The World is your Oyster and Your Pearl

Written by Swati

February 24th, 2023

The World is Your Oyster- And Your Pearl

Gentle waves crept along the shore, a mid-morning lullaby, I watched as a border collie eagerly threw herself into the lake in search of a tennis ball. There was a quiet chill in the air, but in the midst of dogs on walks and families on morning strolls I couldn’t help but be selfishly blissful to get this moment of utter peace along the shores of one of the most beautiful sights in Italy all to myself. It felt like my whole life was on pause, la dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing absolutely nothing. As the sun took her slow, hazy rise, I admired youth. What a beautiful thing. A little boy waddles to the shore and skips his first rocks while his parents watch in admiration of their little creation. Plum cake in hand, I realize that this must be life. All I need is what’s in front of me. The sweetness of sitting on a shore, dipping my toes in and letting inspiration take her rightful place rooted back in my heart. I’ve always been so fortunate to be surrounded by people who believed in me and shepherded me to roles and positions of greatness. With acceleration in school, leadership, and hobbies, I grew up with an innate need to make something of myself. And I found no shortage of opportunities or support, something I’m endlessly thankful for. But it also led to severe feelings of inadequacy and an inability to stop and appreciate anything for long enough to realize how much was put into it. It felt like life started and never paused from the age of eleven to twenty-one. I was constantly in preparation for something or in the process of something else. As the fog receded over the lake and the warmth of the sun settled into my bones, I think I finally understood simple pleasures, small joy. The waves are a smattering of stardust, diamonds atop water, hypnotizing to say the least. I knew I could spend hours there, and to no surprise, I was there from ten in the morning to five in the evening. 

Gazing at the water, I reached another big conclusion: the world is your oyster-  and she is your pearl. You are free to take anything she offers you, experiences, lessons, and life. And she will be everything beautiful in return: joy, sadness, excitement, and youth. 

As the sun set over the alps, I felt a prick of tears in my eyes. How lucky am I to be alive in such a beautiful place in this crucial moment in my life? How perfectly have the pieces fallen into place so that I can see such beauty across the world at such a young age? Running to catch the bus after a pasta lunch with a gelato in hand in Bellagio with new friends studying abroad in Paris and London all the way from Harvard. If there’s anything I’m most thankful for, it’s the kindness of strangers and the shared experience of other young adults traveling Europe, as students or otherwise, and my newfound ability to strike up conversation and find new friends anywhere. This is the sweetness of youth, the excitement of freedom. 

The same water that softens the potato, hardens the egg, the same lake that rounds the pebble, sharpens the rock. How fascinating it is that we are all living the same lives in such different ways, each on our own paths. Another little Italian boy skips rocks and I watch his small joy rocket as he runs up and down the shoreline, tossing in more pebbles and watching the ripples disappear. In the midst of his seashell collecting expedition, he sees me watching and runs up with a handful of seashells, depositing them carefully into my palm. 

Existence is just a shout in the void, a ripple in the lake, footsteps along a shoreline, a stroke in a painting. How beautiful it is to know that you must not always shake the world whole.

La Dolce Vita

Written by Swati

February 23rd, 20223

Life in Italy is slow, every moment is sweet. La dolce vita, the aforementioned dolce far niente. The trains and buses are often a few minutes late (oop) but once you get used to it, there’s a mindset that sets in. Nothing matters as much as we think it does. Not in a fatalistic way, just nothing is all that permanent or life altering. Small cracks break open gorgeous geodes. 

After 3 days of walking along lakeshores and skipping rocks, watching the ripples fade away, I hopped on the train to Venice. Something that comes up often during my adventures in Italy is the importance of family. Family vacations, family owned shops, family recipes, I decide if I ever have children I’d absolutely have to take them to Italy at least once. There is a safety and comfort in the haze of sunny afternoons and plazas with just a few shops. Sunny days, pasta with an ocean view, molten gelato running down my fingers as I run to the bus stop, youth frozen in a frame. 

In the words of Zack and Cody, this must be the sweet life. Lazy days spent by the water, ferries gently rippling through robins egg blue water in Venice, children giggling in the background. Life is a cone of gelato, sweetness dribbling off the ends. Never have I felt so lucky to be alive as I do amongst the movie set that is northern Italy. Motor boats rip through the water in Burano, a fishing village off of Venice, glass beads clink in Murano, another village nearby Venice known for molten glass. Seagulls soar through the air. I’ve learned to love mornings in Italy, young couples dot sidewalks, sat in outdoor cafes, cappuccinos on hand. Older couples stroll along the walking path, greet me with a gentle “buon giorno” when I break out of my daze, a wistful look in my eyes. I decide Venice must be one of God’s favorite places on Earth. It has wedged a place in my heart. Foggy mornings spent walking along the water feel straight out of a dream sequence. As I walk down streets filled with rainbow houses I’m hit with the same two thoughts, “people get to live like this?” and “how lucky am I to be alive right now, in this moment?” It’s been a long running joke that I’d sit and stare at water for hours if I could as a kid, and as an adult there have been several days over the past week that I’ve done just that. All this time I thought Europe was magic, a potion that cured me of my daily illness. Every day felt like the same one on loop for my first two years at Tech. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there had to be more out there. And I couldn’t have been more right. There is so much more, but there is also the same pieces of life that can be found in our own backyards. I’ve set my sights on the dolce vita. While I’d love to spend a year or two working in Europe post graduation, I want to implement some European normalities into my daily life. Eating mindfully, being present in every moment, walking more, living a bit slower. There are always a few dead giveaways of foreigners in Europe. They walk a little too fast for their own good, smile at strangers, eat while they walk, and talk loudly just to name a few. Not that any of these are bad things, they’re just in such stark contrast to the European backdrop. Live and let live is an important observation I’ve noticed lately. Shop owners are a bit friendlier in more touristy areas, probably in response to the customer service lifestyle of tourists, but many shop owners barely look up when guests enter and continue on their way. There’s something so comforting about being given the space to exist at your own rhythm. Others unpack shipments, pull carts along the sidewalk, and debone fish for morning markets. Existence is so sweet, how foolish of me to think otherwise for so long.

Reach Out a Hand

Written by Swati

February 20th, 2023

As the sun made her wispy escape, I had another great realization on the bus outside of the Milan airport: here you are, taking the world by storm. Not just a tiny lightning strike, but a torrential downpour. Here you are melting icy exteriors, one interaction at a time. Lately I have relied strongly on the direction of kind strangers. If you dropped me off in any city and asked me to get somewhere, I will one hundred percent of the time end up heading off in the opposite direction. I give myself ample time to mess up, but still always end up needing a helping hand, which the world has always kindly offered. After a panini lunch and wandering the streets of Luxembourg prior to my flight to Italy, I met Tanya, a South Sudanese college student in a pink and purple paisley print skirt, who led a frantic me to the bus stop that would take me to the Luxembourg airport. She double checked the destination, kindly requesting the driver to give me a heads up when we arrived. I couldn’t thank her enough after she walked me all the way to the bus stop and waited for the right one to get there.

In Scotland, I stood at a crossroads, holding up a map printed off for me by the concierge from the wrong location of the hotel chain I booked a stay in. With two locations so close together I wandered my way into the wrong address, but with a map in hand I still couldn’t seem to figure it out. A woman approached me jovially on the street, asking if she could give me directions anywhere. After a few minutes of explanation I had a clear idea of where I needed to be and what I would pass on my way to Queen Street, but I was still taken aback by her warmth and willingness to help to the point of approaching me. She and her husband sent me off with a “Cheers, best of luck!” And as I made my way to check in, I realized that I have such immense gratitude for kind strangers, they make the world turn. 

I am constantly reminded that if you reach out a hand, the world will once again feel like something you can hold in the palms of your hands. We love because we have been loved before, passing forward the chain formed lifetimes ago.

Hopped off the Train at LUX

Written by Swati

February 17th, 2023

When in doubt: hop in a moving vehicle. Wait, maybe not literally. I am a big proponent of changes of scenery, and there’s something particularly comforting about seeing some new faces and watching trees pass from a moving window. Something about galavanting through the world on public transport makes you feel limitless, just unstoppable. 

Many of you know this by now, but public transport in Europe is far and wide. As current GTE students gear up to start our spring breaks, let’s talk a little more about the modes of public transport you’ll be frequenting as a student and how to navigate them! As with anything, understanding train lines, bus routes, and flight terminals take time, but doing a little bit of reading ahead of time will definitely ease some of the anxiety. 

Shuttle: On Monday evenings, GTE has a personal shuttle waiting at the bus stop in front of Cora for students to catch back to campus after their weekly grocery shop! While I don’t frequent Cora any longer (see: C’est pas drôle from a few weeks ago) and favor the much smaller and more palatable Auchan, the benefits of having shuttle waiting to take you back to campus with a week’s worth of groceries instead of making the 20 minute trek back can really make a difference for your shoulders after a long day of class. 

Buses: The GTE campus and primary dorms are situated nearby many of the city’s bus stops running routes to places in downtown Metz like the train station, the Centre Pompidou, Metz Cathedral, and other neighborhoods along the way. Most bus routes can be found on transportation apps Moovit and Omio, but I’ve found Google Maps to be linked to the routes and times perfectly. When you get on the bus, you’ll tap your bus card, a blue pass with options for 1-way, round-trip, 10-way, and monthly passes purchased through Le Met. You can grab a 1-way or round trip pass directly from the bus driver when you enter the bus, or purchase a 1-way, round trip, or 10 way pass at any bus stop downtown! You can also purchase unlimited monthly passes at Le Met’s store downtown, but seeing as how I haven’t quite figured that one out yet, I’ve found the 10-way passes to work best for me. Make sure you remember to tap your card as public service workers frequent buses with a scanner to check that passengers all have valid bus passes that they used to get on the bus. If you haven’t tapped a pass, you’re subject to a hefty fine! 

Trains: My personal favorite! Trains run far and wide and Metz is the perfect location to easily get to different countries and cities, especially with a Eurail pass! It takes less than an hour to get to Luxembourg, my first stop to catch a flight on my spring break adventure, and under 5 hours to get to cities in Belgium, Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Germany! With Paris just an hour away, you’re free to hop on and catch the Eiffel Tower sparkling after class (just make sure to get a reservation beforehand!) 

Be aware that while Eurail passes essentially function as train tickets across Europe, there are high-volume cities and countries you’ll need to reserve seats for! France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are included in the places that require seat reservations for an extra fee! You won’t be able to board a train to major destinations in these countries without a copy (physical or digital) of your reservation alongside your Eurail pass. 

Flights: It’s no secret RyanAir and EasyJet have European college students in the palms of their hands. With strongholds in smaller airports, expect a bit of a trek to and from these cheap flight hubs. RyanAir runs in several airports in France, but the one you’ll probably see as the most relevant is the airport in Beauvais. A tiny little thing with just 2 terminals, I spent the day exploring Beauvais prior to my flight to Scotland and left a little piece of my heart in the city. You won’t need to get to the airport any more than an hour to an hour and a half ahead of your flight because it’s so small and there’s really only one restaurant inside and another little shop with snacks and magazines next to it. Many tend to lean away from this airport as it is two train transfers away from Metz, but I loved the city too much to have anything bad to say about it. It has a similar small French town charm of Metz with a breathtaking cathedral and tourist stops along the way. Many favor the Luxembourg airport for its proximity, but I’d recommend taking just one flight out of Beauvais if there’s a destination you’d like to go to that flights out of Luxembourg don’t reach!

It’s no secret that the accessible, well-managed, and often clean methods of public transportation make Europe a well-oiled machine. With enough patience and willpower, you too can soon be on 15-hour long train journeys to Prague or Rome! Me on the other hand, I prefer to swap off between trains and airplanes based on time and cost efficiency. Happy traveling!

Monthly Musings #1

Written by Swati

February 8th, 2023

As I’m writing this, I’m sat on the train back to Metz from Paris, watching the sunrise and thinking back on my first month abroad. A month, over already, gone in the blink of an eye. I never want to leave. I want to go back this instant. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times. we are truly capable of so much just as we are. Weeks ago I could barely string together the words to introduce myself in French and while I’m most definitely stumbling around, I’ve only ever used English two or three times in particularly stressful situations, favoring the immersive style of language learning. I’ve met people from Scotland, Japan, Canada, and different ends of the United States across my travels so far and it reminds me that the world isn’t quite so big after all. I’ve always heard it told to me that fortune favors the bold, but recently I’ve figured the opposite. Fortune doesn’t favor anyone, the bold favor fortune. I’m pulled to believe that we’re all given a sacred few chances that set the course of the rest of our lives, if only we muster up the courage to take them. The things that have proven most useful to me the past few weeks are research and advice- to know and be aware is far more useful than I would’ve thought prior. So much of life is white noise, focus on the things that strike a chord in you. Soldier on and forge your own way, Better if it’s off the beaten path because that’s what makes it your own. And for future study abroaders and GTE students I’ll give you a few tips for reading through my musings:

1. Bring a card holder and only carry essentials! Your student ID, credit card, phone and bus pass are all you really need on any odd day out in Metz or traveling. If you’re here during the early spring or transition months, add an umbrella! The weather is much more overcast and rainy in Metz than many originally planned for!

2. Bring a reusable bag. Shops often charge for disposable bags or don’t have them at all! Purchasing reusable bags embossed in french grocery store emblems is a bit of a shared GTE experience, but I was thankful my mom sent me off with a big post-christmas reusable bag from Bed Bath and Beyond. I’ll always have a piece of her reminding me not to buy the unnecessary trinkets I always end up rummaging through. 

3. Give yourself lots of room to mess up! What I mean by this is to pad your travel time with time to transfer between trains or metro stations, budget time for getting lost or possible delays along the way (at least the first few times, metro and bus stations in new areas can be difficult to figure out! Coming from someone who has taken the wrong line one or two or four– too many times to admit). Public transit in Europe is far and wide and much better than the MARTA could ever dream of being, but it’s not foolproof and there are often strikes and delays. Try not to let a freak accident stop you from catching a connection or flight to a new place! 

4. Be cautious with new foods and favor cooked and familiar foods when possible! While some of us have the stomachs for escargot and steak tartare, it’s always tough to tell how you’ll react to unfamiliar ingredients and cooking styles, especially in travel. When in doubt, look around at who’s in a restaurant or street food stall, read reviews, favor fully cooked food, and gauge freshness and cleanliness before taking the leap. As someone with a very weak stomach, I’ve been lucky (knock on wood) to make it this far without a bout of food poisoning, but I’d advise caution! You don’t want a reaction to an unfamiliar food stall to ruin a trip. Along those lines, spend money on what’s important to you! If it’s a bit of a higher end restaurant, shopping in a popular district, or a nicer hotel, make sure you prioritize because this semester can quickly shape up to be not very budget-friendly.

5. Don’t be afraid to venture out on your own! Being a Georgia Tech student is intense to say the least and many follow the motto “work hard, play hard” to a certain extreme. If you’ve read any of my posts so far, you know that I’m a big proponent of solo travel (as long as you’re being safe and have done the proper research on safe places to stay and people to check in with) it’s easily the best way to really immerse yourself in meeting new people, understanding the lifestyle in a new town, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. In my case, I find it easier to talk to locals and meet new people on my own. I find a greater sense of accomplishment in feats done on my own and I tend to have a stronger desire to do things at my own pace and based on my interests. don’t be afraid to say no to things you know you won’t enjoy, especially if it’s with people you’re not sure you feel totally comfortable with! 

At the end of the day, this experience is all about finding your footing and it really is what you make of it. I’m a strong believer that you get what you want out of new adventures if you do your due diligence, and what I came in search of is time and space to navigate my young adulthood as I come into my own. About a dozen marketplaces, bookstores, and museums later, I find I’m really liking who I’m shaping up to be.

An Equal and Opposite Reaction

Written by Swati

February 7th, 2023

Suddenly you’re 21, looking out onto a lake, gentle ripples forming along its surface, with your best friend on the phone and you feel it in your heart: you’re making some place home. 

I’d have to say this is the first week I’ve started to fall off the wagon a little bit and onto the very heavily beaten path. As I stared into my phone on a WhatsApp call near midnight and watched my sister celebrate the start to a new year of her life, I felt a pang in my heart when she asked if I could come back now. She had caught a severe cold on the eve of her 6th birthday, a phenomenon that makes Murugappan daughters quite the handful, and I was reminded of all the times I was able to see her with just a moment’s notice. I missed her, of course I did. And I missed my mom more than words could describe. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this experience was groundbreaking in my life and journey to creating myself and I knew I’d have to be dragged out of this country kicking and screaming to leave sooner than my time. After a series of unfortunate events this past weekend I learned to take things at my own pace and really savor each moment, studying abroad is not a race and visiting countries is not a checklist. To all those who can run from train to train to bus to museums to restaurants to attractions to nightlife, I applaud you. But when exhaustion hits and things start to feel like a checklist, they give me less fulfillment, and I’m glad I found that out about myself this past weekend. 

Onto the more recent epic fails, this is the closest to hell week I’ve gotten since I got to GTE (one too many weeks of just turning in a homework assignment here and there got me too comfortable). I had two subpar presentations in my elective courses, came back on Wednesday nights and turned my stovetop too high, burning my dumplings which then set off my fire alarm (an event that I have never experienced before) followed by a physics exam that I was quite ill-prepared for. In the words of Newton himself, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. To every misfortune, goodness is at its corner, if only one remembers to look. My partially burnt dumplings turned out crispy for the first time, and now I know to turn down the heat of my stovetop and pass on the splash of water I’ve been adding- they’ve been soggy for so long. And I set off my fire alarm, but in the midst of the chaos my ramen turned out just the way my mom makes it- not too soupy and not overcooked, springy noodles with the perfect amount of bite. While I could’ve studied more for the exam, I was surprised to see familiar concepts and problems similar to old practice tests. And I was surprised at the amount of healing a familiar voice carries when I called my best friend to give her a big catch up of the first full month here. This is not to darken your day with toxic positivity down your throats, but a simple reminder to myself that cloudy days make the sunny ones shine brighter. See: The Scotland Post (aka the trip that changed and set the course of my life.) I needed to know what else was out there in terms of travel and have some not great experiences in order to appreciate the better ones and plan for the future. I needed to learn how to balance travel and schoolwork, which was shown by my first big checkpoint in the semester. And most of all, I needed to hear from the people who cared about me most when I needed them. In the words of one of my very best friends, find one good thing about the day. And watch your perspective change. But if that doesn’t work, I mean there’s always RyanAir (not sponsored, but if a rep from RyanAir is reading please subsidize a trip to Greece).

In any case, I’ll leave you with one last thought. You fall and you get back up again. This is life, and you will survive. And not barely, you will thrive. 

Things to Do in Metz: The Top 3!

Written by Swati

February 3rd, 2023

With all the international travel going on, I’d be mistaken to count out Metz as a destination of its own. Situated perfectly between a few major European countries, Metz is rich in history and in landmarks, as taught to me in INTA 2221. If you’d asked me for a few of my recommendations I’d tell you to go to:

  1. The Centre Pompidou

A modern art museum with changing exhibits, the Centre Pompidou has a partnership with the Paris branch, of the same name, and showcases pieces that are too large for its Parisian counterpart. With exhibits like Mimesis (A Living Design), focused on biocentric pieces that evoke thoughts of sustainability on our planet, and A Gateway to Possible Worlds, an exhibit focused on the intersection between art and science fiction, I found myself entranced in the self-proclaimed futuristic, contemporary art center. Regularly choosing thought provoking, outside the box, future-focused exhibitions, the Centre Pompidou is definitely a must-do!

  1. Ammè Thè

A little boba shop tucked away in downtown, Ammè Thè provided me comfort after a long day spent solo adventuring around Metz and refuge from the everlasting rain. With a large selection of drinks and reasonable prices, this place reminds me a lot of cafes and boba shops in and around Atlanta. With a jasmine green milk tea, 50% sugar, no ice in hand, I look forward to spending more hours in the home-y little shop journaling and people-watching as new customers come in. And with my new loyalty card, I’ll soon be a regular!

  1. Muse

I didn’t think I’d say this, but shopping in Europe is undeniably one of the coolest, most interesting ways to learn more about the everyday European. Most small stores in the mall are set-up similarly and boast a collection of double breasted wool coats in muted tones, simple knitted sweaters, straight leg jeans, handbags, high heels, and accessories for every occasion. The everyday Frenchperson puts a good amount of effort into looking effortless and with this mall nearby so can you! A personal favorite of mine has to be Primark where I scored a very cute cream hoodie for 10 euro and found two stems of fake flowers, white roses and pink chrysanthemums, that make my room feel a little more like home. I wouldn’t count out small accessory shops either! Shops decked out from ceiling to floor with jewelry, handbags, shoes, hair scarves, and perfumes also see a lot of traffic and have great collections. 

All in all, downtown Metz is a city of hidden gems behind every street corner and anyone is sure to find their next favorite place just a block away!

Scotland, Solo Trips, and Second Top Spotify Artists (Oh, My!)

Written by Swati

February 1st, 2023

Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? The question I needed to answer for myself this week: If you’re alone, are you ever really lonely? Recently I’ve fallen in love with traveling alone and witnessing the world for the first time. While there were times I wished I had a companion in particularly closed off, unwelcoming areas in Paris, at the end of every road I look back with nothing but crazy admiration for this body and mind of mine. While solo travel isn’t for everyone, and reasonably so, I’ve always been a limit tester. It’s the reason I studied abroad in the first place. And there’s always been a desire at the bottom of my heart to adventure alone. The sheer freedom and ability to go anywhere, anytime, do anything, to turn around and strike up a conversation with people from different corners of the world felt unparalleled. Now that I’m beginning my 20’s, I’m teaching myself to be more independent and selfish with my time and energy. This is the only decade I feel like I’ll truly be able to live for myself, by myself. At the end of this experience I want to see myself as inherently capable of anything, someone who can tackle any problem with confidence knowing I’ve navigated situations in foreign countries and had the types of adventures that people write movies about. 

While the goal of this trip was to see keshi, one of my favorite artists (top 2 on my Spotify wrapped, second only to a very intense phase I had in early 2022 with Mandopop artist, Eric Chou) The main reason the trip was non-negotiable in my eyes was the fact that my mom deems Scotland her favorite place in the world. It’s high praise coming from the homebody of my household, and I just had to see what made the city shine so bright in her eyes. And as soon as I got there, I knew. The people are kinder, the air is warmer, the sky is clearer, the water feels softer, the sun shines brighter. Scots are truly a warm and cheery bunch, the ones that remind you that life is gentle and kind. And they open their arms to the weariest of travelers, visitors who seek refuge from their abysmal, monotonous lives. In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, I felt safe, I felt comfortable, and I felt unstoppable.

I’ve always considered myself a bright and outgoing person, but after arriving in France I found myself suddenly fearful of the European eye. There’s something that makes you want to shrink under the microscope of mispronounced words and unfamiliar social cues. I talked softer, gestured more, and walked straight ahead without meeting strangers’ eyes. But in Scotland, I felt the smile come back into my eyes. I met perfect strangers who became costars in the Scottish movie that was being written before my eyes, and I’ll always look back on them with such fondness. Ryosuke, a 3rd year Japanese Computer Science student from the University of Tokyo who was on a year exchange at the University of Glasgow, gave me a little tour of the campus after a chance encounter at the Hunterian museum and let me sit in on his Information Retrieval class. Then we wandered through more exhibits at nearby museums before he walked me to the subway station with a list of Glaswegian recommendations. Seungah, a Korean international student studying Graphic Design, and Safiya, a Glasgow native of Pakistani descent and recent graduate of the University of Glasgow, two girls who stood behind me in line at the keshi concert, quickly became good friends within just an hour of meeting. We grabbed post-concert fish and chips at midnight and got Korean food for lunch the next day. Being in college and having the opportunity to venture out and meet others of the same age with similar goals is such an incredibly unique experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

If you asked me to sing the praises of Scotland, I would all day long. But at the end of the day, this trip taught me to take chances. I had researched, read, and checked all the boxes to make sure I’d be safe, but at the end of the day I left it up to fate to see how this trip would go. And I realized that life gives you some crazy opportunities if you’re bold enough to take them. And I’ll spend my whole lifetime chasing the feeling that this trip gave me. Scotland is truly where the soul grows and glows, and this trip couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it to.