How do you feel about dinosaurs?

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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.

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Do you want to see the northern lights?

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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”

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Is “that” a snowstorm?

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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

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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.

Inside Belgium: Liége

A few weeks ago, I got the share with you my experience exploring Ghent, this time is the turn for another beautiful city in Belgium: Liége.

Liége is placed in Wallonia, the francophone region of Belgium. It has direct access to the Meuse River and just by looking at their bridges, their train station and bold architecture you can see their unstoppable growth. At first, I thought everyone was over reacting about the beauty of the train station, so I decided to not look at any pictures beforehand and make my own criteria. It really took me by surprise how incredible it actually is.

The Guillemins train station is a real piece of art designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and its part of the high-velocity train network of Europe; you can be in Paris in just 2h15 if you take a high velocity train from there! Oh! and its warm inside so you can wait your train without freezing in winter, its great!

If you’re going to Liége you must walk through all the city. We walked and visit the main places in approximately 4 hours, so a day trip is doable. You could start walking from the train station to the “Parc de la Boverie” where you can walk and relax in a peaceful ambient surrounded by trees and animals. You can also cross 2 gorgeous bridges and get to another park (yes, a lot of vegetation in Liége!) if you’re there in October you will find a huge fair with lots of food and kids having fun with their parents. In the fair, that you can picture it as a mini amusement park, you can find the famous “lacquemant” that is basically heaven in form of a thin waffle with a caramel-like syrup inside, it’s delicious! (Hint: go to Liége in October!!)

And well, I cannot leave aside the very well-known and bucket-list inspiring place for many adventurous people out there: “La Montagne de Beuren”

As you can see in the pictures, La Montagne de Beuren is actually not a mountain but a staircase with a 28° slope. Here you will have 374 steps to convince yourself that it’s a very good idea to exercise more than “once in a while”. When you conquer the mountain, you will have fresh air and a beautiful view of the city, it’s totally worth it! afterwards you can walk down the mountain through a park that leads you to the other side of the city where you can walk around and enjoy the view.

I could keep talking about Liége because is a great city with a lot to offer, however I want to seize the moment to send a special message to the whole IMFSE team, as right now we’re facing the examination period.

Remember that nothing is product of “luck” we have to earn our own success. This is the moment to prove ourselves that we are capable of reaching any goal if we truly commit to it.

Just keep going guys! you’re doing great! 

Beauty is everywhere

Well, this post wasn’t supposed to be this fast and wasn’t supposed to be about beauty but sometimes, amazing things happened in the most unexpected times, and it’s worth to talk about it.

Last Friday, we started classes at 8.30 in the morning, it was our last fire dynamics class for the semester and it ended at 11.30 A.M. After class, we went to have lunch together as we were going to have our last exercises lesson from 1PM until 5PM, also of fire dynamics.

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Everything went as expected. We had lunch, we went to the classroom, the professor arrived and started the exercise session, we were asking question as usual and nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Approximately at 4.30PM, we were starting to feel tired and only 1 question was left from the exercise guide when suddenly our professor says in wonder: “is that snow?”

In the IMFSE program, all of us are from different countries, that is one of the things that is so exciting about it. There are guys from Brazil, Serbia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Malaysia and so on. As you may guess, not all of us have experience snow before and we were excited about it. We were so excited that our professor was so kind to give us a 15-minute break just so a few of us could say hello to snow for the first time.

So, we put our coats on and we went to the front door of the engineering building (that by the way, it’s impresivel!). We tried to take pictures, however snow doesn’t like to be limited by a photograph, the only way of capturing its beauty is by living the moment, just breathing in its refreshing coldness. Or maybe it can be capture with a good camera, but we didn’t had one at the moment, so we only had the first choice available and I believe it was for the best.

To some people, the first snow is just a sign that winter is coming soon. I’ve even heard
that is dirty and annoying. In my case, I think there’s something inexplicable magical about snow that fills you with hope and joy. It reminded me that no matter how hard is the road to reach a goal, you must remember to look up and see the beauty that surrounds you, because life is filled with small details that we must cherish, just like snow.

There’s a small chance that we’re not going to feel the same after going to Lund next semester as we’ll have snow up to our knees, however the memory of seeing the snowflakes falling through our class window will stay with us for the rest of our lives as “the first time we saw snow falling, ever”

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Oh! this is the building I was talking about 🙂 impresive, right? see you next time!