Just a Little While Longer 

Written by Valerie

The month of October coming to an end signifies that we are officially past the midway point in the fall semester. The air is now crisp and cold, leaves are changing colors, and the sun is beginning to set much earlier than before. Everyone is probably excited to pick out costumes for the very iconic college Halloween experience that looms nearby. Just like costumes must be picked, so must pumpkins in local pumpkin patches. There is nothing like a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand while walking through a field of sunflowers in the fall. These are two of many festive activities to do during this season, regardless of whether you are in Georgia or France. However, any good student knows that this change in season also sparks a change in the dynamic on campus. 

As the semester begins to wind down, the tests begin to roll in. As beautiful as this season is, it can be the most stressful for students. There are a million things to balance all at once and never enough time to accomplish them. Classes are hard enough as it is with final exams and final projects approaching at an incredible rate. Add on top of that the stress of keeping up with deadlines for internship applications or full-time positions to have been secured by the end of the year. Personal obligations don’t make the season any easier either. We all love exchanging gifts, spending time with our loved ones, getting a break from school and work, and for some, maybe even going on a holiday date with a special someone. All those little joys also come with a decent amount of thought and work. Organizing those activities while having to juggle your academics is not for the faint of heart. Factoring in the monetary implications of the holidays can also be a great source of distress. 

Having mentioned everything listed above, I wanted to remind all my fellow students who are also counting down the days till they can have a brief moment to catch their breath, that we are almost there. Don’t lose hope this close to the finish line. I know it is especially hard for Georgia Tech students to fit time in for anything that isn’t related to studying, but I encourage everyone to set aside at least a little time every day to do something they genuinely enjoy. Preferably choose something that doesn’t involve looking at a screen. Take a stroll around campus, have a game night with friends, or tap back into that hobby that gets forgotten every once in a while, like crocheting. 

Academic performance and growth are important to all of us. We have a lot riding on our success here at Georgia Tech. However, don’t forget to take care of your mental and physical health in the process. Remember that you are not alone and almost everyone, if not everyone around you, is going through the same thing. There is an abundance of resources you can turn to for help with any circumstance you may be going through, ranging from conversing with a friend to the counseling services at Georgia Tech. 

You can do it; we are almost there! 

Food for a Traveler’s Thought

Written by Valerie

Marco Polo’s tales of an explorer were revolutionary in history. George Eastman’s launch of the Kodak camera in 1888 was revolutionary as well. Both of these major events in history contributed to the evolution of the way people travel. The art of photography, facilitated by technology, has allowed the world to commemorate events and locations significant to them. Now, we can chronicle significant events without having to go through the process of hiring an experienced photographer, making this form of documentation accessible to all. In today’s age, we take a picture of anything and everything simply because we can. 

However, since the age of Marco Polo, “travel books have increasingly become a record not of new information but of personal reactions” according to Daniel Boorstin as stated in his book From Traveler to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel. His stance is that the adventures of travel lack their adventurous aspects. Planning out every detail of a trip, booking tour guides, and constructing meticulous itineraries strips the value of the experience of traveling. Technology has allowed the people of this generation accessibility to all kinds of information, to know exactly what to expect out of their trip. At this point, we all know what the Eiffel Tower looks like. The real question is, will it make us feel the same way it made visitors before us feel? 

Those beautiful images displayed on a travel blog or Instagram page are so enticing. The way the colors pop and the rays from the sun illuminate the landscape create that longing to transport yourself there. Then, that sense of desire becomes a reality, and the trip is planned. You arrive and look around but the gloriousness of that photo you saw is not there because nature can’t be perfect, and neither can life. However, not getting what you expected out of something you see in a photo is only disappointing to those with a specific type of mindset. Pictures have the ability to make you feel any range of emotions, such as one of enchantment after seeing a beautiful destination spot. However, travel is not travel without spontaneity, risk, and the unknown. It’s part of the enhanced experience that contributes to personal growth, skill formation, and lasting memories. 

My suggestion would be to aim for cultural enrichment rather than seeking out the content of the images you saw prior to visiting a place. No event can be replicated twice, so pursuing a story from an image will only lead to unmet expectations. Instead, create your own experiences, for those will contribute to the lessons taught by the places you visit. 

Mundanities: The Dreaded Dishes

Written by Valerie

Eating is a fundamental part of human existence. Believe it or not, students attending Georgia Tech-Europe must cook for themselves. Hypothetically speaking, you could avoid cooking and buy all your meals, but that would undeniably be very expensive to do for the entire semester. Alternatively, you could be like one of my new friends on campus and try your very best to live off items strictly located in the snack aisle of the grocery store. However, I recommend going grocery shopping. 

In this week’s post, we will be covering the second topic in my “Mundanities” series: the dreaded dishes. I’ll cover everything you need to know about this basic activity, so you have all the information necessary to make your life easier. I know doing the dishes seems pretty self- explanatory and it is probably not a new task for the majority of you. However, the living situation at Georgia Tech-Europe might be a completely distinct dynamic from something you have experienced before. 

One thing that I didn’t know about the Lafayette dorms is that every generation of residents leaves their dishes in the cabinets for the next group of residents. It is almost like a fun game of seeing who got left with what kitchen utensils since everyone has a different collection of things. Regardless of what you inherited from the previous resident; it will more than likely be a small quantity. For example, I have a pair of forks, a pair of knives, and a single spoon. Since we all live alone in our dorms, there really isn’t a need for a large quantity of every piece of kitchenware. However, when it comes down to the practicality of not having a large quantity of dishes to work with, it is definitely more inconvenient. This is because every time you cook, you nearly use all the dishes you have at your disposal. This means you have to make sure everything is clean because you won’t be able to make anything else once you get hungry again. 

In one sense, this is a good thing. Constantly making sure you have all your dishes clean at all times pushes you to have a well-kept kitchen. With our busy schedule as students, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the household chores. They are the easiest and least pressing items on your to-do list, so logically, these activities often get neglected. However, maintaining a clean kitchen is a proactive way to cultivate an efficient studying and living environment. 

Become a Collector

Written by Valerie

It is an undeniable fact that if you choose to study abroad, you will have an unforgettable experience. As with all unforgettable experiences, we tend to want to have a way to remember them. For some, that may be in the form of a souvenir, a collectible item, or photos. Regardless of what you choose, it should be something personal that holds value to you. Considering this, I would like to inform all those interested parties to think ahead and start brainstorming how you would want to document your time abroad. Everything regarding the program goes by so fast and when you finally arrive at GTE, you will start traveling to new destinations almost immediately. This means that when the lightbulb goes off in your brain telling you to pick a uniform habit to remember your adventures by, it may be too late to start, or you will have some trips that are not included in the collection. 

The way I am choosing to remember my trips is by collecting at least one postcard from every country I visit, but ideally, I would get one per city. I know collecting postcards does not sound like an original or unique thought, but they are valuable to me. I mentioned before that I have a friend who is older than me and studied abroad while she attended Georgia State University. This friend inspired me to study abroad through the postcards she would send me from Italy and Japan. So now postcards are going to be my way of bridging a connection with others by sharing my thoughts and experiences from across the Atlantic. 

In addition to finding something that is tailored to your interests, it is important to consider the practical aspect of it as well. When you travel within the program, you always pack lightly. Anything more than a backpack will make it increasingly more difficult for you in your travels because travel days are filled with lots of walking, tight spaces on trains or planes, and less-than- favorable terrain such as cobblestone paths or endless staircases. To put this in a better perspective, I’ll share an example from a friend in the program. He is collecting snow globes from every country he visits. While snow globes are super unique and beautiful to admire, they are made of glass, weighted at the base, and filled with liquid. This makes snow globes very fragile and heavy, making it more inconvenient to bring back to campus.  

Regardless, at the end of the semester, he will have a beautiful collection of snow globes to illustrate all the locations of his travels. However, when the time comes to pack all our things into suitcases, make our way to the airport, and approach the check-in counter, our luggage will have to be weighed. We all dread that moment when we might face an overweight cost if the luggage is a couple of pounds over the limit. It is already hard enough to fit an entire semester’s worth of things needed for your survival into a few suitcases Therefore, you don’t want to choose a souvenir that will make your life harder further down the road. 

When Days Off Are a Bad Thing

Written by Valerie

After I came back from Barcelona, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. That little tickle developed into a cold with a cough that I had for about a week, give or take. It didn’t exactly come as a surprise when you consider how many people we came into contact with to make the trip. We had to take two buses, two high-speed trains, two planes, and the metros in Barcelona and Paris. I also have to take into consideration that now is the time when the seasons are changing. As summer transitions into fall, the leaves start to change color, the breeze gets cooler, and the germs begin to spread. I wasn’t alone in my moment of illness — there were a handful of other students at GTE that felt the same way. I decided the best thing for me and my health was to stay in my apartment while my group of friends traveled to Berlin for the weekend.

I know what you’re all thinking. Yes of course there were a couple of moments where I felt like I was missing out. I missed out on bonding moments with friends, experiencing a new culture, and the sights Germany has to offer, but that is only if you think about what I gave up. If you think about what I gained, then it starts to look different. I thought the weekend was going to feel so painfully long since I was going to spend those days without any social interaction, but I actually enjoyed it. Some time to yourself is important every once in a while, especially in an environment like the one a Georgia Tech campus cultivates. So much time during the weekdays is devoted to attending classes, doing homework, and studying that any time you have leftover is spent cooking and cleaning. When the weekend arrives, you pack up your travel bag and hit the trains for whatever journey you are embarking on. As you can begin to see, life can get pretty fast-paced around here. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the routine that self-care, along with the status of your living space, can slip through the cracks of your tight schedule.

Sick days or days off for students are typically always something we enjoy. Personally, even if I was sick and had to stay home, under all that congestion and painful headaches would be my joy for not having to be at school and/or work. I can’t speak for everyone when I say that, but I think we can all agree on our appreciation for days off whether it is for holidays or assigned vacation days. However, under my current circumstances, breaks from traveling and the busy life of a student studying abroad in Europe are typically not by choice. Whether you stay in because of a cold, to save money, or another personal reason, remember that it can be a positive experience if you want it to be.

Trains, Planes, Metros, and More

Written by Valerie

Before coming to Europe, the closest thing even resembling a metro system I had ever been on was the plane train in the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. If any of you have flown into or out of Atlanta, then it is very likely you have used this train system and know it is very fast and useful. The news of me never having been on a train or metro came as a surprise to many of my friends considering I grew up on the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta. To this very day, I have yet to ride the Marta around the city. I was always so afraid to have to navigate through the stations alone that I never gave it a try. In addition to that, I have thankfully always had a car at my disposal to get anywhere I needed to go.

Now I am in Europe, the land of abundant and intricate transnational railways and other forms of public transportation. I can’t simply avoid using public transportation here because I am afraid of not knowing how to navigate it and risk getting lost. As a long-stay visitor, I must do as the Europeans do and get a metro card. So far it has been a great experience but also a very humbling one. I could not possibly think of a better adjective to describe some of my experiences in trying to catch a bus or train in these cities than humbling. On the five long-distance trips I have been on so far, I have had to run to make it on time for four of them. That is four times too many. Everywhere I have traveled, I have only taken a backpack and a purse. No matter which way you look at it, there is unfortunately no way to look good while running with a backpack on. Hot take or not, it is a difficult task and much more so to do it in a fashionable manner. Then, if you are lucky, you make it and get on your train. However, if you are anything like me, you will walk onto the peaceful train car panting, winded, and sweaty with messy hair gasping for air. I thought I was a decently fit person when I was in the United States, but I was wrong. I learned that the issue was that I was never properly put to the test.

Despite all those moments that I think back to and laugh at, taking public transportation has been an enriching experience. You will see some of the most breathtaking views from the windows of a train that you may never get to see otherwise. There can be so many changes in scenery in a single ride. One minute you are watching the cows graze as you fly through the countryside and the next you are entering the city limits of a major metropolitan city like Paris.

Retiring my car keys was not easy on me, and I miss being behind the wheel in the comfort of my own car. However, there is a time and place for every lived experience and now is my time to enjoy being a passenger.

The Cliffside at Les Calanques

Written by Valerie

Have you ever thought to yourself, “This better be worth the effort because it would be really tragic to fall off the side of this cliff?” Likely you haven’t, but I, on the other hand, couldn’t get that thought out of my head as I was hiking Les Calanques de Cassis in the 9th arrondissement of Marseille.

You may have heard this area been called by its more popular name, the French Riviera, or as it’s known in French, the Côte d’Azur. My friend group and I wanted to go to the beach in the south of France. However, the way to see some of the most breathtaking views and picturesque beaches is to hike the cliff sides of the coast.

We stayed at a nice apartment that was less than ten minutes on foot from the train station, which made getting to and leaving the city much easier. Once we arrived in Marseille, we planned our activities for the next two days. Our Airbnb host was kind enough to leave a binder full of useful information about everything ranging from transportation to the local specialties, and even the best ways to reach the beaches. We looked into one of the beaches our host wrote about in the binder and bought train tickets to it for the next morning.

All ten of us made it out of the apartment primed and ready to spend a day in the sun. If we wanted to have a successful day, we had to adequately prepare for what lay ahead. So, once we got to Cassis, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on snacks in case we got hungry on the hike. Luckily, there was a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop next to the grocery store where we stopped to have breakfast. Once we were energized and fed, we began the walk toward the hiking trail. There was an endless bounty of hills before we arrived at the trail where we would be walking on an incline for about 40 minutes or so, which is not too long. However, the terrain was rather unfavorable for the shoes I had on. The only shoes I took on that trip were a pair of white sneakers and flip-flops to wear around the apartment. The trail was very slippery in most parts whether it was because of smooth boulders or tiny rocks that slid under your feet. This is where I feared for my life on the side of a cliff, but once I lifted my gaze, everything changed. We were at the peak. The mesmerizing dance of the reflection of the sun coming from the ocean, which was mixed with tones of blue and green, was unlike anything I had seen. The world from that angle was simply pure and beautiful.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was face-to-face with the most enchanting beach I had ever been to. It was like a symphony, the laughs of the people and the soft sound of the movement of the water were harmonious. Combine that with a kiss from the sun and a hug from the water and it’s nothing but blissful.

It feels really good to be in a moment of happiness like that one, where you’re enjoying everything around you. I wish those moments for everyone. Having experienced it though, I don’t think you need to be somewhere as extravagant as the French Riviera. Those moments can be found anywhere, or better yet, they can be created anywhere. I encourage you to go out and seek your blissful moment too, no matter where you are in the world.

Mundanities: Laundry

Written by Valerie

Before having gone abroad myself, my initial thoughts surrounding the concept were always the same. I thought it was glamorous. How could it not be? A bunch of young adults living in another country together while being full-time students during the weekdays and full-time travelers on the weekends sounds almost cinematic. While this remains a reality about studying abroad, other key aspects are just as important a part of the life of a student abroad.

While you are not in your dorm room and somewhere outside your current country of residence, there is mundaneness awaiting your attention when you get back: those everyday household activities that some of us go to great lengths to avoid while others of us choose to do when we want to procrastinate our homework. Nevertheless, I’m here to talk about what tackling some of those chores looks like while attending Georgia Tech Europe in a multiple-part series about the mundane activities during life inside the dorm. Keep in mind the following information is solely based on my opinion and everyone’s experience is different.

Let’s start the series with the topic of laundry. I think I can say with utmost certainty that laundry day is the most dreadful of the chores on campus. There is no way out of it either — you must have clean clothes. Considering we could only bring as much as we could drag through the airport, we must all be outfit repeaters. Once the laundry basket fills up, it’s time to prepare for laundry day. In the residence building most of us are staying in, called Lafayette, there is a laundry room on the ground floor that everyone shares. This room has three washing machines, three dryers, and a little machine against the wall where you pay. A single load in the washer costs 3€ and a load in the dryer costs 1€. In total, this amounts to 4€ or $4.20 in US dollars according to the current currency exchange rate. However, if you are like me and can’t bring yourself to mix your colors with your whites, then you must do a second load in the washer, but it will still likely all fit in the dryer. However, the dryers are a little different than the ones in the United States. My professor called it “European dry” which is the term used to express how the dryers in Europe leave the clothes damp after the cycle is over. To tackle this, most Europeans use drying racks or clotheslines outside their home. The hot European sun handles the rest. However, we live in an apartment-style building that does not have access to outdoor clotheslines. So, the only options for you as students are to either buy a drying rack from the local store, put your clothes in the dryer as many times as needed, or decorate your room with your clothes until they dry. The drying rack in the local French version of a Walmart is 25€. This seemed a little pricey to me considering it will likely not fit all of my clothes on it anyway, so I simply do anywhere between two and three loads in the dryer depending on how many clothes I stuff in there. This seemed like the best option to me because then I could put all my clothes away immediately instead of having clothes spread around for a couple of days.

I hope this helps all the future students looking to study abroad here at Georgia Tech. Stay tuned for the next topic about household duties in the dorm.

Endless Surprises

Written by Valerie

I have postcards from Paris, metro stubs from Barcelona, and a museum ticket from Germany. I have gone to all of these locations yet, every destination I visit surprises me. I came to this continent with an idea of what every culture would be like and how I would feel about them. It was all the contrary. For example, when I got to Barcelona, Spain, I was so relieved because I thought, “Finally, a country where I can speak the language.” However, when I got there, I realized that Barcelona is a part of the Catalunya region of Spain, where they speak Catalan. Thankfully, the vast majority of the people spoke Castellano, which is what they call Spanish. As a native Spanish speaker, this was a matter of joy for me. However, a grand portion of the signage for storefronts, products, and restaurant menus was in Catalan, which I could definitely not understand no matter how related it is to Spanish and the other Romance languages.

This unexpected difference created a sense of intrigue. It made me want to get to know more about Barcelona and all her history. That is the interesting thing about a country, it is like the layers of the Earth. There is the surface with its beauty you can see with the naked eye, where the people lie and the music plays, but under that layer is the crust. This is where the recent history lies, where you can see the cracks and imperfections of the past the land has endured like natural disasters, wars, and discrimination. Even further down, you get to the mantle. Here is where you begin to understand why the culture has formed the way it has. Former colonizers and rulers can explain why the Spanish have the ceceo, which is the formal name for the lisp, or why in certain regions of Spain there is Mozarabic architecture. Cultural pillars like language, religion, and architecture are expressions of the past that tell the story of what that land has lived through. Lastly, you reach the core. This layer is the foundation. The geography of a nation ultimately is what sets the stage for what it will become in the future. Nearby bodies of water that stir up fights or mountain regions that create natural separations all influence the formation of a nation.

This being said, I encourage all future travelers to seek out the history of the area you are visiting so you can understand the differences you are seeing. This will create a bond between you and the culture of the country that will make it feel like it is welcoming you with open arms. It wants to be understood, just like you and I.