Georgia Tech-Europe welcomed the first cohort of Georgia Tech’s First-Year Semester Abroad Program in Fall 2021. After getting a jumpstart with a summer session on the Atlanta campus, first-year students to Georgia Tech accelerated their journey to becoming global citizens with their first fall semester spent on the Lorraine campus in Metz, France. 

The new program was led by Dr. Vicki Birchfield, Georgia Tech-Europe’s resident political scientist. The program embodies the Georgia Institute of Technology’s commitment to “Connect Globally,” one of the focus areas of Georgia Tech’s 2020-2030 Strategic Plan. According to Dr. Birchfield, “the objective is to broaden students’ intellectual and cultural horizons, help them to develop intercultural sensitivity, and deepen their knowledge and understanding of Europe through both classroom and experiential learning." 

The inaugural cohort brought together 41 students representing 10 different nationalities. Most students were either computer science or engineering majors; all were inquisitive and game to be part of Tech's very first, First-Year Semester Abroad program. 

Outside of their work in the classroom, students participated in a cultural and historical immersion program to get to know France and discover the Moselle department along with the larger Grand Est region. The activities and visits that took place over the course of the semester were key to educating students on the importance of these sites to European integration. 

From the start of the semester, students jumped right in to participate in regional events, from the Fête de la Mirabelle (an event celebrating the region’s iconic fruit – the Mirabelle plum) to the Journées de Patrimoine (Heritage Days). It didn't take long for the students to appreciate the richness of the heritage of Metz and the surrounding region. 

Among the fall semester’s most memorable visits were: 

  • A day trip to Scy-Chazelles to dive into history while learning about Robert Schuman’s life and his role in building Europe as it came out of World War II; 

  • Visits to Domrémy-la-Pucelle, the birthplace of Joan of Arc, with its beautiful Basilica ; 

  • Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises to see the Charles de Gaulle Memorial and family home (La Boisserie) ;  

  • Château de Malbrouck where students saw the exposition, “Asterix, the European” to learn more about this beloved French comic book character who contributes so strongly to French national identity; 

  • A long weekend in Paris with highlights that included a visit to the National Assembly, a tour of the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Gardens, The Institute of the Arab World, and a tour of Station F, Paris’ innovative startup campus. 

Students chose between one of three weeklong faculty-led fall break trips: 

  • Brussels, Belgium: “Getting to Know the European Union,” with Dr. Vicki Birchfield, 

  • Berlin, Germany :  “Entrepreneurship and Startup Culture: the German Approach,” with Dr. Henry Owen, 

  • Nice, France: “Art and the European Avant-Garde,” with Dr. Lizzy LeRud. 

After testing their independence and travel skills at during the fall break trips, students were empowered to plan their own independent weekend trips, traveling in small groups for the rest of the semester.  

Students returned to the Atlanta campus for the spring semester, after a memorable start to their college career that is certain to influence the rest of their time at Georgia Tech. Next year the First-Year Semester Abroad program aims to bring 50 first-year students to Georgia Tech-Europe.