A ramblin' wreck from Georgia Tech

I began my studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, commonly referred to as Georgia Tech, in mid-august of 2012. I studied in the Master’s program in Operations Research offered by the School of System and Industrial Engineering (ISyE). Operations Research is the branch of applied mathematics concerned with the development of algorithms to solve optimization problems, e.g., how to cut certain shapes from a material in order to minimize total waste or how to assign jobs to machines in order to minimize total cost or time.

I arrived in Atlanta about one week before the first day of class and there were a lot of things to do. Besides attending several events at the university, one has to open up a Bank account, get a cellphone and buy all kinds of stuff for the apartment. I lived on campus, which was convenient since this way I did not have to buy a car. Everything on campus and the surrounding area of the campus can easily be reached by bike. And although the public transportation in Atlanta is not very impressive, one can use it to get to Walmart or Lenox Mall in less than half an hour.

Studying at Georgia Tech is quite different from my studies in Germany. Although I only attended four courses in the fall term, there was a lot more work to do during the semester than I was used to. In a usual Master level course, Homework assignments have to be turned in almost every week and in addition to the final exam at the end of the term, most courses have two midterm exams during the semester.

On the first weekend of the fall term we went on a really nice trip to Savannah. Savannah is a beautiful city at the Atlantic Ocean about a five hour drive from Atlanta. The trip was organized by the World Student Fund (WSF). We were about twenty-four students in total, half of them from Germany. We toured the city, went to the beach, visited Fort Pulaski, ate crabs and went out at night. This trip takes place every year at the beginning of the fall term and it is a great opportunity to meet some new people.

During the semester there are tons of things to do on campus. First of all, there are the football games on the weekend. Although our team didn’t do well this season, home games were always huge events attended by around 60,000 people. Many of them come to the campus already hours before the start of the game to make small barbecues, drink beer and have a good time (the so called“tailgating”). As a student it is very easy to get free tickets for the games. If one prefers to do sports instead of watching them, there are plenty of opportunities. The Campus Recreation Center (CRC) has all kind of sport facilities (squash, racquetball, basketball, indoor soccer, badminton etc.). Besides that there are a bunch of sports clubs and courses. I took a swim once or twice a week and played ping pong, racquetball or basketball with my friends every Friday.

About every three to four weeks, we went to a performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Georgia Tech students can buy a season pass for only $20, which is less than the cheapest single ticket for a concert. Of course there is also a lot of other fun stuff to do. One special event was the Georgia Tech Night at Six Flags. There is a Six Flags amusement park here in Atlanta and one day from 6-12 pm it was opened only for students from Georgia Tech. And although there were a lot of students taking part in this event, it was still much less crowded than it usually is. With almost no time wasted waiting in line, the whole evening became one big roller-coaster ride!

Before I came to Georgia Tech I was a bit worried that I would only get burgers and pizzas in the dining halls here at Tech, but fortunately, this was not the case. It is a bit more expensive than our dining hall in Karlsruhe, but they also have really good and healthy food. Contrary to what friends and family expected, I did not gain any weight during my time in the US!

The only negative thing about living in Atlanta is the relatively high crime rate. Georgia Tech has its own police, but it is only operating on the Georgia Tech campus. So on the way home from a party or from the cinema one always has to be in a group. During my time in Atlanta there where several incidents in an area called “Home Park”, an area where many Georgia Tech students live. In order to improve security, there is a Georgia Tech cap service available from 7pm to 7am that operates on Georgia Tech campus and the surrounding area. It is free and works surprisingly well.

Like I already mentioned, I lived in an apartment on Georgia Tech campus. My roommate David is a PhD student in aerospace engineering and a real “native Atlantan”. His father, grandfather and greatgrandfather graduated from Georgia Tech, so he knows this place quite well! He is really funny, knows a lot of stuff and became a good friend of mine. He learned German for several years in school, but he enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed learning French! We also talked quite a lot about politics in the US, which was particularly interesting since he supported the Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the presidential elections that took place in the fall of 2012.

On Thanksgiving, Nicole – a fellow student at Tech - invited me and some other international students to her home for a Thanksgiving dinner with her family. Nicole and her family live about half an hour from Georgia Tech campus. It was a fun evening and I am really thankful to Nicole and her mother for hosting this great dinner.

The end of the fall term was again a lot of work. All the final exams take place in the last week and many people have two exams on the same day or three exams in three days. I was pretty lucky with my exam schedule and got through this week quite well.

In the semester break, from December 17 until January 5, I traveled up the east coast with two friends. We went to Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Cape Cod and Boston, from where we flew back to Atlanta. The trip was great! We went to so many historic sites, museums and concerts that it is difficult to select just a few highlights. However, among those highlights there would definitely be the violin concert we attended in the Library of Congress, the debate on the Senate floor we followed for almost two hours, the space shuttle “Discovery” at Dulles International Airport and the day we spent at Cape Cod.

On January 7, 2013, the new term at Georgia Tech began. Due to the challenging PhD courses I took, this spring term was even more work than the previous fall term. On two occasions I actually had to work through the night in order to finish the required homework on time. The reason why I decided to take PhD level courses was that they are a bit more rigorous than normal Master’s level courses, cover more material and are held by very good professors. Especially one professor at our department stands out among the others: Professor Arkadi Nemirovski. He is by far the most famous and influential researcher in the field of continuous optimization and I consider myself lucky that I had the opportunity to attend two of his courses during my time at Georgia Tech.

But of course the spring term did not only consist of hard work. As in the previous term, there were a lot of cultural and sports events. One special event was the Georgia Tech Night at the Aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is one of the largest aquariums in the world and as with the Six Flags amusement park in the previous term, the aquarium was opened only for Georgia Tech students.

During Spring Break my girlfriend and I rented a car for several days and did some sightseeing in Atlanta and the surrounding area, e.g. visit Stone Mountain. A real trip would have been too time consuming since we both needed some time to start preparing for the upcoming final exams. In the end, everything went pretty fast. On Thursday, May 2, while I was writing my last exam, my family landed in Atlanta. The next day, the Commencement Ceremony for the Master’s and PhD students took place in the Georgia Tech basketball stadium. Around 900 Master’s and PhD students were graduating this term and everybody was dressed in robes with hoods in the colors of their school. This event was a lot of fun, although it took a bit too long for my taste. On Saturday I met with all my friends and we said our goodbyes. On Sunday morning I had to move out of my apartment.

I spent one week in New York with my family. Then I flew back to Atlanta and went on a trip toFlorida with my girlfriend. Our first stop was Orlando, where we visited the Universal Studios theme park and the Kennedy Space Center. Then we drove down to Miami, stayed there for two days and then continued all the way down to Key West. The drive to Key West was my personal highlight of the trip, absolutely amazing. After two relaxed days in Key West we drove back to Miami, from where I flew back to Munich over Atlanta and Paris. My girlfriend stayed in Miami for an internship that would start a few days later.

Before concluding, I would like to mention a few points that I learned concerning traveling in the US:
1. Usually the German driver’s license is valid at least for one year. So one does not have to get a US driver’s license. However, this might not be the case in every state and since getting a US driver’s license is neither expensive nor time consuming or difficult, it probably makes sense to get one.
2. If one needs a rental car, I would recommend getting it from Hertz. The reason is that Hertz always waives the young driver’s fee (which usually applies for drivers below 25 years). This makes Hertz considerably cheaper than other rental car companies. Further, I would book the rental car over a German price engine like check24.de or billiger-mietwagen.de. This way the rental car is much cheaper while at the same time much better insured. We did this on all our trips and it always worked perfectly.
3. Concerning accommodations, we made very good experiences with airbnb.com on our trip north. We used it when we stayed in Washington for 5 days and for the 2 days we spend in Boston. On the trip to Florida we were couch surfing and it worked fantastic. But there is no guarantee for it to work so well. There is quite some luck involved.

My time in the US was a fantastic experience in every respect. Although my scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service by itself would have covered my complete stay Atlanta, I know that I never would have studied at Georgia Tech if it wasn’t for the scholarship of the Federation of German-American Clubs (FGAC). Therefore, I am extremely thankful for the support I got from the FGAC, the International Women’s Club Karlsruhe and in particular Ms. Ute de la Chaux, who made the exchange program with Georgia Tech possible.

Robert studierte am Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia (2012/13)