Closing Words

Written by Valerie Rosas

As I reflect on my semester abroad from the comfort of my own home, I think back to where I started. Everything has a beginning, and, as you know, mine began with a postcard. I hope to have inspired someone just as much, if not more, than that postcard inspired me. If a spark was not created through my words, then it may have been through my photographs.  

It has been an honor to be this semester’s Georgia Tech-Europe blogger. I was gifted with the ability to influence a diverse community, whether it be a second-year mechanical engineering major or a young girl in high school eagerly hoping and dreaming to be able to call herself a Yellow Jacket one day. It has truly been a privilege to be in this position and share my story on this platform. Even though my “story” in question only consists of the last four months of my life, it encompasses so much more than that. Under the surface, you can hear the voice of a grandfather telling his granddaughter that she has now seen and done more than any other member of their family or watch the tears roll down an immigrant mother’s face as she reassures her sacrifice was not done in vain. A low-income, first-generation Latina made it to France and back. This blog is her testimony. 

Since I have been back home, so many people have asked me how my experience was. I find myself struggling to find an answer every time. How does one answer such a grand question with a simple response about a four-month-long roller coaster of an experience? The answer is you can’t. I always end up going on a tangent whether I choose to focus on what my greatest takeaway was or what my favorite city was. However, the best way for me to properly portray how I feel about the experience is through the depiction of light.  

Light has many symbolic meanings dating back to ancient times. It has been thought to symbolize life, understanding, intelligence, etc. “Light is one of the oldest and most meaningful symbols, found in cultures and religions worldwide…… in Hinduism, light has a special significance, especially during Diwali or the ‘Festival of Lights’ when the triumph of light over darkness is celebrated,” according to The National Gallery in London. On the other hand, darkness is thought to symbolize things like emptiness, ignorance, sorrow, and death. As my time at Georgia Tech-Europe went along, it was like the brightness scale on my life went up. I saw things more clearly, in technicolor, and brighter. The personal growth I experienced in my life is being portrayed by light. The symbolic representation of the gradual increase in light and color slowly reveals how I have developed as an individual. 

I can’t stress enough how rich in value this experience was. I discovered what truly makes me happy, what I cherish the most as a constant in my life. Similarly, I noticed what I took for granted and the size of the void it would create. I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Living abroad forced me to be more independent than I had ever been before, but it also taught me the importance of balance. Living alone showed me how to be self-sufficient and care for myself and my needs without being able to rely on others like my parents. On the contrary, being in that kind of vulnerable state requires that you also recognize when it’s time to seek help. Whether it was through highs or lows, we were rewarded with many fruitful lessons. There is merit in overcoming setbacks such as the fortification of resilience and strength. It took me what felt like an eternity to get acclimated to my new lifestyle abroad. Everyone around me looked so happy to be there when inside I felt like I couldn’t adjust to it. However, this showed me the value of intrinsic motivation and the power of a positive mentality that led me to believe I could face the unknown with a newfound confidence. Sometimes in life, the most intimidating opportunities can be the most rewarding and a leap of faith could take you there. 

The Photograph

Written by Valerie

As the GTE blogger for this semester, I have been able to take my love for photography and give it a new purpose. After a couple of years of photography lessons, I was able to work on my skills and begin doing photoshoots for people’s special events. Being able to see the looks on people’s faces when they saw themselves captured in the way they imagined it is one of the most satisfying things I have been able to do for others. However, knowing that my blogs with my photos mixed within could help or even inspire a single soul is even more fulfilling. I gained my love for the art of photography when my dad gifted me my first digital camera for Christmas at the age of fifteen. I would like to share my thoughts and admiration for the craft. 

Everything has to have a beginning. Just like the camera had its beginning and evolution, so do people. The camera and its functions capture that evolution. “The magic of the camera, the enchantment of photographic technology may precisely lie in its believed capacity to capture the spirit of a place [and] create copies imbued with the power of the original place visited,” as stated in The Framed World by authors Robinson, Mike, and Picard. For tourists and people alike, taking a photograph is an event in itself that turns into an everlasting story. “It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with our words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it,” as mentioned in Ways of Seeing by Berger, John, and Dibb. When sharing travel photography, there is always a level of enchantment to it. It starts with the feeling you had when you first spotted the frame of the photo, the sensation when you took it, and then there is the joy you get from sharing that experience with someone, which could manifest an interest in them to pursue similar knowledge or experiences.  

“A photograph captured every detail and was considered more truthful than a manually made picture,” as stated in From Snapshots to Social Media by Sarvas, Risto, and Frohlich. Prior to recent advancements in technology, people believed that a photograph was the most unbiased and authentic form of communication. However, with all the new technological innovations this may not be as true. Despite all, since the creation of the camera, it has been a beloved art among all. 

Everyone has different talents and interests, but I hope that everyone who views these blogs can enjoy them half as much as I enjoyed creating them. A single photograph has the power to influence the world, but I only aspire to influence those who visit the Georgia Tech-Europe blog page in hopes of learning more.


The Semester For You 

Written by Valerie

If you are considering studying at Georgia Tech-Europe or any other study abroad program, picking the right semester for yourself is important. There are many things to evaluate, such as your classes, extracurriculars, career opportunities, etc. I am a little biased toward the fall semester as the ideal semester to go abroad to GTE, but I would like to discuss all the options. 

The summer semester is the most popular semester for students attending GTE according to my program director. The lack of conflict with the traditional fall and spring semesters is very appealing. Additionally, you only have to be enrolled in a minimum of 10 credit hours which means you have a smaller workload to balance as you travel. The summer semester is also shorter than any of the other semesters, meaning it’s a shorter time commitment if you don’t want to be away from home that long. Separate from school, the weather is always warm and sunny during that season, which is perfect for the amount of time you will be spending outside. 

In the spring semester, you get to start with winter and then end with the spring season, which could be a nice transition and an incredible way to start the new year. All the flowers will begin to bloom, and it will be warm and colorful all around as May approaches. In terms of academics, a different set of courses could be offered in the spring that are specific to that semester, but course offerings can vary every year. To be able to enjoy a semester filled with schoolwork and travel then go back home to enjoy summer vacation would be a great way to reset. 

Lastly, there is the fall semester — the best semester in my opinion. You have plenty of time to prepare for the start of the semester since you are coming in from summer vacation. The weather is nice and warm but not too hot since the months of intense heat have already come and gone. You get to enjoy traveling without the huge crowds of tourists visiting Europe, which often make the prices of accommodations and flights very expensive. You can see what Europe is like at the very end of the summer, the entirety of fall, and just a little of what the beginning of the winter season looks like. I am a huge fan of the holidays, and Europe is riddled with heavily decorated streets and holiday markets. There is a vast selection of picturesque destinations that will make you feel like you are in a Christmas Hallmark movie, such as a ski resort in Switzerland or a chimney cake stand at a Christmas market in Budapest. 

Regardless of the semester you choose, you will have the time of your life. Enjoy the moment and do what is best for you and your journey. 

London Called and We Answered 

Written by Valerie

It is so satisfying when things come perfectly into place. My friends and I have been wanting to visit cities in Europe that are adorned with Christmas decorations and have Christmas markets scattered around. We searched the internet and discovered that London was starting to have their Christmas markets the weekend of November 17th. Coincidentally, one of my GTE friend’s birthday was that same weekend. We put two and two together and decided on plans for the weekend. London, here we come! 

In no time, we began to get everyone together and solidify the plans for our London trip. The hostel was booked along with all the flights and trains. London became one of the cities I was looking forward to visiting the most on my study abroad journey since I started learning more about the modern dynamic of the area. I saw how much diversity there was. Its influence could be seen in the food and music scene of London. Granted, I love hearing different languages and their accents, but it was so enjoyable to be able to be in an English-speaking country. 

Once we arrived, we soon realized that during this season in the United Kingdom, the sun sets at four in the afternoon. Even though the time difference between Metz and London is only one hour, we were thrown off by how early it got dark outside. Our minds were struggling to fight the feeling of it being nighttime against the reality of the time of day. We found ourselves eating lunch at a chicken shop, a London staple, as the sun was descending. However, our waiter was kind enough to offer to make us an itinerary so we could visit all the must-see attractions in the short time we would be in town. My travel buddy and I finished up and headed for the Tube, the underground metro lines in London, to meet up with the rest of our friends at the hostel. 

Now that we were all settled in, it was time to go out and explore. I don’t know if we were just seeing things or if there was an actual resemblance, but we were surprised at how much it looked like Atlanta at night. Many European cities have laws around how tall buildings can be, so it is rare to see skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings. This gave London a very different look to the other cities we have visited up until now. Even though parts of the city looked very modern, other parts put into perspective how old the city truly is. This was another experience where my old history books came to life. Seeing Westminster Abbey, a church with nearly a thousand years of history that hosted royal coronations and weddings, along with a red double-decker bus all while standing next to a pub with a red telephone booth outside had to be the most British corner in town. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to London even though there was not nearly enough time to see everything the city had to offer. Traveling with my friends meant endless laughter, even in moments like the time when we made a mistake and accidentally ended up an hour outside the city. London, I thank you for all the good memories and expect to be back soon to make some more. 

Knowledge is Forever 

Written by Valerie

In my blogs, I have gone on and on about how this experience has turned me into a new person in the few months I have been at GTE. Even though I have talked about it plenty in the past, I could still keep sharing about it. However, this blog is provided on behalf of an exceptional educational institution for the brilliant minds that attend it. So, I would like to address a variety of applications a study abroad experience could have for your future. 

Perhaps the most obvious one would be that it could go on your resume. The Georgia Tech Career website has a detailed resume writing guide that I relied on heavily when making my first resume. Recently as I geared up for this season of applying for internships for the upcoming summer, I noticed their template had an optional location for any study abroad experience. Additionally, during the resume-building unit in my GT 1000 class freshman year, two of our team leaders explained the benefits of having that information on a resume through their own personal experiences. Their international study programs also created endless conversation topics between them and their interviewers. Overall, it puts some amazing attributes on display. 

In an internship or job as well as in daily life, you will be able to apply an enhanced set of skills. A broadened perspective and diverse cultural understanding will resonate when you are placed in a situation where you have to collaborate with any group of people. Whether it is in a classroom, in an office, or even in a grocery store, fostering respect and understanding with the people you are working alongside allows for successful synergy. Taking this concept a step further, I highly recommend everyone take part in the ICEBERG Intercultural Learning Series hosted by the Office of International Education. I participated in it during the fall of my freshman year, and I loved it! Not even knowing it at the time, I enhanced my mindset for the international experience I would soon embark on at GTE. As stated on the Georgia Tech website, “this program addresses various topics, including improving communication abilities, developing intercultural skills, and navigating cultural differences.” For the cherry on top, once you pass the program, you earn a blockchain credential that you can display on your LinkedIn profile! 

Lastly, the problem-solving and adaptability skills you will have fortified by the time you return from GTE will prepare you to confidently tackle any challenges you may face in your life. Like many wise people before me have said, material things can come and go, but your knowledge will stay with you forever. 

The Garden

Written by Valerie

From my window, I have a clear view of the garden behind the Lafayette Residences. There are a few picnic tables where anyone can sit and enjoy some time outside. While the weather was still warm, I would often go outside, sit at one of those picnic tables, and do some schoolwork. It quickly became my favorite study spot. Now that my nose gets runny from the cold every time that I spend more than ten minutes outside, I can no longer enjoy that study spot as I did before. 

One day when I was studying outside at that spot, I decided to take a brief break and walk around the garden. Everything ranging from vegetables to colorful flowers grows in there. As I was inspecting the flora, I stumbled upon an interesting sight. There lay a small green tomato atop a dainty purple flower. The flower almost looked like a pillar holding the tomato up in the air. It was hands down one of the funniest coincidences I have seen in nature, so of course I had to take a picture of it. 

Even though it’s no Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or other sight that has people flocking to snap a picture, there is beauty in it. As students studying abroad, we see some of the greatest wonders the world has to offer. Historical landmarks, religious architecture, and unique geological formations are among some of the weekly sights we encounter. The bar for what we deem ‘impressive’ may be raised continuously as we go through our semester abroad. 

Every time I look, or even think, about the image of the tomato placed perfectly on top of the flower, I am reminded not to forget to admire the beauty and wonder in the little things. It doesn’t always have to be something like a 1,083 ft. tall tower that sparks our interest. Just like the saying goes, “There is beauty in everything around us,” it is only a matter of recognizing it. 

While everything we have seen on our journey here has left a lasting impression on all of us, we will be back home soon. We will have to continue life and live the parts of it where we will be surrounded by different environments. Those constantly changing environments will provide us with another multitude of things to admire. The real privilege is in being able to stop and have these moments. Taking some time to gaze at the stars seems mundane and common since we could, in theory, do it every night. However, you wouldn’t want to be in a regretful situation where you look up and can’t see them. 

The Capital of the European Union 

Written by Valerie

I visited Brussels, the capital of Belgium, with three of my closest friends at GTE. Luckily for all the Georgia Tech-Europe students, Brussels is only a little under four hours by train away from Metz. The ride is beautifully scenic as you travel northeast into the country, but we could definitely notice the drop in temperature compared to France once we arrived.  I would have to say that my trip to Belgium was one of my favorites. Belgium may often be overlooked as a travel destination, but it has a plethora of things to offer travelers. 

One of the most unique things about Belgium is that it is considered the “Capital of the EU” and therefore holds a great deal of importance worldwide. It is one of three places where the Parliament works as decided by the European Council in 1992. As you walk along the streets of Brussels, you will stumble upon a variety of notable government buildings, such as the Europa building which houses the seat of the European Council and the Council of the European Union.  

Not only will you encounter buildings significant to the entirety of the European Union, but you will also see buildings discernable to Belgium itself. Structures like the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Town Hall of the City of Brussels will transport you through time. The City Hall was constructed in the Middle Ages with a beautiful façade representing Gothic architecture. Groundbreaking began in the 9th century for the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral which often hosted important events like royal weddings and funerals. 

On top of all the historically and politically significant buildings, Brussels has many other enchantments. The gastronomy in the city is a foodie’s dream. I was not expecting to go there and find such an amazing and diverse selection of food to choose from. Food halls like The Wolf offered a wide range of cuisines ranging from Syrian to Vietnamese all conveniently under one roof, promoting a sense of community and unity. We ate Belgian waffles a total of three times during the entirety of the trip, and that was still not enough. What goes perfectly with waffles? Fries in a cone of course. What a great feeling it is to hold a warm cone of perfectly crispy fries drizzled in your sauce of choice while the cold gusts of wind brush you on the street.  

This may be controversial, but I think that the cafes in Brussels are unmatched — no offense to France. However, the coffee and pastries there were some of the best I have ever had, but don’t take my word for it. You too can weigh in on the heavy debate about who has the fluffiest croissant if you spend a semester at GTE! 

The Power of Fear

Written by Valerie

Time and time again I have talked about different fears in my blogs. My own fear of flying is a prevalent one but also one you might expect from a student studying abroad for the first time. In fact, I’ve found that by simply making the decision to study abroad, a lot of fears are brought to light. 

One of the heaviest concerns may be the financial responsibility associated with a semester abroad. Will you be able to afford it? Will you get a scholarship in time, if at all? What kind of savings will you come back to when it’s all said and done? All of these are valid concerns that are very real to students. We are adults now, and even though many students can still rely on some support from their parents, we are ultimately responsible and carry the burden of the cost. 

Another fear many students experience but don’t mention as often is the fear of missing out. You have a solid friend group on campus with whom you participate in all of those wonderful Tech traditions. There is a vast support system consisting of your best friends, advisors, counselors, and mentors that you are used to having close by. They are going to continue their life while you are away. Then what? Will they forget you? Or what if you come back and things aren’t the same anymore? You will inevitably change on your journey abroad but likely not in the ways you may expect. Personally, I feel like I’ve had such a vast amount of personal growth within such a short period of time already. Despite having many highs and plenty of lows, there was always a lesson to be learned. 

While I know fear has a negative connotation, I believe it can also be acknowledged for its positive attributes. Fear can protect you from unwanted situations. A gut feeling may cause you to avoid a potentially harmful situation. Another positive attribute of fear is that once you overcome it, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings you can experience. You are proud of what you have accomplished. You have now opened a door full of new opportunities.  

La Bella Vita

Written by Valerie

Not long ago, I came back from Milan, Italy. I came to Georgia Tech-Europe with a friend that I made at the beginning of my freshman year back in Atlanta. I may have mentioned her before, but we have nearly gone on all of our weekend trips together. The trip to Milan was no different but this time we went with three new friends. Switching it up and going on trips with different people from the program can be very fun and provide a different experience. 

Thankfully we flew out of the airport in Luxembourg, which is closer than any airport in Paris and ten times less high maintenance than flying out of France. Our flight was delayed by an hour, which was a little unfortunate because we were only spending part of Friday and all of Saturday in Milan since we were flying back at six in the morning on Sunday. Another unfortunate fact is that I have a pretty bad fear of flying. I know what you are thinking; studying abroad is probably one of the worst things to do for someone who does not like to fly. I was pretty nervous during the build-up to boarding and through the initial parts of the flight. I kept reminding myself that it was going to be a short flight of about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

There was a point in the flight where all of that fear escaped my body and mind. I lifted my head from looking down at my phone which was distracting me from my surroundings and turned my head to the right. Through the tiny airplane window, I saw the most astonishing view. We were flying right over the Swiss Alps. I had never seen snow-capped mountains like that in my life. 

Seeing them from that angle made the experience a million times more impactful. It felt like we were so close to them. It was unreal. I probably spent about twenty minutes trying to capture the essence of what I was seeing with my eyes so I could replicate it in a photo. Now every time I view that photo, I can relive that riveting experience once more. Since I was in the middle seat, I am sure I made the poor man sitting to my right very uncomfortable as I was trying to get a good photo of the window next to him, but it had to be done. 

Once we landed, we rushed to the hostel to change and headed out to explore the town. Our trip to Italy was a perfect blend of picturesque mountain-side scenery in Lake Como and the stylish yet regal feeling of Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world. The unbelievable views combined with pasta and gelato made my trip to Italy one of my favorites. 

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!