Bienvenue à Metz and Settling in to Life in France

Since making her decision to get her undergrad degree at Georgia Tech, Mira knew that she wanted to spend a semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine— and after 3 years, Mira has finally made it to Metz! Read her latest blog post to find out more about Mira’s love of travel and her first experiences in France.

Friday, September 10, 2021 | Written by Mira

View of a city from a tall apartment building. Three tall buildings rise above a collection of smaller buildings. Clear balcony walls are in the foreground. Fluffy clouds are spread out across the blue sky.
The view from my apartment in Tel Aviv this summer.

Bonjour, Je m’appelle Mira!  I am a third year at Georgia Tech, majoring in biomedical (BMED) engineering, minoring in health and medical sciences (HMED), and pursuing the International Plan (IP). I just spent an incredible summer living and working in Tel Aviv, and I am so excited to take my sense of adventure to Europe!

This study abroad experience has been years in the making— studying at Georgia Tech-Lorraine is one of the reasons I chose to go to school at Tech in the first place. I had to hold off on going until my third year, constructing my academic plan carefully, and I can’t believe I have finally made it to Metz. 

Wooden table with a light brown latte in a white mug on a white plate. The latte art is 3 white hearts in a vertical line. To the left of the mug is the corner of a silver laptop keyboard with a half peeled off sticker of Eurasia and Africa.
My phone is full of aesthetic coffee photos and I am excited to add to my collection.

This semester, I only have class on Mondays and Wednesdays, which means I get the day in between to explore Metz (pronounced: “mess”). I know as the semester rolls on I will be spending my Tuesdays in quaint coffee shops doing schoolwork while sipping a latte and munching on pastries. Coffee shops have always been my primary study spot and I can’t wait to experience the French café scene, so stay tuned for a detailed review of coffee shops in Metz! Also, while all Georgia Tech-Lorraine students have no classes on Friday, I am lucky enough to not have Thursday classes either (yay for four-day weekends). 

My deep love of traveling (and to be honest, of reality TV) came from watching the Amazing Race with my brother. I would fantasize about where we would go if we were on the show together. As contestants would we be scrubbing trolleys in Moscow, playing table tennis in Shanghai, or leading  llamas to a pasture in Cuzco?  While as a part-time wheelchair user competing in the Amazing Race is somewhat unrealistic for me (literally running around the world would not be the safest thing for me), my dream is still to experience as many cultures and sites as possible. I know throughout this semester I may face accessibility challenges as I travel, but I am interested to see what “accessibility” looks like in other areas of the world.  

The preparations for coming to France involved a lot of paperwork. The visa application process was a little stressful, but if you stay organized and work on the process as early as permissible, it should be smooth sailing. The week leading up to my departure from America, I talked to as many Georgia Tech-Lorraine alumni as possible, getting restaurant recommendations in Metz, beach recommendations in Nice, tips and tricks for study abroad, and everything in between. My excitement was bubbling over by the time the Thursday of my flight arrived.

That Thursday and Friday are a blur; upon arriving in Paris CDG, there were  shuttles to take us from the airport to the Lafayette Residences in Metz. I tried my best to fight the jetlag, but I ended up falling asleep. The four hour journey to Metz went by in a snap. We arrived at Lafayette around 4:00 pm, and I quickly went to bed, letting jetlag do its work.

Road lined with pale colored buildings with red brick roofs. In the median of the road are purple flowers. The sky is a pale blue with no clouds.
A picturesque walk through Metz!

The following morning, it was Saturday in Metz. My first “official” day in France! In the Georgia Tech-Lorraine GroupMe, someone suggested going into downtown around noon to get SIM cards and lunch, and I jumped at the chance to meet other Georgia Tech-Lorraine students. A small group of us meandered down the streets, taking in a 45-minute walk to downtown that was incredibly picturesque (a descriptor I’ll probably be using a lot). We went to Free Mobile, one of a few SIM card options in Metz, another being Orange. After using my beginners’ French, the employee’s beginners’ English, and Google translate, I got my SIM card, and instructions on how to cancel the monthly plan at the end of the semester.

We walked down the street a little bit to Café de la Presse (3 En Chaplerue, 57000 Metz), where we strung together six or seven tables to have a late lunch and meet other students. I struggled a little to order an iced coffee. Coffee culture varies wildly across different countries and apparently “café glacé” was not the correct way to ask for an iced coffee and ordering a “café froid” did not come with ice.

After a leisurely lunch, two other students and I walked around downtown, making note of some restaurants and shops we might want to try. There’s a vegetarian breakfast and lunch restaurant that I’ll definitely be coming back to! We also found a cute bookstore, adding to the charm and romanticism of Metz.

On Monday, we had an orientation in small groups of the Georgia Tech-Lorraine building. Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s campus is one building containing four-stories full of study spaces, classrooms, faculty offices, and laboratories. At the end of our tour, we got to go through donations of  items left by previous students. I highly recommend grabbing one of the MANY fans and a trash can. I also grabbed a mug and a French press, to fuel my coffee dependency. 

On Tuesday, we had a virtual academic orientation, welcoming us to Georgia Tech-Lorraine, where we got to learn about all that Georgia Tech-Lorraine has to offer including the Bureau Des Étudiants (BDE, the student government) and the Leonardo Program (cultural excursions organized by Mme. Serafin). After the orientation, I had a deeper appreciation and excitement for the semester to come. Being in France still feels like a dream, and I can’t wait to take you on this adventure with me! À bientôt!

Quick Tips for a Successful Start at Georgia Tech-Lorraine

Packing for a semester abroad can be mildly stressful and usually ends with several rounds of packing and unpacking to squeeze everything in (yet something important always goes forgotten). If only there was someone to give you tips on how to successfully pack for your semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine… luckily for you Kaitlyn is here! Read her packing tips and tricks for successfully packing for your semester abroad on her latest blog post!

Thursday, March 4, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

After being at GTL for about a month and a half and talking to others about their adjustment to life in France, I’ve compiled a list of things that are useful to bring with you to GTL, or anything that you might be better off leaving at home. 

Buy the three month Global Eurail pass.

Personally, I spent a lot of time deliberating over whether or not to drop a large sum of cash on the three month Eurail pass, but in the end I believe I went with the right decision. The flexibility that the pass gives you is invaluable; plans change and emergencies happen. Additionally, Metz is situated in a location that can be awkward for plane travel, as the nearest major airports are either in Paris or Luxembourg (which you probably will have to travel to by, you guessed it, train). This makes train travel usually the most convenient way to get around. Many students also recommend getting the mobile pass rather than the physical pass, as it can be easy to lose the paper copy.

Bring waterproof clothes and shoes!

Metz can be very rainy, especially in the winter. It’s worth it to invest in shoes that double as rain boots and casual wear (so you don’t take up too much space in your luggage for a single-purpose item).

Research your favorite items that are difficult to get in Europe.

This could be anything that is something you simply can’t live without. For example, one of my friends is a huge fan of peanut butter, which she later discovered is rather unpopular in Europe. This led to a trip to the Costco in Paris, the only place where we could find large quantities of quality peanut butter. If you’re particular about your stationery, it’s worthwhile to note that notebooks in France are completely different from American ones. Additionally, some spices that you might like to put on your cooking might be hard to find in Europe.

Bring decorations or things that remind you of home.

While it may seem like GTL students are never in their dorms and constantly on the go, we actually still stay in our rooms for a decent amount of time during the week, especially now due to the pandemic. Since the dorms are pretty much barren, it’s nice to have a little something to put up on your walls that make it feel a little cozier.

Try to bring a contactless credit card.

It seems like contactless credit cards are a lot more commonplace in Europe than in America, and some places even only take these types of cards (most notably, Lafayette laundry). 

Don’t bring bulky items that could easily be purchased at Cora or Auchan.

For example, don’t bother bringing hair products like shampoo and conditioner– these can all be bought very easily once you get to Metz. Along the same line, at the beginning of the semester you’ll have access to a donation pile of goods left by previous students, so save your shopping for larger items until after that.

From College At Home to Studying Abroad!

A new semester brings a new Georgia Tech-Lorraine blogger! Meet Kaitlyn, the GTL blogger for this spring as she introduces herself and her anticipation to study abroad in Metz!

Friday, January 5, 2020 | Written by Kaitlyn

Bonjour à tous!

According to Google Translate, that means “hello everyone!” en Français. Unfortunately, my only experience with the French language is half a year of classes… from middle school. The irony in the fact I chose to study Spanish for four years, but am studying abroad in France, is not lost on me.

Anyways, hello! My name is Kaitlyn. I’m a second-year industrial engineering major, who like most of the other students enrolled at Georgia Tech-Lorriane this semester, has been looking forward to this opportunity for as long as I can remember. Since my older sister studied abroad in Italy two years ago, I’ve been dead set on studying abroad as well. When I was searching for colleges to apply to for my undergraduate degree, an outstanding study abroad program was a must. Luckily for me, Georgia Tech has exactly that.

Under normal circumstances, this upcoming semester would be remarkable. I feel that this year, with unusual circumstances, is going to be, although quite different, especially remarkable. This past semester, I chose to stay home and take my classes remotely. While I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the comforts of the at-home life (where I can attend classes in my pajamas), it has overall been… interesting. Plus, being at home all of the time has just made me that much more excited to have the opportunity to get out there and travel this semester.

Me and the classic French baguette, age 11.

When I was younger, my thoughts on France were very stereotypical; i.e, believing Paris was the only city and thinking that all France had to offer was baguettes and berets. This line of thinking was also perpetuated by an actual visit to Paris that my family took when I was 11 years old.

Being so young, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the places my parents took me to, and instead fixated on simple things like seeing pretty buildings and eating good food (not to say that I won’t still appreciate those things when I go there this time).

Wearing a Paris sweatshirt in Paris. Who could have possibly spotted me as a tourist?

 

This time around, I am looking forward to discovering the places in France 11-year-old me didn’t know existed, particularly Metz. While I’m sure I will still be drawn to the “touristy” places, I am excited to spend my four months in Metz exploring and seeing all that the small city has to offer. I am a firm believer in taking the road less traveled, and I plan on implementing that belief during my time abroad.

Whether it be through making new friends, exploring an unknown city thousands of miles away from home, or attempting to communicate with locals, I am beyond excited to use this time to further my global perspective. I will be far away from the comforts of home, and it is only given that I will experience personal growth and make progress on discovering my niche in the world. It’s amazing to think that soon I’ll be somewhere so different from home. Until then, don’t worry — I’ll be practicing my French.

Eleven Days Down

With eleven days in Europe under her belt, Kaela recounts her experiences arriving in Paris and Metz. Read her blog as she details her first solo travel!

Monday, September 14, 2020 | Written by Kaela

Today, I came to the realization that I have been living in France for 11 days– in Metz, for a single week. In this brief time I have: met people from all different backgrounds, traveled to two countries, visited Cora excessively, and timidly inquired “Parlez-vous anglais?” more times than I can count.

Let me backtrack and lay out my experiences from the beginning of these hectic, but exhilarating 11 days. 

The view out my airplane window crossing the Atlantic.
The view out my airplane window crossing the Atlantic.

PREPARATION FOR DEPARTURE:

While rushing to finish packing the night before my flight, I attempted to wrap my head around a new realization: I would be apart from my family for the longest I have ever been. With everything that has happened this year, three months seems like an eon and simultaneously feels like a flash. Ready to see what lies ahead of me, I was eager to leave the next day. 

In an attempt to more quickly adjust to the seven hour time difference, I tried to get as much sleep on the plane as I could. I arrived at 10am CEST (3am to my CST acclimated body) and felt relieved that I had finally made it to Paris. With the ongoing pandemic, I had to present 5 additional documents in addition to my passport when going through customs, a moment I had been anticipating to go wrong in some way. While packing, I was expecting to be back the very next day having run into some kind of issue: my airline wouldn’t accept my Covid test, I would miss my flight, the french government would bar students from travel, I wouldn’t have the correct documents on hand. To my surprise, everything went as planned. I didn’t expect to make it from ATL to CDG, let alone for it to be so seamless. 

MY ARRIVAL IN PARIS:

La Basilique Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris.
La Basilique Sacré-Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris.

I planned on staying in Paris alone for a couple of days before journeying to Metz for the start of the semester, so I could acclimate to France on my own. I arrived feeling exhausted, somewhat detached from reality, and anxious. My knowledge of the French language, the maze like airport, and the country overall was limited. On the ride to my hotel, I made an effort to observe the differences between the US and France: the landscape, the people, how they drive, etc. I was confused (and slightly concerned) why my driver was going 100 miles an hour, despite our slow pace, when I remembered the speedometer is in kilometers. My general first observations on Parisian traffic? Cars are much smaller. Motorcyclists are more daring. Everyone stops for bikers and pedestrians. 

Though short, my stay in Paris was very meaningful. It was my first solo trip, my first interaction with Europe, and the last vacation before classes began (although definitely not my last of the semester). I stayed just a 10 minute walk from the Eiffel tower, so after a nap, shower, and quick lunch, I headed over to the famed landmark. Overall, my stay in Paris was amazing, but a bit lonely. I FaceTimed my family and boyfriend when I could to show them everything I was experiencing. My timidness, in addition to the language barrier, kept me from connecting with locals. I kept to myself and did my best to visit as many places as possible; my goal was to see as much as possible in the short time I had. However, I enjoyed that traveling alone gave me the freedom to choose what my day looked like. I could change my plans on a whim, make detours, enter a museum spontaneously without having to worry about what anyone else wanted to do. Everything I did was up to me. 

PLACES IN PARIS I VISITED AND RECOMMEND:

Eiffel Tower, Palais du Chaillot, Louvre, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, Montmartre, La Basilique Sacré-Cœur, Pantheon, Luxembourg Garden, Les Invalides 

MY ARRIVAL TO GEORGIA TECH-LORRAINE IN METZ:

With Covid-19, our arrival was slightly different from how a normal arrival might be for our safety. Our luggage was unloaded for us, we left the bus in groups of five, masks on all the time, hand sanitizer at every checkpoint, went straight to our rooms. It felt amazing to finally get to my dorm, unpack, and settle in. A large group of students went to Cora almost immediately. This first trip there was chaos. None of us spoke much French or had the data to translate it, the market is organized differently than ones back home, and not a single person knew what they needed to buy. Needless to say, we all returned multiple times the following days. They have countless options for every item you could ever want; I swear I saw 3 aisles with cheese! 

I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to study and travel at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. Almost everyday I have a moment where I go, “Oh wow, I’m in FRANCE!” I still cannot believe I am here. I am excited to see where the rest of the semester takes me. Kaela in Paris!

QUICK TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL MOVE TO GEORGIA TECH- LORRAINE:

Soak your shower head and sink faucet in white vinegar and water. Don’t bring electrical items besides your devices (I almost set my hotel on fire trying to use an American steamer). Get a bike in Metz through the rental service Georgia Tech-Lorraine has. 

Arrival, Orientation, and Excitement!

Check out the first blog from Karsten – the new Georgia Tech-Lorraine student blogger for the fall – on his thoughts and emotions as he traveled across the Atlantic for the first time!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019 | Written by Karsten

Overview

Forty-eight hours have passed since I arrived in France, which means that seventy-two hours ago, I was asleep in my bed at home. Since Sunday morning, I have packed, flown solo for the first time, forgotten every bit of French I thought I knew, eaten six croissants and five pain au chocolat in a very short time frame, slept for a total of fifteen hours, and have frequented the Cora hypermarket more times than I care to admit.

Travel

Travelling without family or friends for the first time is definitely stressful, especially when going overseas. Even though I have traveled several times in my life, I second guessed myself and my flying experience. Thankfully, I flew out of Augusta Regional Airport, which only has six gates, and is therefore never crowded and would take a talented individual to get lost in. Once I connected in Charlotte, however, it was a different story. I needed to go from Terminal E to Terminal B, so I traveled all the way across the Charlotte Douglas International Airport only to find that the flight had been delayed and moved minutes before boarding should have started. Terminal D, all the way back by E, was my new destination. Once we boarded, the flight was uneventful and we landed on schedule. This was where I met up with other students going to Georgia Tech-Lorraine for the first time. There were ten people from GTL on my flight, so we went through customs and found our bags as a group. We somehow managed to find our meeting location for the shuttle without anyone speaking a word of French.

Arrival at Lafayette

The shuttle to Lafayette, where we are housed, took roughly three hours. When I stepped off of the shuttle, I was met with gorgeous weather. A dramatic drop in humidity and the shift from Atlanta’s ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit to Metz’s seventy-five was a welcome surprise. Long sleeves and hoodies are quite comfortable to wear outside. That night (Monday August 19, 2019), there was a pizza party encouraging us to meet new people. Everyone I talked to seemed excited to be here, despite the exhaustion from jet lag and general travel fatigue.

Orientation

Tuesday morning, everyone went to the building neighboring Georgia Tech-Lorraine campus and had coffee, juice, croissants, and pain au chocolat, which I had more than my fair share of. We then went into the auditorium and heard multiple presentations, covering the topics of safety, school, research projects, and more. It was a miracle that no one fell asleep. After, some faculty took us on tours, though it seemed unnecessary, besides which class rooms were where. After all of the introductions and orientation, we had one minute to collect what we wanted from a donation pile that previous students had left. This was the most nerve-racking thing that has happened so far, as we were supposed to grab stuff that we didn’t have but that we needed. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what exactly I needed until after this event took place.

Thoughts

I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to study abroad and to get to see so many of the places and events that I could have only dreamed of seeing before, but I’m also sad that I won’t see my family and friends from Georgia Tech and from home for so long. However, thanks to modern conveniences such as FaceTime, calls, and texts, I’m only really a call (and spotty service) away. I’m looking forward to being immersed in French culture and being able to call France home for a semester, as well as making friends with people whom I probably would not have otherwise met.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (Like Cora)

Meet Noa – the Georgia Tech-Lorraine student blogger for Spring 2019! She’s already settling in nicely, and is ready to take on the semester. Check out her first blog!

Written by Noa Margalit

Bonjour! Salut! Oh la la une baguette! Je m’appelle Noa Margalit and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to blog about my experience at GTL and provide some insight into the things I wish I knew even a day ago.

I wish I could have told myself yesterday or even this morning what my first evening at GTL would be like. After waking up at 3AM in Denver, having an 8 hour layover in Dallas, and finally making it to Paris, I honestly arrived feeling pretty detached. I’ve never left home before alone for such a long period of time, and I’m a transient student from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Having lived with my parents for this long, leaving was pretty emotional. While I’m sad to leave all the close people in my life behind for four months, it’s about time I got out of my parent’s basement. (Just kidding, I live in the backyard, which is a HUGE upgrade from the basement.) Luckily on my flight there were two other students who were from Georgia Tech, and while we weren’t able to sit together on the flight, it was nice to already have some familiar faces when we landed. I also am really glad that another student from CU-Boulder is on this trip, but I also quickly found out that some people don’t know anyone, and we all started meeting people pretty quickly.

I was on the shuttle which (WOAH) took 4 hours when the train only takes an hour and a half. Not gonna lie though, I really am glad I did because I took up two seats, fell asleep, and felt a whole lot better afterwards. Maybe don’t do this though because I’m currently up at a very late hour writing this blog post due to my inevitable jet lag and my lack of attempt in trying to stop it.

When we arrived to the dorms (I’m living in Aloes), we signed in, got our room keys and made our way to our rooms. I live in a suite with my own cute room and a shared bathroom. My suitemate, whom I met a few hours ago, is from Tunisia and doesn’t speak much English, which will honestly be great since I need to practice my French a lot. I tried as much as I could today to speak in French but it’s pretty nerve wracking, and I felt like a small child who couldn’t formulate coherent sentences. I know it’ll get better, and I am looking forward to being able to speak more confidently.

I spent about two hours getting my dorm looking nice, showering and getting comfortable. I am really happy I brought a tapestry because the walls here are pretty bare, and I also was glad that I brought my favorite toiletries from Target (which I can now justifiably pronounce that as Tarjay since I’m in France). It was nice to have those immediately after all that travelling and I made sure to underpack on clothes because I know myself, and know that I will convince myself to buy a lot more clothes than I need.

My cute room!

Afterwards we had some weird pizza, set up the internet which works well in ALOES, and then 3 other students on my floor and I decided to head to the supermarket. We went to Cora, which is like a massive Walmart where all of my dreams came true. It’s only about a 7 minute walk from the dorm which is super manageable, and I brought my backpack to use since they charge for bags, and it was easier to carry that way anyway.

The first thing I bought was sheets for my bed since I really didn’t like the ones provided by ALOES. They gave us two fitted sheets and I’m definitely a duvet cover kind of girl. I also got a power strip since there are three outlets in the room and you need to unplug the fridge to use the microwave or the desk lights?? Problem solved, thanks Cora. I also got a BAGUETTE! For .90 Euros! And CAMEMBERT. And some yogurt, cause yogurt here is good. I don’t know why, since I hate yogurt in the States, but the French do yogurt right. The people at the supermarket were super nice, even though we were slightly overwhelmed by the monstrosity that is Cora. My French penpal from high school was saying people in the Northern areas of France are nicer than other areas, and even though it’s only day one I am feeling good about that statement. While I wasn’t sure about going to Cora on the first night, I’m really glad I did since now I’m sitting in my bed with my new linens and feeling a little bit more familiar with the area and the people.

But you know what is most important? That I had some of my baguette. (Fine. A lot of my baguette.) This is going to be fun.

Living and Learning in France – and Loving It!

Maddie arrived early to pack in some extra travels with her family before the semester started, but now that’s she’s settled in soundly at GTL, she’s reflecting on her emotions and hopes for the semester. Check out her first blog post!

I can’t believe that I’ve already been in France for a week. I also can’t believe that I’ve only been in France for a week—the days have been so packed that it feels like much longer. I arrived early to spend some time with my family in Paris, so each day from Wednesday to Sunday was filled to the brim with tours, trains, restaurants, and wandering the streets of the City of Lights.

My family’s arrival to France was not without its obstacles. At the Minneapolis airport, a couple of hours before we were supposed to board, we discovered that my mom’s passport expired within three months and that she wouldn’t be able to take our flight; my brother and I would go alone, and she would attempt to get an expedited passport and arrive the following day. My mother is an airline pilot and is consequently a pretty experienced traveler and planner (this snafu is an anomaly for her, trust me) so entering France unexpectedly without her was a little intimidating, but also exciting. (Not that you aren’t exciting, Mom.) It felt sort of symbolic, in a way, reminding me of the fact that I’d be navigating unfamiliar countries throughout my semester abroad.

As our plane finally approached Paris after a long overnight flight, I eagerly took in the red rooftops and rolling fields of the countryside. When my brother and I walked through the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I listened, uncomprehending but fascinated, to the sounds of softly spoken French around me, and silently mouthed the words on every sign and ad I saw to practice my pronunciation. I started processing that yes, I really was here, in France—there were the kisses on the cheeks between family members as they were reunited. There were the Euro signs on the taxi driver’s dashboard as we sped on our way to the city. There was the Eiffel Tower in the distance as we neared Paris, and the shimmering Seine as we crossed one of the many bridges on our way to our hotel.

I soon found that the Eiffel Tower was even more beautiful when viewed at night from a boat on the Seine!

Throughout my travels with my family, I had to keep reminding myself that this was the country where I would be living not just for the next couple of days, but for the next four months. It didn’t seem possible, in the midst of many tours and stereotypical vacation destinations, that I would be remaining in such an amazing place. Now, though, I’ve gone through the whirlwind of arriving at Georgia Tech Lorraine! Taking the shuttle from the airport, unpacking, seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones, absorbing the info dump that was orientation, going to the grocery store twice, and starting to explore Metz doesn’t seem possible to fit into three days, and yet somehow it did. And that doesn’t even include going to classes! Now that I’m here at GTL, settled into my dorm at Lafayette, and experiencing the joys of Metz, I don’t need to remind myself anymore—I’m living and learning in France, and I’m loving it.

Maxime et la nouvelle année

It’s always great to travel to a foreign country, but it turns out that France isn’t so foreign to Robby – he took advantage of his semester at GTL to visit his foreign exchange family before the start of the semester!

In high school, I was a part of an exchange program where I hosted a French student for a week during my junior year, then I spent a week at his house my senior year. His name is Maxime, and we have remained in contact since this program began. He lives in a small town called Carling that is close to Metz. Because of this connection, I decided to leave for GTL early and spend a week with Maxime and his family.

Picture with my siblings at the airport in Atlanta.

I arrived at their house (after 2 planes, 2 trains, and a bus) at his house the afternoon of December 30th. He is in university at Nancy, but when he is home he lives with his mom (Sabine), his step-dad (Fred), and his step-sister (Manon). Maxime’s mom takes care of two children for her job, so they also live in the house. Their house is beautifully decorated and always very clean and proper. When we are in the house, there is usually music on in the background and we talk non-stop. We also eat dinner together, and I always get a small lesson on manners. Maxime is the only one that speaks a lot of English, so it is an amazing opportunity for me to practice my French. I have learned so many expressions (“Oh la vache” which literally means “oh the cow”, but is used in Lorraine to mean “oh my goodness”), and I am very thankful that they are not afraid to correct my grammar. Life in the house is pretty sweet, and it always surprises me how similar daily life is to that in the United States.

Maxime, my French exchange student, and I accidentally twinning.

For New Year’s Eve, Max and I went to his friend’s apartment in Strasbourg. (Strasbourg is so, so beautiful, but for this trip I didn’t even leave the apartment). We spent the night playing games (“jeux de la société”) like Limite Limite (the French equivalent of Cards Against Humanity), poker, and MarioKart. Limite Limite was difficult (and even more inappropriate than Cards Against Humanity) because I didn’t know a lot of the references, like one of their new anchors. However, I did win one round, and I was very proud of myself. Then at midnight, we crowded around the windows of the apartment to try to see whatever fireworks we could. People shouted across the street, “Bonne année !” then we went in a circle and said where we see ourselves in one year from now. After midnight, we played some more games, started messing around with a violin that only had two strings, and little by little people started to go to bed. It was really simple and exactly like a laid-back hangout with friends in the United States would have been.

One of the best things I got to do was visit Maxime’s grandmother. She was so similar to my own grandmother.  She loved sharing stories and explaining things to me. Then she took us to a room where she was going through some possessions and showed us a pile of books that she offered us. Maxime took about 5 cook books, and I got some French novels (including a beautiful hard-back copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables). After the books, she showed us drawings of her grandparents and the town where she grew up. Then, she sent us to run her errands, and when we came back, and she gave me a little jar of elderberry jam that she made herself and sent us on our way.

My first time eating snails!

The last night at Maxime’s house was bittersweet. I was very excited to get to Metz and start GTL, but I was sad to leave the family. We were already very close, and over the course of a week, they had really become a second family to me. However, they are only a 25-minute train ride away, so I am sure that I will be home soon. Dinner consisted of potato-balls and beef cheek, with snails (escargot) as an appetizer. (I ate two servings of the snails – they were delicious.) It was absolutely delicious, and only the company surpassed the meal. Maxime’s grandmother as well as two friends of Sabine’s came over, and the conversation was lively to say the least. There was not a moment without a story, and they were enthusiastic to include me in the conversation.

And now, for this week’s phrase: “Niquel.” Niquel is a slang word that means very cool or very fun. I learned this phrase when I asked Maxime what he thought of the New Year’s party. This word sums up not only this week, but my entire relationship with Maxime. I am so fortunate to have a partner who is as open, creative, and fun-loving as Max. Hopefully this first week is a sign of the weeks to come.

Great Expectations

Aria shares her strategic and often unexpected stories of her travel and first days at Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

Written by Aria

Bonjour! Welcome to a travel blog brought to you by the Champion of the
Uninformed, bearing the wisdom of a week’s experience in international
travel.

I began precisely as planned, easily navigating through airports alone for the
first time. In an effort to sneak experiences in wherever I can, on as little a
budget as possible, I switched out my 6-hour layover in Chicago for a 23-
hour one. This meant I could stay with a friend from Tech, play in some
snow, and go to the Museum of Science and Industry in the morning. Instant
Chicago vacation, friend not included.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Visualization of me trying to decide where to go this weekend.

With Part I of my 3-day travel to Metz completed, I settled in to wait for the
plane to Paris, when given the tantalizing offer of a $1,000 voucher to give
up my seat and take the next flight. While there are backup plans ready for
latecomers, I had a shuttle awaiting me, a dorm to check in to, and an overall
strictly programmed schedule to follow. In the end, desire for a real bed won
out.

My time here has been full of…surprises? The word doesn’t quite seem
right – too cliché. But in an almost comic trend, I seem to experience the
opposite of my expectation at every turn. For months, I dreamed of that first
sight of NotNorthAmerica, coming out of an endless ocean and basking me
in its snowy, foreign mystique. Instead, I got clouds so low that by the time
we cleared them, it seemed as though we were about to slam into the
runway, just like my hopes of a view of the French landscape. From there, I
connected with other GTL students, navigated an airport subtitled in
English, and managed to scam my way onto an earlier shuttle that included
reconnecting with my boyfriend. The scenery was gorgeous, but besides the
quaint buildings, it really felt quite American. With familiar faces, language,
and landscape, I wondered where the magic was.

My notable lack of view of the European landscape.

Yet now, every time I start thinking I’m getting the hang of living in France,
I’m struck by something so totally alien that I’m reminded of how out of my
element I really am. Immediately upon arriving at the dorm, our attempt to
get off the shuttle (the audacity, I know) was met by the police promptly
showing up to yell at us in urgent, incomprehensible French. It turned out to be an issue with where the bus driver had parked, but all we knew was that
the nice little trailer with all of our belongings was driving away, and
perhaps we had experienced our first European swindling.

These blunders never seem to end, yet they give me a sort of comfort in
knowing that there really is something utterly different about this place.
Living is France is at times absurd. There is a mysterious, ubiquitous mud
despite seeing no rain. I have purple toilet paper that brings me joy that
cannot be underestimated. Drivers, even at high speeds, stop for pedestrians
and expect you to start crossing before they give any indication of slowing.
The tap water tastes odd, leading to a series of heists as students smuggle
bottled and filtered water back to the dorms. I am unsure if I or my
microwave is not operating correctly. Students must take a designated path
to class under the threat of not getting insurance coverage if hit by a car.

My first week has yielded some knowledge of essential staples to the GTL
experience, listed below:

1. Crous Cafeteria: a treasured gift to my wallet and stomach

Cheap, delicious, close to class, and one of few motivators to eat non-
bread. One employee delights in teaching the Americans French words, exclaiming “très bien!” when we come back with more phrases
than last time.

2. Cora

Breads come in such forms as “pain long” and as Google translate
suggests, “pointy wand.” Fruit is surprisingly challenging to buy, so
stalk the indigenous inhabitants of the environment to observe their
behavior.

3. Paul

The Waffle House of Boulangeries (bakeries): found on every corner,
solid food, but you could do better (Aux Petits Choux, a block away). They have two options: to go (Vente a emporter) or eat there (Vente sur place). It’s cheaper and faster to take it to go, but if you don’t realize which line you are in and then go sit at a table, they will not be pleased.

Yours truly, with hood at the ready for any sign of snow.

 Ultimately, my advice is to stop
anticipating anything. Plan, yes,
and definitely budget, but your
constraints should not limit your
perception. I was only ever
disappointed whenever I had an
image in my head of what my
experience would be. When I
stopped trying so hard and just
started to let the country be what it
is, I could revel in the details of
this strange culture.