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! 

Food for a Traveler’s Thought

Written by Valerie

Marco Polo’s tales of an explorer were revolutionary in history. George Eastman’s launch of the Kodak camera in 1888 was revolutionary as well. Both of these major events in history contributed to the evolution of the way people travel. The art of photography, facilitated by technology, has allowed the world to commemorate events and locations significant to them. Now, we can chronicle significant events without having to go through the process of hiring an experienced photographer, making this form of documentation accessible to all. In today’s age, we take a picture of anything and everything simply because we can. 

However, since the age of Marco Polo, “travel books have increasingly become a record not of new information but of personal reactions” according to Daniel Boorstin as stated in his book From Traveler to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel. His stance is that the adventures of travel lack their adventurous aspects. Planning out every detail of a trip, booking tour guides, and constructing meticulous itineraries strips the value of the experience of traveling. Technology has allowed the people of this generation accessibility to all kinds of information, to know exactly what to expect out of their trip. At this point, we all know what the Eiffel Tower looks like. The real question is, will it make us feel the same way it made visitors before us feel? 

Those beautiful images displayed on a travel blog or Instagram page are so enticing. The way the colors pop and the rays from the sun illuminate the landscape create that longing to transport yourself there. Then, that sense of desire becomes a reality, and the trip is planned. You arrive and look around but the gloriousness of that photo you saw is not there because nature can’t be perfect, and neither can life. However, not getting what you expected out of something you see in a photo is only disappointing to those with a specific type of mindset. Pictures have the ability to make you feel any range of emotions, such as one of enchantment after seeing a beautiful destination spot. However, travel is not travel without spontaneity, risk, and the unknown. It’s part of the enhanced experience that contributes to personal growth, skill formation, and lasting memories. 

My suggestion would be to aim for cultural enrichment rather than seeking out the content of the images you saw prior to visiting a place. No event can be replicated twice, so pursuing a story from an image will only lead to unmet expectations. Instead, create your own experiences, for those will contribute to the lessons taught by the places you visit. 

Mundanities: The Dreaded Dishes

Written by Valerie

Eating is a fundamental part of human existence. Believe it or not, students attending Georgia Tech-Europe must cook for themselves. Hypothetically speaking, you could avoid cooking and buy all your meals, but that would undeniably be very expensive to do for the entire semester. Alternatively, you could be like one of my new friends on campus and try your very best to live off items strictly located in the snack aisle of the grocery store. However, I recommend going grocery shopping. 

In this week’s post, we will be covering the second topic in my “Mundanities” series: the dreaded dishes. I’ll cover everything you need to know about this basic activity, so you have all the information necessary to make your life easier. I know doing the dishes seems pretty self- explanatory and it is probably not a new task for the majority of you. However, the living situation at Georgia Tech-Europe might be a completely distinct dynamic from something you have experienced before. 

One thing that I didn’t know about the Lafayette dorms is that every generation of residents leaves their dishes in the cabinets for the next group of residents. It is almost like a fun game of seeing who got left with what kitchen utensils since everyone has a different collection of things. Regardless of what you inherited from the previous resident; it will more than likely be a small quantity. For example, I have a pair of forks, a pair of knives, and a single spoon. Since we all live alone in our dorms, there really isn’t a need for a large quantity of every piece of kitchenware. However, when it comes down to the practicality of not having a large quantity of dishes to work with, it is definitely more inconvenient. This is because every time you cook, you nearly use all the dishes you have at your disposal. This means you have to make sure everything is clean because you won’t be able to make anything else once you get hungry again. 

In one sense, this is a good thing. Constantly making sure you have all your dishes clean at all times pushes you to have a well-kept kitchen. With our busy schedule as students, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the household chores. They are the easiest and least pressing items on your to-do list, so logically, these activities often get neglected. However, maintaining a clean kitchen is a proactive way to cultivate an efficient studying and living environment. 

Become a Collector

Written by Valerie

It is an undeniable fact that if you choose to study abroad, you will have an unforgettable experience. As with all unforgettable experiences, we tend to want to have a way to remember them. For some, that may be in the form of a souvenir, a collectible item, or photos. Regardless of what you choose, it should be something personal that holds value to you. Considering this, I would like to inform all those interested parties to think ahead and start brainstorming how you would want to document your time abroad. Everything regarding the program goes by so fast and when you finally arrive at GTE, you will start traveling to new destinations almost immediately. This means that when the lightbulb goes off in your brain telling you to pick a uniform habit to remember your adventures by, it may be too late to start, or you will have some trips that are not included in the collection. 

The way I am choosing to remember my trips is by collecting at least one postcard from every country I visit, but ideally, I would get one per city. I know collecting postcards does not sound like an original or unique thought, but they are valuable to me. I mentioned before that I have a friend who is older than me and studied abroad while she attended Georgia State University. This friend inspired me to study abroad through the postcards she would send me from Italy and Japan. So now postcards are going to be my way of bridging a connection with others by sharing my thoughts and experiences from across the Atlantic. 

In addition to finding something that is tailored to your interests, it is important to consider the practical aspect of it as well. When you travel within the program, you always pack lightly. Anything more than a backpack will make it increasingly more difficult for you in your travels because travel days are filled with lots of walking, tight spaces on trains or planes, and less-than- favorable terrain such as cobblestone paths or endless staircases. To put this in a better perspective, I’ll share an example from a friend in the program. He is collecting snow globes from every country he visits. While snow globes are super unique and beautiful to admire, they are made of glass, weighted at the base, and filled with liquid. This makes snow globes very fragile and heavy, making it more inconvenient to bring back to campus.  

Regardless, at the end of the semester, he will have a beautiful collection of snow globes to illustrate all the locations of his travels. However, when the time comes to pack all our things into suitcases, make our way to the airport, and approach the check-in counter, our luggage will have to be weighed. We all dread that moment when we might face an overweight cost if the luggage is a couple of pounds over the limit. It is already hard enough to fit an entire semester’s worth of things needed for your survival into a few suitcases Therefore, you don’t want to choose a souvenir that will make your life harder further down the road. 

When Days Off Are a Bad Thing

Written by Valerie

After I came back from Barcelona, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. That little tickle developed into a cold with a cough that I had for about a week, give or take. It didn’t exactly come as a surprise when you consider how many people we came into contact with to make the trip. We had to take two buses, two high-speed trains, two planes, and the metros in Barcelona and Paris. I also have to take into consideration that now is the time when the seasons are changing. As summer transitions into fall, the leaves start to change color, the breeze gets cooler, and the germs begin to spread. I wasn’t alone in my moment of illness — there were a handful of other students at GTE that felt the same way. I decided the best thing for me and my health was to stay in my apartment while my group of friends traveled to Berlin for the weekend.

I know what you’re all thinking. Yes of course there were a couple of moments where I felt like I was missing out. I missed out on bonding moments with friends, experiencing a new culture, and the sights Germany has to offer, but that is only if you think about what I gave up. If you think about what I gained, then it starts to look different. I thought the weekend was going to feel so painfully long since I was going to spend those days without any social interaction, but I actually enjoyed it. Some time to yourself is important every once in a while, especially in an environment like the one a Georgia Tech campus cultivates. So much time during the weekdays is devoted to attending classes, doing homework, and studying that any time you have leftover is spent cooking and cleaning. When the weekend arrives, you pack up your travel bag and hit the trains for whatever journey you are embarking on. As you can begin to see, life can get pretty fast-paced around here. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the routine that self-care, along with the status of your living space, can slip through the cracks of your tight schedule.

Sick days or days off for students are typically always something we enjoy. Personally, even if I was sick and had to stay home, under all that congestion and painful headaches would be my joy for not having to be at school and/or work. I can’t speak for everyone when I say that, but I think we can all agree on our appreciation for days off whether it is for holidays or assigned vacation days. However, under my current circumstances, breaks from traveling and the busy life of a student studying abroad in Europe are typically not by choice. Whether you stay in because of a cold, to save money, or another personal reason, remember that it can be a positive experience if you want it to be.