Studying Abroad During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all aspects of daily life, and the experience of students studying abroad is not exempt from this. Read about Kaitlyn’s experiences with studying abroad this semester and how she feels it compares to a typical semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine in her latest post.

Monday, March 29, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

For many of us studying at Georgia Tech-Lorraine this semester, our study abroad experience is, to put it lightly, much different than most of us originally imagined. Of course, I’m talking about the fact that there is a global pandemic taking place as we are studying in France. Things have been wildly different than a “normal” semester, but I believe I speak for all when I say that every student at Georgia Tech-Lorraine feels extremely fortunate just to be here during this time of crisis. 

For many of us, studying abroad has always been something we’ve wanted to do. It’s an integral part of our college experience, when we can learn to broaden our perspectives and expand our horizons. Thanks to the safety protocols and preventative measures taken by Georgia Tech-Lorraine, we’ve still been able to have that transformative experience while prioritizing the health of the community. 

What is different from a typical semester? 

  • When you throw a handful of young, ambitious college students into the heart of Europe, our natural instinct is to travel as far and wide as possible; however, COVID-19 has thrown a bit of a wrench into this plan. Travel restrictions and lockdowns in certain countries have limited our capabilities to check off every single country on our bucket lists. Since circumstances change rapidly, we’ve had to keep ourselves well-informed on the conditions in other countries. 
  • Fortunately, here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine we have access to free testing in France. One testing location is a short walk away from the dorms. It is quick, convenient, and free. We are encouraged to test as much as possible, and most of us do.
  • We are all doing our part to prevent the spread, and that means wearing a mask in all public spaces.
  • We have to set more realistic expectations for the semester. As much as we may want to travel to a multitude of countries, sometimes it simply is impossible. We are currently living through difficult circumstances where we cannot compare our experiences to previous students’, which took some time to get used to. It is a changed world and situations are constantly evolving around us.

Despite the challenges, there have been lots of positives!   

As an optimist, I couldn’t address the discrepancies of this semester without looking on the bright side.

  • We’re learning how to deal with unfamiliar situations, and how to be adaptable. There’s nothing like your plans for the upcoming weekend falling through because of a sudden lockdown. This entire experience has taught us how to be flexible and prepared for whatever the next week may throw at us.
  • Since certain countries are closed, we’re exploring more of our host country of France. The travel restrictions have made us stay close to Metz, and in some ways I am extremely grateful for that. We’ve ventured to many off-the-beaten-path destinations in France that have given us an authentic taste of the country’s culture. We’re seeing the less touristy and more real parts of France.
  • On a similar note, it’s not uncommon for us to be one of the very few tourists in a place normally teeming with sightseers. We can experience places like the iconic landmarks of Paris without the usual bustling crowds!

    This is a picture of a usually crowded street in Bellagio, Italy.
    It’s easy to photograph places when there’s no people! This is a picture of a usually crowded street in Bellagio, Italy.

In the end, the hallmarks of a study abroad experience are learning about a new culture, meeting new people, and dealing with unprecedented circumstances. We are very lucky to be crossing off all three of these items, even if they are not in the way we originally imagined!

If You Don’t Like to Cook…

… then this blog is for you! Read on as Kaitlyn details some of her favorite places to get food from at Georgia Tech-Lorraine when she doesn’t want to rely on her own culinary skills!

Friday, March 26, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Like a good majority of college students our age, you are probably only just beginning to venture into the world of learning to cook for yourself. Luckily for us, we have an abundance of options of prepared meals here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine! Here’s a look at them; bon appétit!

CROUS Student Cafeteria

Thanks to our status as French university students, we have access to the student lunches at a neighboring college. For just one euro, we can pick from a menu that usually features warm sandwiches, pasta, and a chef’s meal of the day. For our sides, we are given fruit, salad, yogurt/compote, and a bottle of water. The panini poulet is always a popular choice with Georgia Tech-Lorraine students, but there’s plenty of vegetarian and vegan options too! The cafeteria is about a ten minute walk around the lake from the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building, so it’s a great option for a quick lunch between classes. 

PAUL and Aux Petits Choux

Another favorite with Georgia Tech-Lorraine students is the bakery chain, Paul. It’s an industrial bakery, meaning that it’s not an authentic French bakery, but that doesn’t stop it from tasting good. They specialize in breakfast goods, pastries, and sandwiches. Their prices are a little higher than most bakeries you’ll find in France, but you can’t beat the location, it’s about a three minute walk from the Lafayette dorms and on the way to Georgia Tech-Lorraine. If you’re looking for a slightly more affordable option, there’s another great bakery called Aux Petits Choux down the road from PAUL. It has a smaller selection, but they bake everything fresh daily! 

French Fast Food

Because of the local preventative measures for the pandemic, for example the curfew and restaurant closures, we’ve all become good friends with food delivery apps like UberEats and Deliveroo. Metz’s abundance of restaurants — Metz is the third highest French city in terms of the number of fast food restaurants per inhabitant — makes it really easy to order delivery! Some Georgia Tech-Lorraine students’ favorites are Burger Kebab (sandwich kebab shop) and O’Tacos (French tacos chain). 

Auchan & Cora

Of course, you can always buy premade meals from the grocery stores. There’s Cora, the superstore, but also the smaller, more traditional Auchan. While Cora has a wider selection, I and others have found ourselves going to Auchan more often for our weekly groceries. It’s closer to the Lafayette dorms, and set up more like an American grocery store. 

A First Taste of Italy

Join Kaitlyn on her first taste of Italy as she tours her way from pizza shop to pizza shop, and of course, she’d be remiss if she didn’t stop for gelato along the way. Read all about her journey around the pants shaped Lake Como in her latest blog!

Thursday, March 25, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Italy: the home of pizza, the perfecter of pasta, and the gelato capital of the world. It’s easy to say that it’s the perfect weekend getaway for any food fanatic — ideal for my group and me!

It was apparent we were in Italy from the moment we stepped out into the lakeside town of Como, Italy. Blooming cherry blossom trees dotted the sides of roads filled with drivers zipping around on their Vespas. Every block we walked by was home to one gelato shop at a minimum.

an image of an adorable small puppy
The happiest dogs live in Italy!

While the name of the movie may be All Dogs go to Heaven, based on my observation heaven for dogs must be Como. There were so many dogs, and every single one of them looked like the happiest pup in the world — one friendly puppy was practically jumping all over us to receive pets.

Lake Como is situated on the border of Switzerland and Italy. My friends and I likened the shape of the lake to a pair of pants; while traveling along the lake we would use this analogy. It was silly, but extremely helpful! For example, the city of Como was on the “left foot” of the lake.  After a couple hours sightseeing, we boarded a ferry (the lake is so large that the main way of transportation between the towns is by boat!) to travel up the pants leg to Varenna, our home base for the weekend.

We disembarked the ferry right at sunset, and what a sunset it was! It was a real treat for us, as our ability to view sunsets in Metz have been restricted by a curfew. We quickly learned that the town of Varenna was tiny; it is home to a grand total of 800 residents! But what it lacked in population made up for in charm. We ordered some takeaway pizza from a restaurant in the main square and while we waited, considered our options for how to get to our Airbnb. 

The amazing view from the balcony of our Airbnb.

The house we picked was actually in an even smaller town, Perledo, which sits prettily on top of a hill. It’s only accessible through hiking up a steep trail of staircases, or through a road that has a hairpin turn every few meters. Our exhausted bodies gave a resounding “no” to the first option, so we hitched a ride in a taxi. It’s difficult to tell if that was the right decision in the end, because the taxi ride was simply chaotic. Trying to communicate to the driver that only knew Italian where to drop us off as she whipped around the hairpin turns at lightning speed was **shivers** quite the harrowing experience. We made it to our destination in one piece, though, and our home for the weekend was incredible. The villa we stayed in was complete with private gardens and balconies that highlighted a completely unparalleled lake view.

The traumatizing taxi ride was worth it for this.


Authentic Italian pizza deserves all the hype it gets.

Exhausted from our eventful day, we tucked into our authentic Italian (!!) pizza and called it a night.


The next day we caught another ferry to the town of Bellagio. Of course, we couldn’t visit another Italian town without trying their gelato. Trust me when I say, Italian pistachio gelato just hits differently.  We continued to roam the small streets and talk to locals. 

We returned to Varenna a few hours later with a fun idea in our heads. One of my group’s absolute necessities is watching the Rick Steves video about our destination, so we thought it would be fitting to try our best to recreate certain scenes from the Varenna video. I’ve gotta say, I think we did a pretty decent job. I think Rick Steves would be proud of our attempt. 

You really have to look hard to find the difference between these two photos!

We wrapped up our last night in Varenna simply relaxing and enjoying our surroundings. It was a wonderfully peaceful evening on the lake, and the perfect ending to my first taste of Italy.

Selfies in Interlaken

Join Kaitlyn on her trip through the Jungfrau region in Switzerland in her latest blog post!

Monday, March 22, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

image of sheep from the train
The train ride to Interlaken gave us lots to see!

“Hold on, let’s take a selfie really quickly,” one of my friends exclaimed mid boarding our final train of the weekend. After it was uttered nearly three dozen times this weekend, I came to the conclusion this phrase was quickly becoming my friends’ favorite sentence. I can’t blame them, though; nearly every point in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps was absolutely breathtaking and more than deserving of a snapshot. 

coffees at the hostel
Hostel provided hot chocolate, lattes, and coffee!

Our stay in the town of Interlaken was an extremely unique one; it was my first time staying in a hostel. It wasn’t just any hostel, though. Somehow, we had managed to book a room in what was proclaimed as the “Ninth best large hostel in the world”. How did I feel about this? Well, as it was my first hostel experience, I don’t think I’m the best person to judge, but objectively, it was phenomenal. We were given free bus passes, breakfast, coffee, cooking utensils, and discounts on train tickets. We cooked dinner and ate alongside other young adults that came from different corners of the world but were able to communicate using English as a common language. 

We started our Saturday with a train ride that snaked us through the valley and up to the village of Lauterbrunnen. We were probably the only non-Europeans on that train, and we made it very clear by taking selfies hanging out of the windows!

selfie on the train

As our train approached the village, the mountains grew taller and the air simply felt cleaner. I know I say this a lot, but Lauterbrunnen was truly something out of a fairytale. We absorbed the scene in complete awe as waterfalls cascaded down the sides of mountain faces and church bells rang in the distance.We boarded a cable car that took us directly up to the top of the mountain. It climbed higher and higher, until the homes below us grew to the size of ants and we were eye-level with the mountain peaks.

cable car photoThe hike that our hostel recommended would take us directly to the alpine village of Mürren via a trail along the mountain ridge. We traversed through what can only be best described as a winter wonderland.  There were so many times I had to remind myself that the panoramic views weren’t just quickly fading scenes on green screens, but one-hundred percent my real surroundings. My friends and I were just absolutely floored by the landscape. One of the best parts was that the hike was extremely easy! Since we were already so high in elevation, all we had to do was walk on a mostly flat trail. It was incredibly low effort, high reward.

We made it to the end of the trail, the traditional mountain town of Murren that sits at 5450 feet. Though the hike wasn’t particularly taxing, we still figured we deserved a reward of Swiss chocolate, so we plopped down on a bench and tucked in. 


Kaitlyn staring at the views of mountains
Here’s a photo of me having trouble comprehending that the view wasn’t a painting!

We spent the next day much closer to sea level trading the towering mountains for the crystal blue waters of Lake Thunersee.

Eating pizza on the docks was definitely a highlight of the day!

After getting off the train at Spiez, we heard a strange but familiar sound: long, melodic, trumpet-like notes were echoing throughout the town. It turns out a man was playing the alphorn, a several-meter-long wooden horn used by mountain dwellers in the Alps. It used to be a communication device for those living far apart in the mountains, but is a musical instrument today. We had learned about it in a Rick Steves video, so it was crazy to actually see and hear it in person! It really was the quintessential Swiss experience.


A Tour of the Campus

Even though this semester may look different in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building serves as a home base for the students during the week! Take an inside look at the campus with Kaitlyn in her latest blog!

Friday, March 19, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

*With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the photos taken in this blog post reflect the way campus is set up to accommodate social distancing, so the campus may look a bit different from usual!*

Welcome to a small oasis of familiarity in the middle of Europe: the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building. 

The GTL Building from the front

The campus is a single building, but comes with everything you’d expect to find on campus in Atlanta. It’s comprised of four floors, six classrooms, two study spaces, and one very popular ping pong table. 

The first and second floors are home to the student lounge, staff offices, nurse’s office, computer room, and laboratories. Above that are the classrooms, which are great for a small stair-climbing workout session if you’re running late and your classroom is on the top floor… I speak from experience. Since Georgia Tech-Lorraine classes are relatively small compared to Atlanta ones, the classrooms are small and fit about 30 students. 

Each level of the building has a similar setup: the staircase and elevator take you out to a small seating area with a bulletin board showing information for things like emergency exits, class schedules, and upcoming Bureau des Étudiants (the BDE, Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s student government) sponsored events. 

Need a place to meet up with your group to discuss a project? Or do you have a train ticket you need to print out? Better yet, want to let off some steam by playing a quick game of ping pong or pool? Head on over to the Georgia Tech-Lorraine student lounge. It’s well stocked with computers, printers, stationery, and coffee you can purchase from a vending machine.

 If you’re the type of student that stays on task best when surrounded by others also doing work, the student lounge is an ideal study spot for you. If not, there are quieter areas in the building open to students; all classrooms are open after classes for the day have wrapped up.

For those without access to computers, or for those who just prefer to use a monitor rather than their laptops, we have a dedicated computer lab on the second floor. 

Lastly, outside the back of the building there is a large parking area where you can sometimes find food trucks, usually organized by the BDE. It’s worth noting that the entire campus is gated, has a security guard present, and only accessible with an ID; the location is incredibly safe. 

Despite this semester being a bit different, the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building is a fantastic place to study and hang out with fellow students!

picture of the back parking lot with a bike

Étretat & Rouen

One of the perks of studying at Georgia Tech-Lorraine is the ability to completely change your surroundings without traveling a great distance. Join Kaitlyn as she discovers just that during her travels in Normandy from the sleepy seaside village of Étretat to the medieval and trendy streets of Rouen in her latest blog.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn


I closed my eyes, allowing my senses to absorb the scene surrounding me. I caught the faint smell of sea salt, heard the rhythmic sound of waves crashing into the jagged rocks below, and felt the soft carpet of lush grass below me.

If you’re looking for a weekend trip to escape from the hustle and bustle of crowded cities, like my group was, the Cliffs of Étretat is the perfect getaway. The town of Étretat is small; it’s a charming commune nestled between two cliffs. Despite the town’s minute size, there was plenty for us to see.

We started our weekend off with a short walk from our bus stop to the boardwalk. Immediately after crossing the street to the boardwalk, we were hit with the striking view of the formidable cliffs. There was a staircase that would lead us uphill to the western cliffs, but it wasn’t going to be an easy climb. We were, after all, essentially scaling the 250 foot monolith in a single uphill climb. Upon summiting the cliff, the staircase turned into a system of trails that seemed to wind up and over the green hills for miles. I couldn’t resist the temptation to just plop down on the grass and take in the scenery – the impossibly turquoise sea, the striking white of the chalky cliffs, and the seagulls flying over the water. We explored the trail system some more, finding a bridge that led into a tiny cave, and taking our time to check out every different viewpoint that the trail offered. 

Having thoroughly absorbed the views that the western cliffs offered, we headed back into town for lunch. It was incredibly intriguing to see so much British influence in this area of France – there were fish and chips restaurants, British flags proudly flying from buildings, and quaint English-style cottages. Of course, we were going to take full advantage of this, so we grabbed fish and chips for lunch and picnicked on the beach. We wrapped up our day with the botanical gardens of Étretat where we admired the awe-inspiring and sometimes strange sculptures on display. 



Flowers for sale under the clock towerThe next day, we had the chance to explore Rouen, the capital of Normandy. One of the tourism pamphlets our hotel gave us described Rouen as “medieval and trendy.” Though at first we chuckled at the oxymoron – how could something be both medieval and trendy – we soon came to realize that despite being an oxymoron, medieval and trendy was an apt description of Rouen.

Walking through the streets of Rouen was like being plunged into a storybook. We came across the famous Gros Horloge, a fourteenth century astronomical clock,  a memorial to the valiant Joan of Arc, and the Rouen cathedral, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in all of Europe.  It was incredibly fascinating to see the two different sides of Rouen. The city was steeped in history, but at the same time, a lively and vibrant one. The streets where medieval warriors once stood are now home to chic cafes and designer stores.

Out time spent in the city of Rouen was vastly different from the day before basking in the sun on the cliffs of Étretat, but what’s more in the spirit of Georgia Tech-Lorraine than having a complete change of your surroundings each day?


Quick Tips for a Successful Start at Georgia Tech-Lorraine

Packing for a semester abroad can be mildly stressful and usually ends with several rounds of packing and unpacking to squeeze everything in (yet something important always goes forgotten). If only there was someone to give you tips on how to successfully pack for your semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine… luckily for you Kaitlyn is here! Read her packing tips and tricks for successfully packing for your semester abroad on her latest blog post!

Thursday, March 4, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

After being at GTL for about a month and a half and talking to others about their adjustment to life in France, I’ve compiled a list of things that are useful to bring with you to GTL, or anything that you might be better off leaving at home. 

Buy the three month Global Eurail pass.

Personally, I spent a lot of time deliberating over whether or not to drop a large sum of cash on the three month Eurail pass, but in the end I believe I went with the right decision. The flexibility that the pass gives you is invaluable; plans change and emergencies happen. Additionally, Metz is situated in a location that can be awkward for plane travel, as the nearest major airports are either in Paris or Luxembourg (which you probably will have to travel to by, you guessed it, train). This makes train travel usually the most convenient way to get around. Many students also recommend getting the mobile pass rather than the physical pass, as it can be easy to lose the paper copy.

Bring waterproof clothes and shoes!

Metz can be very rainy, especially in the winter. It’s worth it to invest in shoes that double as rain boots and casual wear (so you don’t take up too much space in your luggage for a single-purpose item).

Research your favorite items that are difficult to get in Europe.

This could be anything that is something you simply can’t live without. For example, one of my friends is a huge fan of peanut butter, which she later discovered is rather unpopular in Europe. This led to a trip to the Costco in Paris, the only place where we could find large quantities of quality peanut butter. If you’re particular about your stationery, it’s worthwhile to note that notebooks in France are completely different from American ones. Additionally, some spices that you might like to put on your cooking might be hard to find in Europe.

Bring decorations or things that remind you of home.

While it may seem like GTL students are never in their dorms and constantly on the go, we actually still stay in our rooms for a decent amount of time during the week, especially now due to the pandemic. Since the dorms are pretty much barren, it’s nice to have a little something to put up on your walls that make it feel a little cozier.

Try to bring a contactless credit card.

It seems like contactless credit cards are a lot more commonplace in Europe than in America, and some places even only take these types of cards (most notably, Lafayette laundry). 

Don’t bring bulky items that could easily be purchased at Cora or Auchan.

For example, don’t bother bringing hair products like shampoo and conditioner– these can all be bought very easily once you get to Metz. Along the same line, at the beginning of the semester you’ll have access to a donation pile of goods left by previous students, so save your shopping for larger items until after that.

Nice, Menton, and a Little Bit of Italy

Warm sunny skies and gorgeous seas are always nice… especially in Nice! Join Kaitlyn in her latest pun-filled blog as she details her adventures in Nice, Menton, and a little bit of Italy!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

Sunshine, breathtaking views, and good company; this trifecta of variables led to what’s been my favorite weekend at Georgia Tech-Lorraine thus far. 

The perfect weekend began at 6AM, with me gingerly stepping around the apartment so as not to wake my friends. I was headed for the beach – which was a mere block from our Airbnb –  to catch the sunrise. An hour and a couple dozen photos later, I retraced my steps back to the apartment to join my friends on our adventure for the day. It was a beautiful day of nearly 70 degree weather and we were determined to take full advantage of it. 

After strolling along the beach where we admired the crystal clear water and had essentially, a mini photoshoot, we set our sights on something protruding out of the skyline of Nice: the ferris wheel. I don’t think I was fully prepared to be as blown away by the view as I was. After all, the ferris wheels I had been on previously only overlooked dirty fairground parking lots. At the very top, we were given a panoramic view of the brightly colored buildings below, the sparking blue water, and the imposing mountains in the distance.

We wandered through the streets of Nice, occasionally ducking into one of the plethora of small shops and bakeries. To my amusement, we were the only ones wearing short-sleeves. The locals must have thought we were nuts for treating 65 degree weather like summer, but, how else are we supposed to act when we’re coming from the much colder north of France? We made our way up to Castle Hill, a panoramic viewpoint that had me humming “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran on the way up. All we could do upon reaching the top was gawk at the views below. I couldn’t believe how aquamarine the water was!

We really do #LoveNice!

The next day, after a series of unfortunate events that involved missing a bus, a tram breaking down, and technical difficulties at the train station, we were on the way to Menton. Our moods were instantly lifted the moment we stepped off the train and saw orange trees. Curiosity got the best of us. We tore into the fruits and chomped down on the juicy slices. Personally, I thought they were delicious, as I love sour food, but my friends… not so much. Looking back, we realized that we had picked the most overripe ones possible!

One of the many street food vendors in Menton.

As we made our way to the main section of town, we could tell immediately that Menton was, simply put, a happy place. Music played from speakers lining the sidewalks, children gleefully rode by on scooters, and the smell of home-cooked food filled the air. I had a quick chat with a very kind employee at the Office du Tourisme, and she gave us suggestions to see the iconic view of the city from the water. When we got there, we were more than content to just sit on the rocks and soak in the vista. 

My postcard lining up perfectly with the skyline!
Bongiorno, Italy! Au revoir, France!

 At this point, I checked Google Maps just because I was curious to see our location. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we were a mere 25 minute walk from the Italian border! My friends decided that there was absolutely no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to say that we walked to Italy, so… to Italy we went. Upon reaching the border, we took pictures and selfies with the Italian flag. The customs officers seemed rather intimidating, so we didn’t get too close, but hey, we made it to another country! 

Nice-cream, get it?

Back in Menton, we treated ourselves to gelato (if we had been in Nice, we could have called it “[N]ice cream”) and leisurely strolled around the city.  I simply couldn’t get over how vibrant the alleyways looked when the sunlight hit the yellow and orange buildings. 

My friends and I agreed that we never imagined we’d love the French Riviera as much as we did. But we were more than pleasantly surprised with our experience. It really helped that most of the activities we did were outdoors and thus, unhindered by the pandemic. All in all, Nice truly lived up to its name. It was lively, colorful, and most of all, nice. You didn’t really expect me not to end this post without a Nice pun, did you?