A Winter Wonderland Fever Dream 

Hallstatt, Austria. A white wonderland dotted with cream-colored villages and small tendrils of smoke rising from white-topped houses. It was a fever dream the moment I stepped off the train and into a pile of freshly fallen snow. As if a postcard came to life, I stared in awe at the chain of ice-capped mountains that surrounded two small towns and a shimmering lake that rippled along with the wind. The heavy, tranquil blanket of snow that covered the land brought upon a peaceful silence, except for the quiet gurgle of the river that meandered near the tracks. As I continued past the train station, my senses were livid. 

It was the sound of the snow crunching under my boots, the whistle of the wind, and the rustle of the everlasting pines that engulfed me into a magical world. It seemed as if every small movement brought a tingle to my ears as I tried to search for the source of the sound. Here and there, the rumble of a car engine and the scrape of a shovel pierced the still air; however, it still seemed to be an art within itself. It was as if nature and humanity met at a crossroad, blending into a circle of life. The sounds, so mundane yet so foreign, seemed to hold such deeper meaning in a place so different from home. 

It was the taste of the fresh snow as it fell swiftly from the sky, the smooth creme of the hot chocolate as it warmed my soul, and the impeccable crispness of the glacial water as it cooled in the snowy air that nourished my spirit. As the snow continued to pelt down in silent waves, frosty ice crystals coated my hair and my clothes, leaving a small wet droplet as they melted away. The cold seemed to seep into my bones, and I was grateful to find a small Austrian coffee shop as a quick pitstop for some warm hot chocolate. The sweetness  of cocoa and milk created a swirling blend that coated my tongue. Following that, a quick swig of clear glacial water just added to the beauty of the surrounding mountains, which were beginning to peek through the foggy haze that crowned their snowy tops. 

It was the fresh smell of timber that wafted through the air as we continued to trek into the forest. Logs upon logs of wood lay in a pile under a light blanket of snow, as if it were to contain the comforting aroma. Upon first glance, it was just like any ordinary sight; however, as I stepped closer, I could smell an earthy sweetness, a deep scent of cedar and pine that engulfed the pile of wood. It instantly brought me a vision of a log cabin, warmed by a crackling fireplace, hidden away from others for miles. It reminded me of Christmas, but this time in a winter wonderland. 

It was more so the lack of feeling in my freezing fingers and toes that jolted me from my winter fantasy in my head. As the snow fell upon my hoods and gloved fingers, the cold, dampness of my clothes became a numbing medicine. My feet, nestled between two socks and leather boots, stood no chance in the ice. Hours and hours of trekking forests, climbing mountains, and simply walking down the village streets, became increasingly more painful as each step came with a spiny, prickly sensation in addition to the biting cold.

Finally, it was the sight of the cascading chasms of mountain chains that will forever burn an image into my mind. The snow sitting upon treetops seemed to sharpen the minute details across the land. Despite the lazy blanket of fog that cast a gloomy, gray aura, the bright, glistening layer of snow was a stark contrast. The magnitude of the looming mountains seemed to stretch into the skies until finally, as the train began to depart the station, the clouds split apart, revealing a patch of baby blue skies.

A Day in the Life of a GTL Student

Monday, January 31, 2022 | Written by Claire

9:30 AM: Bonjour!

As the sunlight starts to filter through the curtains and the deep rumbles of construction pass back and forth outside my window at the Lafayette dorm, I crawl out of bed for my first class of the day. Usually, the cold air outside is crisp, so I need to layer up. Bundled in a hoodie and long jacket, I make my way to the GTL building, a good 10-minute walk away from my dorm. On some days, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a peak of sunlight or a patch of blue skies; but most of the time, it’s just layers of grey clouds. 

The GTL Building requires a quick scan of your ISIC card to get through the initial gate and then another tap to open the main doors. The floors themselves are split into different sections, with labs and study rooms on the first floor, and the rest of the classrooms above. The classroom doors are color coded to match the color on the initial schedule you receive at the beginning at the year. Somehow, I usually start in the Blue room, where the CO2 alarm ends up going off every once in and while, so I need to remain bundled in my layers. This mechanism is simply a COVID regulation and nothing too much to worry about. 

12:00 PM: Lunchtime. 

After my initial class and knocking out some Physics and French homework, it’s time for lunch. Usually, I’m starving by this point. GTL offers meals in the Crous Cafet on the first floor for around three euros, which is usually a hefty plate of pasta. Although I have not gone to the cafeteria often, it seemed to have the same pasta options of pesto or carbonara and a sizzling slice of pizza. The meal itself is mostly carbs and does not come with fruits or vegetables depending on the restaurant you go to. The most inconvenient part is that if you go around lunch hours from 11-1, the lines for each stretch out of the door. As students from the neighboring Technopole schools also share this dining service, the number of people who frequent Crous Cafet is massive. 

To maintain a balanced diet, I often head back to Lafayette and cook up my own pasta meal. Throwing together some mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, steak, and some spices, spaghetti chow mien is my go-to. Not only is it flavorful, but it is also easy to make, with the pasta taking the longest to boil. All the ingredients can be easily bought at CORA at your convenience.  

3:00 PM: More class, study sesh, and coffee!

After a quick lunch, I head back to the study lounge at the GTL building to finish up more assignments and hang out with other GTL students. The best part about the lounge is that it’s equipped with a full coffee dispensing machine with a multitude of interesting flavors. For just 45 cents, you can get a small cup of caffeine bliss, or you can get a larger cup for just 80 cents. If you bring your own mug, it’s even cheaper. The lounge also has a ping pong table for quick study session break or a pool table if you want to get competitive. The only downside is that it can get a little noisy as people start to work on their group projects, play ping-pong or just chat in the main room. It might be wise to bring some headphones if you want to get some serious work done. 

Other than that, there are also universal power outlets for your computer or any electronic device, so if you forget your power adapter, no worries! There are also plenty of computers to use if your laptop ends up not working. 

The purple to pink sunset it truly stunning

If you’re there long enough, you can probably catch a glimpse of the sunset in the giant windowpanes that stretch across the room. Could be a good way to end your day.

5:00 PM: Dinner feast

Around 5 PM, I start packing up and heading back to Lafayette after a long day of class and work. The Crous Cafe is also open for dinner at your convenience. Restaurants and cafes nearby the roundabout on the way back to Lafayette also have options for delicious quiches, pastries or even pizza. Mamma Mia Pizza is a go-to for many GTL students. Their endless menu of 16-inch pizzas and reasonably priced pastas are enough to feed two people on a hungry day. The pizzas themselves are nice and thinly made, with the crust crispy and delicious. The Pizzaiolo is my favorite so far. It is topped with layers of cheese, ham, chorizos, and peppers, and the best part is that it comes at a light price of only 13 euros for a maxi. Pretty good deal compared to the other pizza restaurants in the area. If you’re in the fast food mood, you can definitely hit up the Burger King, McDonalds, or KFC for a hefty meal as well. 

7:00 PM: Cora Run 

After dinner on Mondays, I tend to take a trip to Cora for some groceries. If you’re in the fast-food mood, you might as well grab dinner down there before heading to the market. GTL provides a free shuttle back to the dorms from Cora on Mondays so it’ll make your life easier than lugging jugs of milk back a mile back to Lafayette. 

Cora itself is a super store with rows of clothing, aisles of pastries, and huge sections designated to pasta, alcohol, and French snacks. It has everything you can think of, including rolls of pink toilet paper. The vegetables there are fresh and the seafood section is nice and clean. Not only does it boost an array of crabs, snails, and fish, the meat section is paired with a huge corner of fresh cheeses and sausages. During the first week, I spent hours in Cora just exploring the different kinds of cheese and meats. 

9:00 PM: Laundry

The laundry in Lafayette is definitely something hard to get used to. The weekdays are usually the least busy as there are only 3 washers and 2 dryers in the entirety of Lafayette. You also have to pay at least five euros for a proper wash and dry. If you end up doing your laundry at night, you should try to allocate some time as the dryers here offer a special “European dry” that requires you to hang up your clothes even after drying. If you want them to be in wearable condition, you probably need to run the dryer twice, which would take about one and a half hours.

12 AM: Snooze

By the time midnight rolls around, I’m heading to bed after another long day at GTL. While everyday will be different for each student, I can allocate some time to take day trips on Tuesday or Thursdays when I don’t have class. But overall, the greatest challenge at GTL is managing school-life balance and workload. Make sure you work hard but also play hard as GTL is the best opportunity to have the travels of a lifetime. 


And Here We Are…

When I first received the notification that I was accepted into the GTL program to not only study in France but also have the opportunity to learn the language, I can distinctly remember the wave of emotions that overwhelmed me as I sat stunned at my kitchen table. The feeling was a combination of excitement, uncertainty, and shock, but there was also a feeling that I had not expected: fear.

Going to France for me was indeed a last-minute decision. While my plans to study abroad in Korea fell through at the last minute due to COVID regulations, it put an end to any ambitions I could have there. France offered the best alternative to spending my time abroad this Spring semester. While grateful for the opportunity, I felt my stomach clench at the thought of spending almost five months in a foreign country where I do not know the language. Not only that, with no prior experience or interest in French culture, I found it difficult to imagine what life would be like in this unfamiliar country.

Departure: 01/05/2022

Some may wonder, what is it like traveling internationally during a pandemic? The simple answer is: it’s complicated. With Europe bouldering through the massive spike of Omicron cases, traveling to France required months of pre-planning. The time leading up to my departure was spent double checking all my required documents, including but not limited to: Passport, Vaccination Cards including the booster, Negative PCR Covid Test, GTL Enrollment Certificates, Sworn Entry Statements, and most importantly the Passe Sanitaire—the golden ticket into any public space across Europe. 

After securing what I needed to enter the country, the trek to Paris was not only mentally draining, but also physically exhausting. Lugging one duffle, one backpack, and almost two full sized suitcases, I had to meander through the maze of kiosks, security checks, and terminals to finally reach the gate. As I heaved a sigh of relief after dropping my things to the ground and taking a short break at the gate before takeoff, it finally dawned on me that I was heading to Paris, a place romanticized in movies and prided for their posh culture and lifestyle. Even so, I still felt a tinge of regret and hesitation at my decision to study in France.

However, as I boarded the plane and settled into my seat, which happened to be the very last row on the plane, with generous legroom and privacy, I couldn’t help but think, “Claire, don’t regret it. You’re going to have the best time of your life.” Then, as if the gods had sent a sign of affirmation, the sun began to rise over France. 

Arrival to Metz: 01/07/2022

After almost a grueling 24 hours of traveling, I finally stepped foot into Metz, my new home. While I was expecting a beautiful sunset over cobblestone alleys and accordion music outside cafes, I was greeted with gloomy skies, blistering cold weather, and silent streets. Not to mention, the rain that seemed to continue for hours became the bane of my existence for the next few days. Although the winter weather in Metz was a shift from the usual sunny winters in Georgia, the cultural immersion that I experienced within the first few days was enough to offset my freezing fingers and toes. Metz was much quieter than I expected, and the bakeries, restaurants, and even grocery stores seemed traditionally French with almost no English speakers. Even as I looked around at the cars passing on the street, the French students in my dorm, and the fashion styles that people wore, I started to notice interesting subtle cultural norms among French society–foreign to the States.

Being downtown during the first Saturday of the semester opened my eyes to an entire world of French traditions. It was as if my Youtube Screen had come to life. The architecture featured huge stone structures, quaint city stores, and bustling alleyways that became home to people drinking coffee, chatting, and listening to ‘Bella Ciao’ as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Castles and stores along the river became a beautiful blend of modern and ancient France, a reminder of the rich history within Metz. The food offered an even greater variety. The streets were lined with dozens of pastry stores featuring chocolate dipped croissants, king cake, and even powdered buns while the heart of downtown Metz boasted a mix of Italian, Turkish, and even Chinese food. Finally, the people who frequented the town upheld strong French values, sticking to their language and cultural norms. The sleek, chic style of long coats, scarves, and leather shoes were common defenses against the cold. For those working in restaurants, they always greeted us with a “Bonjour” and a smile on their faces.

A beautiful church along the river in downtown Metz

While the first week in Metz was one to remember, there are still endless places to visit, things to see, and great experiences to check off my bucket list. My journey to understanding French culture is long. Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see what else Europe has in store. 




Schnitzels and Sausages: Germany at a Glance

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 | Written by Claire

Our journey to Germany was hectic to say the least. For our first weekend at GTL, my friends and I decided to venture into the rustic German towns of Freiburg and Heidelberg, well known for their authentic foods and traditional architecture. The journey was a mere four hours away from Metz and a quick transit in several smaller stations along the way. After a quick dinner, we were bundled up and ready to face the blistering winter night. We expected nothing but smooth travels… Sike.

From the first leg of the journey to the very end when we arrived in Freiburg, we encountered numerous obstacles on the way. With the first train delayed 15 minutes and our next train having a transfer time of merely 12 minutes, we had little hope of staying on schedule. As we sat anxiously in our seats, legs bouncing and fingers furiously swiping across our phones every few minutes or so to check the clock, the train miraculously started to make up lost time. Somehow, we made it to the station on Platform 2 with four minutes to spare. Right as we were about to heave a deep breath of relief, we looked up at the departure board in dismay. There, shining brightly in the dark winter night, was a large 24….Platform 24. Time seemed to freeze for a split second. Then, as if we all knew what to do, all eight of us, sprinted down the dark corridor, backpacks slapping against our backs and boots thudding against the ground. We were a sight to see. Eight Americans running top speed across a small local train station to the furthest platform where we saw a small, local train paused on the tracks. Out of breath and sweating bullets, we managed to plow through the snow, collapsing into our seats right at the last second. I’d give us a pat on the back for that one.

 After a few more hours, we made it to the outskirts of Freiburg where we checked into a quaint, modern-looking hotel that seemed to be in the middle of a construction site. It was 11 PM and the streets were dead. Not a single soul or restaurant light graced the streets. It seemed quite eerie, but after a long journey, we were famished. There were multiple restaurants and pubs that were opened according to Google maps, so we decided to try our luck. To keep the story short, turns out there was a 10:30 PM curfew and we ended up with a jar of pickled hot dogs and a bag of chips in our hotel room, courtesy of the hotel concessions. A great first meal in Germany indeed…

 The next morning, we woke up to a nice dusting of snow on the ground and a delicious egg and turkey sandwich topped with pretzel bread from a famous German bakery. As we started to travel further downtown, the snow started to fall faster, painting a beautiful winter wonderland before our very eyes. The first stop was the Freiburg Cathedral, an ornate masterpiece made of marble and stone, decorated with huge windows of stained glass. The silence within the Cathedral itself added to the sheer beauty and divinity of the structure, creating a haven for those worshiping there. The most notable detail, however, was a map that showed the aftermath of the bombing in 1944. All of the buildings surrounding the Cathedral were completely obliterated but somehow, the Cathedral stood, unscathed. It was as if God had shielded the place from danger, a thought enough to bring goosebumps on my arms. Truly unbelievable.

As we exited the Cathedral, we stumbled upon a large outdoor market, filled with stands of vegetables and spices. What really caught my attention was the mouth-watering smell and satisfying sizzle of the sausage cooking right before our eyes. There, we found the gem of our entire trip. We all ordered a sausage topped with either mustard or curry and then we all ordered another, minutes after we devoured the first. The German Sausages, known as Bratwursts, were nothing like the usual American hot dog. My favorite was the Weisswurst. It was a white sausage, speckled with herbs and other spices inside. Every bite came with a mouthful of tender, juicy meat that had a springy yet crisp texture, unlike anything else I’ve tasted before. The most surprising was the variety of flavor it offered: it was savory yet sweet with its caramelized coating, mildly spicy yet zesty with lemon, and firm yet tender with grease. In fact, my mouth is watering at the thought of it at this very moment.

The rest of the Freiburg trip was filled with hikes and other scenic views. Right as we were heading towards Heidelberg, we were greeted with hordes among hordes of people chanting, waving flags, and beating drums. It was a full-blown protest as people held up huge anti-vax flags every few feet or so. The trams were completely shut down and roads were blocked. The beat of the drums and the thunderous chants made the streets vibrate of angry fervor, heated with political drive. It was massive. The rows of people stretched further than the eye could see, and the crowd didn’t pass until we were almost out of the downtown district.

We were now on to our next destination: Heidelberg. As the sun began to set, we could feel our stomachs gnawing itself in hunger. The streets at night were also emptier than expected in a large city. Yet somehow, we stumbled upon a Schnitzel restaurant, where all eight of us crowded into one giant table. Having never even heard of “Schnitzel,”, I was appalled when the menu had nothing but Schnitzels… Nonetheless, I ordered the traditional Jagerschnitzel and a bowl of fries just to give it a try. Best decision ever. The Jagerschnitzel came out on a huge plate with two slabs of pork doused in savory gravy. The meat was tender, melting away in my mouth. It was breaded to perfection and the gravy paired magnificently with the fries. On the side was a crisp German salad. Alternating between a bite of warm gravy, a tender slice of Schnitzel, and some cold salad, my mouth was experiencing an explosion of flavors. To add to the mood, the restaurant owner was highly accommodating, entertaining us with hilarious stories and even recommending some other places to eat in Heidelberg. If I could, I would definitely go back there to try another one of their delicious Schnitzels in a heartbeat.

Finally, to end our trip, we visited the Heidelberg Castle, a huge structure detailed with intricate carvings that also survived multiple bombings in the past. It sat upon a hill next to the city, granting us a beautiful overlook of the city below. The view can be better  conveyed in pictures than in words.

If you ever find yourself looking for a convenient place to go for a weekend, definitely hit up Freiburg and Heidelberg. Although the journey there was a bit chaotic, the experiences and delicious foods we tried in Germany were unforgettable. Overall, a 10/10 way to start my semester at GTL.

Stay tuned for other travel stories soon!