Written by Lillian
October 11, 2022
Seven weeks have come and gone in a flash. It feels like just yesterday I was trying to learn how to read the train boards in the Metz train station and attempting to locate the GTL shuttle. While many of my friends have studied at GTL before and I’d heard plenty about their experiences, several things have still surprised me during my time here thus far: how early one must rise to reach the train station on time, how heavy a full backpack can weigh on your back, and the rapid five-minute transfers between trains in a flurry with the dozens of others. Balancing classwork and travel has also been more difficult than I anticipated: I feel like I ask myself every week, “Will this be the week I don’t finish my system dynamics homework an hour before the due date?”
In addition to classwork, traveling comes with its own set of growing pains. It gets easier as you learn what to pack, when to leave, what to do, but you also learn more about how naïve you are. Safe travel is important at GTL, and my friends and I have had our share of close scrapes. Throughout the semester, I’ve set more boundaries for myself to avoid these situations. But with new boundaries comes the inevitable fear of missing out. “Should I leave a day early and spend the night in a train station so I can get four more hours in Switzerland? Is it worth it to spend an extra $400 to book plane tickets to Greece?”
Sometimes at GTL, it can feel like other students are experiencing so much more than you and traveling to more countries. For example, one place I knew I wanted to visit before coming to Europe was Switzerland. However, the weekend I visited was wet and rainy, and all other weekends since have been plagued with torrential downpours. I wish I could have traveled earlier and bypassed the rain and while I know hindsight is 20/20, I still sometimes find myself jealous of others who experienced better weather.
To overcome this fear, I remind myself of something that I heard during a talk at a conference: think of everyone like Venn Diagrams. You always want to assume that your circle is within another person’s circle, but in reality, we are intersecting circles. While they may have gone to Denmark, or Great Britain, or even Switzerland and you have not, you have been to Austria, Italy, and Ireland! It always feels like you are the one missing out, but in reality, there are so many experiences that are uniquely yours and yours alone, and I personally would not want to trade my memories of GTL with anyone else’s.
I have been able to travel to so many different countries and experience new surroundings and cultures, and I’ve met so many interesting people. On a train in Germany, the girl sitting next to me was visiting her Aunt in Frankfurt and showed me pictures of her Spanish home. In Amsterdam, I met an American who has been working virtually from abroad since 2020; he’s changed his location every two weeks while staying in hostels all around Europe. In Switzerland, I ran through the train station with a hundred others attempting to catch a train in a four minute transfer. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I ran amid the chaos, everyone’s bags flapping behind them. In the lounge of a hostel, my group successfully got over a dozen Europeans to dance the Cotton Eye Joe at midnight; we taught them the steps as we bounced to the song. It’s these situations that make every tight transfer, every midnight homework session, and every early morning train jaunt worth it. I love walking into the student lounge and seeing my friends huddled around a table, ready to go over this week’s homework in preparation for this week’s travels. We are all in this crazy situation together, and we all have each other’s backs no matter what happens or where we have visited— GTL’s community is unmatched!