To Beach or not to Beach?

Sometimes unexpected destinations end up being the most magical.

MK-Lagos2Posted by Morgan

My mom loves telling the story of my first time at the beach. As she tells it, she was stranded with two little toddlers, my older sister and myself, a few oversized coolers, and 4 unnecessary beach chairs while my dad casually went to go park the car. Meanwhile, my sister was running around in panic for fear that crabs would come snap off her toes, and I was apparently terrified of the sand, crying my head off anytime my feet touched the ground. To this day my family has never really been a beach vacation kind of family, and I have yet to outgrow my fear of sand.

Perhaps this is why I was wary of a weekend trip to Lagos, a city on the coast of Portugal. My friend, Brianna, had found the destination earlier on in the spring and had showed us beautiful photos of beaches, caves and stunning rock formations. Mirna was enthralled, quickly saying yes to this destination. I needed a little more convincing though. I didn’t want to waste a weekend lying on the beach, but when they showed me a plan of hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling, I decided, why not? I’ve never really done anything like this before and I am always saying that I want to try something new.

So I booked a plane ticket.

Thank goodness I did because I could not have been more impressed with Lagos. It was stunning. Breathtaking. Magical.

Our 3 hour kayaking trip was the highlight. Leading us around the coastline, our guide took us in and out of the caves and past the beautiful cliffs. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of the area. How could some place be so perfect? How was it that I was here? It was almost unreal, and I had to take the time to soak it all in.

The three hour tour also gave us time to make a new friend, Lars, a student about our age from Germany who was traveling around for a few weeks before heading back to his internship. We conversed for a while on our journey, discussing our schools and cultures, before finally parting ways at the end.

After the very long kayaking trip, it was clear that Mirna, Brianna, and I needed a break…a really, really long break with lots of food and ice cold water and maybe even some ice-cream. As we made our way through the center of town, we took our time to stop and scour the menus for the best price and best looking food. We ended up choosing a traditional Portuguese restaurant and resting our feet for a while.

Standing up to leave, content with our meals and now satisfyingly refreshed, we bumped into our new friend, Lars. Talking for a while, we made plans to meet up later that night to watch the euro cup match, Italy vs Germany. But first, we decided to head back to our bed and breakfast, a ten minute drive out of town, to freshen up and take a quick nap. While the location of our bed and breakfast was inconvenient, it was also beautiful.  Located on a vineyard, complete with a personal balcony, it was the perfect place to sit back, take a nap, and relax before heading back out to meet up with Lars.

Once we were all ready, we began our journey back into town. We met up with Lars in a bar, where it was packed so tightly we could barely see the tv let alone breathe. It was fun though! I ended up cheering on Germany with Lars and even making some new friends from London who cheered along with us. When it came down to the penalty shootout, things got interesting. Some people were shouting for Italy and some people were shouting for Germany, but when Germany finally won, the bar went wild. It was an amazing experience and something truly unique to the culture of Europe.

The following day was not so enjoyable. Being my stupid self I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my feet the day before, and, seeing as I was sitting in kayak for three hours with the sun beating down directly on my feet, I got burned. I got burned badly. My feet were bright red and swollen the next day. I had tried to go out into town and do some things with my friends but it was painful. One woman even came up to me and offered me sunscreen.

It was a hard decision, but I decided that I needed to go back to the bed and breakfast and rest my feet while Brianna and Mirna explored. I was surprised to discover as I lied  there in bed that I wasn’t too upset with this. It might have been dull, but I got some rest, took some ibprofen,  applied some aloe, and enjoyed the picturesque views of Portugal from my window.

By the time dinner came, I was feeling better and ready to head out again with Mirna and Brianna. We grabbed some food and then walked to the beach to look at the stars. It was a sight I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

Growing up close to Philadelphia, I was never really able to see the stars. Not much changed when I came to Tech in Atlanta. But here, in Lagos, lying on the beach, the stars were shining bright above us. While it was a simple experience, lying on the beach watching the stars, it somehow managed to put me at ease, something I never thought possible while lying on the sand (I’m not really a fan of the beach don’t forget). Maybe the beach wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe even my family could be a beach family…or at least we could be a beach family when it comes to Lagos.

London Calling

Once you’ve visited London, you’ll always want to go back.

Posted by Morgan

Oh how I’ve missed the English language. The language where I understand whether the sign says “train delayed” or “train departing.” The language where I understand whether the bottle of liquid says “makeup remover” or “rubbing alcohol.” The language where I understand whether the menu says “steak” or “beef brains.” As you can probably guess, after a month in France, I was missing the ease of communication I had with the people in the states, so when a three day weekend arrived my sorority big, Dana, and I decided to go to London!

Dana and I had decided on London at the last possible minute. She was suffering from the GTL plague and was not exactly up for planning a trip, and me, being my indecisive self, was spouting off about ten different destinations we could go to. Thank goodness she was a good friend and put up with me for this. I swear each day leading up to our three day weekend I had an entire new trip planned: Budapest, Lyon, Florence, Salzburg. But in the end, the 3 hour journey on the Chunnel, the train that goes from Paris to London under the English Channel, and the English language was what hooked us on our destination: London.

I love London. I have been there before and it just has this classiness and ease to it. Of course there are those people that think of the charming British accents or The Spice Girls when they think of England, but my mind always wanders to a charming tea, the elegant queen, or the beautiful architecture of Big Ben. It’s my kind of place.

Lucky for us, It just so happened that the weekend we were there was also the celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. I learned this from a friend of mine who was interning for a publishing company in London. I had told her of our plans to visit and she suggested meeting up for the Queen’s birthday parade.

We met at the Piccadilly Train station and then walked over towards the Waterloo steps to get a good spot to see the queen. We caught up on how our lives in college were going and how we were enjoying our summer of traveling. It was so fun to be with a friend from my home town, thousands of miles away!

Unfortunately, we waited for much longer than anticipated to see the queen; however, the long wait gave us time to people watch and talk to the people around us. Oddly enough, this was an enjoyable way to pass the time. We saw a man dancing around in a skirt that was far too short and protesting about the debate over Brexit. We heard a group of older women discussing what color they thought the queen would wear: lavender or lime green (this debacle made us chuckle to no end, and she ended up wearing lime green believe it or not). Then, to make our wait even more interesting, we met a woman next to us whose son went to Georgia Tech! We conversed over the Georgia Tech-Lorraine program and how her son was excited for his final year at Tech. What a small world.

We saw the queen!
We saw the queen!

When the queen finally came, the crowd went wild, waving their British flags in the air and shouting. For about two minutes, I was able to see the speck of lime green that was the queen. That was pretty much the extent of the parade, but it was still a fun experience and now I can say, “I’ve seen the queen. Have you?”

Afterwards, Dana and I ventured over towards Westminster Abbey. We took the time to be stereotypical tourists, snapping cheesy photos and jumping up and down. When we were done, the hunger pains started ringing and we began to look for lunch. Being a lover of soccer, I forced Dana to go to a traditional British pub with me so I could watch the Euro Cup. I loved this. As I ate my fish and chips, fixated on the tv, the men around me cheered on their team, cursing off when they thought a foul should have been called and yelling with excitement when a goal was scored. It was a cultural experience and clearly a highlight of my trip.

Just us being tourists.
Just us being tourists.

The rest of the day was spent exploring. This meant we got lost a lot, which is probably why our feet hurt so much by the end of the day. Even though we had a subway card, Siri told us we walked 12 miles that day. When the evening came, we decided we needed sleep after all that walking, so instead of seeing a bit of London at night we went back to our hotel and were in bed by 11pm. Such fun college students we are!

The next day involved much less walking- only five miles this time! We went to Camden Market and just walked around. It was an assortment of cool shops and artwork. Then there were the food stands that shoved their free samples in our face to try and get us to buy something which only filled me with overwhelming anxiety; however, the day was finished with a relaxing evening at the theater. According to our research, which consisted of Google, we learned that NYC and London had some of the best theater in the world, so we bought tickets to see the Lion King. I can confidently say that it was one of those instances where Google was right.

The Market.
The Market.

The show was amazing: the costumes, the music, the acting! Dana left with a feeling of contentment and I left with the tune of Hakuna Matata stuck in my head. It was a great way to finish our trip.

Sitting on the train on our way back to Metz, France, Dana, the person who doesn’t get excited by much, had a huge smile across her face. “I loved London,” she said. “I’m going to live there when I get older. Do you think they have jobs for chemical engineers there?”

Clearly London was a hit, and it made me happy that she loved the city just as much as I do. As we entered back into the Metz train station, the signs were now all in French, the restaurant menus, now all in French, the conversations around us, now all in French. It was time to go back to the confusing state of mental disarray, but at least we had a weekend in English. At least we had London.






My Favorite Aloes RA: Rachael LeRoux

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an RA at Georgia Tech-Lorraine?

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 12.17.14 PM

Posted by Morgan

Hometown: Suwanee, Georgia

Major: Industrial Engineering

Year: Rising junior


Don’t be alarmed by my title. I rarely choose favorites because I hate confrontation; however, in this case I just had to do a light stab twist at the other RA, Tim, who insists he is the funnier and better Aloes RA. Sorry Tim!

Tim and Rachael
Tim and Rachael

Jokes aside, Rachael is pretty awesome! I might be biased because she is my sorority sister, but if you met her you’d understand why. She has a genuine personality and is easy to talk to which makes her such a good RA. While she doesn’t always know the answers to our questions (it is her first time here too) she has no problem in trying to help us out, even if it means politely asking the French Aloes residents to quiet down at 1am on a Tuesday night…and then staring down the French residents until they quiet down.

For Rachael, her decision to apply as an RA was due to the fact that she felt she would work better if she had more responsibilities. Netflix is time consuming as are those much needed naps, but the light duties of a GTL RA help her keep the Netflix tab closed and the IE 3039 notes open. Maybe I should have applied to be an RA then?

Outside of classes, Rachael leads a busy life. She is very involved in her sorority, Alpha Phi, working as director of sisterhood. This means she helps plan events and keep the documentation organized. She is also secretary for the foundation for international medical relief of children. Next year, she hopes to volunteer at the Humane Society and possibly get a Coop. Clearly she keeps a busy schedule but that doesn’t stop her from working hard in the classroom.

Her favorite part about the GTL classes are the professors, who use the small class size to their advantage. Rachael commented on the professors saying, “I like that the professors are more laid back because they know that you are here to get international experiences and traveling.” That is by no means to say that the professor will exempt you from a test so you can leave a day early for travel, but they will work with the class and discuss a good test day if one week is heavier than the other. Clearly the GTL professors have a good relationship with the students.

But what about travel? Being an RA doesn’t prevent you from traveling or keeping up on your studies according to Rachael. I’ve also learned from her that you don’t have to go very far to have fun; her favorite experience so far was actually going to the Metz fair. A prior French exchange student of her family lives in Metz, so he took her around and gave her the real French experience. She got to go on all the fun rides and get a feel for Metz from a non-tourist perspective. That’s something I wish I could say!

While she didn’t have to travel far for this experience, she does have to travel far to get to Italy, the place she is most excited to visit. “There is Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast.” She wants to see it all! This is something I am excited to do with her as we will travel around Italy together. If you can’t tell already, she is a pretty cool person to have as a travel buddy.

Me and my travel buddy
Me and my travel buddy

All in all, Rachael enjoys being an RA. “Believe it or not being an RA with the Tech students is easy,” it’s “having to deal with the French students who live on my hall that’s hard,” says Rachael. She usually does her rounds around 8pm, making sure there are no problems or disturbances and she keeps a phone on her for emergencies while she studies. Thanks to Rachael though the aloes residents can rest easy, being assured they have an RA to go to for questions, to get advice, and even to help with those “cultural differences”-aka late-night partying French students.



Train Strikes Can’t Bring Us Down

Sometimes “Plan C” works out better than your original plan, or even “Plan B!”

posted by Morgan

The 2016 summer semester for GTL students is quite different than most years. It is not because it is the 25th anniversary for Georgia Tech Lorraine, nor is it because the Euro Cup is being held in France. No. This year is different as a result of the record breaking rainfall in France and the almost daily train strikes.

As you can imagine, these two things are somewhat problematic for us students. Walking to class in the rain, while unenjoyable, is not the end of the world nor is having a train cancelled. Hey, it happens right? We all knew that getting stranded in a train station overnight with friends was a possibility when we signed up for the program (Believe it or not, we were explicitly told stories by former GTL students of these occurrences). I did not, however, expect for train problems to prevent me from leaving GTL. I can “deal” with being stuck in Paris or Rome for an extra day, but being stuck on campus for a weekend is not what I would call “appealing”. It appeared that a weekend at GTL might be the case for my friends last weekend. We had planned to go to Munich, but upon arrival at the Metz train station we quickly learned our train was cancelled.

So it was time for plan B! Off to Brussels we go! An hour later we were sitting on the floor of the Luxembourg train station with another disappointing look strewn across our faces. Our train to Brussels was canceled.

So now it was time for plan C! What was plan C? Well, we did not really have a plan C, so our plan C then became, “Ask the Woman at the Information Desk Where Four College Students Could Go For a Fun Weekend in Europe.” Cologne, a smaller city about 3 hours away in Germany, was the answer.

As we sat on the train with our eyes glued to our phones, we quickly learned that expensive shopping and few city sights was not exactly our idea of a fun 3 day weekend, so I looked at the train route and found a new destination: Koblenz. It was déjà vu moment. MK6-1-10 years earlierI had faintly remembered my experience there with my family when I was 8 years old. Something about beautiful rolling hills and a quaint town rang in my mind, and, seeing as we were all out of options, I figured we could just hop off the train at Koblenz and hope for the best!

And that’s exactly what we did. After an hour of wandering the streets and searching for the cheapest, last minute accommodations we could find, we finally found somewhere to sleep and it wasn’t even the train station. The next morning we were up and ready to go see what Koblenz had to offer; backpacking our way towards some fortress we went. Of course, we got lost on our way up the steep incline in the humid, slightly rainy weather, with our luggage weighing us down, but when we finally made it to the top, our eyes were met with the rolling hills I had remembered from my time in Koblenz almost ten years ago.

Quaint German houses lined the rolling hills, reminding us of the fairytales we read when we were children; picturesque vineyards wove their way up the sides of mountains, making us question how someone even managed to stand on something so steep; small boats sailed their way down the Rhine, inviting tourists to fill their cameras with photos. While the rain didn’t seem to leave us when we left for Germany, we were still met with these beautiful sights.

When we had finished touring the impressive fortress and observing the detailed architecture, we decided to make our way back down the incline, but this time we were going to find an easier, less physically exertive way. Using my rusty German to converse with a local, we found the cable car that made its way over the river and down the mountain. My high school German teacher would have been proud as I discussed directions, where we were from, and what we thought of Koblenz so far.

The rest of the day was spent wandering until we made our way towards the train station and headed to our next destination: Trier. According to a friend of

mine who was studying abroad in Germany, Trier was the place to

Quaint Trier
Quaint Trier

go if we wanted the traditional German experience. The oldest town in Germany, it is full of history: a cathedral, old town square, Basillica dating back to the 4th century, and the Roman baths. After hopping off the train and making our way to our last minute airbnb, we realized that Trier was the perfect place for us girls to spend a weekend. It was calm, traditional, quaint, and the most important part– it had delicious gelato.   

We still did not really have a plan at this point, but we just spent the rest of our weekend exploring. When we passed the palace and gardens, we took time for a photo op. When the rain began to pour, we found a local cafe that served Wiener-Schnitzel. When our feet began to drag, we found an international music festival to sit down and listen to.

The unexpected and unplanned weekend was a little anxiety-filled for me at first, but I could not think of a better memory to look back on. So I guess these train strikes are not as unfortunate as I thought. I was with three wonderful friends enjoying company and culture. We might not have made it to the castle of Neuschwanstein or the city of Munich, but I think our adventure in Koblenz and Trier made up for it. No train strikes could bring us down.

Georgia Tech-Lorraine — 25 Years in France

You know that Georgia Tech-Lorraine is something special, when Dr. Peterson shows up to celebrate the campus’ 25th anniversary!

Posted by Morgan

When I walked into the GTL building on Friday, I was greeted with an unusual sight: shiny gold and white balloons, large Georgia Tech-Lorraine posters, and of course the warm, friendly smiles that adorned the faces of those staff members dressed in navy blue and old gold.

I, on the other hand, was dressed in a bright, bold, red dress. Clearly I had forgotten the dress code for any Georgia Tech Event–no bulldog red. But it didn’t seem to matter as it was the 25th anniversary of Georgia Tech-Lorraine and everyone was far more interested in the festivities at hand.

Dr. Peterson speaking before a full-house.
Dr. Peterson speaking before a full-house.

While many students were busy shuffling to their next class, those that had a break eagerly rushed to meet our president, Bud Peterson, and listen to his speech. It was exciting to hear our president talk about our study abroad program with an eagerness and appreciation that so many of us could relate to. At first Bud Peterson admitted to being skeptical of the study abroad experience at Georgia Tech Lorraine. How could that much be gained from a short summer on a campus with 250 Georgia Tech Students and only a handful of Georgia Tech Professors? But then he visited. He visited and described how his opinions changed from skepticism to enthusiasm. As Peterson closed his speech, he spoke of the value he saw in studying abroad at GTL both from a cultural and educational perspective.

For the majority of us that are here, being able to have an experience like studying abroad while participating in such an academically rigorous and prestigious school makes us feel like part of something bigger. We are not holed up in our rooms forever studying differential equations or thermodynamics but creating experiences, and hearing Bud Peterson’s speech validated those thoughts.


Tim Jaudon, a rising third year industrial engineering major, said it best:

“I liked the fact that Bud came all the way out here to celebrate other branches of the school. It makes Georgia Tech feel much bigger and more global than just Atlanta.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Georgia Tech-Lorraine and our 25th anniversary was all about. Of course we college students loved the free food and instagram-worthy photos, but it was the message of Georgia Tech’s commitment to integrating into the global community in France that we could so easily relate to after only a few weeks here.

Students enjoying the food after Dr. Peterson's speech.
Students enjoying the food after Dr. Peterson’s speech.


Leaving Our Mark on the Community

Georgia Tech-Lorraine students did not just go to classes and travel this semester. They also gave back to the community through a service project at Fort Queuleu, a former internment camp, just a 20 minute walk from Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

Posted by Julie

That last week has been the best Metz I’ve ever seen – a balmy 60° underneath blue skies and gold-tinted sunbeams. Personally, I think it was the universe getting excited about our volunteering event at Fort Queuleu.

Students have asked for an opportunity to volunteer, and while there are too many hoops to jump through for volunteering genres such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters, we found this early on and have been working to make it happen for a while.

You may remember that one of the first blog posts I wrote was about my International Affairs trip, which included Fort Queuleu, a former internment camp just a 20 minute walk from Georgia Tech-Lorraine. The tour was particularly impactful – from the storytelling of our guide to the creative, connecting visuals. I was amazed that so much history was hidden in the hills so near us, so I was incredibly excited about this opportunity.

We joined a group of maybe ten other dedicated volunteers who convene twice a month to clean up and preserve the history of the region. Many spoke little English, so it was a great way for the group to brush up on their French, or even learn a little for some. We still had conversations and laughs with the others, despite the language barriers.

While some cut back bushes and undergrowth, we were assigned to work with a few people on the refurbishment of the entry gate. For my group, the morning crew, we brushed off the moss and rust with metal brushes and painted on a first coat of protective glaze, after which the afternoon group painted on several more.

With the weather as perfect as it was, and the people so nice, I don’t think I have enjoyed a BDE event more. Of course, there are several lined up soon – so that title may be tested!

My favorite part? As I was walking out of the park area in which Fort Queuleu is situated, another French woman was leaving as well. She started up a conversation, and I explained why our students were there. She was very happy and impressed that we wanted to help the community as much as we did. I found that this was also her first time volunteering, as she had recently found out that her mother was a part of the underground movement to overthrow Nazi rule during occupation during World War II – which is when Fort Queuleu was used as an internment camp for French resistance.

It was so nice to be a part of something bigger than me; something that has such a personal connection to the people that live here. It’s nice to say that I didn’t just visit Metz, but I lived in and contributed to the community.