One more interview with one of the IMFSE alumni, Simon Santamaria!
Can you introduce yourself?
Sure. My name is Simon, I’m 29 years old. I’m from Caracas, Venezuela. I am currently a PhD student working in the fire group at the School of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh. I completed the IMFSE in 2015 (green hoodie).
How did you know about the IMFSE?
I found out about it from the Erasmus Mundus website. At the time, I was looking for an opportunity to study a master in Europe and IMFSE caught my eye. I spent some time looking at the course description, the cities, universities and the impressions that past students had of the program. Every clue seemed to indicate this was the program to choose. I can happily say it was the right decision to make.
How did you spend the two years of the IMFSE program?
Big question. Happy. Busy. Challenged.
I spent my first and third semesters in Gent, the second semester in Lund and the fourth in Edinburgh.
How was the IMFSE experience?
Life changing. No doubt about it. So many things that feel natural in my life now are a direct consequence of taking part in this program. Working in an international group, living away from home and being connected to so many alumni spread around the world.
When I started in 2013, I remember the excitement and the expectations I had for the upcoming two years. So many things happened in that time. Friendships, challenges, surprises. The experience allowed me to set new goals for myself, to learn many things in many different aspects of life and in a sense, it gave me the opportunity to rediscover the person I wanted to be. In my opinion, the key aspect about IMFSE is that it lived up to my personal expectations of it. What I encountered (people, professors, cities, weather, food, parties, universities, courses, contacts) have since opened a breadth of opportunities that I couldn’t have foreseen
I can’t overstate how wonderful this experience is, how much it taught me and how much it means to me. I’ve been going over this question a lot since I find it hard to find the right words. It just, is, that amazing.
Did you have other options after graduating from the IMFSE, I mean other than doing the Ph.D.?
Yes. I applied to some companies and started with the recruitment process, but to be honest, once I was offered the Ph.D. opportunity my mind was made up (even if, at the time, I wasn’t completely conscious of that).
How was your experience as a TA for the IMFSE students?
It was, and still is, great. I love meeting the IMFSE groups and I always try to be as helpful as I can. IMFSE students tend to be very open and interested. They bring a freshness of expectations and are eager to try new things. I am looking forward to being a Teaching Assistant again this year in the fire courses.
What is the best thing you like about the program?
That is another hard question. The program is very well organized and structured, there is always a feeling that somebody has your back, and that is very important when you live away from home. The universities are great and the cities are amazing, each provides a unique experience.
The best thing though?
Probably the people. The friendships that you make along the way, the lessons that you are taught (some of them even include a bit of sweat and tears) and the joy that fills your body every single time you realize, during those two years, that you are indeed in the process of doing an Erasmus Mundus master.
Why do you think students prefer to apply to IMFSE than applying to other Fire Safety programs? What makes the IMFSE unique?
Because it is the best. All universities taking part excel in their own fields of expertise. The program’s international recognition increases every year. The environment to which students are exposed ensures that, as graduates, they are prepared to deal with the challenges in our profession; and in my opinion, this rests on two main pillars: the internationality of the program (students, professors, universities) and the teaching philosophy. At the end, the best ambassadors for the program are all the alumni who work hard to have a positive impact in this field.
Do you have any advice to the new students joining the IMFSE?
Wear sunscreen. Other than that:
The experience can be demanding, intense and very challenging. My best advice is to keep an open mind. Trust in your instincts and in people. Study hard but remember that half the lessons will come from those around you. Study the history of the cities you will live in, it will make you appreciate them much more. Roam the cities alone. Save money, but be careful with what you eat, a two euros lasagna is not a sustainable way of feeding yourself. Buying a used bike will always be a good investment, as long as you remember to sell it later. Take plenty of pictures, but don’t spend too much time looking at them, there will be time for that later. Use student discounts, many places have them but don’t necessarily advertise them.
Time flies, so enjoy everything that IMFSE has to offer. Travel when you can, or maybe as much as you can. Immerse yourself in the culture of the country that is hosting you. Drink beer in Belgium and make beer in Lund. Travel to the highlands. See the northern lights.
What do you do to welcome the new IMFSE students to Edinburgh and what is your experience regarding that?
That is actually an important question for our group now. The philosophy in the fire group has always been to welcome all new students and to try to help them benefit from everything the group has to offer. We realize though, that it can be a bit intimidating. It’s a big group and everybody seems to know each other already. For that reason, this year we have decided to organize social activities specifically targeted at welcoming the new master students (there are two other groups studying structural and fire safety engineering at a Master’s level in Edinburgh: MSc and MEng).
We truly hope that this year’s new IMFSE students feel welcomed and take part in as many activities as they can.
One more time Thanks Simon for your time and wish you all the best in your research!