C’est pas drôle! Well… Maybe a Little Bit

Written by Swati

January 23, 2023

With just a little over two weeks of living in France under my belt, I like to think I’m adjusting quite nicely to the new landscape. Waterways are plentiful, I’m encountering much fewer unfriendly French people than expected, and I’m picking up the language quite quickly, if I do say so myself. But, as we all know, with any new change comes its learning curves. Enter Cora. Supermarket extraordinaire, reminiscent of a super Target meets a Walmart, maybe throw in a Kroger for good measure. If there was one thing I wish I’d heard about Cora before I got to GTE, it’s how absolutely overwhelmed I would be as soon as I stepped foot in the store. I like to think of myself as a decently resourceful person. Prior to my first official visit and tour of the store, I made a grocery list and checked out their online selection to prepare me. Little did I know, nothing could prepare me for that experience. 

After more than 2 hours in the store that first go-around, I was frazzled, confused, and couldn’t understand any of the answers I was getting to the poorly phrased French questions I was asking. The exchanges would go a little something like, “Perdon, j’ai une question, où est fromage.. Uh le mozzarella (Where is the mozzarella cheese)” or “Perdon, j’ai besoin du lait (milk)” to which I would get rapid fast answers in French and I’d respond with a weak “merci” and a crinkle of the eyebrows, before deciding to wander the store in hopes of stumbling upon what I was looking for on my own.

I quickly realized I couldn’t go on like this and began tracking down other students as resources. There’s something noticeable about the GT students in the store. It’s hard to pin down what it is exactly, maybe a combination of general confusion and lack of awareness. Maybe also the fact that we huddle together and walk a bit more clumsily, running into the everyday French person on their daily grocery shop and standing confusedly in the middle of the aisles. I’d find familiar faces and ask where to find the oil with a frantic look in my eyes and would be met with an answer and an equally frantic question asking about rice. The first few trips to Cora were less than exciting, especially considering the time crunch. GTE has a shuttle to take us straight back to our dorms at 7:30pm on Monday evenings, but with a class ending at 6:15 and a 20 minute walk there, it’s my weekly dose of distress. 

I will tell you that I hold near and dear to my heart the one and only success, in which I asked a sales associate timidly, “Perdon, où est le ruban adhesive (tape)?” And expected to not understand what she’d say back to me. She gave me a once-over, saw the confusion in my eyes and responded slowly in French, “Le petit ou le grande?” “Le petit,” I responded, adding a small gesture with my hands. After all, I wouldn’t need a roll of duct tape to tape some receipts and ticket stubs into my journal. She nodded with a gentle smile and responded with the first French words I had made sense of in days. The tape was in the paper aisle! Two aisles over! I could hear the heavens calling out to me, I’d make it in this country after all. Alas, the walk of victory back to my friends after that experience was short lived as I later realized I had mistakenly picked up sweet and sour sauce after being too overwhelmed to read the labels in the pasta sauce aisle.  Spinach and cheese ravioli coated in aigre douce was a sour ending to a sweet experience. More on that failure later. First, let us revel in the glory of success.

Meet Swati

Written by Swati

January 22nd, 2023

(@its.swati on Instagram!)

Enchantée! I’m Swati, a third year Computer Science student at Georgia Tech! Some quick words to describe me: storyteller. memory-collector. people-watcher. reader. stargazer. sunset enthusiast. I feel most at home in bookstores and art museums. I also love learning languages, drinking tea (and hot chocolate), writing, and exploring new places. My number one plan of business in anywhere I travel: find the local gems! Throughout my time in Europe I hope to catch some sunsets, visit museums and historical sites, and stumble into serendipitous adventures. I’m so excited to take you all along for the ride as I explore France and the nearby European countries for the first time! Join me as I fumble my way through multiple countries where I have an elementary proficiency of the languages, navigate my early twenties on a new continent, and try to soak up the opportunity of a lifetime! As the French say, Ce n’est pas la mer à boire (It’s not as if you have to drink the sea. Yes, I looked that up.

Here’s to taking baby steps and starting now!

Indubitably the best things on planet Earth: freshly bloomed flowers, waterways, chocolate chip cookie dough, strawberries, ginger ale, dangly earrings, wool trench coats, citrus flavoring, the color lavender, keshi, the smell of bookstores, and a cup of hot tea in hand after a long day.

The Grand Adventure Awaits

Written by Swati

January 16, 2023

Paris, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Je t’aime de tout mon cour. I love you with all my heart. I love you not only for what you are but for what you’ve unlocked in me. I could tell you about every interaction I’ve had with a French person, or the relief I felt at finding a familiar face from Georgia Tech. But as I look back on my first week at Georgia Tech Europe, I can amount this experience thus far with a few of my internal thoughts: I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I’m doing it. I’ve always been a limit tester. How far can I push myself? How much can I grow? At any moment I’m always asking myself, “Am I getting too comfortable here?” Those were the questions that unlocked this adventure and even now I can’t believe I boarded a plane across the world all alone. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, made with microwaved water from European pipes, admittedly a bit odd tasting, but I realize that pieces of familiarity can be found anywhere. At this moment I feel invincible. I retell stories with a hint of humor to friends back in Atlanta, knowing that at the moment I felt so out of my element in a country I’ve grown more accustomed to. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Upon my arrival, I could only string together a simple: Bonjour, je m’appelle Swati, enchantee. But within hours of arriving, I was stringing together poorly formed sentences from words I caught on signage and eavesdropping at the airport. Pardon, ou est le baggage? I mumbled to an unsuspected border patrol agent who explained I’d have to get through border patrol first. Hm. Guess I’d conveniently forgotten about that one. Pushing down the embarrassment from that interaction, I wait patiently in line until I get a stamp on my passport and head over to grab my suitcase, pleased to find it waiting for me as I walk up to the carousel. The pieces are falling in place so smoothly, it’s a bit unnerving. For my life at least, it’s been a bit more tumultuous than most, entirely due to user error. Luckily I found a new friend by baggage claim, Hugh, who thankfully was  able to navigate us over to the airport shuttle that took us to our respective hotels. I’ve never been so glad to show up a day early for something. Moments later I found a group of ten GTE students sitting in the lobby of the Ibis hotel. After locating 2 other students who had early check ins, we piled our suitcases in their rooms and set out for the heart of Paris. It still didn’t hit me. It didn’t hit me for hours. It didn’t hit me when I saw signage in front of stores all in French. It didn’t hit me at Notre Dame. It didn’t even hit me when I stutter out “Un pain au chocolat s’il vous plaît,” to a French bakery owner who responds in English, “Cash or card?” 

Then suddenly we’re walking along the Seine and it hits me all at once. This is the city of love stories and songs, where youth flourishes and shines juxtaposed against the cloudy, rainy city in the winter. This is the city where I will spread my wings. And here I am. Standing with a group of strangers that might very well soon become my new best friends. Haphazardly snapping pictures, taking in the streets, the sights, the smells, the sounds, everything I can possibly cram into my brain. It’s in moments like these that I wish I had photographic memory. On our long wandering of the streets we look out at an overpass on the Seine as a piano accordion hums in the background. Nothing has ever felt so French, or quite so sweet. We see the green street stalls filled with art and books and trinkets that fold neatly into locked boxes overlooking the Seine and wander our way over to the Louvre. The Louvre. Filled with art from thousands of years ago, long acclaimed, long loved, long admired. The Winged Victory is mere feet away and I feel the same way she does. Sat in front of the glass pyramid, I feel triumphant. Victorious. The outside of the Louvre is almost as beautiful as I’m sure the pieces of art are inside. The smoky French air and traces of conversations in Italian and Korean and English remind me of how far this city’s influence reaches. In my wanderings, I swear to come back for the street berets and the list of art and history museums I’ve had saved for ages. For now, I’m pleased to take it all in through the looking glass. Next comes the rookie mistake. We trek the 3.5 kilometers, a little more than 2 miles, over to the Eiffel Tower, a journey that leaves me a little worse for wear. About halfway there my feet start throbbing, and there’s nothing I would like more than a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate, but nevertheless we persist. Upon reaching the great monument, I find it a bit lackluster, but only from the tiredness settling into my bones. I grab a dark, semi-sweet hot chocolate at a cart near the Eiffel Tower and it satisfies the #1 goal of my first day in Paris. After a successful bout of staying awake for a little more than 36 hours, we hop back on the metro headed for our hotels and some sweet, sweet sleep. And showers. We need those.

I’ll admit it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it’s neither of those two things. How is it possible that it rains almost everyday and I have yet to see a rainbow? Regardless, it’s cloudy and rainy, sleepy and romantic, cozy in its own way. Paris, and later Metz, remind me a lot of Seattle, cozy and calm, sleepy towns full of possibilities, that have each stolen away pieces of my heart. And to the greater European landmass: I accept the grand adventure that awaits me. 

Ice Skating, Crepes, and Ping Pong, Oh My! Some of the Amazing Events Thrown by the BDE 

Written by Lilian

November 28, 2022

The BDE, or Bureau des Étudiants, is the student government at GTL who is responsible for organizing social events to get more students connected to French culture and bridge the gap between the American and international students. Throughout the Fall semester, the BDE hosted ten different events for students including tickets to the Moselle Open, an Eight-Ball Billiards Tournament, a Halloween Ice Skating Party, and a Swing Dance Night! The BDE is composed of five students who are elected at the start of the semester: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sports Coordinator. 

The Pool Tournament: teams of two competed bracket style during the competition. Unfortunately, most teams got out because they scratched the cue ball… 

Serving as the President this semester, First Year Biomedical Engineer Noah Pastula’s favorite event was the “Trivia Night and Crepes” event because he “always likes a little bit of friendly competition”. Teams of five competed against each other to correctly answer the most questions in categories such as “Marvel Movies”, “Geography”, and “Math”. The final question involved naming all the bus stops on Line A of the Le Met bus route. At the same time, other members of the BDE cooked homemade crepes filled with Nutella, brown sugar, and bananas. The Trivia Night was also my favorite event because my team of five won the entire competition! We beat over 10 other teams for the title!

Shoutout to the BDE for cooking over 50 crepes for Trivia participants. It took them three hours to make custom crepes for everyone. 

Staying in the spirit of competition, another very popular event was the “Ping Pong Tournament” hosted in the middle of October. This semester, first year Civil Engineer Zachary Harrison serves as the Sports Coordinator on the BDE. As the Sports Coordinator, he is responsible for organizing any team-building events and physical activities. For example, every week, Zach hosts a soccer or ultimate frisbee game on a local sports field for any GTE student to join. In his role, he also helped plan both this Ping Pong Tournament and the Billiards Tournament. According to First Year Mechanical Engineer Sofia Mujica, the Ping Pong Tournament was her favorite event because “everyone was on the edge of their seat for every little point and there was so much camaraderie between all the students regardless of year!” The event was held bracket style with everyone competing solo. Even though the event lasted over three hours—it was originally predicted to last one hour—most students stayed the entire event to cheer on the final two.  

The final two competing in the Ping Pong Tournament. 

Just this past week, the BDE hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner and Talent Show for all the students. Three students showed off their talents on the guitar and piano while students munched on a catered meal of turkey and potatoes. It was an opportunity for international students to learn a bit about American culture and give homesick American students a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving before heading back to the States in mid-December.  

Overall, the BDE has planned a ton of diverse events that have sparked the interest of all students at GTE. They have given the student body a chance to mingle as well as blow off steam from stressful classes and hectic traveling schedules. Personally, I have had an amazing time watching, participating, and winning the events! Merci BDE! 

Biggest Culinary Wins and Fails While in Dining in Europe 

Written by Lilian

November 22, 2022

One of my favorite ways to learn about different European cultures is the food. Since I have been in Europe, I have followed the mantra of trying cultural food regardless of how different the dishes sound. The following is a list of some of the biggest winners and losers I tried over my stay at GTE: 

Win: Cinnamon Rolls 

Reykjavik, Iceland 

These Cinnamon rolls were probably my favorite thing I ate while in Europe. They were super soft and moist; the powdered sugar which was generously dusted on top did not make the pastry dry. Every layer of the roll blended together perfectly. 10/10 would highly, highly recommend! I loved them so much I would fly back to Iceland just to get them again. 

Fail: Icelandic Fish Stew (Plokkfiskur) 

Reykjavik, Iceland 

Plokkfiskur is a traditional Icelandic fish stew made of fish, potatoes, onions, and bechamel sauce. The result is not a stew per-say, but a thick, rich, creamy chowder which tastes heavily of fish. It is usually served with a piece of sweet rye bread. While I am glad that I tried this staple dish while in Iceland, I was a little put off by the soft consistency of the dish, and could not get over the texture.  

Win: Pumpkin Everything 

Naples, Italy 

When I first got into Italy, the first dish I sampled was pasta– pumpkin filled ravioli, to be specific. It was probably the best pasta I have ever tasted. The next day, I continued my pumpkin tirade, this time with pizza. It was a pumpkin, prosciutto, walnuts, and fior de latte covered pizza which was surprisingly delicious. 

Fail: Pizza with Anchovies

Naples, Italy 

“Pizza Napoli” is a type of pizza which includes anchovies as the topping of choice. Anchovies are a type of saltwater forage fish which live in the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this, they are quite salty and can be a flavorful addition to pizza. However, I found the cheese and sauce drowned out the taste of them too much. They didn’t add anything to the pizza, and the entire meal tasted just like a normal margarita pizza. 

Win: French Onion Soup 

Paris, France 

I love French Onion Soup, so when I visited Paris, it was on the top of my list to try. It exceeded all my expectations; the soft bready croutons, the creamy cheese, and the richness of the onions perfectly combined for an amazing, iconic French dish. 

Fail: Squid Ink Risotto 

Nice, France 

I personally don’t think the squid ink added anything to the dish; the pasta was tasteless in my opinion except for the faint trace of salt. However, the overall look of the dish was very vibrant and distinctive. 

Win: Belgian Waffles 

Ghent, Belgium 

Belgian waffles were originally called Brussels waffles due to the origin of the dish. The name was changed in order to increase their popularity in the United States. The Belgian waffle is eaten with your hands with minimal toppings. The waffles are fluffy and dense, and you can find them in dessert shops and on every street corner in Belgium. 

Fail: Beef Tartar 

Bruges, Belgium 

Beef tartar, or raw ground beef, is one of France’s signature dishes. This steak tartar was served on bread with pesto and is considered a delicacy. I, however, did not like beef tartar that much; it was very bland. Also, to me, eating raw beef did not sit with me well. Even though multiple sources online tell me it is perfectly safe, I cannot get over the fact it is completely raw meat! 

Win: Dutch Pancake 

Utrecht, Netherlands 

Dutch pancakes, or pannenkoek, are large thin pancakes with a wide variety of topping ranging from sweet to savory. These pancakes are usually about a foot in diameter, covering the entire plate! I thought they were delicious and very different from the fluffy American pancake or the very thin French crepe to which I was accustomed. 

Fail: Liverwurst 

Amsterdam, Netherlands 

I will be perfectly honest: when I ordered this meal, I did not look at the menu too hard. I saw an entrée called “The Amsterdam”, and immediately thought “this must be a very traditional Dutch meal.” I did not expect to receive a plate of Liverwurst (which is a typical Dutch meal, just not what I was expecting). Liverwurst is a German sausage made from beef or pork liver, and let’s just say the waiter gave me a weird look when I ordered it which I only understood after I tried the sausage. Safe to say I will never order anything with liverwurst again. 

While my culinary journey is far from over, I am thankful for all the food that I have been able to taste and enjoy. I always recommend future students to stretch your culinary appetite as I have done! While you may not love everything you try, I believe you will enjoy the vast majority of food you eat here and will almost certainly return home with a new favorite dish or two. 

Top 5 Day Trips from GTE 

Written by Lilian

November 21, 2022

Looking to save some money, but still want to explore Europe? Consider taking a day trip to one of these places! Each of these towns can easily be visited in the span of a day from Metz using the Eurail pass! 

  1. Luxembourg 

Train Time from Metz: 1 Hour 

Number of Connections: Direct 

Once you get off at the Luxembourg train station, head north towards the upper city of Luxembourg and cross over La Passerelle, one of the many bridges that soar over the valleys which surround the city. Feast on hot chocolate from the Chocolate House and typical Luxembourgish meals of potatoes, stew, and meat while strolling around the Upper City. Spend time exploring the Bock Casements: the walls and old forts that offer some of the best views of the city. These tunnels were used to defend the city during wars and were also used as bomb shelters during WWII. As you make your way down to the lower city using the Chemin de la Corniche walking paths, a river appears, covered with weeping willows and ducks. You are now in The Grund, a small shopping district at the bottom of the valley. Once tired and satisfied, public transportation is completely free for a quick and easy way back to the train station! 

  1. Colmar 

Train Time: 1.5 hours (direct) or 2.5-3 hours (with connections) 

Number of Connections: Direct (with Eurail seat reservations) or 1 connection at Strasbourg 

As you walk through Colmar’s tight alleys and crowded streets, half-timbered houses dominate your view. Each of them brightly colored with dark wooden accents. Wreaths and tinsel are hung up under the shuttered windows. Underneath, stores advertise cheese covered pretzels, windows are filled with small bready pastries neatly lined up, and all signs are in French, German, and English. Colmar resides forever in the holiday festivities and the city is a perfect model for Alsace culture. Because of this, the town hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Europe! When you are there, try the Kugelhopf: an iconic almond pastry in the shape of a mini Bundt cake to get into the Alsace spirits! 

3. Strasbourg 

Train Time: 1 hour (high speed train with Eurail seat reservations) or 1.5 hours (no reservations required) 

Number of Connections: Direct 

After disembarking from your train, head into Strasbourg’s historic downtown, the Grande-Île, which was inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. As you walk through the streets admiring the medieval architecture, one building will stop you in your tracks: the Strasbourg Notre Dame (the most visited cathedral in France). The cathedral is jaw-dropping; it towers over the surrounding buildings with its gorgeous Gothic architecture. When it was first built, it was the tallest building in the world. My favorite part of my trip was viewing the astronomical clock housed in the cathedral which displays the real position of the Sun and the Moon. Next, head over to La Petite France, a district of canals which are surrounded by picturesque half-timbered houses built in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

  1. Paris 

Train time: 1.5 hours 

Number of Connections: Direct (with Eurail Seat Reservations) 

Train reservations to Paris can cost as little as €10 with the Eurail pass (if purchased far enough in advance). This makes Paris a good day trip option especially when overnight hostels and Airbnb’s can cost more. When in Paris, spend time walking through the countless museums in the city, including the Louvre and Musee D’orsay, or attend one of the hundreds of concerts held in Paris each year. Whatever you decide to do, it is very easy to fill an entire day with Parisian activities. One thing to keep in mind is the Paris subway system can quickly fill during rush hour, so make sure you leave enough time to catch your train on the way back to Metz. 

  1. Metz 

How could I talk about day trips without mentioning one of the best: Metz! Downtown Metz is only a quick bus ride away and is very easy to visit for a full day or even a half day after classes! Explore the Metz cathedral, which has the largest stained-glass surface in the world at 6,500 m^2. Spend time strolling around the cobblestone streets and immersing yourself in the small but quaint village. There’s also an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, and a contemporary art museum! Metz is also home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe!