To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Category: Why GTL? (Page 3 of 3)

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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