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. 

Week 15: Blake’s Final Blog

The semester is coming to an end for everyone here at GTL, and it is oh so bittersweet. In the last two weeks of the SLS program, we had three separate speakers come to discuss biodiversity, the reality of immigrants in Europe, and about more efforts for sustainable development in Metz by the European Institute of Ecology. Then, we buckled down for our last big hoorah with JJ, our compost friend, at his home for a yummy traditional French dinner (along with some good cheese and yummy desert).

The first visit that we had was a presentation on biodiversity and its importance, or more like, its disappearance. Raisa Mulatinho Simões, a former student of Georgia Tech and now a doctoral student in political science, spoke with us about her travels across Europe to different conferences dedicated to the conversation of biodiversity and, specifically in agriculture, alterations in fruits and vegetables DNA for increased yield or best taste. She discussed the potential consequences and implications of this type of engineered farming in the context of sustainability and the environment. Biodiversity is something that facilitates evolution and change in the environment; the economic and environmental aspects of this choice are not in balance.

The most exciting part of the visit, for me, was seeing someone from my university who’s pursued an international degree and career in something that she’s passionate about. I felt like what she’s doing now is something that I want for myself in the future, and she’s thriving. French is a learned language for her as much as it is for me. Her understanding of the language and presentation skills were amazing, and that just goes to show that with practice and dedication, you can experience two facets of success in pursuing studies or jobs in different countries while mastering their language.

Our second presentation was about the reality of immigrants in Europe: how they’re treated, the misconceptions or prejudices that people have versus the reality of immigrants, and the current European protocol for immigrants, as decided by the European Union. Vicki Birchfield is a professor at Georgia Tech with us here at GTL this semester, teaching international affairs classes. During the presentation, she laid out the creation of the European Union, it’s origin story. She elaborated on the key individuals of its creation and the original countries, those which are considered Schengen era European Union members. From there, she discussed the policies that they’ve made over the years as far as immigration and human rights, tying in elements from the United Nations as well. Once we’d gotten through the introductory material for context, we were able to discuss the nature of immigration in Europe: where a majority of immigrants come into the country, why (in a general sense), and the problems of the past and present. In 2015, there was a huge surge of Syrian refugees coming into Europe due to the political unrest and danger in the country, and the number of refugees coming was estimated to be in the millions. The European Union had to call emergency meetings, get diplomats from outside their own coalition’s borders in order to devise a plan to help these people and care for their needs. They had to solve hot topic issues such as: where will the refugees go, what will the process of obtaining asylum look like for them, and what will they do once they’re in the country? These aren’t easy questions to answer, and in some regards, like guaranteed asylum for minors, they exhibited an ability to effectively problem solve despite that. In other ways, though, such as FRONTEX (a system in which immigrants requesting asylum are obligated to give their fingerprints and all forms of identification for easy monitoring of their actions in Europe) and detention centers installed at the borders of France, for example, people wait there for undefined periods of time, often in cramped and overpopulated spaces, without food or water. These are areas in which the European Union could improve upon their solutions for immigrants in Europe.

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A screenshot of a computer

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For our last guest speaker, we met with René Darbois, the vice president of sustainable development for the City of Metz. I expected a cut and dry presentation, supplemented by a powerpoint and some Q&A. However, when he arrived, we began a conversation with him about green activities in Metz (and even globally), potential improvements that we saw for their green developments, implications of climate change on the world, and even discussed the films that we saw at CinéMaTerre. We didn’t get around to discussing, in depth, any new projects or ideas that they were working towards at the moment, but I believe that it was a good chance for us to offer our reflections and feedback about the sustainable efforts that we’d seen in Metz and in Europe after studying the content with Dr. Kozhanova for the semester. We were able to watch the video that Morgan Gallimore and I directed, giving a brief description of the SLS program at GTL. He couldn’t understand a majority of what was being said because the video was in English, but he enjoyed it nonetheless, even asking for a copy of it on his personal USB. He was inspired by our dedication to the content and excitement in learning about sustainable development as much as we were appreciative of the things that he’s worked towards establishing in Metz.

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A group of people in a room

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At the beginning of one of our last weeks, some members of the SLS crew (the ones that didn’t have finals) made their way to JJ’s humble abode in Metz for a yummy, traditional French feast. When we arrived, JJ and his wife were there to greet us, food still cooking on the stove. Nachi, Morgan, and I helped by slicing bread and chopping parsley and onions. We laughed over music, French and American, cracked jokes at each other, and were able to share and discuss details of French life. Once the meal was prepared, we settled down to eat some boeuf bourguignon with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. It was absolutely delicious, and despite the fact that I felt bad for eating so much of it, went in for multiple helpings. The beef and vegetables were well-seasoned and tender, and the broth was a perfect gravy, so to speak, for the mashed potatoes. Soaking up the last little bit with baguette was the cherry on top, though. Afterwards, we had some cheese and more bread, just food to feed our thoughts while we talked over the dinner table, wrapping up the meal with some spice bread Cantillon that I brought from the Christmas markets in Metz. The dinner was a huge success, and I’m so happy to have been able to spend such a warm, happy night with Dr. Kozhanova and JJ before the semester ended. I’m definitely going to miss them!

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A group of people eating food at a restaurant

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     It’s been an honor to write for you this semester about the SLS program and about my experiences being a part of it. This program made my semester, absolutely. I learned so much with Dr. Kozhonova in class about the reality of issues in the environment, in the economy, and in society, all three facets of the greater goal: sustainability. Seeing how France was combating these issues was intriguing and has given me a lot of ideas for how I’d like to make my life and potentially others’ lives (at Georgia Tech in Atlanta) more sustainable. I was able to learn even more about the people and culture of France while out on our visits, not to mention the huge boost to my French speaking skills as a result, as well. These classes were my favorite of the semester, hands down, and that could be attributed to my pre-existing passion for the environment and discovering new ways that I could help. However, I believe that they had a genuine, positive impact on my understanding of the global issues that we’re facing in trying to live right by the planet. Shameless plug, what can I say. Visit Europe if you haven’t already, and stop by Metz if you get the chance. I wish you all well, and that your future may be a little more sustainable. Au revoir!