What Can I Say?

Check out James’ final thoughts on the semester – and why he’ll never forget GTL. (Hint: It’s not the photos.)

17 free weekends, 4 Planes, 40 trains, 17 Buses, 18 Metros/Trams, 2 Car rentals, 12 countries, and 6,450 miles. These are my statistics from this semester, the numbers I have racked up traveling across Europe. Yet, one run-on sentence can’t describe what this semester has been – not even close. An incredible gift! This is the best way I can think of summarizing this semester. Not everyone is given an opportunity like this in life. While many will just see this as studying in another country, this was much greater than that. By being based in the “Gateway to Europe,” each student that attended GTL was allowed to experience more than just the great country that is France. If we played our cards right, and many of us did, we could get a real glimpse of what the whole continent of Europe had to offer.
Early on, before I had even stepped foot on that first transatlantic plane back in August,  I had a mission to experience the most that I could in these short four and half months, and that’s something I proudly think I achieved. Many firsts were had on this adventure. Many great friends made along the way, the kind of friends you don’t just forget or lose touch with. Bonding over new drinks, shisha, football, international travel, both good and bad creates a much stronger friendship. Friendships much stronger than I could’ve asked for.
Starting with that first application I wrote, I expressed my ideas regarding photos; how the experiences and moments we share with our friends and loved ones are the greatest triumphs one can achieve during travel. It is these experiences that you will remember for years and years. The photo may trigger them, but it should never be the proof of where you went, the stories you tell may well be all the proof you need.
So, as the days counted down, the finals taken each day, a somber mood descended over our Metz family. We all felt the bittersweet moment approaching. Friday morning we would all be flying out, going home, and with a few exceptions, the semester would be over for all. Yet for me it was still grindin’ time, as I still had two finals left. So early Tuesday morning I stumbled into GTL half asleep. “Bonjour,” I said to the security guard, feeling a small ping in my chest as I did so, knowing it would be one of the last times.
The afternoon saw one of my longest finals, followed by my last game of ping pong against Giuseppe, I didn’t know it, but we wouldn’t play another that week. A late night saw an early morning, as Wednesday seemed a dreaded repeat of Tuesday. In the lounge by 7am, leaving only to take my final. But it was different; it was my last final. Statics, and all other classes were done, I was a free man.  Downtown we went that night, not to get drunk, or go crazy, but to just spend time with each other. Nothing would ever be like those moments again.
We may come back later, but not as students, not as fresh-faced youngsters with burning desires, but rather as old friends. So to ‘La Suite’ we went for some cards and great tea. The usual crew, who I am sad to say I feel I joined too late in the semester: Jahin, Yousef, Rafa, Alexander, and me. A few games of President and the laughs were evenly spread around. It’s something that thinking of now still leaves me feeling sad.
The next day would consist of much the same, interspersed with peoples’ bizarre cleaning patterns. As I traversed from room to room, the walls of Lafayette were lined with trash bags and luggage – yet another sign of ending semester. By nighttime, the mood began to change. In true celebratory fashion almost everyone agreed to pull all-nighters for early morning shuttles. From the cleanest rooms in Lafayette, we emerged and filled its halls with song and laughter for one last time.
Travel buddies stood side by side telling old stories to new listeners and vice-versa, making sure everyone was on the final page for GTL. As we gathered down in the Lafayette lobby to say our goodbyes to the 2am shuttle people, more than a few shed a tear. As bear hugs went around, I felt bittersweet again. “This feels like senior year of high school,” I said to Jahin and Sara. “It kinda does,” they said. As we waved goodbye to John, Austin, Rob, and more, it was official; the semester had ended.
In the end, these are just words, only those who were there with me can share those memories and experiences. What words must I use to convince you that this semester was a life changing experience, that I now look at life differently, and view everything else differently, what more can I say?  This is my story, and I hope you remember it, retell it, and one day add your own chapter!


It may be just before finals, but James had a dream to catch! Where in the world was he this weekend? Read and find out (and stay tuned for the video at the end)!

It’s not every day that something you’ve always dreamed of comes true. Everyone in life has dreams they want to achieve: visiting the Colosseum, climbing the Andes, swimming with sharks. Each dream varies with each person, yet somethings are iconic bucket list items, such as skiing the Alps. Growing up with European parents, I always heard stories of these great works of glaciers. Always described in such emphasis and magnitude it always made it hard for me to grasp them as real. This was one of my dreams, ski the Alps – but in my case, snowboard them.

So as I get off the Gondola lift one last time, I turn to take one last photo, one last view of something so beautiful I can only describe it as taking my breath away. I turn to Jahin, bump fists and say “Last run of the day bro – lets smash it!” We start slow winding our way down the steep and now icy slopes. In and out I carve, slowing the board to my comfort level. As I glance behind me I see “J” now slaloming his way down from our 2700 meter start, passing dozens of people.

“Stay with me, we’re going to the left this time” I yell. With each second my heart rate increases and so does the burning in my calves. I make a hard bank turn and ride switch (a.k.a. with the opposite foot forward as normal) for a second to make the left turn, and J’s still behind me as we race down. As we near the halfway point the day’s riding catches up with us. Tired and sore, we both make mistakes and come down hard on snow. Panting and groaning, I make my way to J and help him to his feet, we decide to take the longer, easier way down. As we kicked up snow and made our way down, I shed a tear for the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen, something that no words, especially mine, can describe.

Honestly, it’s hard to remember the exact course we took down and which turn we took or made where. That’s the beauty of skiing and snowboarding, you forget about the finals coming up, you’re current GPA, the next semester, even the next few minutes. You move at speeds that force you to only think in the “now”, to truly experience the moment and only think a few seconds ahead.

Two days of amazing snow, sun, and sky, split between two of the most famous ski regions in the world, Chamonix France, and Courmayeur, Italy. Going home, I now get to tell one of the best stories of my life. How 4 friends of mine and I crammed into a car just after 5pm in Metz and drove down to Chamonix. Bright and early the next morning, we over-packed the car full of all our gear and took the tunnel to Italy. 40 minutes later, 2600 meters high we set started our days smiling and free of all thoughts and responsibilities. Saturday morning we did the same, on the other side of the mountains. A jam packed weekend saw a sleep filled car ride home, and the best memories of my life. In two weeks I can now depart France and go home knowing I saved the best for last!

That Time of Year

Even in the middle of finals, Metz is showcasing its famous holiday cheer in its markets and lights. Read as James, though studying through the end of the semester, stops to share the magic.

As December moves along everything seems to change. The weather, people, scenery, atmosphere, music… Each new day of December things move more towards winter. Christmas is coming, that magical time of year we all know so well. Yet, academically it’s also that time of year – finals! Both the halls of the library and snow on the ground thicken marking a very confused time in a college student’s life.

Photo courtesy of Europe Video Productions.

Walking through Metz the change was evident the first day of December (première jour de Decembre). The once open spaces usually filled with leaf-stripped trees or large squares now house hundreds of holiday items. Near “Republique,” the farthest stop downtown, is a massive ice skating rink surround by a Christmas tree market and dozens of shops. As you make your way down to the river and pass shops, illuminated signs in the shapes of ornaments and various holiday cheers line the streets. Near the Cathedral is a large Santa happily waving back at you.

It took me a while to see the changes myself. I had heard stories from the locals for weeks, Madame Serafin especially. Every French class she would ask us if we had seen the markets yet and what our impressions were. My first time downtown in quiet some time was for the soccer tournament a few weeks ago. As we rode the “Mettis” past the Gare (train station), I was shocked. The once open space was now filled to the brim, with lights, trees shops, the works. Every single thing was decorated with something, even the slightest bit of holiday cheer was taken into account. The details were impeccable.
The timing however, is quite unfortunate.

Arguably the best time of the year to be outside and interact with people will see the majority of “GTL’ers”

Photo courtesy of WordPress blog “Miss Francey Pants.”

doing no such thing. Tuesday marked the last day of classes, Wednesday the first reading period and Thursday the first day of finals. For the next few days all of us will be inside GTL or the dorms studying like no tomorrow. The study sessions are none like I’ve ever seen before. After a whole semester of traveling, there is some inevitable catch up to be had. As Cannon, Keegan, and I argue over correct answers to our thermofluids homework the frustration builds, but a few games of ping pong, and we are back at it. A tough week lies ahead of us, late nights, and early mornings.

But as I put my head down and grind for finals I can do so knowing and seeing that the holiday cheer has arrived well in Metz.

A Resounding Opinion: Meet Dr. Declercq

Meet Dr. Declercq, a GTL professor and head of the Mechanical Engineering department who has a love for astrophysics and ultrasonics. He also has great advice for all GTL students. Read James’s to see what he suggests!

Dr. Declerq

As I sat talking to a good friend of mine, Giuseppe, the subject came around to the GTL blog. In no time at all he was telling me that I should interview of one his professors, Nico Declercq. According to Giuseppe, Dr. Declercq was the best professor he ever had. Intrigued I knew I would have to pick his brain and see why Giuseppe rated him so highly. So in this week’s interview, that is exactly what I did.

I knocked on Dr. Declercq’s door somewhat hesitantly not sure what to expect. As he greeted me I could tell there was something different about him. He seemed like someone generally interested and happy when dealing with people, a real people person. His soothing voice and nice smile always reassuring the audience he was there to help. Quite a good trait in a teacher.

Born in Belgium, Dr. Declercq – much like my father – was subject to learn many languages. Declercq currently speaks five different languages: Flemish (a form of Dutch), French, German, English, and Sinhalese (due to his Sri Lankan wife).

Declercq’s path to GTL is quite unlike other professors here. Most are American professors that have decided to come to Europe and branch out in terms of teaching and travel. Dr. Declercq is European and now teaches from Europe (specifically, Metz). He completed all his schooling in Belgium. At 18, he began attending the Catholic University of Leuven and graduated with a degree in Physics. Dr. Declercq then attended Ghent University, earning a PhD in Engineering Physics. His Post Doc work was split between the National Center for Physical Acoustics in the U.S. and Ghent University. Dr. Declercq is now the head of the Mechanical Engineering department here at GTL, so at this point in the interview I was intrigued as to how he came to this position.

Surprisingly Dr. Declercq wasn’t originally interested in Mechanical Engineering. He began telling me of his fascination with astrophysics and the vibration of stars. He got in touch with a professor dealing primarily with the vibration of materials and so began his research into ultrasonics. Seeing the confusion in my face as he uttered these words, he immediately went into professor mode, listing off examples and easy to understand concepts such as Chichén Itzá, Mexico (a Mayan ruin near Cancun). It is a large pyramid that filters sound waves. A common example is when people clap their hands, the sound returning is that of a bird chirp instead of a quieter clap. He listed plenty more to solidify the knowledge in me: the amphitheaters in Greece, libraries’ reading rooms in Viborg, Finland, and so on. Today, you can find Dr. Declercq teaching three courses here, including Acoustics, Waves and Solids, and Engineering Thermodynamics.

In closing, Declercq gave some of the best GTL-tailored advice I’ve heard to date. “Most students try to travel when they’re here. It’s good to travel, however, you need to learn to study while you travel. It’s not easy, but if you can combine travel with study you will be a very good engineer!”

Thanksgiving in France

You can still celebrate Thanksgiving in Metz! That’s what GTL did, and the feast was one for the books! Read James’ account of the festivities – and why the night really hit home.

As strange as the title reads it was true, we did have our own not so little, Thanksgiving in France yesterday. All week I had been thinking about what to write about. What would people reading this blog back in Atlanta want to hear about? What stories and events were happening this week that, once written about, could shape someone’s choice for attending GTL? I wracked my brain everyday trying to partake in meaningful things, and remember each moment, perhaps one fleeting one could represent a post, perhaps not.

In what now seems like a huge blur, I remember first seeing the huge feast before my eyes and being overcome with happiness. Walking in my eyes were instantly drawn to all the orange. The room had been stripped of its usually black chairs and tables and filled with wooden tables with bench seating like at a picnic. The tables were covered with bright orange tablecloths that really reminded you of home. Turning left I finally saw the bounty. It had been a long time since I had seen such “American” portions and boy, were they magnificent. Three or four tables had to be set up stretching the length of the entire room, just to hold all the food. And as the line, more of a mob in truth, formed by the table people kept coming, bringing more and more food.

Finally I got my chance: the line cleared, and I made my way to the table. As the line crawled forward, everyone was so excited, trying food from each plate. By the middle of the table the feast had turned into an ethnic party. People brought in their own versions of family recipes of thanksgiving classics – blackberry jam, roasted carrots, sausage stuffing, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with skins, and more. The list went on and on. Much like the party that started once we sat down. As the benches began to sag as we ate our fills GTL’s mood felt festive. Halloween had passed us by and while some were festive and dressed up most didn’t partake, but this was different.

This really hit home when the slide show started. Around the time most of us began attacking the desserts, both French and American, the lights descended. This was our cue to turn and face the projector. As the slides showed the memories and locations it really hit me and most likely everyone else, just what this semester had been. Truly remarkable, a real gift! While each week we would stress about the ins and outs of school work, money, or other troubles we still made great memories. Each photo represented a thousand words, amazing stories of things no one here will ever forget. As the lights subsides for the second time we all rose in applause of not just Hannah for making the show, the hardworking chiefs who made this great meal, and not just Abbie and Jack for planning it, but to all who had witnessed and partook in this incredible semester.

Maths & Laughs: Meet Dr. Popescu

For most students, there’s nothing remotely funny about Differential Equations. Only Dr. Popescu can keep students laughing while studying math. Read James’ blog about this hilarious professor!

The first of my classes I attended this semester was Differential Equations. It was an hour and a half lecture on a hot Tuesday. I remember feeling very tired. Everyone had just arrived from their respective airports – Frankfurt, Luxembourg, or Paris. The night before we had been getting to know each other, the Lafayette dorms, and the town of Metz. Everyone was very disappointed summer had officially ended and school started the next morning.

Dr. Ionel Popescu

As we made our way into lecture I looked around, everyone seemed dead tired or just mentally fatigued in some way. But as our “world famous” tech guy patched our connection through to Atlanta, a smiling face came through. Dr. Ionel Popescu. He quickly gauged the room and could tell we were all not in the mood for math. So he began telling us about himself. He was born in Romania, currently doing research on topics associated with differential equations. Then came the jokes, the famous jokes!

Now, it is almost inconceivable for me to think of Diff. Eq. without jokes. Dr. Popescu has a very good talent for timing them well. Just when people start to trail off and lose focus, out comes some hilarity in the form of Irish bar jokes, English humor, or laughs about Russian mathematicians. Some were better than others, yet the amazing thing is his quantity. At least 3 or 4 jokes every lecture, each of them different. So for three and a half months now he has been going strong telling well over 100 jokes in that time. And to be truthful, Dr. Popescu was the first faculty I thought of when I learned I would need to interview professors and students. Mathematicians always have very interesting minds. As Dr. Popescu might say “all this math wears on you and some mathematicians in fact go insane.” He told us a joke about a couple of insane mathematicians, but I’ve forgotten some and will spare telling it for fear of butchering the joke.

Unfortunately I was unable to actually get an interview with Dr. Popescu due to his location difference. You see, Dr. Popescu teaches us all the way from Atlanta through a video conference class. Some casual “googling” was enough to find more about Dr. Popescu. (His website is not only as witty as his lectures but also as informative.) Dr. Popescu received his doctorate at MIT in 2004. He spent the next three years working as a postdoc at Northwestern University doing research. Eventually in 2007 he found his way to us Georgia Tech, where he began as an assistant professor. Currently Dr. Popescu teaches a variety of courses at Georgia Tech ranging from 2552 (Differential Equations) to 4080-Senior Projects, 6221-Classical Probability, and 9000-Doctoral Thesis. Continuing his interest in research, Dr. Popescu focuses his witty talents on stochastic analysis on Manifolds, Differential Geometry, and random matrices just to name a few.

Dr. Popescu also proves a point to many students trying to make it at Georgia Tech; with the right attitude, especially positivity, difficult problems become much easier to solve.

Less Interesting Weekends, But Still Interesting People

What does a weekend at home mean for James? That’s right – studying and soccer. But this time, he reflects on what his soccer buddies – and all of the other people he has met along the way – mean to him.

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes you need to take a break.

Some of the Lafayette dorms.

At GTL it’s no different. As my funds began to dry up and each exam and quiz becomes more and more important, I have to start weighing things. The days of climbing mountains and visiting major cities are very sadly, coming to a close. Each time I choose to stay behind in Metz, my heart saddens, especially since I still have an active Eurail for another month. Yet, we’re here to learn, after all it is college.

So a “hard” weekend of studying commenced on Friday morning as I rolled out of bed. First came the procrastination, then Netflix and HBO, and finally I did what needed to be done. Reading up on my Thermodynamics and Fluids homework, I couldn’t help thinking of my friends: where had they gone this weekend? What awesome stories was I missing out on? And as the homework load kept piling up, these thoughts kept reoccurring. But, as previously mentioned, school is first.

It wasn’t all boring here at Lafayette though. I knew a few people who had decided to stay for the weekend as well. Luckily enough, they were some of my soccer buddies, so naturally we decided to play soccer. We scheduled everything and got the word out in case any other Lafayette stragglers wanted to play. But in the end it was just the three of us – Jack, Luke, and myself. We reached the fields around 6:50 pm. It was already pitch black outside; only the street lamps ensured we were on the right path to the stadium.

As Jack and I stretched out on the sidelines tying up our boots (cleats), Luke ran around the field with his usual crazed, endless energy. We only had one ball, and as we started passing around we felt at ease. Yet within a minute all that changed as almost instantly the field went black. We glanced up at the lights and noticed they had all gone out. I ran over to my bag, and as the smoke of my cold breath fogged my phone screen I saw that it was only 7:05. Why would the lights go out now? I asked myself.

“Awww man! What do we do now?” Luke asked. “You guys wanna play in the dark?” “Sure, were already here.” And so we did! At first we set up our phones for flashlights, pitching them against our bags and shoes creating a little channel of light. But if you ran more than 5 feet away, the “flashlights” lights turned into blinding and distracting rays of confusion.

So in the end, we just played in the darkness, no lights at all. Yeah, we missed the goal and each other half the time we shot or passed, but that was part of the fun. Just some friends playing pickup on a field in Metz. To tell you the truth, this has been a life changing semester. There have been so many things changing; where I live, cities I see, first time mountain climbing, first this or that. Yet, as the semester goes on I am constantly reminded of the first things I read about on the GTL website back in Atlanta – community! This word has been used many times in posts, my own included. It is true, living in Metz for a semester with only a 100 or so people creates a real community. New friendships are formed, not just between fellow Jackets, but relationships that span thousands of miles, knowing no borders. This is what Metz has given us above all.

Dr. Puybaret & GTL: Two Peas in a Pod

GTL boasts some pretty spectacular professors – and some, like Dr. Puybaret, were once even students here! Read James’ interview with this innovative ECE professor and find out how his decision to attend GTL changed his life!

After a bit of running around, I was able to finally track down a fun candidate for interviewing this week. Originally I was all set for an interview with my Differential Equations professor, Dr. Jordan. However, Harry, being the master interviewer, had already snatched him up. Fortunately for me, this led to the interview of one brilliant Dr. Renaud Puybaret.

Upon entering Dr. Puybaret’s office, it was clear he was a step ahead of the rest. His entire door was covered in papers. Entering his office was much the same, as his desk was crowded with more papers and as he turned to greet me, his face seemed like one in thought. On his computer were two open windows, almost identical, showing black backgrounds with slightly lighter dark circles in a pattern across the screen. These were apparently simulations of some Nano-sized photovoltaic cells he was designing.
As you may have guessed Dr. Puybaret is not American, but born and raised in France, earning his degrees in Toulouse. He attended the French University, ENSEEiHT, earning his Masters of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering degree. Our wonderful advertising people here at GTL sold Dr. Puybaret on Georgia Tech’s graduate program. Dr. Puybaret originally had a full job lined up with Airbus following his graduation. He attended a presentation given by Professor Bertrand Boussert about Georgia Tech. “We were college students and they were giving out free food, so of course we attended. Yet, after hearing about all the great things they were doing, my friend and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do it’!”

That day, he received his contract from Airbus in the mail. His then professor Dr. Ougazzaden, and now current boss, called him just in time. “Had professor Ougazzaden called me an hour later, the contracts would have be signed and there would be no going back. But instead I decided to be poor and do science.” Despite already having a job already lined up, Dr. Puybaret always felt that having an American degree would be a great thing. Most companies have American offices, and he’d always wanted to go to America. The decision proved both intelligent and fruitful. He began his doctorate in 2009 and officially received his PhD in June 2015. Dr. Puybaret described, with a smile on his face, all the great times he had. “Half the time I spent in America, which was a very good experience. Half my time was in the School of Physics in Atlanta.”
Upon completion of his doctorate, he went through Georgia Tech’s Innovation Corporation, where his thesis for his PhD became the ground for his own Nanotech Company. Dr. Puybaret focuses on fabrication of devices of size 50 to 100nm. There are two categories in Nano Physics: which utilizes graphene, and Inorganic Photovoltaic, using indium gallium nitride. Working under Dr. Ougazzaden, Dr. Renaud Puybaret is a Post-doc creating a company to make LEDs out of the Nanotech developed in his Thesis. However, the brilliance doesn’t stop there — on top of running his own company, Dr. Puybaret is also a professor here at GTL. He teaches ECE 3040 (Microelectronics) teaching the basics of creating transistors and photovoltaic cells.
With amazing researchers and professors such as Dr. Puybaret, it is clear to see why the GTL campus is growing so much.

Aerospace in the Fast Lane: An Interview with Dr. Zaidi

James claims that all aerospace engineers know from a young age that that is their passion – and Dr. Zaidi seems to agree! Read James’ interview of his aerospace professor to get an inside look at why he’s an AE and how he landed the job at GTL!

Dr. Zaidi himself!

Today after what seems like an eternity, I finally sat down with Dr. Zaidi, my  Aerospace professor. I had been chasing this interview for quite some time, but every time something came up; either he was busy or I was. However, it was worth the wait.

Born in New York City, Dr. Zaidi like the rest of aerospace engineers, was destined for the field. We bonded over this during the interview discussing how in order to make it in this field, you have to know early on that this is what you want to do. Born to parents from Mumbai, India Dr. Zaidi would often fly home – what back then was not a nonstop flight, but a flight that was so long that they needed to stop and refuel somewhere in Europe each time.

This is where his passion came from. He told me, “I remember standing at the gate, my parents were in line, but I was glued to the window always looking at the plane. Back then it was the 747 – she was the Queen of the skies!” From this, he has gone on to build an entire profession and life around planes and aviation. Dr. Zaidi attended a vocational high school in NYC geared towards aviation. Before coming to Tech he interned with Delta doing aircraft maintenance.

Four years as a Yellow Jacket saw him earning his undergrad and set out for the world. Unfortunately, just as he graduated the economy tanked, making industry jobs much harder to come by. With an attractive offer from Tech’s graduate school, the professor was born. Six years later, Dr. Zaidi had his Masters and PhD. While in grad school a friend tipped him onto CETL, the Center of Enhancement for Teaching and Learning. Simply put, the center focuses on improving teachers’ teaching. “Taking the courses in undergrad I saw how there were a number of ways to improve the courses. The curriculum can be very difficult, and I wanted to do a better job at teaching than I had seen.” This what brought him to Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

Photo courtesy of Journey of Innovation (innovajourney.blogspot.com).

And of course, two AE’s couldn’t be in a room without a little plane talk. So as the interview concluded Dr. Zaidi gave me some advice and an inside scoop on planes today. During Graduate school, his focus was on jet propulsion and he interned with Rolls Royce. Because this is a field quite similar to one I wish to go into, Dr. Zaidi explained to me, just like in lecture, how now is a great time to be an aerospace engineer. Modern day jets are reaching the plateau of the “S Curve” (graph depicting the efficiency of the engine), meaning that the normal turbines cannot be made more efficient. Instead companies are now shifting to new designs, different engines altogether, and all in all, truly amazing stuff. The current paradigm shift is very exciting for budding Aerospace engineers, and the field as a whole.

A true role model and great teacher Dr. Zaidi will no doubt go on to better our rep of Aerospace faculty at Georgia Tech.

What a Break!

Disclaimer: This is not your average fall break. Granted, it never is at GTL, but James’ stories from the last week sound like something out of a James Bond movie than a weekend at GTL. What happened? Read to find out…

Posted by James

“I can believe I ruined this break,” I thought to myself as I rolled out of bed Thursday morning.

I reach over for my phone and see its 2 pm, the memories of yesterday’s travels start to fill my head. The all-day travel, routing on train after train, then eventually a plane to end all the worrying. Followed by one last train and finally a bus. The monotony of the travel was only interrupted by my vomiting and constant sickness. Yet, as the saying goes, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud, even here.
Now that some time has passed and the wounds are less sore, I see that my break may not have been normal or even “fun” at times, but it sure makes a great story.

As Thursday, Oct. 21st rolled around, the homework and tests had piled up and 20161022_141945_resizedeventually subsided, but they left a toll, a wanting to be free of school life for a change. We left for the east right on noon. and six or seven trains and 18 hours later, we resurfaced to see the beautiful Czech Republic. Prague, our main destination, bore our company for two days and two nights.


The city’s character is almost impossible to describe with words, and it’s filled with history and importance around every corner. Passing bridges or churches older than the nation I was born in was a truly humbling experience. With the Czech Republic being the sister country to my father’s homeland, Slovakia, I came with prejudices I soon forgot or no longer believed. There is so much culture that it’s all blurred together, and what remains in my mind is food and the people. For the cost of nothing one can spend hours sitting eating some of the best dumplings (Knedliky) in the world, and laugh with friends to forget about the world.


Next stop was Poland, specifically the small southern town of Zakopane. Here is where it all began. Arriving in the dead of night, we rose early next morning to conquer the mountains. The high Tatras of the Polish and Slovakian border were our target, and only after hours of pain -both mental and physical – could we claim our prize as King of the Mountains.

“How much longer until the waterfall?” I asked.

“Umm…” was Cannon’s response to a question I could barely breathe out of my mouth. The reason for hesitation was due to a mistake: we were climbing the wrong path. Never truly intending to summit this beast, we had our measly sights set for climbing to a waterfall and going home. Yet, due to a mistake we were apparently already three-fourths the way up the entire mountain. As my legs screamed, my joints ached in the cold and I stumbled to the top, I turned to my compatriots and said “Pain is temporary, but glory is forever.” Quite a good way to summarize the all-day climb.

Things began early next morning at 3am, and within hours disaster would strike. As I’ve told my friends now a careless mistake made me the lookalike of an action hero. During a bus-to-train transfer outside Krakow, a sleepy and deprived Jimmy left his passport and Eurail behind on a bus. As soon as I sat down on the train I knew! I darted off without saying a word to anyone and sprinted for the bus. But as I turned the building’s corner it was gone, nowhere in sight. My heart leaped in my mouth and I was truly speechless for the first time in my life.

As I turned to walk back to the train, I saw its doors slam shut and began to haul away from the station. My mind began to process everything, slowly waking from the two hours of sleep I had — “do I find the bus, wait, the train, my stuff, where, oh, uhhh!” In a moment of instinct I jumped onto the side of the train and hung on for dear life. Beating on the side door, I was eventually let inside and didn’t even have to tell my friends what happened. They knew. The embassy was next and within a day I had a passport in my hand. Before leaving Krakow I was lucky enough to find my old envelope entirely full of all my travel essentials, and as I flew back to Metz on Wednesday I couldn’t help feel I had betrayed my friends. We missed our flight to Sweden and in turn the second half of our entire trip.

But all was not lost. A spontaneous decision Friday morning saw me renting a car and driving 11 hours to Barcelona for one of the best two days of my life. And though I may have lost some money I gained a real life experience and one hell of a story.