La Planification de un Voyage en France
October 1, 2012
Ever since freshmen year in college at Georgia Tech, I have wanted to study abroad and learn by experiencing about other countries in the world. Specifically, I wanted to participate in the Georgia Tech Lorraine program, known for being 'The Gateway to Europe.'
Georgia Institute of Technology Lorraine
It is a Georgia Tech campus located in Metz, France. The campus features Georgia Tech faculty members (Professors and Staff) who understand the rigorous curriculum and the university's rules and procedures. All of the course work is graded the same, taken in the English language, and lectured as if it were in taken in the Georgia Tech Atlanta Campus. Many of the third and fourth year Electrical, Mechanical, Industrial Engineering course work is offered at this school. The best part about this program is that lectures are arranged into one hour and a half or two hour sessions Monday through Thursday only, leaving three day weekends available to travel. One could potentially take a train Thursday night and have three full days of fun!
I took French Courses I and II at Georgia Tech which gave me a grip on reading and writing. However, I rigorously studied Pimsleur French Audio Courses and trained my ear as well as my pronunciation. I had an advantage over my peers since I could get by understanding and communicating with locals. It is far more exciting to have prior knowledge of the culture and the language of a country and put them into practice upon arrival.
I applied for studying abroad in Fall 2012. The Georgia Tech Lorraine staff guides students throughout the entire process of application. Making it very simple and painless. To obtain the VISA, students are advised to go to the French Consulate of Atlanta. This center in Atlanta already knows the procedures for Georgia Tech Students and they will stamp the OFII form which allows students to obtain a Housing Discount in France making costs match the costs of studying in the United States (for instate and out of state students). Students who are late in the process sometimes go to the Consulate at their home state. Some may experience problems were the authorities do not stamp the form, saying it is not necessary therefore missing out on the ~$800 discount.
Initially, I thought that I could obtain cheap tickets by arranging a group to travel together. After calling various Airline companies I learned that they do not provide this convenience anymore. Therefore I tried to get people interested in traveling together, but our plans did not work out. Because I would be traveling in the Fall, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to arrive early to Europe and depart a few weeks after school ended to enjoy traveling without the course load on my back. I bought my tickets for August 8, that is a week and a half before school started and returning December 25th, a week and a half after school ended. I got these tickets with the help of my future travel companion (which you will meet in my Travel Blog Videos and future posts :) ).
On the summer 2012 I interned at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In the afternoons, I would spend time planning this Epic-Once-in-a-Life-Time Adventure. One of the most important questions I had was, should I travel always by train? or by plane? should I buy a Eurail Pass? Or the individual tickets? Here is what I have learned. The Eurail pass is the most convenient way to travel despite the high cost, it can be payed off if each trip is planned correctly. For instance, local train tickets within France are not expensive, but overnight train tickets go over €100 euros. This is when the Eurorail pass comes in handy. I got one unlimited 3 month pass, and a 10 day pay, which was perfectly timed for my stay from August to December.
Flying everywhere is not convenient at all because some distances are short enough that it would take less time by train than having to get to the airport. Airports are located away from the center of the city, which means extra expense in taxi's or unique buses, overnight hotel stays (since hostels near airports are hard to find), and less carry on. Ryan Air is one of the cheapest and most low rated airlines there is. Carry-on restrictions are tight, which means that you will have to leave your packed food behind and that extra pair of underwear. I am planning on traveling to Italy by plane so stay tuned for my experience on Ryan Air!
What to Pack
Knowing that I would be homeless and backpacking before and after the school semester, I should have brought less things. But here is the essential I highly recommend you all to take.
- One Luggage: Face it humans only have two hands. One hand to hold a map, and the other to pull a luggage.
- Hiking Backpack: When arriving to the city, one never knows when exactly you will stop at the hostel, it could even be after a long hot day. Normal backpacks are not space efficient, are bulky (the backpack itself is heavier than your items), and it hurts your posture. The backpack I took with me was a Deuter Backpack. 50 pounds on an ordinary backpack feels like 25 on this one. It essentially distribute the weight on your hips instead of your back. The pockets are efficient for storage of cloths. It has pockets to leave a bathing suit to dry, and separate dirty from clean cloths. It also has a handy slot to easilly pull out a map, and zipper pockets inside for keeping electronic items out of reach from thieves. In addition, it features a rain coat to pull over the backpack, very handy (^_^)b !
- Money Pounch: "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong." As Murphy's law states, be prepared for everything. Keep two different places for money storage. One that you never reach in, which contains a credit card, money, passport and passport copy, eurail pass, and insurance card. The second location, is a easy but safe from reach purse that has cash.
- Android SmartPhone: Be realistic, when traveling in europe one may be out exploring the city for 12+ hours, and carrying a bulky laptop around is a burden. Most chain restaurants (like McDonalds) will have wifi. Remember to use store Google Offline-Maps of visiting cities and Google Latitude, in case you loose your friends or your phone. Also, I recommend the android app Europe Travel Guide as it contains the essential information of history, etiquette, restaurants, festivities and more, which I always read through on the trains before arriving to the city. For calling, I used Google Voice through the internet to call people in france ($), and to call the U.S.A (free).
- DSLR Nikon D3100 camera: Make sure to include yourself in the pictures!
What to wear! Clothes and winter wear
In Europe the weather in Fall gets cold very early. Sometime around October it will be cold in France, and even colder in the northern countries. Counting on the fact that one should only bring one luggage, the key to survive the winter is to wear layers. For instance, instead of carrying one big, furry, fluffy, and heavy winter coat, try carrying a light winter coat with a jacket underneath, gloves, a scarf, and a winter beanie. It gets so cold and that your face will go numb and feel like a thousand blades are cutting it. Therefore cover your ears with a nice beanie and a scarf. Also, bring only two or three pairs of jeans maximum and wear tights underneath and/or leg warmers, since you will most likely be walking 10-12 hours a day around cities in November and December. It will also start snowing in places like Germany earlier than in France, so I brought a pair of furry boats that allowed me to hike comfortably while keeping me warm. Only bring one of each type of clothing (1 beanie, 1 boots, 1 jacket, 1 pair's of thick socks etc) because as a tourist, one does not have time to pick and choose fashion. And especially you will regret having to carry a heavy load in your hikers backpack only to realize that you did not use half the stuff in it.
Georgia Tech Lorraine staff helps students open a BNP Paribas French Bank Account. This allows students to obtain the Housing reimbursement and deposit euros. For currency exchange, airports an locations near train stations are very expensive. Instead, investigating a specific location in a city can pay off a lot.
Stay tuned as the next blog post will include a Youtube Video on my adventure flying over the Atlantic Ocean and living in Paris!