Wednesday, July 29, 2009

IT'S MY LAST DAY!!!

Today is a full day of cleaning and packing and just hanging out until I leave tomorrow at 3:45 AM!!! I'm so excited to be traveling back home :) From start to finish it will be a full 24 hours of traveling!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Croatia...

So I never took the time to talk about my time in Croatia...I'm busy studying for my Thermodynamics final, so I can't really say much. I'll just settle with saying that it was AWESOME. I'm going back. Here are some pictures:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

School is over....sort of

I am now completely done with classes for the summer. Today I have my final exam for Probability and Statistics and then next Tuesday I have my final exam for Thermodynamics. I'm ready for my exam today, but I have quite a lot of studying to do for Thermodynamics. Either way, I'm just ready to be done!!! I'm pretty much doing nothing until now and when I leave to go back home. I will probably go into Metz one last time over the weekend. Other than that, I'm just hanging out and studying.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

...I'm old

Today is my last day as a teenager. No longer will I have a "1" in the ten's digit of my age...it's kind of bittersweet. I feel so old, but at the same time it's exciting because I feel like I'm entering the next stage of my life. I guess it's time to act my age :P

Monday, July 13, 2009

GTL Essays

So as a part of my GTL 2000 class, we have had to write two essays about our summer in Europe. The first essay was an evaluation of the GTL program, and the second essay was a description of what we valued about our time here. I figured I would post the essays because they give some pretty decent insight to my thoughts about my summer abroad as a whole. Well, here you go...

Essay 1

I have been quite pleased with my experience at GTL thus far this summer. I’ve gotten much more out of the program than I was expecting both academically and socially. In my opinion, what GTL offers students can be adequately broken down into those two categories, both of which offer much to be appreciated. I’ll discuss why I have come to truly treasure GTL for both its academic and social offerings. I’ve come to view GTL has a small college version of Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta. This observation leads to many reasons behind the appeal GTL has for me.

In terms of academics, GTL has many things going for it that make a summer experience here quite worthwhile. I’m so glad I chose to go to Georgia Tech, but I realize I do miss out on certain things due to its size. GTL has given me a more diverse and broader college experience because it offers the academic advantages that come with a smaller college. Classes here are much smaller, and professors are much friendlier and interactive with their students. I really enjoy being able to be an active participant within the classroom. The teachers here at GTL are outstanding and fun to learn from. I feel that I’m well respected as a student by both the faculty and staff and that means a lot to me. I feel like I’m part of a community of not only students but also academic professionals. At Georgia Tech, this union of students and faculty and stuff does not exist. Instead, I feel very distant from those I’m supposed to be doing all of my learning from. This usually leads to me having to learn the material on my own for the most part. This is not the case at GTL, and I feel like it’s actually worth my time to go to class and learn. So far, the course curriculum has been quite fair. I think my classes are being conducted at a good pace and the workload is decent. Of course, I’d always hope for less but that cannot truly be expected with the reputation that comes with a Georgia Tech education. I am really thankful that schoolwork is limited to the weekdays, freeing up the weekend for students to focus on our travels. One of the main purposes of studying abroad is enjoying the abroad experience by exploring different cultures, people, ways of living, etc. GTL recognizes this and gives students the freedom to do so.

As I said, I believe my experience here at GTL can be broken down into two categories. I’ve already addressed the academic side of things, so now I want to turn to the social side of GTL. First, I’m having a lot of fun being here. I live in La Fayette, and I love it. I like living here better than I do at Georgia Tech. The sense of community is fantastic. People are always hanging out during their free time or working together on schoolwork. The graduate students here are great as well. I play soccer every week and love getting to know the French students better. Everybody seems to be interested in everybody else. I’m definitely going to go back to Georgia Tech with a lot more friend than I had at the beginning of the summer. I’m so thankful I chose to study abroad at GTL.

Essay 2

I think the primary reason I came to Georgia Tech Lorraine for the summer was to experience Europe. I wanted to travel around the continent and see all the notorious European cities. I also was curious to experience what it would be like to live in a different country. In essence, I wanted to open my eyes to life beyond the United States of America. I have definitely accomplished this goal, but I have also gained much more from my experience abroad. I’ve learned many lessons about life, independence, and myself that I never would have expected to gain from a semester studying abroad.

The “studying” part of study abroad was never my main focus but just a means to get here. In a sense, Georgia Tech Lorraine made getting to Europe easier. I have done a decent job balancing schoolwork and travel, but school was never supposed to be a priority. I do appreciate all that Georgia Tech Lorraine has offered me in terms of academic and cultural education. I could not have received such knowledge on my own or from anywhere else.

As I have already said, I feel quite accomplished in my goal to travel Europe. I’ve come to realize that it’s impossible to see all of Europe in the time we’ve been give, but I know that I will come home content, knowing that I made the most of my time here. I’ve traveled throughout much of Western Europe and have made a few trips to Eastern Europe. I’ve traveled to Barcelona, Paris, the French Riviera, Venice, the Italian Riviera, Bologna, Munich, Prague, Salzburg, and various other smaller cities. I’ve had a great time in each and every city, and I know I made the right decision to go to each one. At the same time, I do wish I had made it to Portugal, Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, and more Eastern European countries. That just means I’ll have to come back to Europe at some point! I would not come back for a study abroad trip but not for any reason in particular. Now that I’ve studied abroad, I do not feel the need to do it again. I would come back to Europe on a personal trip with friends. All the travel skills I have picked up over the course of the summer would surely prove useful though! One difficulty that arises with the combination of traveling and studying abroad lies in the fact that we must return to Metz every weekend. At times this is beneficial because it allows us a few days to rest and recuperate for our next week. However, it also means sacrificing vital time in other cities to allow for traveling back to Georgia Tech Lorraine. Obviously, I could see much more of Europe in less time had I chosen to travel on my own. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, I’ve come to appreciate aspects of Georgia Tech Lorraine that I did not initially hope to gain from my summer here. Such aspects include: community, new friendships, independent living, and academic diversity. Each of these ideas contribute so much to the overall well-rounded summer I have come to value more than I could have ever expected. I easily have a much broader college experience than I would ever have had had I not chosen to study abroad and, more specifically, chosen to study abroad through the Georgia Tech Lorraine program.

Clearly, I’ve gained so much from Georgia Tech Lorraine through the travel experiences I have accumulated over this summer. I’ve learned so much about European history and ancient cultures. I have seen countless monuments and works of architecture that are famous worldwide. I have had the pleasure to look upon works of art heralded as some of humanity’s greatest masterpieces. I have been able to develop relationships and experience life with people who grew up on the other side of the world from me. I have tried new kinds of food that I could never find in grocery stores back home. I could go on and on about all the wonderful things I have gone through due to my traveling experiences. However, I also mentioned I have come to appreciate numerous other experiences that are inherently apart of spending a summer living on my own in a foreign country.

The most significant and immediately apparent outcome of my summer is a consequence of living on my own in a single person apartment and being responsible for all aspects of day-to-day life. This along with traveling around Europe on my own has imbued me with a new and strong sense of independence. I truly feel capable of being on my own now. I can cook and clean for myself. I have managed to last this long without getting sick from my cooking! I can also get around a foreign city, find a place to stay, and feed myself without even having to speak the same language. I will no longer have any difficulties in America. After having to take care of myself all summer, I’ll no longer pay for a meal plan at Georgia Tech. Also, we have quite a bit of free time during the week, which has forced me to learn how to find enjoyment in doing nothing. It has been really nice to have a break from the fast-paced life of back home. I really have come to enjoy doing nothing. I have also learned much more about friendship and how something as simple as spending time with a friend can lead to great things. I never expected to learn such lessons from a study abroad program, but I am so thankful for them now that I have. I think that is a side of studying abroad that not many people know about coming into the program but will definitely go away with a new appreciation for such things.

All in all, my summer studying abroad has been a decidedly positive experience that I will forever be glad I chose to partake in. I am very thankful for the lessons I have come to learn because of it and in turn I am thankful to Georgia Tech Lorraine for providing me with this opportunity. I firmly know that this summer will have a tremendous impact not only on my immediate future but also on the rest of my life. I eagerly look forward to my return home so that I may experience life through the news lens that I have adopted as a result of the aforementioned lessons and experiences I have come to know. It will be interesting to pay witness to the intermingling of these new lifestyle changes I have come to know through Europe with my past way of life back in America. Without a doubt, studying abroad was a great decision and I will forever be different because of it but in a good way of course.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I'm not so bad at cooking!

So, I've had to cook for myself all summer, which makes it surprising that I've even lived this long. In the beginning, I stuck to really basic stuff, but I've been branching out a bit recently. I must say that I'm quite happy with what I've been able to accomplish. Check it out:


Also, this is what I've been doing with my night: learning about string theory. I'm a nerd. I know. It's pretty interesting though. I'll admit I watched all the videos straight in a row tonight. It was worth it though. My mind has now successfully been blown.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Barcelona...my man date with Taylor!

So...it's about time I share what happened over my 4 day weekend in Barcelona. I pretty much give up on going over what happened two weekends ago over my trip through Prague, Salzburg, and Munich. That was definitely a good weekend filled with lots of cool things and interesting stories. Ask me about them when I get back! Anyways, about Barcelona...

I had an awesome weekend in Barcelona! I'm so glad I chose to go there for one of my long weekends. It's a bit far away from Metz as well, but I'm mostly glad because there was so much to do! It was nice being able to relax without having to rush to cram everything into a few days. I went with a large group of people, and we ended up renting two apartments for the weekend. It was great having so much room. The highlight was probably the amazing kitchen that we had. Taylor and I cooked a full breakfast for the room every morning. There's no better way to start your day! As I'm sure you can infer from the title of this post, Taylor and I pretty much stuck together the whole weekend. We definitely had a great time together, and it was nice being able to travel with just one another person. Making decisions about what we wanted to do was really easy. Taylor and I weren't really planning on sticking together for the most of the time, but after hanging out the first day I think we both realized that was something we both wanted to do. We get along very well together as travelers. We woke up early twice to go running around the city. That was an awesome decision. We got to see so much more of Barcelona that way, and it was nice practically having the city to ourselves while everybody else was still sleeping. We cooked breakfast each morning and also packed sandwiches for lunch together. Our goal for the trip was to spend as little money as possible. We definitely accomplished that goal. There is so much you can do without having to spend any money. The only thing we spent money on the whole weekend was food, transportation, and the entrance fee to the botanical gardens. Everything else is free, and we were busy the ENTIRE time. We easily got out money's worth :D

We got into Barcelona around midday on Friday. Getting into the apartment was a bit of a hassle, but we passed the time making friends at a cafeteria near where we were staying. I had so much fun the entire weekend trying to speak Spanish. I've definitely forgotten quite a bit, but I was happy with how much I remembered. It was fun talking with the local any chance I got. One time, Taylor and I were buying groceries, and our totals were the EXACT same. It was crazy. I laughed about it with the cashier, and I explained to her that it was funny because we were friends and were splitting the food together as well. She laughed, and we joked that it must be good luck. I guess I did learn a little bit of Spanish in high school afterall :P


After getting everything situation in our AWESOME apartment, Taylor and I decided to walk around the city for the rest of the day. We just wanted to get accustomed with where everything was and explore the city on our own. We found all sorts of fun things. We went into the old city area, walked down La Rambla, went into the Barcelona Cathedral, which I liked better than the Sagrada Familia, got gelato, and chilled at the port listening to a street band. We did tons of other stuff to, but I can't list everything! Barcelona is the perfect hang out city though. There's so much just to enjoy just by being there, no money necessary. We pretty much based most of our daily activities off of cool things we read about doing online, as well as what looked cool on the map we had. We had the best map ever. It was a restaurant guide for the city, but it also had EVERY monument, attraction, etc. marked on it. We pretty much saw all of them. I'm collecting all the maps I use over the summer, and the one from Barcelona probably got the most use of them all. It's actually in pieces because of how much we used it! That pretty much describes my frist day in Barcelona though. Maybe not the most exciting story to tell, but I assure you it was a great way to start the weekend. Taylor and I actually joked about how the things we enjoy doing most don't make for good stories. We're just really chill guys! Before dinner, the whole group met up to go check out the magic fountains, which were actually only a short walk from the apartment. The fountains are AMAZING! I've never seen such a large assortment of fountains. It's an entire street of fountains lined up along it. They're in front of a huge museum and lead the way from a plaza along a street and up a ton of stairs to the building. Every night, the fountains put on different shows to music. They light up different colors and are choreographed to match the music. TONS of people show up everynight to watch the show. It's probably pick pocket central, but we didn't run into any issues. Speaking of which, Barcelona has this reputation for being the worst city in Europe for having stuff stolen. I've heard stories from lots of people, and I believe what they say. But at the same time, our entire group didn't have any problems! The whole time I was like, "what is everybody talking about?" I never felt like I was in a position of getting pick pocketed or whatnot, nor did I it happen to anybody. I think it's just like any other big city. I definitely was extra careful the whole time because of what I had heard. I was almost paranoid the first day! But back to the fountains, we liked it so much that Neely, Taylor, and I decided to go back again the next night!

Taylor and I packed our stuff together in a suitcase because we figured we might as well bring some more stuff since it was a longer weekend, and we had more room with the apartment. It turned out to be a great idea, and we even had enough room to pack our running gear. We got up before 7 AM on Saturday to run, and we definitely ran. We probably ran somewhere between 8-10 miles that morning. We had to take a break the next day because it took so much out of us. It was awesome though. We saw so much of the city! We ran through the center of town down La Rambla, along the beach, through a park where the zoo is, and along plazas in a huge loop. We then came back and cooked breakfast for everybody. We did all that, got ready for the day, and cleaned everything up before 10:30 AM. I must say I felt quite accomplished after all that. We still had a full day ahead of us too! I definitely had quite the productive weekend.

We were planning on taking a free walking tour (again so much free stuff to do!), but we didn't make it the meeting place on time. It was no big deal, since we had already seen so much on our own the day before. We were planning on meeting up with some girls in the early afternoon to go to the beach together, so we decided we would walk to the Sagrada Familia and check out the bull fighting arena along the way. Before going that way though, we decided to stop by the famous food market on La Rambla to pick up a snack. I am seriously in love with that market. It had the most amazing fruit ever. There's no way I would ever get tired of going there. I ended up buying two fruit salads and a package of mango slices over the course of that day. I was very happy...haha. By the way, this all happened on July 4 (...and Natalie's birthday in case she reads this :D). It was a somber July 4 though because there was absolutely no sign of it being recognized anywhere. Of course, why would they in a foreign country, but it was still a bit of a shock. It's my favorite holiday! Anyways, we got to see a lot more of the city along our way, and the church was really cool and maybe even a bit ridiculous. I think its style is quite unique, and I respect if for that. However, I wouldn't say it's my favorite or the best ever. The highlight of visiting the Sagrada Familia was when Taylor and I found a magic square on it's entrance side. We couldn't believe it. We're Tech nerds, so give us a break! After our little walk through city, we met up with Neely, Natalie, and Lisa and went to check out the beaches of Barcelona. They were pretty nice, and I definitely had a good time relaxing at the beach. It was packed though! So many people everywhere. It was probably worse than Florida beaches over spring break. It was ridiculous. I had never seen so many topless women in my life either. I'm used to nude beaches (...or gardens in the case of Munich) where it's only old, fat men walking around naked.

We came back to the beach to get cleaned up before going out to dinner as a big group to celebrate Natalie's birthday. We went to a Mexican style tapas restaurant. It was a bit pricey, which obviously hurt Taylor and I, but the food was pretty good. At this point, Taylor and I are EXHAUSTED. Remember, we woke up before 7 AM, and we had probably covered a distance of about 20-25 miles that day. We decided to head back to bed after dinner, but we did stop by the magic fountains on the way. I was so excited when the first song clip played during the show was a song by Prince! I can't remember what song it was, but I think it was "1999."

Now we're at the half point of my weekend! I told you we did A LOT! The next 2 days only get more and more fun packed.

After our exhausting day on Saturday, we decided to give ourselves a break from running and slept in. We still cooked a great breakfast when we woke up though! Michael joined us for the day. We started off with the Picasso Museum. It's free on the first Sunday of every month! We got more than we bargained for when a parade went right past us while we were waiting in line. It definitely made waiting a lot easier. The museum was awesome too. I was absolutely astounded by Picasso's work. Like the Van Gogh museum I went to in Amsterdam, it was set up chronologically, so the viewer can follow the transitions the artist went through in his lifetime. I have so much more respect for Picasso after seeing his work through that progression. He had so much talent. I think he got bored with painting masterpieces, so he decided to create an entirely new style, which is where his famous abstracts and cubist works come from. We headed over Park Guell afterwards to check out all the famous Gaudi work that's there and just to take a break and a little siesta! The park was breathtaking. It was so incredibly unique. Gaudi too pushed the boundaries of his field. He used so much mosaic work! I couldn't help but think of Anna the whole time. A shout out goes to Jourdan as well, especially since she finished the mosaic we made for my mom on mother's day. Thanks Jourdan :D

After parting ways at Park Guell, Taylor and I made our way towards Tibidabo, a mountain on the northern edge of the city with a church and amusement park on top of it, while Michael went back to meet up with the group. Our original plan was to hike up to the church, but time wasn't on our side so we took a tram and funicular instead. Going up to Tibidabo turned out to be a great decision. The best view of all of Barcelona was available from up there. The city is HUGE. The church itself was quite remarkable. We spent a good hour just hanging out on top of the mountain, looking out over the city and behind over the surrounding countryside. Just add Tibidabo to the list of great fun and free things to do! We finished the night off with dinner with Natalie and Neely. I hope you can see a pattern here. Barcelona was all about finding happiness and contentment within each and every moment. It wasn't about what we were doing so much as how we were doing it...one more day left!

Taylor and I decided to do a bit of exploring for our last day in Barcelona. No surprise there though right? The one major area of the city we had yet to explore was Montjuic, a hill in the city of the city on the oceanside. It was the site of the Olympics and features an old castle overlooking Barcelona's bustling, industrial port. We spent about 5 hours in the area. It was a huge surprise how much there was to do! We went to the botanical gardens, the castle, different areas built for the Olympics, and an above ground cemetary. We kept running into new things to check out! The highlight was probably when we decided to climb up this steep bank only to find outselves starting at the castle! We ended up climbing up to the castle and had lunch on it's walls while watching the activities of Barcelona's port. It was fascinating to see all the different things at work! Our last day in Barcelona was definitely filled with finding happiness in the simple things. A lot of the stuff we did was pretty relaxed but we got full enjoyment out of it. I had a great time.

...I feel like there's a lot more to tell about our last day, but that would just take forever! You'll have to check out pictures. I'll be willing to elaborate on anything when I get back. The trip back to Metz was a bit sad because it would be my last couchette of the summer! All I have left is my trip to Croatia this upcoming weekend for my birthday!!! We're flying there though, so I won't be taking many more trains for the rest of the summer. I'll probably take a few days trips before returning home as a way to pass the time. I actually have another 4 day weekend between finals because of how my schedule worked out. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do for it though. The Tour de France will be in Paris that weekend, so that is definitely a possibility!

Anyways, just a few more weeks until I'm back home! I'm definitely ready to be back. I'm quite homesick :( At the same time though, I know that I've made the most out of my summer, so it's not a bad thing that I'm ready to be back. I'm very content with all that I've done, so returning home is just the next part of my life. I'm extrememly excited about all the things waiting for me in the fall. It's going to be a wonderful semester. I just know it.