A tale of two semesters abroad

Photo by Tyler Meuter

What was better, GTL or Oxford?”

As someone who studied abroad for two consecutive semesters, I get asked this a lot. And although I’d like to provide my dear advice-seeker with an unbiased appraisal, I don’t have one.

When asked, I usually respond with, “well, GTL (Georgia Tech Lorraine for the uninitiated) was great because we had so much freedom to travel, and I met some of the most ambitious, genuine and mature people, while Oxford was great because I loved learning about music and art history, especially because I could experience it firsthand in Europe with experts in the field of music and art history.” Then I’d go on to eulogize GTL some more.

The reality was that I liked GTL better than Oxford. There wasn’t really anything bad about Oxford; it was just that GTL was incredibly hard to beat.

There’s something special about the first study abroad program and entering a foreign country knowing no one, bonding over the inability to speak the local language, the endless possibility that comes with the overwhelming responsibility and independence, train mishaps, the misfortune of when you eat too much Haribo and late nights at Comedie.

Following GTL, it was hard not to feel babied at Oxford as we were taken through our strict itinerary, monitored constantly by the watchful faculty. Even in the second half of the program, I felt restricted. Maybe it was because two full semester courses were squashed into a five-week time period, or maybe I was weary from travel planning. Regardless, it was stifling.

Along with the fact that I felt restricted during the Oxford Program, I’d also been to many of the same places during my weekend excursions at GTL. I would walk through Budapest on the same streets and places as I did at GTL, reminiscing about past experiences. I once introduced our group as “GTL” to a venue that was receiving us. That was embarrassing.

When we passed through Metz, the city in which GTL is located, I was overflowing with nostalgia, which was exacerbated by the fact that I was there without my GTL friends. I sorely missed them. That made it all the more difficult to create new experiences with new friends.

At GTL, I was fortunate to have met a group of people who I really clicked with soon after the semester started. These were some of the most inspirational and optimistic people I have met in my life — but not just that; the group of friends that I made was so heterogeneous, in a way that everyone brought a unique and eye-opening perspective to the table.

People involved in completely different aspects of campus life, with varying views and backgrounds that you’d never think would mesh came together with the desire to travel, explore and absorb as much European culture as possible — something I found difficult to do in Oxford — save for the part where we studied music and art non-stop for six weeks.

The traveling around Europe, learning about art and music, was without a doubt enriching, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to have the chance to fill that void in my life. However, traveling with friends and learning to navigate foreign places by trial and error with positive and brilliant friends is an experience that simply could not be matched.