Educational institutions:

Auburn University – Bachelors;

Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva, Switzerland) – Diplôme d’études supérieur;

Auburn University – Master’s thesis on French women in electoral politics in political science;

University of Georgia – PhD in comparative political science in international relations

 

Throughout middle school the running joke was that teachers had a blow-up air mattress beneath their desks – and so basically did nothing outside of the classroom. Ha-ha, so funny! Except that’s never the case, and we knew it. Even in college, we don’t see half of what our professors are up to. All people are more interesting once you’ve taken time to get to know them: they have stories and perspectives different from anyone else. And now, let me assure all you middle schoolers: teachers are way cooler than you think.

Take Dr. Vicki Birchfield, for instance. She’s a co-teacher for the International Affairs class, and because the class is co-taught, we haven’t spent as much time in the classroom with her, but I got the chance to sit down and talk to her just a bit ago.

Our International Affairs class centers around the politics of the European Union in terms of Metz and the region of Lorraine. The inspiration of Professor Sonia Serafin, the other co-teacher of the class (and one of the French teachers here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine), brought this class to life, and Professor Birchfield helped to create a curriculum to fulfill the Global Perspectives requirement. The region of Lorraine has a rich history in terms of the European Union, and they know it. In fact, that’s what Professor Birchfield really wants GTL students to tap into: there is so much information and history at our fingertips.

Dr. Birchfield believes strongly in the value of a higher education – but also knows that there is a privilege to it, and coupled with it the “responsibility to be critical consumers of information and formulate one’s own view.” As this world become more and more saturated with information, it becomes harder to discern the factual, unbiased truth, but equipped with the tools of education, we can dig a little deeper for a better understanding.

That’s part of what she tries to bring to Georgia Tech-Lorraine with her class: the opportunity to bring the history of the European Project to life through site visits and class discussions. She creates this during her summer program in both Paris and Brussels, which takes 300 students to discover what Europe is – both culturally and politically. That’s also why she finds teaching one of the most rewarding part of her position in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs: opening their minds to the complexity in a career to essence of the life of the mind. She can bring her passion in her research into the classroom, and this coexistence between the spheres is beneficial, as it inspires a deeper conversation.

The mark of full professorship requires dedication in the three spheres of the position: education, research, and service. Dr. Birchfield has worked since 2000 at the Sam Nunn School an instructor, making waves along the way. Today, she runs a summer study abroad program, is affiliated with the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and a co-director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, and has multiple publications. With all of the dedication she’s brought to her career and to Georgia Tech, Dr. Birchfield has been awarded full professorship, and it’s understandable that achievement represents one of her most cherished professional achievements.

However, when I asked the question “What is your biggest accomplishment?” that wasn’t her first response. In fact, she believes her greatest success lies in “the deep joy and fulfillment in relationships,” especially with her family. She’s accomplished quite a bit, but her husband and daughter bring her much happiness.

Another great source of pride is the being inducted as a Chevalier into l’Ordre Nationale du Mérite of France in 2012. Dr. Birchfield studied French extensively, even attending the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland for her Diplôme d’études supérieur. As a bit of a Francophone myself, this would be a wonderful dream come true: to be recognized by a country and culture that you’ve studied, lived in, and loved. For all the work she has done to promote understanding and the studies of France and Europe, she has been knighted by the country of France in a National Order of Merit created by Charles de Gaulle himself. If that’s not an indicator that you’re making an impact, I don’t know what is.

Her work is reflected across the Georgia Tech-Atlanta campus. She works closely with the French Consulate and, on top of her work with the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, she organizes speakers – from diplomats to a panel of speakers on “Brexit” (the impending vote of the British people on their future in the EU) to a Danish filmmaker who created a documentary on the Denmark refugee dilemma.

So, yes, Dr. Birchfield has accomplished so much, but she has a life outside of work, too. Currently, she loves a good yoga session, and in years past, she’s run quite a bit, participating in the Chicago Half and the Paris Marathon. She really enjoys cooking, as well as reading and the arts – especially theatre! (The Atlanta theater scene is vibrant, and I love volunteering at a theater near Georgia Tech, so I was elated to hear this.) She’ll be spending some time here in France, though, so that will have to be explored when she returns to Georgia Tech-Atlanta. She loves travel just as much as the rest of us at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, too: her favorite places? Definitely in France: the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the Emerald Coast of Brittany, and Belle-Île, a small island off of the coast of Brittany.

Brussels in the Heart of Georgia Tech-Lorraine

Posted by Julie

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the recent events: a terror attack carried out by ISIL agents struck Brussels in its airport and a metro station near the hub of the European Union. All across our screen, new channels flash images of smoking airport terminals, people running haphazardly in the streets, and first responders caring for victims wrapped in shiny security blankets. As of tonight, 31 dead and 271 wounded.

And even before that, but much more quietly, innocent civilians on a beach in the Ivory Coast on the 14th of March. 22 dead and 33 wounded.

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Image courtesy of USA Today.

Tuesday morning would have been just like any other for Georgia Tech-Lorraine students shaking off the sleep with coffee and class, but just after 8am, our classmate posted in our GroupMe. We all watched closely – whether via Reddit threads or CNN feeds or elsewhere for details. Many of us have visited Brussels, and some of us were even in Brussels this weekend, in the very spots where the horrifying events took place. Many have friends and family living, working, visiting. All of us had settled back into our routines at our “home base,” but watching the events unfold was still heartbreaking.

Terror attacks both move and paralyze humanity. They prey on the fear of the unknown, causing chaos and suffering as the world stops to watch. However, every single one of them has hit the core of humanity – from Paris to Syria to Thailand to Egypt to Nigeria, and now the Ivory Coast and Brussels. The thing is, though, they are a worldwide endeavor of radical organizations – even in the United States, such as in San Bernardino or Chattanooga. It’s a reality, and a grotesque one assuredly. It shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it can happen anywhere. The best thing to do is to love above all – and to prepare and be vigilant.

Unpredictability is a hard enemy to fight, but to all parents: everyone at Georgia Tech-Lorraine is doing everything in their power to keep your child safe while studying abroad. Even things that I cannot describe for our own safety! Parents, if you’re curious, ask your student. From the moment we are waiting at the airport to leave, people in both Atlanta and France are prepared, watching, ready to help if anything goes wrong – I specifically remember Mme. Bass saying that they stay up to make sure that students arrive safely – to touching back down in the United States.

Due to constant vigilance, there is constant improvement. More safety measures have been put into place even since last November; there are meetings about our safety – even one already drawn together to discuss the attacks in Brussels – and how to best respond and protect. Weekly updates, as well as emergency ones, inform us on the state of affairs and important events and advise how best to avoid problem areas.

Information is one of the greatest powers garnered by travel and wielded by Georgia Tech-Lorraine to promote the well-being and security of staff and students. Some channels remain voluntary, such as notifying Georgia Tech-Lorraine staff as to where one travels during the weekends for emergency purposes (though I highly recommend it, as I was told it was a great help to confirm the security of all students after the Paris attacks). However, most aspects are integrated into life at Georgia Tech-Lorraine to maintain the success and safety of the program.

Scroll back through the previous posts of this blog, and you’ll find it celebrates the absolute opportunities attainable at Georgia Tech-Lorraine – and in some cases, no other place. You see so much good going on here, and there is so much done to protect it. This experience has changed my life beyond my words to describe, and I am a big fan of words – which is part of why I love writing. And by extension, I love the words said by others people (a.k.a. quotes). I could throw the cliché ones at you (FDR’s “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” anyone?), but here’s by far my favorite quote about fear:

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

There is an undeniable amount of uncertainty to any facet of life. At any given moment, another person’s path may come careening into ours, intentionally or unintentionally, crashing and smashing the plans we had so neatly laid out. We get in our cars, risking accidents; we climb the mountain, risking injury. Never before has this proved a reason to cower and hide, and it shouldn’t be now. Fear is the tool of these attacks, and we cannot let it manipulate us into not living on our own terms. There is too much good in the world to stop seeking it, though not without reason and sense.

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Image courtesy of PBS.org.

And so, we here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine mourn the people we lost in Brussels and Cote d’Ivoire. Remembering their lives in peace rather than anger, we look to tomorrow and pursue a better world.

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