A Winter Spring Break

From 1€ flights to Oslo opening up the possibility of Scandinavia, to the siren song of the Greek islands, or the call of the muezzin in Morocco, and more, GTL students squeezed the most out of a well-deserved break from their studies.

Posted by Julie

Spring break is a lovely invention: a week-long break from school in the middle of the semester when all you really want is a break from the homework and a reason to put off those end-of-semester projects. Even when studying abroad in France, spring break looks like the promised land. In response to all of the exasperated sighs that sentence received: surprise! Yes, we’re studying abroad in France, and yes, that is really awesome, but it’s still studying for Georgia Tech classes. And though the motto is “never get tired of travelling,” you can certainly get tired from travelling.

A patriotic drawing on a whiteboard in the student lounge at GTL in the week before winter break. It has not been confirmed whether the theme was inspired by the looming break’s freedom from academic responsibilities, though.

Now, you might say, “Julie, it is way too early for a spring break. It isn’t even spring!” And in both statements, you would be correct. This was, in fact, our winter break. (We had two winter breaks, because we’re cooler. Pun intended.) France has a winter break, instead of spring, earlier in the semester.

No matter its name, many people chose a location that qualified more as a spring break – opting for warmer temperatures. The majority of students went on a variation of Italy itineraries – whether southward, northward, and even with Greece sprinkled on the end for some. Many routes intersected in Rome in the middle of the week, so there was a rather large concentration of GTL students roaming the streets. Others went south to Spain and Portugal, taking in the cost – and some ventured even as far as Morocco, flying down to spend three days in the desert.

There were also many who chose the snow over the beach: Norway and Denmark were popular destinations, especially after the 1€ flights to Oslo were advertised by Ryanair for just a few hours. With castles and fjords and more, there was much to see, though the northern lights were a bit far. Many people started in Eastern Europe, touring Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, and other cities, then jetting down south to join in for the last segment of other trips.

A map of Italy in the Museums of the Vatican.

Now, you might begin to understand the madness that was planning out nearly a week and a half of travel while handling classes, homework, and projects. After several weekends of travel and significant research, many people are realizing that there are some places it just takes longer to get to, and this was the prime opportunity to realize those distant dreams.

The best and worst part about traveling at GTL is certainly that everyone is excited to see everything. This may sounds strange – why is that a bad thing? Let’s roll back to that italicized word: everything. There are millions of places that one could go, and many people are trying to squeeze all of the highlights of Europe into one semester. In trying to accommodate everyone’s dreams, we ended up sacrificing some things.

It’s best to keep things in perspective, though: we’re traveling Europe. The craziness was overshadowed by the immensity of our then-current situations: on the water of the Grand Canal, overlooking the city of Florence, under the shadow of the Colosseum, and on the coast by colorful houses tucked into the mountainside. Everyone came back from winter break with glory stories and starry eyes – so all of the planning and all of the sacrifices were worth it.

Field Trip Chronicles: La Grange aux Pains

A field trip to a local boulangerie and pâttisserie truly takes the cake!

This past weekend my History & Sociology class took a special field trip to La Grange aux Pains. La Grange aux Pains is a boulangerie and pâtisserie located in Montigny-les-Metz, France, owned by husband and wife Priscilla and Rémi Pruvost. The bakery has achieved tremendous success since its opening in 2009, and is frequented by local and loyal customers from surrounding areas. It is the ideal spot for one craving a fresh baguette or pastry on their way to work. La Grange aux Pains is recognized as a boulangerie and pâttiserie because each day, everything item is baked fresh, (Fun fact: Large bakery enterprises such as Paul cannot call themselves a boulangerie or pâttiserie for this very reason), from chocolate covered croissants to curry chicken paninis to mini beignets. And that’s what makes La Grange aux Pains all the more special.

Our trip began with a detailed tour of the facility. Priscilla led us to the back room of the bakery, where they receive daily shipments of ingredients and supplies. Next, we entered the main baking room, where all of the magic happens. We watched as two apprentices prepared croissants from scratch, folding triangular pieces of dough into perfect half-crescent moon shapes. Granted, all of our mouths were watering at this point, and our tour had just begun. Next we were shown the different pieces of machinery used in the baking process. A giant 3-level oven took up a large portion of the room. Priscilla and Rémi use the oven to bake baguettes, bagels, and other various forms of bread. Other machines in the room included a spiral mixer in the corner, along with a dough cutter and a baguette moulder placed along a table. These machines, now used frequently to help speed up production, did not exist some time ago. French bakers hand-crafted their bread and pastries with art and precision, often beginning the baking process at early and odd hours. Modern machinery has since replaced the need for so much manual labor. However, it is still necessary that skilled bakers like Priscilla and Rémi are present. For example, water temperature is an extremely important factor to consider when baking bread, as it can affect bread consistency and size. Often times, a baker is needed to go outside and get a feel for the weather. Depending on whether it’s hot, rainy, or cold, the baker will then adjust the water temperature accordingly. This is certainly not, and may never be, a job for an industrial machine.

Next, Priscilla led the group to a smaller room, where we ate samples of some of her staple bread and pastries. She pointed out the key differences in two of the baguettes she served us, regarding their shape, size, texture, and color. One baguette had been hand-made (formally called a banette), and the other had been made by a machine. We could barely tell the difference as Americans, but according to Priscilla, the French can point them out quite easily. After lunch at the Botanical Garden of Metz (ham sandwiches and chicken paninis prepared by none other than Priscilla), we returned to La Grange aux Pains for a special baking lesson. Yes! We got to bake our very own baguettes and bagels from scratch! Each of us found a spot alongside a long, wooden table, fresh dough in hand, and watched Priscilla and Rémi as they gave step-by step instructions on to how to shape our soon-to-be bread. The best part? We got to take everything we baked home with us! And to top off an already wonderful baking experience, Priscilla gave each of us a parting gift: a loaf of sweet bread topped with tiny white chocolate chips.

I’ve been on some pretty cool field trips in life, but I have to say, my experience at La Grange aux Pains takes the cake (pun intended). How many students can say they baked fresh bread, under the instruction of two highly-skilled French bakers, at an authentic boulangerie and pâtteserie this semester? Only fifteen, and I’m so thankful I was one of them! 


Spontaneous Graduate Studies and Sock Collecting: Meet J.D.

Did you know that you can do an MS or PhD at Georgia Tech-Lorraine? Meet J.D., who is working on his Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at GTL.

J.D., visiting the final resting place of General George S. Patton at the Luxembourg American Cemetery
J.D., visiting the final resting place of General George S. Patton at the Luxembourg American Cemetery

Name: J.D. Hill

Major/Field of Study: MS ME

Year in grad school: 1st semester

Undergraduate Institution: Texas A&M

Why did you choose GTL? Spontaneous decision to take on the opportunity

Favorite part of GTL: Traveling and interacting with French graduate students

Best recommendation for other graduate students: Just do it.

Dream destination: Skellig Michael Island, Ireland

Interests/Hobbies: Travelling, country dancing, sock collection

Meet J.D.

He’s a pretty cool guy. Why, do you ask? He’s a graduate student here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine (that’s not the only reason, though; his story is even more interesting). The funny thing is, this is J.D.’s first semester with Georgia Tech, and it’s not on the Atlanta campus. Even funnier? He may never even step foot on the Atlanta campus.

When J.D. graduated as an Aggie of Texas A&M brandishing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he already had a job with General Electric working in the oil and gas field. General Electric must care about its employees, as it funds their continuing education: the Edison Development program pays for his Master’s degree. J.D. had the choice between NC State and Georgia Tech, but when it came down to it, he made the (fabulous) choice to be a Yellow Jacket.

After digging deeper into his options at our university, he stumbled across Georgia Tech-Lorraine, and due to great timing with his job, it was an opportunity too good to pass up – even though deadline had sort of already passed him up. Some serious communication and finagling later, he worked to catch up on all the deadlines and was accepted to the program to study his first and only semester on campus at Georgia Tech (albeit, on the French campus).

And now, well, he’s here! Is all of this as great as J.D. expected? He thinks so. J.D. travels a lot, unlike many of the French graduate students, but he still fits in pretty well with them, whom he says are very welcoming and accepting. It’s one of his favorite things about being here (besides the traveling): chatting with and learning French from them.

As you may have guessed, traveling and seeing new things are among his favorite hobbies. His favorite destination he’s checked off was Rome, Italy – he says he could walk around for days, there is so much to do – but he still wants to make it to Skellig Michael Island in Ireland. He does do other things too, though: when he’s not traveling, you can find J.D. stringing up a laundry line to dry the subset of his super cool sock collection that he brought along or country dancing.

What’s in store for J.D. after this semester? He’ll be returning to his job in Oklahoma City, but he hopes to end up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas. He likes his job currently, as it’s stable, but chose mechanical engineering for its flexibility, so who knows where he’ll end up in the long run? He’s along for the adventure.

His advice for the graduate students contemplating the benefits of a program like Georgia Tech-Lorraine echoes similar sentiments: make like Nike and just do it! The administration is very helpful, and it is a unique opportunity to travel and experience other cultures.

Posted by Ije and Julie

Ghostbusters: GTL Edition featuring Karen Pierce

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Karen Pierce! If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good, who you gonna call? Karen Pierce!

KPierceName: Karen Pierce

Position: Area Manager of Residence Life

Phrase That Best Describes GTL: “Broadening one’s horizons”

Favorite Color: Blue

Favorite Food:

Interests/Hobbies: Salsa dancing and amateur photography

Posted by Julie

Welcome to Georgia Tech-Lorraine!

Once you step off of the bus, who is the first person you’ll meet? More than likely Karen Pierce.

As her official title “Area Manager of Residence Life” conveys, she is the main point of contact about housing, but what you may or may not know is that she represents the main point of all contact between students and staff here at GTL. She does so much at which her title doesn’t even begin to hint: Karen is the main source of information for resources, non-academic support and because of this fields any questions – from who to talk to about scheduling to travel to laundry – to help ease a student’s time in a new place. She might as well have a theme song like in Ghostbusters, because she’s who you’re gonna call!

It’s her favorite thing about her job, too: she builds bridges over the cultural differences for students, and helps them when in need. She’s even there for mental and emotional support – on call 24/7 to help us. This, according to Karen, is the most fulfilling part of her job. She connects with people and helps them through even the toughest times.

And so, when I asked her what she would say to students if she could, I knew that she would have a good idea as to what might help. Her recommendations? Two things: one, remember, there are no elevators in the residences, so lugging those three suitcases up might be a chore. Two, the culture of France is different: the United States is convenience-oriented, while France is family-oriented, which then affects convenience. This cultural difference is something to be aware of, so it’s better to mind the gap!

She isn’t just a person behind a desk, though; she has interests just like you and me. Karen’s favorite color is blue. She loves salsa dancing, and continues to dance here in Metz, and has taken up amateur photography as well. If you need recommendations for Italian restaurants, she’s got you covered; it’s her favorite style of food, and there are apparently an abundance in Metz!


Georgia Tech-Lorraine is a fantastic experience, and Karen agrees. Her phrase of choice to describe the experience of studying here was “broadening your horizons,” as the program is unique, with an incredibly large concentration of American students and lease to travel, experience, and explore – and she’s here through it all. It’s great to know, though, that through all of our hiccups and ups and downs, she is someone we can rely on for answers and support.

So this here is a huge thank you to Ms. Karen Pierce from past, present, and future GTL students – all of whose lives you’ve made easier!

A Weekend in Venezia: Carnivale Edition

Mystical masked revelers and the pure magic of Venice come together in a weekend to remember.


Posted by Julie

Ah, Venice: the epitome of charm and romance – alongside Paris, of course. Venice has been made up to be this fantastic, magical place in everything that I’ve seen and read, so I’ve imagined this mystical aura over the town and had fantasies about the stone lions roaring to life from atop their towers at the stroke of midnight.

Forgive me, maybe this sounds childish – and even if it does, what is so wrong with a little whimsy? But since I was little and stayed up late reading The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke with a flashlight after my parents tucked me in (sorry, Mom and Dad), I’ve dreamed of Venice, but this weekend I actually got to go. Not only did I get to go, but I got to go during Carnivale. (Be still, my heart.)

On the train down, the story was running through my head. Scipio and a black mask with the long, birdlike nose and the gold and silver spoons and the anonymous antagonist on his boat were all images swirling inside my head in a jumbled mess, as it’s been several years since I’ve reread the tale. I had a lot of time to sort it out and think through it, though, as it took a grand total of 18 hours to reach Venezia by train; there were so many stops and layovers in cold stations. Each time we changed trains, the number of people traveling from GTL dwindled until it was just us at a station to whittle away an hour and half before the rest of our journey.

Arriving in Venice was craziness with a pinch of revelry: tracking everyone down from their different trains, organizing for our walk to the AirBnB through the masses of people, and clamoring over the colorful masks at every street stall. Despite the walls of feathered, beaded, and bejeweled masks, there were few other indications that Carnivale was in full swing. There was some confetti here and there, and an occasional Renaissance noble strolling the street, but otherwise everything was calm – normal, even – until Saturday, when those who had costumes arrived at the famous Saint Mark’s Square for photoshoots and revelry. The colorful costumes, strange movements, and immovable visages captured everyone’s attention and imagination.

Venice, not surprisingly, looks exactly like the pictures; however, these visual representations capture the appearance, but not the character. It can’t capture the feeling of traversing a maze of buildings with Google Maps only to be lead to a dead end at a waterway, the sound of fisherman conversing while throwing the catch of the day to their friend on the boardwalk, the calm aura created by the halo of early morning light and quiet in residential areas, the easy rock of the gondola as the cloudy teal waters of the Grand Canal rush up and slap the sides, or the clink of jewelry and snap of professional cameras with each dainty, calculated motion of the masked and costumed in Saint Mark’s Square.

A white figure in the crowd at Saint Mark’s Square.

One can only wonder who these characters are – do they lead regular lives in Venice just to don wigs and twirl into the spotlight during the traditional festival? Venetians themselves are hard to find, though; few live on the island anymore with the increasing tourism and rent pushing them off the island that they have known and loved. According to Franco, the sixth-generation gondolier who toured the city by waterfront with us, many have left for cheaper waters. He himself, born in southern Venice, now lives a bus ride away because of the outrageous housing costs. Most of the city has become hotels or other dedications to the 26 million people that visit annually, so I was worried that the magic was just funded by capitalism.

A quiet residential Venetian street – complete with clothes on the line.

Despite the vast amounts of money to spend and make, there is a true magic to the city – but it’s not just in the buildings. The vibrancy comes from the environment and culture and traditions. You can see it in the early mornings when the river glows in the soft light and where you can see old friends catch up with the owner of the small café on the corner over an expresso at a table outside. I saw it in the way that Franco looked as he spoke about his home away from home.

So yes, although I didn’t get to see the stone lions fly from their cultural pedestals at midnight, I am happy to report that Venezia is very much magical, and at the very least, navigating their streets is mystical. All is right with the world.

BDE Super Bowl Extravaganza!

Some American traditions are sacred, including watching the Superbowl with friends….even if it means waiting until 11:30pm Metz time on Super Bowl Sunday for the kick-off.

The BDE’s first event of the semester was nothing short of a success. At 11:30 pm, groups of both French and American students poured into the GTL Lounge and carefully chose a good seat for the game. Many had just returned from long weekend trips. Others had a handful of assignments to complete, and pulled out textbooks and laptops as soon as they arrived. No one could miss one of the most exciting sports games of the year. The audience consisted of a diverse group of fans. Of course, there were a fair share of die-hard Panthers and Broncos supporters. But many students, both French and American, came to the event with the intent to meet new people and also learn about the game of football.

Food was served early on, and in minutes, the pizza, chips, and popcorn disappeared from the main table. Hunger then satisfied, everyone was ready for kickoff. At first, most sat comfortably with their respective groups of friends. But as time progressed, many branched out to mix and mingle with other French and American students. A sense of community certainly developed in the student lounge that night.

Halftime came by quickly, and the Broncos led the Panthers 13 to 7. All eyes were on the projector screen as Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce took the stage in a spectacular Super Bowl Halftime performance. Soon after, large groups of students began to file out with yawns, while the loyal football fans stuck around for the second half. At 4 am, only a mere 10 students and a security guard remained. They watched with tired eyes as the Broncos pulled out with a win. Members of the BDE helped clean up the lounge area, and headed home with their first successful event in the books.

Stay tuned for news on upcoming BDE events!

Au Revoir 🙂

Redefining Normal

Welcome to the new normal….Georgia Tech-Lorraine style.

A letter from the desk of Robert Schuman, the creator of the European Coal and Steel Commission (ECSC), which was the predecessor of the European Union.

Posted by Julie

“Normal” is such as powerful word: it can cause a multitude of emotions, exclude and include, and rationalize and alienate. Often the idea of a regularity inspires more humor nowadays; people aren’t afraid to stray from the status quo, and so many believe “normal” doesn’t even exist.

I’m seeing a lot of this light-hearted approach to normalcy nowadays, especially here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. Walking around the student lounge, you can hear things like “Oh, this is just a normal week,” or “Yeah, it’s just a normal trip,” – but when placed in context, these ordinary statements about the dull humdrumness are absolutely comical.

It’s fun to remind people that hey – it’s a normal week, but in the center of Europe on a program that allows us to travel every weekend at significantly reduced prices due to student discounts and to places we’ve only dreamed of since we were kids. Typical, right?

Now, Georgia Tech is not an ordinary school; in fact, it prides itself in being different, innovative, and unique. Classes are difficult – more than your ordinary class. The campus is incredibly diverse, the research sector is booming like no other, and Buzz is the most high-energy mascot the world has ever seen. Maybe we’re used to this ordinary out-of-the-ordinary so much so that we have entirely redefined our normal.

Or maybe our definition has changed because we’re living it: we’re right in the middle. We see all of the work it takes to travel on even a small trip, and all of the confusion when you don’t know that French word; it’s not new anymore, and we’re adjusting.  This has become our status quo, so it’s harder to see how different this really is.

Just hanging out in Colmar, France.

It’s harder to see how absolutely amazing it is that I went to Paris last weekend and was in Germany before that. This opportunity is extraordinary – and I’m trying to keep that in mind as I’m walking around Metz, France, seeing buildings that are nearly two thousand years old and speaking French everywhere I go. This, right here and now, is anything but normal.

Portes Ouvertes & Open Minds

Georgia Tech-Lorraine opens its doors to open young minds at its annual open house.


Posted by Julie

Welcome to la France: where there are some things that are really different (baguettes for days –literally), and some that are quite similar (so many corny advertisements) to the United States. No, everyone doesn’t walk around in black and white stripes with a cigarette in one hand and a baguette in the other, though everyone seems to be pretty stylin’.

This weekend was Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s “Portes Ouvertes,” which translates literally to “Open Doors.” This annual two-day event revolves around community involvement and advertisement, and I was so lucky to volunteer to talk to students from middle school age up to high school age. Not only was this eye-opening culturally, but it was so much fun just to talk to some of the students.

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to know a bit more about one more difference, through both Portes Ouvertes and the French graduate students I’ve met on campus and in my computer science class. It’s a big one, and maybe one you wouldn’t expect: their education system. Maybe you already know that their college doesn’t cost nearly as much as in the States, but there are reasons for that. (Also, “collège” en français is the equivalent of middle school, just so you know. I learned that a while ago in French class, though, so thanks Prof!)

However, the organization and perception of the education system varies quite a bit. For example, once students hit lycée (high school), they choose a concentration of studies. Now, I don’t know about you, but I got questions for years up until applying for college about what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have a clue, – I ended up changing last minute to Industrial Engineering at FASET orientation – so the prospect of that scares the color out of me.

Their entrance exam is rough: le BAC, an abbreviation for “le Baccalauréat,” is basically the equivalent of our SAT’s or ACT’s – except more difficult and competitive. They prepare for it throughout high school, and receive notice as to whether they can attend college (referred to as l‘université here). According to my study abroad advisors, their université focuses on intensive studies initially, then application projects in later years, unlike at Georgia Tech, where we get hands-on in our material in many classes.

However, the emphasis we see on Tech campus for job experience? Not so prevalent here. In fact, my friend Taha told me that when applying for a job, the question asked isn’t “What experience do you have?” but “How many diplomas do you have?” Therefore, graduate studies are commonplace, whereas I could probably enter the workforce with my co-op experience and Bachelor’s.

Photo courtesy of bioinformatics.gatech.edu.

The approach to education and experience varies much more than I ever thought, but I couldn’t say if one is better than the other. It seems to me that everyone is happy – it’s just another cultural difference; it’s what they do here. I never would have learned that without volunteering with my peers for Portes Ouvertes, or taking this computer science class that makes me just slightly nervous (in a good way – I’m ready to learn at an exponential rate).

Some advice: there’s no shame in staying home from the grand travels everyone has planned. Even when staying in Metz on the weekend, there are things to learn; even when you’re at home, there are things to learn – it’s just a matter of what you do.