Incredible: My First Snow Experience!

It was a cold normal day. Our class is at 1 PM but I woke up extra earlier because the feedback from the mock exam in Thermodynamics has been emailed to us yesterday and I want to visit our laboratory instructor and see what have I done right and wrong. After consultation, I went back to the dorm to eat my lunch and get ready for our Basics of Structural Engineering class.

Rain is in the forecast so I decided not to come with my bike. I do not want to experience again arriving in the classroom dripping wet because of the rain, the same as what happened to me last week. I looked out of my window to check the sky and to my surprise, it is not raining. IT IS SNOWING! The tropical kid inside me jumped out of excitement, literally. I put on my shoes, picked my bag and ran downstairs as fast as I can because of two things: only 3 minutes left before the bus arrives in the bus stop and obviously, I want to experience the snow.

I was the first to arrive in the bus stop. The bus was late so I got to experience snow quite longer. I saw Balsa’s message in our group chat, “Gerard, look outside the window.” 😆 Then my classmates/friends started arriving and they can see from my face how happy I am to see snow for the first time. Southeast Asian. 😆


Ines, Kristi, Balsa and I took a picture because I need to get this in my blog!


Picture on the other side with Karla and Jamie because we could not fit in one frame!

Throughout the whole Structural Engineering class, I could not really focus because I could not keep myself from looking outside the window. I was really mesmerized by how fluffy and light it looks like. During the break, Balsa and I went outside and we made some snowballs. 😆 This man from Serbia who has seen snow every year of his life told us that he still feels happy every time he sees snow.



View from outside the building where we have Basics of Structural Engineering classes!

We went home and there is about half an inch of snow in the road. Walking with sneakers on is really a struggle because it is slippery and sometimes mushy. Ines asked me, “So you still want snow?” I guess, the excitement outweighs the hardships. 😆 It is really fun to experience a lot of first things here and I cannot take IMFSE out of my Erasmus Mundus journey. Not convinced? Look at the title. Its acronym screams IMFSE! 🔥

FAQ about Edinburgh IMFSE team

For current IMFSE students half a semester passed and now we begin to prepare for the exams. Yes, the ‘hot’ season is near!

But for new applicants, another one ‘hot’ season starts. During the last 3 weeks, several people contacted me via Facebook to ask questions about our program and this is very pleasing to know that IMFSE program is getting more and more popular!

To answer the most frequently asked questions, I decided to conduct a survey among my groupmates in Edinburgh, to visualize data I made some graphs. I also added some possible questions that applicants may have during application process or later.

  1. Who are we, the IMFSE students in Edinburgh?

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IMFSE is a worldwide program and students come from different countries. But it is interesting , that can be mentioned from the graph above, that most of my classmates came from Asia (as also me).

2. What is a gender concentration of IMFSE?

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Many people think that there are not so many girls in Engineering. And they are right. There are only 3 IMFSE girls in Edinburgh and I think that in Ghent the number of girls also not prevail the number of boys.

  1. English – is not my native language. Will I be able to study?Снимок экрана 2017-11-12 в 12.38.20

For the overwhelming majority of us, English is not native language. However, it is not a problem! We are developing our communicative and language skills along with our studying.

  1. I have never studied anything concerning IMFSE, am I eligible to apply? / I am working in this field for 7 years, am I eligible to apply?

Снимок экрана 2017-11-12 в 12.39.10

We all came not only from different parts of the world, but also from different study backgrounds.

Even if you don’t have any Fire Safety Engineering Experience, you are welcome anyway! Even if you have big experience in this field – you are also welcome! During this program you will definitely find things you didn’t even know about Fire Safety Engineering.

The purpose of this blog is to show for future applicants, who probably reads IMFSE blogs, that we are the same as you! Don’t worry to fail, or not to succeed whether in the application process (you can read about it in Gerard’s blog) or in the future study (about our study adventures you can read in the blog of Farah).

So after getting a positive answer from selection committee, new challenges open to you – visa, moving from home, financial affairs, finding accommodation and etc.

The latter, finding the accommodation, in Edinburgh seems to be harder than Finding Nemo.


But our Edinburgh team succeeded, and students before us also did it! So no worries! Everything will be fine.

Снимок экрана 2017-11-12 в 12.38.30According the survey the most of us found the accommodation due to their social skills. Some had acquaintances, some had friend here, some just talked to people in the streets and asked them about free room to rent (two of my peers found their rooms near the University exactly by this way). But if you are not very talkative or if you don’t have a Singaporian friend in Edinburgh – don’t worry! In 21st century Internet will help you (as it helped me).

Here are links from various Facebook groups for those, who will search for accommodation later.

Edinburgh to let



And, to conclude, some statistics about banks, transport and service providers  preferences.

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Most of us preferred to use the services of Three provider. 5GB of data is around 15 pounds per month. Other providers have about the same prices, the difference is only n the amount of data you need.

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Santander is a leader of banking services among us. May be that is because the office is located near the Potterrow (student centre of Edinburgh).

Снимок экрана 2017-11-12 в 12.38.39.png

7 of us use the bus to get the University. About prices for transport, and also about other interesting things of Edinburgh, you can read in Kunsulu’s Edinburgh practical information blog

We all wish you a good luck ! And may the force be with you!


Festival of (Bon)Fire(Works)

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

The 5th of November commemorates Guy Fawkes night when the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 planned by a man called Guy Fawkes to assassinate the king was foiled. Londoners were then encouraged to light bonfires in celebration of the king’s safety, “always provided that ‘this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder’”. (Always remember, fire safety first.. even in 1605!)

I am not an English history enthusiast but one aspect of this celebration which truly “ignite” the fireworks buff (or maybe the fire safety engineer) in me is that the tradition of lighting bonfires with the addition of fireworks(!) still continues. As Guy Fawkes night this year was on a Sunday, the skies of Edinburgh was littered with fireworks throughout the week leading up to 5th November with festivities starting even on 31st October when Halloween meets the Samhuinn Fire Festival!

The IMFSE crew gathered for a small Halloween dinner on 31st October at Silvia’s house. It was my first Halloween ever and when the kids rang the door for treats, I was so excited to be finally part of the tradition that I have only seen in television and movies. Making our way to the Royal Mile to witness the Samhuin Fire Festival, our very own Andrei and his wife Nastya made an appeareance on National (Lothian bus) TV.

They even got a legion of fan followings. Undoubtedly, the best dressed Halloween couple on the Royal Mile that day.

Samhuinn Fire Festival celebrates the Celtic New Year, marking the end of summer and welcoming the onset of winter. The event showcased stunning torchlit performance along the Royal Mile with wild drumming, acrobatics, fire-dancing and intricate costumes as battles between the forces of summer and winter are recreated. Or so they say… so we were expecting amazing scenes like these… (pictures taken from Beltrane Fire Society).

However, due to our poor location, we had views like this instead…

But at least we had some backstage view on the crew working to extinguish the fires

IMFSE students should volunteer to do this next time 🙂

This would be the start of a fire-filled week leading up to Guy Fawkes night. For three nights in a row, the sound of fireworks blasting all around tempted me leave home in search of some firework action. The week ended with a little gathering of the IMFSE crew atop Carlton Hill where we could view fireworks blasting all around the city skyline in the company of the Edinburgh crowd. Here are some highlights of my nights out… (1)
A fire-wand war ending off with a bang!!! Caught on camera by Darko and Khai Chern.

We learnt in class about the dangers of fire, how to control it and extinguish it. However, fire can also be a source of joy and celebration (and much needed heat especially now!). Our enemy is never fire itself. It’s how we design and build the things around us that separates when a fire is destructive or delightful. (1)
Good fire or bad fire?


Interesting Meetings for Future Safety Experiences_(IMFSE)

This week our firefighting professor had organized a visit to the Fire Academy in Ghent, in order to make some relation from the theoretical lectures with the practical and the real-life firefighting techniques, but as well to introduce us with the real fire that we have been talking so much about (it was “nice” meeting you Mr. Fire). As soon as we arrived at the fire academy, two firefighter assistants were waiting for us. They equipped us with the costumes and oxygen apparatus, we were literally ready to face the fire (I hope not to face it again, it feels safer reading about it haha, kidding the experience was amazing).

                      20171113_141547-01               20171113_143039-01                                              The container                                                                              Me in my best costume

Before entering the container in which the training was going to perform, the professor showed us the main techniques on how to apply water to the fire depending on the situations, either going with the direct technique, put water onto the surface of the fire or going with the indirect technique which consists in cooling the gasses and then extinguish the fire but the most important was the ‘KISS’ technique which every firefighter should know (FYI, it means Keep It Simple Stupid!). Now we were ready to enter the container.

Firstly the test is performed with having natural ventilation, giving the fire the necessary amount of air so that it can grow, after the fire has been developed the doors of the container are closed and the container is filled with smoke and the temperature rises (hello Hell!). Once you have located the fire the extinguishment was fast and easy.

              20171113_135416-01Fire Academy

I really believe in superheroes and firefighters are definitely one of them!

These past weeks have been really intensive but very nice and fruitful, university wise and life wise. The mayor of Tirana (capital city of my country, Albania), Erion Veliaj, was invited to give a lecture at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands about the city development and how they can drive towards EU integration. Being a really interesting topic and feeling the need to introduce fire safety as a possible mean towards integration, I thought to myself “I need to meet this guy!”, so I went for it. The lecture was very interesting and seeing lots of internationals being interested in the topic and the city, made me feel happy. After the lecture, everybody wanted to meet and talk to the mayor (including ambassadors, ex-ambassadors, and diplomatic people), but my long travel from Ghent to Rotterdam made him actually stop and talk to me and thank me for being part of his lecture and discussion, so I grab the opportunity to briefly introduce him with the IMFSE scope(I guess I already found a job :P). It was a very interesting day, I got the mayors attention, I became an IMFSE “ambassador”, I got a selfie with and a beer with the mayor (I couldn’t ask for more haha).

20171030_200919.jpgIt was great meeting you Erion

‘Cause We Got the Fire and We Gonna Let it Burn!

The semester is going by so fast as quick as how fire spreads. We have been doing lectures and computational exercises to heat up our brains and ready it as bright as flame for the coming semesters and the real fire world. But, as engineers, we are applied scientists. We love seeing the practical. We marvel at how things work. We understand theory better when we see it in action. So, that is what we did, experiment time!


Burning material from the actual test

In Fire Dynamics course, we study the basics of fire – from the amazing physics of candle light to how fire starts and propagates. We know for a fact that fire is one of the most devastating disasters in the world. At the first few moments, common fire can easily be controlled. Just add water and poof! Fire is gone. If that is the case, then why do we still have lots of fire-related accidents? Why did the fire become so large?

That is what we were tasked to find out in our first real fire activity! Well, not directly, but probably find out its importance in real life. Last October 10 and 31, 2017, IMFSE students along with the local MFSE students and post-graduates conducted a cone calorimeter experiment in Warrington Fire Gent. We tested journal paper, cardboard, copy paper and wood. All of which are common household and office materials.


Ines and Jamie carefully listening to the lab technician’s instructions

The experiment links the oxygen concentration with heat release and mass loss. That makes a lot of sense because after all, oxygen is one of the main ingredients of fire. We also investigated the effect of the form of the material whether it is massive or dispersed and the presence and absence of radiation during the burning process. It was a lot fun seeing the application of what we do in class and an undeniable proof that not everything can be learned inside a compartment we call a classroom.


Ines is really into it. Don’t go any closer, Ines, it is hot!


One sneaky groufie during the experiment!  Kristi is blocking Balsa 1f604.png and we missed Giorgos and Jamie in this picture.

Oh, and back to the question earlier, why did the fire become so large? Heat release rate! Heat produces more heat in such a way that if the heat produced initially managed to make adjacent materials become hot enough for them to pyrolyze and ignite, additional heat will be released since combustion is exothermic. It is like a chain reaction!

So, understanding that material, form and radiation have significant roles in fire, I have a very simple suggestion to at least lower the heat release rate in case your room catch fire. Material-wise, most of what we have at home are combustibles. I cannot tell you not to have a paper or wood or even a sofa at home. Form-wise, clean your room and put things in order. 😉 Remember that materials in dispersed or spread form have higher heat release rate! Radiation-wise, it is up to you if you are going to reduce the heat from your radiator especially at this time of the year. Winter is coming! You might have lowered the risk of catching fire, but you increased the chance of having hypothermia. 1f604.png But frankly, for me, all of these suggestions will not significantly reduce fire risk. It is still better to have a working fire protection system or a fire extinguisher, just in case.


A blurred photo of a flame. I was about to delete this but Kristi said it is artsy!

I always hear these words from interviews of Prof. Jose Torero, the former IMFSE coordinator of the University of Edinburgh who is now at the University of Maryland, “We burn things for a living!” No, we are not arsonists. We burn things to investigate and bridge experimental findings to characterize new materials to be used for the construction and manufacturing industry. It is our passion and the commitment that we have to embrace. In a human sense, passion is like a fuel that once ignited, it keeps burning. Same as Ellie Goulding’s song, ‘cause we got the fire and we gonna let it burn!

When the Universe ConsFIREs Part 2: Why I Ultimately Decided to Join the IMFSE

Fast forward to the interview day, it was the 14th of February and love is in the air they say, there I was chasing after my goals. I did not go to work. I was like preparing for a date – cooking ideas, grooming myself to be as presentable as possible and thinking of sentences on how to have a YES for an answer. Everything went well the whole day but during the main event, Prof. Grunde Jomaas could not contact me on Skype even though he saw that I was online and I could not contact him also. A quarter of an hour already passed when we finally had a connection. I was so nervous because the allotted time is only 30 minutes so I used some 10 minutes of the next interviewee’s time. Whoever you are, I am really sorry. 😊

Then, the agony of waiting started. Every day, I was checking my email and it came at a time where I was in the most unexpected place. I was inside an elevator and I wanted to shout and to jump but I kept the happiness inside so as not to damage the elevator out of excitement. I was smiling the whole night and texted the news to my family and friends. “Is this really happening?”, that is the only thing that I was thinking of that night.

Everything was already set – the university that I want to start the program in, the elective course that I want to take, the university residence hall that I want to stay in, my mindset in general – when another good news from another reputable university came. It rocked my already peaceful mind. There I was, torn between two equally good but completely different options, needed to make the hardest decision ever that would dictate the fate of my career and my life as a whole. Something that I have knowledge in or something that is entirely new? One university or at most four but at least two universities? Asia or Europe? Civil engineering or fire safety engineering?

I had a whole week to decide if I am going to decline the second opportunity. To be honest, I also thought of declining the IMFSE. I asked for signs from “the gods both old and new” (yeah, that is from Game of Thrones). All the Bible verses of the day for the whole week from my phone and the internet were pointing to only one. I even read a journal saying that the deadline is near but you have no decision yet. My officemates even gave me a chocolate with a message inside, hoping that I would find the answer there. To my surprise, the message written is “Choose different.” During that time, it was like the whole universe is speaking to me but still I was not firm with my decision. I felt that I needed a last sign, something really grand.

The next day, it was the anniversary celebration of the company that I previously worked for and it was also the pseudo-deadline (long story but let us just say that it is a two-day deadline) of giving the decision for the second opportunity. I was still patiently waiting for the sign. On our way to the place where the celebration will be held, the traffic was really heavy on the expressway. From afar, I saw a thick cloud of black smoke and it was coming from a burning factory (see picture below). “THIS IS THE SIGN!”, I told myself.

DSC_1260-01The Burning Factory

I started composing the decline letter for the other university and I sent it the next day (the real deadline) 30 minutes before the time. “There is no turning back.” I was still in doubt with the status of my admission to the IMFSE because I just received an email and I considered it informal. I was worried that I just let the other one slip away. But later that night, I received the acceptance letter and the access to my student page. What a mind-blowing turn of events!

I know that when the universe consFIREs, it is for a reason and several months after that divine intervention, I am writing this blog at Ghent University, inside a room in Home Vermeylen, setting aside for a few hours my study notes in “Modelling of Turbulence and Combustion” (that should have been “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” if not for a schedule conflict with a major course), sharing to everyone my fiery, celestial and unexplainable experience.

4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day

When something has IMFSE in its name, it’s clear that it has to be good, but when an event has IMFSE in its name and is happening only once a year, then it just has to be remarkable! 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day this year took place in the city where IMFSE idea was born, and the city where I spent the first semester of my degree, in the city of Gent, Belgium.

Ever since we found out that it will be hosted in Gent, a few months ago, we were all more than happy for being given an opportunity of going back to the city full of amazing memories! Another nice thing about the trip to Gent was that it meant we would reunite with the other half of our class, but also it would be an opportunity to meet the first year IMFSE students from Gent. This especially made me happy, as my good friend from Serbia, Balša, started his IMFSE adventure this September in Belgium.

After a class on Tuesday morning, where everyone already probably had their minds in Gent, we headed straight to the airport, and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves surrounded by our dearest fellow friends!

The following morning, finally, the 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day was about to start! This year’s venue was a beautiful ’’Huis van de Bouw’’, and the central theme of the day was: ’FSE: the road to resilience of critical infrastructure’.


Programme started with registration and a lunch, which was a nice way to informally meet each other and prepare ourselves for the upcoming presentations. Our Professor Bart Merci gave an introduction speech and the presentations were ready to start!

Serbian and Belgian IMFSE students meet again!

This time, the icebreaker was Hugh McNamara, from ARUP Edinburgh. He gave an interesting talk about “The role of fire safety engineering and protection of critical infrastructure”. Following him was a new, young lecturer at Ghent University, Ruben van Coile who presented his research on the topic of “Certain uncertainty – demonstrating safety in fire engineering design”. The last presentation for the first block was particularly interesting for all of us, as it was reserved for a talk given by two IMFSE alumnus Jan Vandekerckhove and Eduardo Sanchez from FPC Risk. It’s really a pleasure seeing how our older IMFSE fellows are having fruitful careers, and really interesting thinking that not long from now, some of us will also be giving lectures to future IMFSE students!

Predavaci 1
Hugh McNamara, Ruben van Coile and the IMFSE duo – Jan Vandekerckhove and Eduardo Sanchez giving their lectures (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

Lectures were “interrupted” by a first coffee break, which was a great opportunity for some networking and meeting representatives from all the sponsoring companies, but also PhD students, IMFSE alumnus, lecturers and many other interesting people! Having a chance to meet engineers from some of the leading fire engineering companies is a rare and great opportunity for each one of us. On the event, representatives from the core financial partners of the IMFSE were present, namely: ARUP, IFIC Forensics, UL, BRE, FPC Risk, Fire Engineered Solutions Ghent (FESG), Promat, Kingspan and WSP. What a notable list!

Time for networking! (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

The second block started with a presentation on “How fire safety design can impact critical infrastructure” given by another IMFSE alumni, Arne Inghelbrecht, working in FESG. Following was the lecture our very well-known teacher from Lund University, Enrico Ronchi on “Large-scale fire evacuation modelling in critical wildland-urban interfaces”. The closing presentation for the day was given by Bart De Pauw from Tucrail, and he was giving a talk on “The need for a performance based design approach in smoke evacuation in Belgian railway tunnels”.

Predavaci 2
Enrico Ronchi, Arne Inghelbrecht and Bart De Pauw delivering their talks. (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

Another coffee break after the second block was followed by a traditional panel discussion. Among the participants were: Hugh McNamara (ARUP), Ralf Bruyninckx (FPC Risk), Arne Inghelbrecht (FESG), Kees Both (Promat), Roy Weghorst (Kingspan) and Romain Hourqueig (WSP). Moderated by Bart Merci, the discussion was based on the topics brought up by the attendees, including the students, which made it especially interesting with topics such as: use of artificial intelligence in fire safety engineering, or future of fire modelling etc.

The panel discussion members (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

At the end of the day, a small celebration was organized. The reason was 10th birthday of Fire Safety Engineering at Ghent University. A big day for our profession, and I could not say I am not proud of being a part of this whole extraordinary fire world!

Professor Bart Merci, emeritus professor Paul Vandevelde and one of the first Gent University Fire Safety Engineering diploma holders – Bart Vanbever (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

All in all, 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day fulfilled the expectations, taught us some new things, allowed us to meet some great people, and certainly strengthened the bond between IMFSE students even more!

The shining IMFSE (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)