One day under the sun

Coming from a tropical country to live 6 months in Sweden, can be difficult to handle, especially if you have never had a previous contact with low temperatures and snow. The second semester of the IMFSE program In Lund, Sweden started like this for me and a few more of my classmates.

This year, we were lucky enough to experience one wonder of nature just the second day after arriving: a snowstorm. If you have read my blog about it, you know how excited we were and what is my position regarding snow (yes, I still believe is amazing). Many people say this winter wasn’t “so bad” and that we didn’t got a lot of snow (agreed, I would have loved to be surrounded by it more often) however, coming from a tropical country and disregarding I love snow, I can tell you… I miss the sun.

Last Sunday, all of us went to Valborg, that is basically how Swedish people celebrate the arrival of spring, if you are curious about it you can read a little bit more here. This is an event that starts early morning (around 9 A.M) and it ends approximately around 8 P.M with an impressive bonfire. What you basically do is hang out with your friends lying on the grass while having a good time under the sun. This was the first time in 5 months that we had been able to walk around the park without sweaters and coats and it was only 14 degrees.

18209911_10155311907915984_2120425199_o

After Valborg, the days have been perfect. We get temperatures varying from 10 to 18 degrees and we couldn’t be more grateful about it. My funny theory is that this good weather started because in Valborg they lit a huge bonfire and they scared away the winter.

18379138_10210648320497028_464347085_o

The weather is starting to get nicer and nicer, in such a way that this Sunday we went to the closest soccer field and had a little tournament. Almost all the guys were there and we all had fun even though we did not win the tournament. We also had a fika (that is basically dessert and coffee time) and lots of sun.

The end of the semester is approaching, and once again the group will be separated into “the Gent guys” and the “Endinburgh guys” but first we need to pass our courses and think about being with our families for summer. Definitely, the semester in Lund is out of this world and we will always remember this moment of our lives.

18319313_1471155429601500_1468532196351254161_o

 

Let´s talk about ¨failure¨

failureBy reading the IMFSE blogs, you might think we write about optimistic and cheerful topics because we are optimistic and cheerful people. Indeed! IMFSE students are! however it´s not always rainbows and butterflies (yes, I´m quoting Maroon 5 here) so this time, I will share with you one of my ¨failure¨ during the program.

During the 1st semester, we all struggle with different things. In some cases, home sickness is a strong issue. In other cases, managing the cultural changes and adjusting the learning method can be complicated. In my case, I struggled with one specific course: Basics of structural engineering.

For you to understand better, I must let you know a bit about myself. My background is industrial engineering (focused on processes optimization) with a master in occupational health and safety, this means that basically I have almost cero knowledge in structural engineering. I chose Gent as my 1st university knowing that I would have a challenge with this specific course, however I really liked the rest of the courses so I decided to accept the challenge and go for it.

I won´t lie to you, it was really a challenge. A challenge that in the first semester I didn’t conquered so I ended up failing by a few points even though I tried. In all my academic life, I had never ¨failed¨ that bad and I was feeling that I wasn’t good enough to be in the program, I was questioning all my life decisions out of one ¨fail¨ in my academic records. It took me weeks of mental preparation and a lot of ¨TED talks¨ from my friends and family pointing out that I did very good in the other courses to finally overcome it, and start doing something about it instead of being negative about it.

So, I decided to ¨study like a Granger¨ and improving my weakness.

Spring break came by, and I saw how most of my classmates went for the trip of their lives and I was studying for my exam. Again, I won´t lie. This hit me very hard, however I decided to stop being negative and focus on learning and not only ¨passing¨ the exam. I still don’t know the results of my exam, but I can tell you that I feel satisfied that now I know by heart how to identify lateral torsional buckling out of a description among other things, so yes, I can say that this time I learned.

For what I experienced, ¨failure¨ is an opportunity to learn what your weaknesses are, to know your limits and to push them as far as you can, and the most important, to know when you need to ask for help and to appreciate those in your life that are there to support you in your hardest times.

My message here is: ¨Failure¨ is in your mind.

Learn from the difficulties, surround yourself with people that has a good vibe and never give up!! you can do it and then you can go for a 72 hours trip to Berlin (that´s what I did anyways)

How do you feel about dinosaurs?

17349605_1505343809478396_2883828721790002479_o

As a 90’s kid, I grew up with the idea that if I was in Steven Spielberg’s world of “Jurassic Park” I would have done different things than the characters in the movie. I would have overcome the situation just 10 minutes after it all went down because… who is afraid of a giant lizard, right? Not me. However, last week I found out that actually, I would have frozen in front of them so probabilities say that I would have been eaten in about 10 minutes… tops.

How do I know that? Well, I was a part of a virtual reality experiment conducted by Francisco Rosero and David Mayorga for their master thesis in Lund. My colleague’s thesis wasn’t exactly about dinosaurs, it was about new ways of taking advantages of new technologies for Fire Safety Engineering purposes, in this case, virtual reality.

Virtual reality is a technology that uses headsets to recreate different virtual environments resembling any place or situation you want. The basic idea is to help the user to immerse in the scenario completely as they can see all the surrounding in 360 degrees. It has been used for video games (look this cool video of Skyrim) and also to help elderly people to experience being out of the care house, they can “go” to a mountain or “walk” in front of the beach, here is a very touching video of this amazing project.

For fire safety engineering purposes, Francisco and David had different approaches. Francisco for example based his thesis in using virtual reality as a learning tool on how to identify if you can extinguish a fire or if you need to run out of there because the fire is completely out of control. On the other hand, David focused on setting different scenarios of exit signs along a tunnel to know which ones where easier to identify by the users in case of evacuation.

Both thesis had different objectives but in the 2 of them the participants of the experimental phase were thrilled. The details of the fire in Francisco’s scenarios were impressive as while you were standing right next to it you could feel kind of afraid to get burnt with the largest fire scenario. In David’s set up, the details of the tunnel were outstanding, you could think you were inside of the tunnel looking for an exit sign just to get out of there. As a bonus, they also showed a series of pre-stablished scenarios for us to experience a bit more on virtual reality (this is where I discovered my dinosaur phobia)

As first-year students, we are two weeks away from choosing our master thesis topics and with this decision it also comes in which city we´ll spend the 4th semester. A lot of options have been set for us, all of them interesting and applicable to the fire safety engineering field, hopefully all of us will get a topic that make us passionate to be able to develop it in the best possible way, just as Francisco and David did with virtual reality. I can only add, that I am definitely considering making someone discover a dinosaur phobia next year.

dinosaur

Do you want to see the northern lights?

DSC_0152

Everything started when a text message reached my phone saying: “Hey, do you want to see the northern lights?” in that moment countless possibilities came into my mind, thoughts like: what if I have classes? What if I have assignments to submit? What about the fire dynamics exam that is so close to the travel date? However, life has a way of putting everything in order if you only have patience and bit of organization skills.

The travel plan was amazing, it included dog sledging, a snowmobile tour, sauna, a visit to the ice hotel, ice fishing and of course, staring at the sky looking for the northern lights while staying in a cozy cabin in Kiruna (that by the way, its -20 degrees there). It sounded too good to be true and too good to be missed.

Julia and I (first year students) started to prepare ourselves for the trip 3 weeks before the flight. Luckily for us, we could finish all the assignments on time and also agreed with one professor on the possibility to rescheduled our seminar for Thursday as our trip started on early Friday. Needless to say, we had to do a lot of sacrifices before traveling, but it was totally worth it.

Friday started early for all of us, getting to the tDSC_8009rain station around 5:45AM to be in the airport before 7:00AM is much harder to do than it sounds, but we were so excited that at 2PM we would be surrounded by snow, that we did it with a smile on our faces and coffee. When we arrived at Kiruna, the first thing we noticed was how small the airport is, it only takes a maximum of 4 flights a day in high season! The second thing we noticed was that everything was white! Snow was everywhere! If you remember my love for snow from the previous blogs, can you imagine how happy I was?

 

The weekend was lovely, we got to see the northern lights 3 nights in a row! On Saturday, we did the dog sledge tour and we got to meet all the dogs and their owners. Some people think that this dogs suffer when they carry weight, however you cannot imagine how happy this dogs are when they’re running! If you use the brake, they start to pull hard while barking until you release the brake again. They love it! Another remarkable thing is how much the owners care for them, they know each dog by their name and they even explain you the personality of the dogs when you’re playing with them.

On Sunday, the group was divided in two: half of us went to the ice hotel driving a snowmobile, the others went to do the Nordic hike trying to find reindeers. We all had a great time and by the time of dinner we could share different stories of the day. On Monday morning, it was time to prepare ourselves to say “good bye” to Kiruna, but first we went to the frozen lake to try to catch a fish. Drilling the hole through the ice was the hardest thing to do and the slowest, but setting all the gears and sunbathing at -20 degrees was a good experience.

This was a weekend to be remember for the rest of our lives and the only thing remaining to say is: “Thank you God for friends and good times”

DSC_0321

 

Is “that” a snowstorm?

snowstorm

Do you remember when I was all excited about the first time we got snow in Gent? Well… that was nothing. I got crazy-excited with the most amazing show of nature I’ve ever seen: an awesome snowstorm in Lund!

I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve heard comments like “winter is depressing, you’ll see” and “snow is dirty and annoying” however, for the moment I completely disagree. I find winter very soothing and beautiful, maybe it’s because I’m from a tropical country or maybe it’s because I can find an excuse to drink hot chocolate, I’m not sure, however I’m sure that this semester in Lund will be amazing. I’ll try to explain myself better.

Reason #1: The classes and the different activities of the universitylund-university-logo2

The first week in Lund, we had the introduction session. The purpose was to get a tiny glimpse on how the semester will develop regarding the courses and also other student activities. The courses will be interesting and we’ll get to apply what we learned the last semester, we will be able to use computer programs to model fire and we will also have the highly-expected fire laboratory. For sure, we have new exciting challenges ahead!

Reason #2: My classmates are the funniest people on earth

During the introduction, the students from the IMFSE 2016-2018 class got together for the first time, and it was amazing. We all had huge smiles on our faces when we were talking for the first time and we made jokes right away! The guys from the second year that are making their thesis here were really kind and patient, they took us to all the places that we needed to be and answered all our questions about how to live in Lund over and over again until we were clear (Thank you guys !!)

Reason #3: Classmates? of course! but also a team.16295347_10210720973127894_823011095_n

From “where can I find an ATM?” to “let’s go play scrambled eggs one more time!” every doubt or idea you have will be cleared and followed if you ask to any of your classmates, this was proven with the team building activity that the faculty prepared for us. It started as a little competition between us, but soon enough it became a bonding activity, solving problems together and helping each other t16237669_10210720973167895_996689868_no win the games as a team.

After the competition, even though we were tired, we stayed around and discovered the games place for 30 minutes more, running all around the place like kids and laughing without any restriction, some trying to out-win the scrambled eggs games and others trying their neuro-surgeon skills. It was a great time!

Reason#4: Weather

We’ll get all the good things from Europe here! Winter, spring and summer at their best, and I’m sure we’ll be having a great time because well… Reason #2!

For example, on the introduction day we experienced the snowstorm and after all the activities we were walking in the street and just about 5 minutes later we started a snowball fight! Somehow, I even got pushed towards a small mountain of snow! if that’s not a graphic description of “how to take advantage of any weather condition”, I don’t know how else it could described.

I’m sure we are all going to have a great time while learning and enjoying our company this semester.

 

Farewell, El Salvador

Last December, at the same time the exams were ending, I was getting excited about going back home for the holidays so when I woke up on Christmas day, I walked to the train station with a crazy-like smile on my face knowing that soon I would be home… I would be in El Salvador.

When I arrived, my friends and family asked a lot of questions about how it was living in Europe and about my studies, the normal answers were: “it’s much colder than here, but I love it!” and “it’s more challenging than expected, but it’s amazing!” however there’s so much more about it.

I can barely describe in words how great is to get to know people from all around the world and how amazing is to hear them talk about their homes. I can hardly express how heart breaking is to leave my family again knowing now how hard they’ve worked to get me to where I am and well… the fact that I don’t have to cook when I’m with them is a plus. I can just say that it’s a mix of feelings,joy and sadness, but in some way it all fills me up with more hope and more appreciation for life than the one I had before starting this adventure with IMFSE.

In between talks about the past, present and future, I also got to see a couple of places in my own country that I haven’t being before. For me, the most impressive one was the Illamatepec volcano in Santa Ana.

This volcano is really special because beside that its active, it has an impressive lagoon of a wonderful emerald color in the crater. We started around 10am and finished more or less at 3pm, without stoping or having lunch, just a little desert at the top of the volcano. While we were climbing the volcano, we could see how the vegetation was changing from lots of trees in the bottom to only rocks and dust in the top, I had no idea we had such an amazing place in my country, and neither of the force of wind at the top.

When you’re in the top of the volcano and you realise how far you’ve come, you feel amazing, unstoppable and with all the confidence in the world that you can conquer everything, because well, you just managed to climb all the way to the top of an active volcano! It’s an amazing feeling and I highly recommend it if you ever go to El Salvador.

El Salvador is a small country located in Central America with a tropical weather (27°C in average all year long), the fact that its really small gives a lot of advantages to get to know it. For example, you can have lunch in the beach (maybe a coctail or a ceviche) and then have pupusas for dinner in a mountain (pupusas is the national dish, short video on how to make them Here).

Needless to say, El Salvador is amazing and for sure I’ll miss it, however for the moment I have a metaphorical volcano to climb: the second semester in Lund.

Lund, here I go!

Dinant adventure

dinant

When I first started the program, I picture myself studying hard during the week, and enjoying Belgium in the weekend. However, this is not always possible because we have so many things to learn in such a short amount of time that sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to become the Fire Safety Engineers that science deserves.

Yet, back in November 14th I decided to go in the last big adventure before the exam period started. I present to you: Dinant adventure.

Everythmr-saxing started when my Salvadorian friend told me she wanted to come and visit for the weekend, so I was truly looking on how to impress her and I found that Dinant was an excellent place to do so. Dinant is a small city located in Namur (also in Wallonia, as Liege!) the whole city is crossed by the Meuse River (if you remember from my last blog, this is the river that crosses Liege as well) The small city is best known for its gorgeous citadel and for Mr. Antoine-Joseph Sax (Mr. Sax) the inventor of well… you can guess… The saxophone in 1846! Well done Belgium!  (Here is more info about it in case you want to know more)

Dinant is 4 hours away from Brussels if you go by train, so it’s a little hard to reach, however it has many wonders, as “La grotte la marveilleuse” that is a truly amazing place with nature wonders. You can go in guided tours where they will explain you the different rock formations in French, Dutch and English. You can spend 1 hour in the cave and afterwards identify the difference between stalagmite and stalactite in the same picture.

After visiting the cave, it was time to go to the major attraction: La citadel de Dinant. The funny thing is that we saw the scalier of the photo below, we got so scared of them that we thought we were not going to make it. Luckily for us, there was a funicular available for a reasonable additional fee, so we took it. At the top, you can join the guided tour however, you must choose the hour correctly as they’re divided by language and the most frequent one is given in french. We joined the french tour and got to practice a little bit it (bonus point!) during the tour you can have a glimpse over how the soldiers lived in the citadel and the history of war to take over Dinant.

Needless to say, my friend was impressed 🙂

If you want to visit Dinant, click here and you can find the major attractions of the city.