Author Archives: Alex Chang

Having Fun at the Lake

After coming back from the free weekend, the Singaporeans were facing a hardship as it would be their last week of program. We Americans had one extra week of program. So the Singaporeans had their final projects, presentations and final exams all on Thursday and Friday. And besides that, we were going to have a Lake trip on Wednesday which would crunch their schedule again.

 

As everyone was still excited after coming back from their free weekend trip, we were ready again to go for the Lake trip. We set out Wednesday morning and arrived the lake around noon. After we finished having a quick and simple lunch, we were divided into three big groups for different activities.

The lake was a pretty huge artificial lake great for sailing, canoeing, and rafting. I was excited because I have never done those activities before.

Our group went for sailing first. After some quick instructions, a sailing boat was assigned to each two persons. So this kind of sailing boat turned out to be easily controllable. One person will be responsible for controlling the strength of canvas and thus will control the speed of the boat. Another person will be controlling the tail blade of the boat to control the direction. And of course, the power of this boat depended completely on winds. There were times when there were little winds and thus we had to go with the waves and waited. But overall the sailing experience was relaxing as the weather was nice enough for us to lie on the boat in the middle of the lake to enjoy the French sun.

Our second activity was canoeing, and it was a very tiring activity… it took us a long time to find out how to synchronize our rowing movements so that we can move our canoe efficiently. But we never got it perfectly. Maybe due to the bigger winds in the afternoon, our group of canoes could not manage to row far away from our starting point. Soon we all gave up and decided to go on shore to take a rest.

In the evening, we also played pedanque and shooting. Pedanque is a popular French recreational game played all over France. A small ball will be thrown at first and then your goal will be to throw your steel ball as close to the small ball as you can. I really like how delicate the iron ball was made. The shooting was fun as its laser-shooting the flying plastic pans. I did pretty well and the trick was to hold your gun firmly and pull the trigger when the pans flied right under your aim.

 

The final activity was to have a barbeque dinner! Sausages, steaks, salads, wine, and so on. It was a fulfilling day.

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London

The next coming weekend is a free weekend as it’s FREE! So everyone this week was planning to go somewhere else for the weekend. Everyone was excited because people now have the opportunity to choose their own favorite destinations!

 

One thing to note about was that the laundry shop was so freaking expensive!!! You will need to spend at least 8 euros to wash and dry only one load of clothes! So I decided to wash by myself and hang them in the dorm room to dry in the future…

The Americans came out with three destinations and thus divided into three groups – Amsterdam, Dublin, and Barcelona. However, none of the destinations seemed attractive to me, and therefore I chose to go with the Singaporeans’ decision – London.

 

The Singaporeans had made their plans like three or four months ago, so they had everything booked. I was unable to take Eurostar (the train that goes through English Channel) because it was too expensive that time! 250 euros for a single trip! Therefore, I had to adopt a time-consuming way – train from Troyes to Paris, train from Paris to airport, flight from Paris to London, and lastly tube (London subway) from London airport to my own hostel.

 

I set out Friday noon and arrived my hostel at around 11pm… it was tiring but adventurous because I found that I kind of enjoyed traveling alone. My hostel was a Victorian era style building with the inside as well. You got to meet youngsters from all over the world in the hostel because it’s economic. There’s also a coincidence that I met a fellow from Taiwan who just slept on the bed beside mine.

The next day early morning, I quickly learned to take the famous red buses in London to the hostel where the Singaporeans lived. Their hostel was right above a bar, so it’s convenient in some way, but I preferred mine. After meeting with them, we set out to explore London!

Like a group of tourists, we took pictures all the way and visited the top tourist spots like the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the tube stations, the Oxford Circle, the British Museum, red telephone booths, and so on. Here you need to know that the London Bridge does not equal to Tower Bridge! Remember singing “London Bridge is falling down” when I was a child and thought that London Bridge was the pretty one, but it turned out that the pretty one was actually called Tower Bridge. London Bridge was actually just a normal-looking bridge.

 

We were lucky that day as well as that day was happened to be the “Queen’s Birthday”! So there was a huge royal parade along the long road toward the Buckingham Palace. We followed the crowds and watched the parade. We got to see William and Kate, and of course, the Queen!!!

(The Queen)

Here I have to introduce you two great places to visit in London: the Borough Market and the Camden Market. The Borough Market was similar to a farmer’s market, and there were full of European food booths there! So delicious! I ate apple sauce bbq pork, German sausage, roasted scallops, fish&chips and lemon carrot juice! The Camden Market was a market operating on Sundays for goods. You can find all kinds of souvenirs, clothes, gothic stuff, interesting stuff, and so on. Both were very worthwhile places to visit, and we wish we could have more time for them!

 

The Chinatown in London was also the best Chinatown I’ve ever visited. It’s pretty and clean.

Overall, I like London very much as it gave me a very good impression. The people there were nice, food were good, places were pretty, and it was just great! London is a city that will not let you down!

Champagne-Ardenne

Another regular week had passed as we foreign exchange students have settled down completely and got used to the life at UTT. Both classes went well. After class, people may do all kinds of activities. Some would go to town center and taste more food or explore more sights. Some would go to grocery shopping at Carrefour or Leader Price which both are supermarket chain-stores. By the way, Carrefour is very internationally known because you can also see a lot of them in Asia!

Besides the 3-euro big meals at the University Cafeteria, a kebab shop has become a favorite. There are a lot of Turkish people in Europe, and therefore you can see a lot of kebab shops. So this kebab shop is just 5 minute walk away from our residence. For 5 euros, you can get a kebab full of bbq meat and lettuce with potato fries on the side plus one can of soft drink.

This weekend we were organized to visit the Champagne-Ardenne region which is like a district or province in north eastern France. Troyes is the capital of Aube, and Aube is a sub-department or sub-district of Champagne-Ardenne.

We set out Saturday morning and reached a restaurant around noon. The restaurant is very French country like as the decorations and setup inside were very neat. The meal was great too as there were appetizer wine, appetizer salad with bread, a glass of traditional wine, roast chicken as main course, a dish of cheese inevitably, a dessert cake, and finally a very small cup of espresso. French coffee is usually served in a very small cup, but it still does its job!

After the lunch, we went for our main activity today – visiting a champagne cellar. The company building was built, of course, around grape trees. After entering the building, we were soon led into the underground where the champagne cellars were. So yea, hundreds of thousands of wine bottles lied neatly underground not surprisingly. However, there were for champagne, which would be a little bit different from wine. Champagne needed to experience a second fermentation to produce carbon dioxide to therefore to produce bubbles. According to a rule, a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavors. The bottles were also needed to be manipulated usually manually so that the lees will be settled in the neck of the bottles. Under the ground, there were also huge tanks and machines for the production of champagne.

After getting out of the cellars, we got to taste champagnes! Well, they tasted very nice serving chill. We also had the chance to taste different kinds of champagne, but the flavor did not strike too differently to me. The dryness of champagne matters a lot though. To me, I would prefer a less dry champagne, because dryness makes me feel more thirsty. Remember that champagnes are exclusively products produced in the champagne region of France, “champagnes” produced in any other places cannot be called champagnes!

Our final stop was visiting a castle. To me, the size of it is not a castle, but rather a private mansion. But this castle has witnessed more than five hundred years of history. It was exciting that our coach had to drive through a very small and forestry road to get there, and the weather was thunderstorm which added more excitement, haha.

Adventure Weekend

The program planned us activities for almost every weekend we stayed there. For this second weekend, it’s called an Adventure Weekend as we were heading to the southern part in France to have some adventurous activities. We set out Friday early morning, and it would take us 6 hours to get there by coach. On the way, we were able to see the distinct changes of landscape as we were advancing downward in France. The terrain got more and more mountainous as we were approaching the Alpine region.

At around 1 pm, our coach started to drive along a river in the mountains. We soon learned that we were going to do white water rafting in that river as we saw rafting boats floating against the fierce currents in it. We reached the hut, had a quick picnic, geared up with water-suits, safety hats and oars, and got on the coach again to go to the starting point. As we were divided into three teams we quickly got on our boats. Each boat has a professional rafter on it. After the trainer’s brief instructions, we set out for the river. Most of the time was pretty safe and sound, however, our team was the most tragic one as we lost one person during a sudden tilt and we also punctured our boat somehow! Fortunately, the boat was designed with several air compartments, so we only lost one compartment and the boat would not sink with that damage. During the process, we also stopped ashore two times to jump off high cliffs into the water for fun. It was pretty high!

After we finished white water rafting, we were ready to go to our residence for the weekend and have a rest. We resided at a town called Evian. If you have noticed, it’s the same as the water brand “Evian”, and indeed, Evian is the origin of “Evian”! Evian is a town beside a lake bordering Switzerland, so you can literally see Switzerland just across the lake. We had a dinner on the balcony of the hotel. The scene was absolutely splendid and beautiful as you could see the lake, lights of houses, boats, mountains, and sky while eating. The food was not bad as well as we got to choose an appetizer, main course, dessert, and drink. Most people chose wine to celebrate this dinner.

We had the chance to walk around the city as well. The city was built on a slope sliding down toward the lake. There were a lot of restaurants, bars along the lakeshore. There was also a casino! It’s definitely a great vocation spot. In European cities, you can usually see outlets or fountains of water everywhere. I drank from a delicate outlet of water because it’s the true “Evian” water, haha! As most of the people decided to spend some night time at the bars, I decided to go check out the casino. I got in with my US driver’s license. It was pretty exciting because it reminded me of Ocean’s Eleven. However, this casino was rather small. One friend of mine tried Black Jack and he lost pretty badly. “The house always wins” especially in Black Jack. I was merely an observer because I really didn’t want to arouse my greed in gambling and lose money.

The second day of this Adventure Weekend was one of the craziest days of my life… because we did parachuting and canyoneering! For parachuting, we needed to jump off from the top of an Alpine mountain! When the car which took us to the top climbed higher and higher, our hearts beat faster and faster as we saw the town down the valley became smaller and felt the air we breathed became thinner. But the parachuting experience turned out to be relaxing as the professional up behind you would fly you with ease. The view was splendid but it was cold up in the air! Sometimes the professional would thrill you by making a 360 degrees violent turn, it was a little bit nauseous but it was fun!

 

For the canyoneering, it was the craziest of all… After we geared up with water-suits and safety hats and some clinging equipment, we headed to the river canyon in the mountain. We had to climb down watery cliffs using ropes, jump off cliffs into a pond, slide down small waterfalls, cling onto cliff walls, and swim in the water… and all of those required bravery to let go and have life dangers. The very last act was to climb down a waterfall with more than six stories in height!

 

(That’s me!)

On the third day we had rock climbing, but I forfeited my chance to do it. I decided to walk around the region around the rock climbing place and enjoy the Alpine countryside with my eyes.

After finished rock climbing, we all got back to the coach and headed back to school. What else can I say, this Adventure Weekend was test of bravery and a blast!

UTT Life

UTT (University of Technology of Troyes) has a fairly new campus established in 1994, and it’s one of the “Grande Ecoles” in France. A Grande Ecole is a school outside of the normal university system in France, and it’s usually a school of a specific course discipline. For example, UTT is basically an engineering school. Grande Ecole is usually considered a better school because its programs are more intense and focused. However, the tuition is considerably higher than a normal university’s.

Students in UTT are mainly French from all over France. It also has a considerable amount of international students from other European countries and Asia. The classrooms and curriculum system are pretty similar to American’s. Students at UTT usually graduate in four years, however, they are required to study abroad for one semester and also acquire internship experiences within four years.

The two courses we were taking at the UTT are Project Management and French Civilization. We were also glad to have two other groups of students joining us for the same program – one group from the University of Buffalo from New York, and one group from Nayang Technological University from Singapore. The Buffalo students are taking their own engineering statics course and French Civilization while the Singaporeans were taking the same courses with us Michigan students. In addition to the two main courses, we would also have a survival French course. So the schedule everyday was as follows:

0900 – 1200 Project Management

1200 – 1400 Lunch Break

1400 – 1700 French Civilization

Then I had survival French from 1200 – 1300 on Wednesdays and 1700 – 1800 on Thursdays.

The survival French course was different for each person as it’s divided according to levels.

I was in the very beginner level, because…I didn’t know French at all except “bonjour” and “merci”!

So the schedule was pretty full, and the three-hour long class time made people tired as well. Our teachers all speak English. PM teacher was from New Zealand, FC teacher was from England, and French teacher was a real French.

 

I would say the most intense course was the French class! Because the teacher did not allow speaking English in class! However, how were we supposed to do that because none of us in class knew how to speak French! But somehow, the teacher managed to keep the class going by forcing us to speak French. It was a very funny class as well, because weird pronunciation and misunderstanding of us always caused surprising humors! I also had to pay attention in this class every second, because I would never know when is the next time teacher would call me up to speak French!

 

Our main choice of lunch was to have it at the University Cafeteria because it’s only 3 euros per meal. With 3 euros, you can pick up a piece of French break, a slice of cheese, an appetizer dish, a main course, a dessert, and a yogurt. So it’s actually a pretty good deal! One thing you have to know that French love bread and cheese so much as they are essential to French people daily. There are around 400 distinct types of cheese in France!

One interesting side note is that lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day for French while breakfast being the least important one.

So yea, this is our school life in France.

The city of Troyes

We were going to pay a visit to downtown Troyes today! Our residence is in the campus of the Technology University of Troyes which is at the outskirt of city Troyes. In order to get to downtown, we would have to take buses there. Usually you can buy bus tickets from the driver which costs 1.2 euros per trip. However, the program purchased each of us a bus card which allows us to travel 45 trips. It took us around 15 minutes to get there.

I would say downtown Troyes is like a typical European old city. The buildings are all gothic, wooden, or baroque architecture style.  There is a square in front of the delicately built city hall. We were fortunate that the weather was nice with blue sky and white clouds. In the square, there are fountains, a huge merry-go-round, shops and restaurants surrounding by.

Our first stop was having lunch at the Pancake restaurant in the old street. As you may know, the pancake is called a crepe. French crepes have a lot of choices. There are sweet ones, savory ones, and dessert ones. Since its lunch, I chose to order a savory one called the Royal as there was ham, eggs, mushrooms and some kind of savory sauce on it. Thanks to fellows who know some French, otherwise I would not know what I was ordering from the menu.

After our crepe party, we set out to have a walk around the city. The city has a history of around 2000 years. As I passed by each building, I kept wondering how many people and events they had witnessed. There are a lot of huge churches in the city. All of those huge churches in Europe were built delicately both inside and outside in grand scales. In one of the church we visited, there was an overhanging carved out of stone. It was sculpted by a guy spending 40 years on it. That masterpiece is literally a record of his life!

We also visited a tools’ museum which has collected thousands of different tools for manufacturing all kinds of products. The museum used to be one of the finest skill training school in France. They said that the Statue of Liberty’s torch was once renovated by craftsmen from this school!

One addition note, the city seems to have some connections with cats as there are cat sculptures scattered on the walls of many buildings in the city.

As evening came, we were heading to have dinner. It was a welcome dinner party prepared by our program supervisors. The dinner took place in a night club restaurant beside the town center square. It’s underground and it’s like a maze. I had wine, green salad as appetizer, roast chicken with red fruit sauce as main dish, and a vanilla cake as dessert. It was nice and fulfilling. After that, we took the bus back to our residence and be “ready” for our first day of class next day.

Bonjour France

It has been eleven years that I have not set foot on Europe. I used to tell people that I have lived around the world since I was born. Thirteen years ago our family moved to Germany. However, it has been such a long time that I cannot really remember anything and I was so young that I did not have the capabilities to experience Europe greatly. So this summer, I decided to join this 5-week Project Management Program in France. Besides learning the fundamentals of Project Management, I would also like to re-experience Europe and know European cultures more in depth to justify my nomadic lifestyle.

After 9 hours of flight from Texas to London, and 1 hour flight from London to Paris, I finally reached my destination. I cannot really say that I’m very excited, but I know that I have a lot to anticipate. Paris CDG airport was definitely older than I thought. After I got my luggage and met some of my fellow program participants, we headed out and entered France officially. I had to exchange money first because I did not have time to do it when I was back in the states. Now I learned that really do not exchange money in the airport unless it is an emergency, because airport charges a great percentage of extra fees.

There was a French driver picking us up to Troyes. We cannot really have communication with the driver because we cannot speak French except “merci” and he cannot speak English. On the way, we noticed that private cars owned by Europeans are all small cars without a back outward extruded trunk. And the big trucks don’t have “noses”! All the trucks’ fronts are entirely flat. It was actually a long way through the countryside. Occasionally we would enter small French villages with small roads and white houses. Exhausting, we arrived our residence at Technology University of Troyes. Taking a nap was the important thing that time and I would call it a day.