Biodomes, a Meatless Cow, and a Lovely Picnic

It has been an activity-filled week with the SLS program! This week we got to go on many visits throughout the week! Our first visit was an organization called Un Jardin pour 2 Mains. This name is clever because directly translated using the numerical representation of 2 it means “a garden for two hands,” but when you say it in French, it sounds like “a garden for tomorrow.” The grounds were super cool and unique, given that the organization is sharing the space with other gardeners, artists, and even a YouTuber! When we were there, we got to tour their very own biodome, where they are researching new growing techniques such as aquaponics and vertical irrigation. Aquaponics is a food production system that combines plant growing with fish farming to reduce chemical fertilizer use. Vertical irrigation is exactly what it sounds like; the herbs are grown in a structure that runs water from the top down to produce a fresher taste and provide cleaner air in the biodome. I think these new gardening tactics are super interesting, which made this one of my favorite visits so far, and I hope to do some of my volunteer work here!

The inside of the biodome with the vertical irrigation system pictured in the center
The outside of the biodome

Our most exciting visit of the week was our big “sustainable” trip to Paris! This trip is one that we have long awaited for sure! We started the day by taking a cooking class at the Foundation GoodPlanet, where we learned all about the impacts of the production for foods that we eat every day. Me and my partner, Marc, were tasked with making a vegetarian protein substitute by roasting chickpeas. We were pretty happy about saving the cows, so we decided to get creative and form our chickpeas into a picture of a cow before putting them in the oven! Some of the other groups made dishes such as banana bread, green pea guacamole, chicory muffins, pancakes made with homemade oat milk, and the highly controversial beet ketchup (we couldn’t figure out if we loved or hated this one).

After we finished our sustainable snacks, we were off to our next destination: the Jardin des Plantes (the Botanical Gardens of Paris), where we had a picnic (yummy baguette sandwiches!) and enjoyed the stunning assortment of plants including an amazing pistachio tree that is over 150 years old! After venturing through many little garden paths and exploring different climate and soils, it was time for our last stop of the day, which was one of the Paris Design Week exhibits. Paris Design Week is essentially Fashion Week but for interior and exterior design. We visited one of the many showrooms and spoke with the designer about how he based his inspiration for each piece of furniture on nature and the seasons.

Waterlilies in the Jardin des Plantes
Paris Design Week exhibit
Dr. Jean-Jacques showing Lauren a handful of compost that is ready for use

Our jam-packed week of excursions concluded with a trip to the Saturday morning farmers market in downtown Metz. But first, Dr. Jean-Jacques Gaumet, a professor of chemistry at the University of Lorraine and partner of the SLS-France Program at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, took us to a local organization Oppidum: a community compost garden. There he explained the process of composting and showed us the different stages of the process. Did you know it takes about four whole months before it is ready to be used in a garden?! While we were at the garden, at least six locals showed up with their buckets of compostable waste. I thought it was so cool to see the community actively participating!

Speaking with a vendor at the Metz farmers’ market

After Dr. Jean-Jacques showed us the composting bins, he began to explain all the different herbs and vegetables growing in the garden. At one point, he literally plucked a flower out of the ground, handed it to me, and then told me to eat it and that it is excellent on salads. At first, I was skeptical, but it was actually quite nice! Once we had finished our herbal taste testing, it was time for us to go to the farmer’s market, meet with producers and pick out our lunch. Kara, Megan, and I decided to buy fresh tomatoes, strawberries, honey, bread, cheese, and olives to make a little charcuterie spread.

We finished the day with a picnic in a beautiful amphitheater park on a hill with a fantastic view of Metz where we ate our lunch, had some great conversations with Dr. Jean-Jacques and his wife and daughter (who, by the way, are masters of the art of picnicking), and even did some yoga!

SLS students posing for a photo in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris

It was a lovely week full of learning with the SLS program this week! Have a picnic, get some fresh air, do some yoga, and enjoy being in the presence of nature this week its good for the soul! See you next week! Au revoir!

Toxic Gardens, Marvel Movies & the Seaside

Entering my second week abroad, I can hardly believe it has only been one week since my arrival here in Metz! I have seen and done so much already it seems like I have been here for a month. Last weekend, my fellow students and I got to experience our first weekend travels and face the trials of Eurail (the European train system). While the Eurail app could probably use some updating, the experience is something that we certainly do not commonly get in America. In fact, in class, we recently did an exercise in which my classmates would propose a theoretical policy that would help us move towards a more sustainable way of life, and we would “vote” if we would be in favor of the policy. One of my classmates proposed that all forms of transportation that produce greenhouse gas emissions be banned/limited. Pretty hard to imagine! However, if that ever were to be implemented, some of the only forms of motorized transportation left would be trains and electric cars. In Europe, trains are the most environmentally friendly form of motorized transportation*! So even after taking different routes because of track flooding and temporarily being stuck in a train station, it was nice to know we could travel in a less negatively impactful way!

2021 Fall SLS group posing in our green SLS t-shirts

This week in the SLS program, we got to visit the L’institut Européen de l’Écologie (The European Institute of Ecology). The organization is in the heart of downtown Metz inside the former Récollets convent. We got to walk around the beautiful property smelling all the herbs and flowers that they grow in their gardens. We even walked through the “toxic garden” where the abbey grew plants that they used for medicines, many of which are poisonous to humans in their raw form. At the end of the tour, we were given a presentation about all the exciting events that the Institute has planned for the upcoming months. The one that I am most excited to be a part of is their film festival in November now called “CINÉMAPLANÈTE.”

One of the most fun aspects of learning a new language in its origin country for me has been getting to experience everyday things in a new way. This week, some of the SLS students and I decided to go to the theater to see the newly released Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Watching movies and television shows in French has become a common form of study for me over the past few months, but I had never experienced a blockbuster film in a French theater. The whole experience was very intriguing, from how the concessions are sold to the audience’s reactions. Although no matter how different the experience, the overpriced popcorn remains the same.

We had a free weekend this week, which some of us took advantage of by traveling down to the south of France and visiting the city of Nice in the French Rivera. In my opinion, being near the ocean is always the best way to relieve the stresses of increasing schoolwork. What better way to appreciate and be grateful for the planet’s beauty than walking along the coast? Nice is famous for its crystal clear, bright turquoise water and its pebble beaches. The sound of the waves rolling the stones into the ocean was so peaceful and far less messy than sand, but it definitely lacked comfort. Tanner Crew, a fellow SLS student, braved the rocky beach to jump in the ocean and retrieve a bottle he noticed floating a little way offshore. He successfully recycled the bottle and was glad he could do his part while enjoying a refreshing swim!

As we strolled through old Nice, we happened upon an EcoJardin (Eco-Garden). The label of EcoJardin is awarded to a park when it has an astonishing variety of plants, utilizes only natural bacteria and products to fight against pests, and takes several other precautions to preserve biodiversity and promote public awareness. This beautiful park was full of people lounging in the lush grass, striking assortments of trees, and children playing on sustainably made wooden playgrounds. It was a beautiful example of people enjoying and living in unison with the environment in innovative yet simple ways.

That is all for this fun-filled week in France! We have lots of exciting things planned for next week! A bientôt!

*This statement is true based on France’s current use of nuclear energy powered trains. Some European countries still use coal powered engines which would not be a solution to reducing greenhouse gasses. 

Meet the 2021 SLS-France Program Blogger: Savannah!

Hi! My name is Savannah Simpson, but most of my friends like to call me Sav for short. I am studying Literature, Media, and Communication with threads in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Culture and Communications at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. A mouth full, right! Now, I know how shocking it may seem to have a typical liberal arts degree at a prestigious STEM university like Georgia Tech. Trust me that is everyone’s first reaction, myself included when I found out about the degree! I love science, innovation, and being surrounded by an environment that believes in the intersection of creativity and facts. This degree program provides a unique opportunity to approach the art of communication from a new and exciting direction. It challenges me to question the way communication can be reinvented to make an impact. I am also pursuing a minor in International Business, Language, and Culture in my time here at Georgia Tech with hopes to be accepted into the Global Media Graduate degree program. I have always had a love for travel and an infatuation with the workings of other cultures from a very young age. I also enjoy photography, being active in any way possible, reading, art, and attending church in my free time!

My typical hobbies and routines have looked quite different during my first week here in Metz. Experiencing Metz’s rich and exciting new culture and learning the French way of life has taken up most of my time upon arrival. After navigating Covid travels and settling into our dorms, my fellow students and I were excited to explore downtown. We were pleasantly surprised by the mid-70s temperature and the lack of humidity compared to the sweltering heat back home in Georgia, so we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk downtown. We were quickly in awe of the unique architecture of the homes leading into the city. One of our immediate favorite qualities of the city was the diverse and abundant assortment of flowers and plants. Whether they were hanging from window seals, growing over the sides of bridges, or planted in beautiful gardens, we were constantly finding ourselves stopping to admire and wonder about the many unique plants we passed! As we were strolling along the Moselle River, I made the connection between Atlanta being called “the city in the trees” and Metz as being known as a “green city” and wondered if Georgia Tech had strategically placed us here for this reason.

Being as we are abroad during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we must comply with the safety protocols of France. The biggest hindrance being the French proof of vaccination health pass, known here as the Passé Sanitaire. Obtaining one of these QR codes that act as our ticket into all grocery stores, cafes, museums, and transportation was no small feat. Many students, myself included, sent in applications via email weeks before arrival and were yet to receive a response. After struggling to explain to local businesses that we only had our CDC vaccination cards for five days, we were beginning to get restless. Some students attempted to visit vaccination clinics to no avail, and others began to spam the email we had been given. Finally, most of us began to have some luck by adding urgent subject lines such as “déjà en France” (already in France) and “long term student.” There is still a buzzing debate about what tactic cracked the code to receive the invaluable health pass, but either way, we were all elated to finally have that stress relieved!

Once our classes began, we finally got to go on our first SLS outings as a class! We got to attend the premiere of a documentary on climate crisis called “Une Fois Que Tu Sais” (Once You Know), and afterward, we sat in on a Q&A with the director. I really enjoyed the artistry and emotion that the film brought out, and it was super interesting to hear the ideas of locals and directors. On Thursday, the class attended a walking tour of Metz, during which our tour guide told us all about the history and architecture of the famous Saint-Étienne Cathedral. Along the way, we walked across several of Metz’s beautiful bridges, saw a garden, and made our way up to the where the Fêtes de la Mirabelle (a celebration of the Mirabelle plum that is a specialty of the city) will be held this weekend. The tour guide also told us about an upcoming hot air balloon festival which excited me for the weeks to come.

My fellow students and I are over the moon to be spending this semester immersing ourselves in the culture of France, and I am so thrilled to keep you all updated on our adventures as your Serve Learn Sustain blogger. Au Revoir!