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Over 25 years of academic excellence and adventure

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Losing is Not an Option

I once heard that Tech students “binge everything.” While people often bring a certain intensity to their main endeavors, I have never encountered a population with such competitive camaraderie in all areas, from optimizing their path to class to seeing how absurd a game of chess can get when you are allowed to add a new rule every turn. It comes as no surprise that the BDE’s first event of the semester – a game night – was a smashing success.

At least I can blame the bad pass on my teammates.

Given that I can only handle 3-dimensional mechanics when I’m in a dynamics classroom, as others flocked to the ping pong table, I stuck to the relatively less embarrassing realm of foosball. Still, I am quite terrible at all games, due to a lifetime of never winning against my brother (also a Tech student and ultra-competitive). I still managed a surprising number of points scored for the other team by my own goalie, but I chock that up to the frantic thrashing.

With my camera identifying me as a member of the media, I made a few connections with members of the BDE who wanted my photos, and got a bit of an inside look into future events. With the mix of personalities here at GTL, the board seems to be following a brilliantly varied trend, but I’ll let them reveal the coming surprises. For this event, free food, games, and danceable music formulated a lively atmosphere that continued on an hour past the intended end time of the event. In contrast, a presentation on four itineraries for visiting Berlin by a student who lives in the city, added an informative spin that led me to book an Airbnb promptly after.

The evening was given direction by a ping pong tournament building in the background. As the matches passed, it grew to become the center of attention for everyone, whether winner, loser, or unaffiliated. Not for the likes of I, who habitually misses while serving and once accidentally referred to the sport as “ping pong ball,” this event was the culmination of weeks of practice in the lounge and seemed, for some, to represent something greater. Going into the experience with
little knowledge of the sport, I thrived on the spirit of the crowd. The excitement was palpable. I found myself choosing favorites, and anticipating certain prodigious matches with the athletic contortions of the most dedicated.

It’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying.

The energy was at times released unexpectedly, with a backwards spring leading to a somersaulting fall. Unfortunately, the most comfortable seats with the best view are situated immediately behind one of the players, but a series of skilled defenders prevented my face from joining the casualties. In perfect moments, the beats of the ball synced with the music in an ephemeral flow. Rampant heckling bolstered the hype, and calls of “You got it buddy! No matter what we say behind your back, we believe in you!” brought back an element of humor. Still in the early weeks of the program, competitors would learn a name then happily vow to demolish them.
It’s this kind of instant friendship that characterizes the spirit of GTL, showing on their faces as the intensity melted into a grin between points.

As the final match geared up, calls for a more appropriate atmosphere were met with the beats of “Eye of the Tiger” and “The Final Countdown” blasting out and instigating a bit of dancing as it’s hard not to be hyped when competitors are lunging and projectiles are flying. the competitors played. This extra-long match was hard fought for the title of “Supreme Leader” and a corresponding crown, but the crowd seemed eager to cheer for everyone involved.

Cobbled Together

Written by Aria.

Paris: perhaps the most overdone, cliché city in Europe. Rightfully so. Home to some of the most famous examples of art, architecture, history, and culture in the world, there are so many things to do that with the chance to spend three entire days there I got to see…a single landmark and three museums. Not the gargantuan list I was anticipating. The City of Love holds no affection for me and entirely removed my ability to walk for two and a half of those three days.

Getting injured while traveling ranks highly on the list of fears of many GTL students. Tales of overly-enthusiastic skiers stuck immobile have cautioned us all, but I never thought simply walking could debilitate me. A few months back I badly sprained my ankle, and it seems 10+ miles a day of walking on cobblestones in less than wonderful shoes were enough to suddenly, and with great pain, reawaken the injury. Without realizing it, my excited trot down the steps of Napoleon’s tomb would be my last. At least, as I soon learned, there is no better place to be
crippled than Paris.

This casual pose is the product of an inability to stand on my own.

Immediately following the injury while at Les Invalides, I managed to limp the 1.5 km to Grand Palais, punctuated with stops at a delightful crepe street cart and the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III bridge at sunset. Despite the searing pain, it was one of the most beautiful walks of my life. Once at the Grand Palais, the understanding that I wouldn’t be touring another museum that night set in around the time I pondered the beautiful, and absurdly tall, staircase to the entrance. Instead, I took to the stairs of the metro and suffered back to my Airbnb. Despite a notable lack of escalators or elevators at many stops, the Paris metro system is extensive, and wonderful for minimizing walking.

The next day, as if gearing up for a battle, I planned my routes, eliminated waste, and gritted my teeth for the ultimate journey: a block, downhill, to the McDonald’s (breakfast) and one of the pharmacies that inexplicably appear on every corner. Despite this taking more time than I care to admit, I was equipped with calories and a crutch, ready to enact phase two: reach the bus stop across the street that travels directly to the Louvre. Buses, unlike the metro, require no stairs. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, and when you want to minimize transfers, few places can match its ability to entertain for a solid two days. With free wheelchairs available, it becomes almost preferable to be crippled when planning to spend so much time in a place with few other chairs.

My superpower: pity.

From the moment I sat in my wheelchair, everything seemed to be right again. The pain abated. Suddenly, convenient hooks for bags and coats were available to rest our shoulders. Perks abounded. In my two experiences now being impaired, I have experienced another perspective. While people often looked away and loudly ignored me, this meant the same beggars I panicked into giving a euro the day before left me entirely alone to berate my companions instead. When attempting to view the Mona Lisa, I was initially too short to see anything through the crowd. Before I could even settle in to wait, kind staff members ushered me all the way through the barriers set up to keep the crowd back. I would gladly trade the ability to walk for the chance to sit, unobstructed, directly in front of the Mona Lisa. People often complain about its small size and unassuming nature, but if you break your legs for the experience, proximity brings it to life.

Of course, there are always mobility issues in wheelchairs. While everything in the Louvre is technically accessible, it is easy to get lost ordinarily, and laughably so when staircases routinely intrude in the middle of hallways with no elevator or direct path around. After exploring the upper levels for the good part of a day, our extreme hunger convinced us to head to the café downstairs. Unfortunately, it took an hour of multi-floor maneuvering, sprinting through Napoleon’s apartments, around staircases, and up, across, and down passages with déjà vu at every turn just to finally reach our access point and find the elevator out of order.

No one should know the Louvre as thoroughly as I do after having only three days is Paris. Regardless, the experience was unique and I always appreciate a good story. I plan to revisit Paris, so missing out on all else it has to offer is not devastating. I have healed considerably since then, but still take my injury into consideration, setting my sights on Frankfurt, known as having some of the best public transportation in. While incredibly distressing when things don’t go according to plan, alternatives always exist to make the experience more memorable than you may have wanted.

A Visit to the Football Club de Metz

I am so very thankful for my French class because on the first day of classes, I made a friend named Fernando. And on that first day, we decided to go to a soccer game together. And we bought the tickets on the spot.

Fast forward to Wednesday, January 17th, when FC Metz takes on FC Saint-Etienne. To give you all some back story, I am not the world’s biggest soccer (football if you’re feeling European) fan, but I do enjoy watching it – a lot. I am a HUGE Atlanta United fan, but know next to nothing about the French football leagues. I did learn a couple of things before the game: FC Metz is dead-last in the league, French people are just as fiercely loyal to their teams as southerners are to college football, and the logistics of trash-talk are just as nonsensical here.

However, the game was absolutely amazing. We got to the stadium, and although it was very small, it felt just like a sporting event in the States. You could feel the excitement: there were tons of  people walking in every direction, and the stadium and surrounding area was full of “ball park foods” (a.k.a. kebabs).

One of my favorite parts of the match was the cheering. Fernando and I had some pretty sweet tickets, in the fourth row right behind the goal, so we were right next to what I have decided to call the “wild fan section” (think of it as a student section but no students). There were all types of chants that lasted throughout the entire game. Some were very creative, some were very vulgar, but most of them consisted of “allez” (the French verb for “go”). The opposing team’s wild fan section even lit road flares throughout the game. These fans were enthusiastic, to say the least. Keep in mind that it was raining, around 40 degrees farenheit, and the worst team in the league. There was no stopping these fans.

Apart from the wild fan section, the stadium was pretty empty. There was not a single person in front of us, and the 4 rows behind us were completely empty as well. However, the game was wildly exciting. FC Metz scored one goal off a free kick and then another goal within the first 25 minutes. The rest of the game was action-packed and lively, but not another goal until around the seventy minute mark, when FC Metz scored again. So, end of the match and FC Metz won 3-0. After the game was over, a lot of the fans went down to the field and sang one of the chants to the players. The players came to the goal box, clapped along, and waved their appreciation, and then everyone filtered out.

Instead of going straight home, I decided to force Fernando to come get a kebab with me. (He hadn’t yet been fortunate to have the deliciousness that is a kebab, so it was heavily suggested on my part.) On the way, we did get a little bit turned around, thanks to me. And, I forced Fernando to follow my rule, that when I am lost with no time crunch, I don’t use a map. It forces me to really get to know Metz, although it may sometimes be unpleasant (especially in 40-degree rain). Finally, we had a beautiful meal at BurgerKebab, what is surely the most authentic kebab in all of France, and then walked around downtown. We walked through the tiny winding streets and then to the cathedral. (Fernando hadn’t seen it at night yet, so I also “heavily recommended” this.) Of course we got a little lost again, but we found it, thanks to the other benefit of my no maps rule: it forces you to practice the language by asking random people for help. All in all, the evening was a full two hoots. Who would have thought I could have this much fun on a Wednesday?

And now, for this post’s phrase: “Où est …. ?” This is how you say “Where is…?” in French. It came in very handy when we wound up on the opposite side of town from the cathedral, and in trying to find the bus to go to BurgerKebab, BurgerKebab itself, the soccer match, our seats in the stadium, and so on. I decided to share this phrase with you because not only is it helpful, but it also gives you a good idea of how our night went.

Time Travel to Trier

Written by Thomas Walker.

Last week, I went to Trier, Germany. Trier is a very old city that still retains much of its original Roman architecture. There are several locations where the original walls are still standing or still identifiable, as well as ruins from the Roman baths, amphitheater, and a basilica built by Constantine. Of course, there were obviously many other examples of old architecture between Roman times and now, but I find it utterly amazing to walk down a street that looks mostly as it did to the same people walking it 200-300 years ago.

This is the Porta Nigra (“Black Gate”), built 160-180 AD. It used to be white, but centuries of weathering have turned it black, thus the name given to it during the Middle Ages stuck. It was originally built to be a gate to the city. In the 11th century, it was destined to be dismantled, and the bricks reused in other projects, which was often the case with Roman buildings. A clergyman named Simeon, in an attempt to save the building, took up residence in the building. He was canonized after his death, and the gate was turned into a church, which is why it still exists today.

A section of the original wall that surrounded the city.

Nearby, there was a Roman structure that would have housed one of the three bathhouses in the city (see below). This one would have been one of the largest in the Roman Empire, attesting to the wealth and prestige of the city. The presence of the amphitheater also supports this. I did not get to explore the ruins because I spent too much time in the museums (more on that later), so I plan on going back.

This structure would have housed three Roman bathhouses.

 

The first museum I went to was of Romanesque construction built on the original Roman walls.

Below is one of the original Roman walls the museum was built on. There were many coins and mint supplies found around this wall during excavations for the museum, suggesting the Roman Trier mint was nearby. The gift shop had several genuine Roman coins for sale, but they were all low-grade, high-priced, and had no provenance to Trier.

The museum was built on the original Roman walls.

Now for a bit of history into the town. The name “Trier” stems from the name “Trevori,” which was the name of the Gallic tribe that was living in the area. The city was annexed by the Roman Empire after the defeat of the Gauls by our good friend Julius Caesar. According to legend, the city was founded 1,300 years before the foundation of the Roman Empire by a man called Trebeta. This legend is recorded by a medieval inscription on the “Red House”: “ANTE ROMAM TREVIRIS STETIT ANNIS MILLE TRECENTIS. PERSTET ET ÆTERNA PACE FRVATVR. AMEN.”

 

The Red House (on the left, with the inscription above the first floor).

During the Middle Ages, the City of Trier tried using this legend (since proven to only be such) to gain autonomy from the Archbishopric of Trier. Alas, they were unsuccessful. As a part of the Roman Empire, the name was changed by emperor Augustus to “Augusta Treverorum.” He then decided that this city should be one of the regional capitals. The city quickly became of great importance and size, with upwards of 80,000 people. An amphitheater was built in 100 AD, and a major mint was established in the 3rd Century AD, signifying the importance of Trier.

In the 3rd Century, Trier became the seat of an archbishopric, which is basically an area where the archbishop has authority. This early start eventually made it one of the most

 

A model showing what Roman Trier would have looked like.

important states in the Holy Roman Empire (or as my high school history teacher called it, the Not-Holy Not-Roman Not-Empire). Then in the early 5th century the city was captured by the Franks, then by Attila and the Huns in 451, and then firmly held by the Franks again in 475 AD. The city became incorperated into the Kingdom of Lorraine in 843 with the Treaty of Verdun, ruled by one of Charlemange’s three grandsons, Lothair II. When he died in 870, Trier became part of the East Frankish Empire under Henry I, which would later become Germany.

An example of the Archbishop’s power was erected in 958 in the market square, which stated his authority and that God, through him, will protect the city. The original is in the city museum for protection, and a replica was put in its place. As you can see, this amount of power is very likely the reason the city tried to break away from the archbishopric:

I did not get a good picture of the cross in context, but it can be seen over the hut in the center of the picture.

The city of Trier got a boost in the first half of the 14th Century when Archbishop Baldwin of Luxembourg took the position from 1307 to 1354. He was elected into the position at 22 years old, and was very reluctantly recognized by the people of Trier. During his term, he greatly expanded the city’s territory and made it quite prosperous.

Archbishop Baldwin’s grave in the Trier Cathedral (which was INCREDIBLY beautiful and ornate):

In 1583, Trier was finally able to achieve its dreams of autonomy.

Now, as a coin collector, I have to mention the coins in the museums. In the first museum, there were only a few dozen coins on display, but they were a selection spanning 2,100 years from the Roman Republic to the Euro. The audio tour gave a fascinating tale on how they each related to the history of the region and what events and cultural aspects led to the next coin type. As I am a visual learner, I was disappointed because I don’t think I grasped the info as well as I could have if I had read it. After finishing up at this museum, it was 3:30pm. I had become separated from the friends I had come with, and they happened to be on the other side of the city. I meandered over there to the museum they were in by 4:00pm. When I arrived, they had already toured the museum, so I was a bit disappointed. Then they start talking with me excitedly about the coins on display.

Since none of them collect coins, I knew the display must have been amazing. Now with only 45 minutes to tour the museum, I buy a ticket and proceed to look at as many artifacts as possible and find this legendary coin display. Most of the museum comprised of Roman artifacts attesting to the wealth of the ancient city. Apparently, there was a path dedicated to monuments erected for the dead.

I soon found that I had the whole museum to myself, and after I was done with each room, a guard would lock it up behind me. The closer it got to 5:00 pm, the more irritated the staff started to look. So I rushed through the exhibits trying to feast my eyes and camera on as much as possible as quickly as possible. I soon get to the end with 15 minutes to spare, but I did not see any impressive displays of coins. Knowing I could not have simply missed it, I walk up to the security guard (whose face turns to “Aw, crap, what does he want?”). I just simply ask “Münzen?” and the guard brightens and leads me to the glory room. Here is what greets me:

A giant pile of gorgeous Roman aurii, the largest intact hoard of such in the world. I can assure you I had a stupid grin on my face since I had never seen so many incredibly valuable coins heaped in one place before.

Starvation Sunday

Written by Aria.

Alternative title: how I was 72% under my food budget the first week.

As Tech students, we all go a little overboard with quantification, but in terms of budgeting I find it helpful. In this case, it instigated genuine concern for my own well-being. Had I really been eating, or do the French stay so thin by inducing some hallucination of consuming endless bread? I had come to France with the anticipation of hemorrhaging money, and my savings were prepared for it. Instead, I seem to be doing better than in Atlanta.

The outdoor market in Metz, with some of the best food around. Unfortunately, only on Saturday mornings.

The secrets to my success are quite simple. Intuitive, really.

  • Skip meals because you woke up too late, forgot to include eating in your
    itinerary, and/or are too tired to grab bread. (Let’s be honest. This has nothing to do with being in Europe. This is college.)
  • While in French cities, have your entire food allotment consist of pastries picked up every few hours, each from a different bakery. Take them to go and keep touring.
  • Your sit-down meals are now a baguette with brie in the park.
  • When you can’t remember the last time you had anything that wasn’t a carb, go to Crous and spend 3.5 EUR for a meal with such novelties as fruit and meat. Don’t forget your side of bread and choose another carb to make up the bulk of your meal.
  • Plan to do your grocery shopping on Sunday. You will soon learn that most
    businesses are closed on Sundays, and that all you have in your fridge is ice and juice. Luckily, the corporate spirit of America keeps even French McDonald’s open. On the walk there, stop from exhaustion (who knows when you last consumed a calorie) and realize the Paul a block from your dorm is also open. Buy a baguette.

Fresson: the best cakes in all of France. Bring cash, because unless you are planning on buying too many cakes even by my standards, you won’t meet the credit card minimum.

College students have adapted to the harsh conditions of their environment. In this culture, they use every part of the baguette. The pointed end is dipped in olive oil for an appetizer as the meaty body simmers in the remaining oil. After Caprese sandwiches are consumed, the meal is finished off with Nutella spread on the fleshy innards. Despite their large size, baguettes are best consumed the day of their acquisition. Those less skilled in the art often partner up to complete the task, as it is frowned upon, albeit possible, to order only a half baguette.

The happiest moment in my life. Then I dropped the chocolate square on the ground.

To embrace the French culture, I highly recommend a diet consisting entirely of pastries. Your wallet and taste buds will drown out the complaints of your heart. While touring, we tended to rack up at least 10 miles a day. Instead of stopping for any significant meal, we simply located the best bakery nearby and shared a few pastries. Most places in France are cheaper if you take the food to go, so this leads to fighting off the pigeons as you eat your cake on the street corner like the desperate wretch you are. This is worth it for the ability to buy more cakes later. Nothing has topped Metz’s own Fresson, which was once voted as having the best cakes in all of France. Their raspberry tart may be the highlight of my time here so far. For a quality shop, their prices aren’t bad either.

The French cuisine lives up to its reputation, making my limited menu tolerable. This is no excuse to survive only on bread, however, so I now am striving to diversity my sampling outside the comfortable bounds of carbs. That flaky spiraled pastry, named “escargot” isn’t quite the same story as the original dish.

Maxime et la nouvelle année

In high school, I was a part of an exchange program where I hosted a French student for a week during my junior year, then I spent a week at his house my senior year. His name is Maxime, and we have remained in contact since this program began. He lives in a small town called Carling that is close to Metz. Because of this connection, I decided to leave for GTL early and spend a week with Maxime and his family.

Picture with my siblings at the airport in Atlanta.

I arrived at their house (after 2 planes, 2 trains, and a bus) at his house the afternoon of December 30th. He is in university at Nancy, but when he is home he lives with his mom (Sabine), his step-dad (Fred), and his step-sister (Manon). Maxime’s mom takes care of two children for her job, so they also live in the house. Their house is beautifully decorated and always very clean and proper. When we are in the house, there is usually music on in the background and we talk non-stop. We also eat dinner together, and I always get a small lesson on manners. Maxime is the only one that speaks a lot of English, so it is an amazing opportunity for me to practice my French. I have learned so many expressions (“Oh la vache” which literally means “oh the cow”, but is used in Lorraine to mean “oh my goodness”), and I am very thankful that they are not afraid to correct my grammar. Life in the house is pretty sweet, and it always surprises me how similar daily life is to that in the United States.

Maxime, my French exchange student, and I accidentally twinning.

For New Year’s Eve, Max and I went to his friend’s apartment in Strasbourg. (Strasbourg is so, so beautiful, but for this trip I didn’t even leave the apartment). We spent the night playing games (“jeux de la société”) like Limite Limite (the French equivalent of Cards Against Humanity), poker, and MarioKart. Limite Limite was difficult (and even more inappropriate than Cards Against Humanity) because I didn’t know a lot of the references, like one of their new anchors. However, I did win one round, and I was very proud of myself. Then at midnight, we crowded around the windows of the apartment to try to see whatever fireworks we could. People shouted across the street, “Bonne année !” then we went in a circle and said where we see ourselves in one year from now. After midnight, we played some more games, started messing around with a violin that only had two strings, and little by little people started to go to bed. It was really simple and exactly like a laid-back hangout with friends in the United States would have been.

One of the best things I got to do was visit Maxime’s grandmother. She was so similar to my own grandmother.  She loved sharing stories and explaining things to me. Then she took us to a room where she was going through some possessions and showed us a pile of books that she offered us. Maxime took about 5 cook books, and I got some French novels (including a beautiful hard-back copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables). After the books, she showed us drawings of her grandparents and the town where she grew up. Then, she sent us to run her errands, and when we came back, and she gave me a little jar of elderberry jam that she made herself and sent us on our way.

My first time eating snails!

The last night at Maxime’s house was bittersweet. I was very excited to get to Metz and start GTL, but I was sad to leave the family. We were already very close, and over the course of a week, they had really become a second family to me. However, they are only a 25-minute train ride away, so I am sure that I will be home soon. Dinner consisted of potato-balls and beef cheek, with snails (escargot) as an appetizer. (I ate two servings of the snails – they were delicious.) It was absolutely delicious, and only the company surpassed the meal. Maxime’s grandmother as well as two friends of Sabine’s came over, and the conversation was lively to say the least. There was not a moment without a story, and they were enthusiastic to include me in the conversation.

And now, for this week’s phrase: “Niquel.” Niquel is a slang word that means very cool or very fun. I learned this phrase when I asked Maxime what he thought of the New Year’s party. This word sums up not only this week, but my entire relationship with Maxime. I am so fortunate to have a partner who is as open, creative, and fun-loving as Max. Hopefully this first week is a sign of the weeks to come.

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.

Great Expectations

Written by Aria

Bonjour! Welcome to a travel blog brought to you by the Champion of the
Uninformed, bearing the wisdom of a week’s experience in international
travel.

I began precisely as planned, easily navigating through airports alone for the
first time. In an effort to sneak experiences in wherever I can, on as little a
budget as possible, I switched out my 6-hour layover in Chicago for a 23-
hour one. This meant I could stay with a friend from Tech, play in some
snow, and go to the Museum of Science and Industry in the morning. Instant
Chicago vacation, friend not included.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Visualization of me trying to decide where to go this weekend.

With Part I of my 3-day travel to Metz completed, I settled in to wait for the
plane to Paris, when given the tantalizing offer of a $1,000 voucher to give
up my seat and take the next flight. While there are backup plans ready for
latecomers, I had a shuttle awaiting me, a dorm to check in to, and an overall
strictly programmed schedule to follow. In the end, desire for a real bed won
out.

My time here has been full of…surprises? The word doesn’t quite seem
right – too cliché. But in an almost comic trend, I seem to experience the
opposite of my expectation at every turn. For months, I dreamed of that first
sight of NotNorthAmerica, coming out of an endless ocean and basking me
in its snowy, foreign mystique. Instead, I got clouds so low that by the time
we cleared them, it seemed as though we were about to slam into the
runway, just like my hopes of a view of the French landscape. From there, I
connected with other GTL students, navigated an airport subtitled in
English, and managed to scam my way onto an earlier shuttle that included
reconnecting with my boyfriend. The scenery was gorgeous, but besides the
quaint buildings, it really felt quite American. With familiar faces, language,
and landscape, I wondered where the magic was.

My notable lack of view of the European landscape.

Yet now, every time I start thinking I’m getting the hang of living in France,
I’m struck by something so totally alien that I’m reminded of how out of my
element I really am. Immediately upon arriving at the dorm, our attempt to
get off the shuttle (the audacity, I know) was met by the police promptly
showing up to yell at us in urgent, incomprehensible French. It turned out to be an issue with where the bus driver had parked, but all we knew was that
the nice little trailer with all of our belongings was driving away, and
perhaps we had experienced our first European swindling.

These blunders never seem to end, yet they give me a sort of comfort in
knowing that there really is something utterly different about this place.
Living is France is at times absurd. There is a mysterious, ubiquitous mud
despite seeing no rain. I have purple toilet paper that brings me joy that
cannot be underestimated. Drivers, even at high speeds, stop for pedestrians
and expect you to start crossing before they give any indication of slowing.
The tap water tastes odd, leading to a series of heists as students smuggle
bottled and filtered water back to the dorms. I am unsure if I or my
microwave is not operating correctly. Students must take a designated path
to class under the threat of not getting insurance coverage if hit by a car.

My first week has yielded some knowledge of essential staples to the GTL
experience, listed below:

1. Crous Cafeteria: a treasured gift to my wallet and stomach

Cheap, delicious, close to class, and one of few motivators to eat non-
bread. One employee delights in teaching the Americans French words, exclaiming “très bien!” when we come back with more phrases
than last time.

2. Cora

Breads come in such forms as “pain long” and as Google translate
suggests, “pointy wand.” Fruit is surprisingly challenging to buy, so
stalk the indigenous inhabitants of the environment to observe their
behavior.

3. Paul

The Waffle House of Boulangeries (bakeries): found on every corner,
solid food, but you could do better (Aux Petits Choux, a block away). They have two options: to go (Vente a emporter) or eat there (Vente sur place). It’s cheaper and faster to take it to go, but if you don’t realize which line you are in and then go sit at a table, they will not be pleased.

Yours truly, with hood at the ready for any sign of snow.

 Ultimately, my advice is to stop
anticipating anything. Plan, yes,
and definitely budget, but your
constraints should not limit your
perception. I was only ever
disappointed whenever I had an
image in my head of what my
experience would be. When I
stopped trying so hard and just
started to let the country be what it
is, I could revel in the details of
this strange culture.

Oh, La Vache!

Written by Robby

I made it safe and sound to GTL! Because I got to France on December 29th, I didn’t take the shuttle with the other students. (My next post will be all about what I did for the week that I was here, so be on the look-out for that!) So, check-in was Monday the 9th, starting at 1PM, so on the night of the 8th, I spent the night with my friend Clémentine who lives in Metz. I got to her place around 6:30 PM, and then we went out for dinner. We stopped for a quick kebab at a restaurant downtown called Burger Kebab. (A kebab in France is not the meat and vegetables with a skewer, however, a wrap that is kind of like a gyro. You can choose to either have it on bread or in a tortilla, or gallete in French.) Then, we took a quick walk around the downtown area, and she showed me where everything is.

Words cannot describe how beautiful it is. Most of the buildings are very old, and none of them are more than 4 stories. The streets are all quaint cobblestone paths, barely big enough for a car and dominated by pedestrians. I was lucky enough that the Christmas decorations were still up, and there were lights and ornaments hanging over the streets. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then, with no warning, we passed by the cathedral. I have been to the cathedral before when I was in high school, but it still took my breath away. I just kept repeating, “Oh my goodness. Holy cow. Oh my goodness.” (I have done a presentation for a French class before about the cathedral, so it is very near and dear to my heart. I am sure that at some point during the semester, I will visit it and write a post for it.) After that, Clem showed me how to take the bus, and we went back to her place.

I know that it is super cliché, but that night I had a really hard time sleeping (and not just because I was on a sleeping bag on the floor). I was so excited to get to GTL, move in, unpack my bags, and start living my daily life.

The next morning, I was a little worried because check-in didn’t start until 1PM, but Clém had to be at class at 8AM. I decided to arrive early, and worst-case scenario I could read in the lobby. However, the best-case scenario took place and I was checked in to my room by 8:45am. Then, I was able to go downtown, where I was again struck by the beauty and the quaintness, to run some errands. However, I got downtown before most stores opened, so I had about 45 minutes to kill. I walked around until I found a stereotypical French café. I had a wonderful breakfast while listening to some older French women talk about the TV shows that they liked when they were kids and televisions were first coming out.

After breakfast, I went grocery shopping, bought a SIM card, got my bus pass, and also went clothes shopping. (All over Europe every store has sales right now that last until February, so I convinced myself that I needed new clothes.) 

That first night we had a pizza party. It was really exciting to meet everyone and hear about their plans for the semester! I am so excited for this program because everyone seems like they are really going to make the most out of their time here.

On Wednesday, I had my first day of classes. This semester I am taking FREN 3813: Advanced Conversation, ECON 2101: An Introduction to Global Economics, and MATH 3670: Statistics and Applications, as well as completing an independent research project for credit about the French economy. Despite the fact that GTL is not an exchange program, I am striving to make this program  as similar to an exchange program as possible. All of my professors were thrilled when I asked if I could communicate and complete the homework assignments in French. Additionally, my professor for Economics, who is also a professor at the local business school ICN, said that she would be happy to introduce me to her students, so that they can practice their English and I can practice my French. She even said that she would help me audit an economics class that is taught in French at ICN, so that I can live the life of a real French student. It is super exciting and encouraging to see how willing everyone at GTL is to let me practice French with them and immerse myself to my heart’s content.

As far as the resources, all of the buildings are amazing. The best part is the lounge in the GTL building. There are plenty of tables where students can study and work together, and there is also a foosball table, pool table, and ping pong table so students can just hang out. From day 1, there is a really strong sense of community in the program. I have already started to recognize the other students by face, and I always make sure to wave at them, whether I see them near campus or downtown. It’s kind of like the first day of high school all over again. Most people don’t know too many other students, so everyone is very nice and excited to make new friends. Everyone is super friendly, and the friendliness is extremely authentic. People actually want to find friends, not just be nice so that other people say they are nice.

Also, throughout the course of my blog post, I would like to do a favorite French expression or word of the week. This way, I can teach all of you a little French and share some part of the language that has been especially fun for me each week. This week the phrase that I want to share is “Oh la vache.” This literally translates to “Oh the cow,” and it is used the same way that someone would use “holy cow.” (This expression is even more cool because it is very typical for the Lorraine dialect of French.)

I have found myself using this phrase constantly over the course of my first week. Arriving to the train station, seeing the Metz train station, stumbling upon the gorgeous cathedral at night, not knowing that you weigh your own fruits in the grocery store thus causing everyone to wait for me while I sprint back to the produce section to do so and consequently receiving dirty looks from impatient French people – are all situations when I used this expression. This entire first week has consisted of me being blown away, overwhelmed, challenged, exhausted, and shocked, all in the best way possible. And so, I leave you with this summary of my first week at GTL (a TL;DR if you will): “Oh, la vache.”

Christmas in Europe

Because Europeans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and they’re nearly as consumerist as America, Christmas decorations are up and running as early as can be!

Despite the cynical things I just mentioned, Christmas is a truly magical time to be in Europe. I hadn’t really thought about it coming into GTL for the fall, since I just assumed I’d be celebrating Christmas once I got back to the States, but Christmas is everywhere, and I’ll actually have time to enjoy it before finals set in. I had the luck to go to Milan to visit a friend of mine, and considering the only things to do in Milan are shop, eat and see “The Last Supper,” the window displays were out of this world. Christmas trees lined the streets, there were lights everywhere, and Christmas-based stores were stocked to the brim with ornaments and decorations. It was sunny and nearly 60 degrees, so it didn’t necessarily have that cold wintry feel that made you want to wrap up and sit by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa, but it was cold enough to not feel like global warming was breathing down your neck, which is all I care about.

Metz has wonderful Christmas markets and ice sculptures, and in Strasbourg is one of the biggest Christmas markets in France, just an hour away from Metz. I’ve already heard plenty of students making plans to go searching for family Christmas gifts. There’s a major one in Paris too, of course, which I’m thinking about hitting up after finals. To all GTL students- remember to stay safe and be extra alert while in these Christmas markets! Please and thank you.

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