Things you should know about Ghent (before moving in)

As an international student, you are in contact with new and exciting things almost every day. You meet people from all over the world, and you fall in love with traveling and discovering random facts about other cultures different from yours. You get to learn phrases in languages you didn’t even know they existed. However, there’s something almost unspoken about becoming an international student: The difficulty of starting your new life abroad. Therefore, this blog is about things you should keep in mind if you’re moving to Ghent for the first time.

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First, you want to know that Ghent is in Belgium, which is divided in three main regions: Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels. There’re two main languages in Belgium: french and dutch, but there’s a small german-speaking community as well. In Ghent, people speak “flemish” which is basically dutch but with a bit different pronunciation and some other words here and there. In Brussels, theoretically people speak French and dutch (that’s why you’ll notice all signs are in both languages in the street and public transport) however in practice, I’ve notice most people rely on French to communicate, so this is a good place to practice or to start learning. I highly suggest you start using duolingo to learn the basics on dutch. In my case, I found useful to learn the numbers to move in the public transportation and to buy food in the supermarket.

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Second, university housing is convenient to stay for only one semester as it can be challenging to find a place to live if you’re looking for private accommodation. If you’re going for the second option, you’ll have to decide fast which are your requirements. It’s easier to find a place to stay if you are ok with sharing a kitchen and a bathroom than a totally private studio. I’ve found that prices  range from 350 to 600 euros, so it also depends on your budget. Anyways, if you’re choosing private accommodation, make sure to ask about domicile as you’ll need it to register for a residence permit.

Third, about moving around. If you’re used to using bikes you’ll be happy as Ghent is a biking city. The best option to get a bike is to rent it directly from the university as it is relatively cheap and they’re in good conditions; however, I’ve heard it can be tricky to bike around Ghent as there are many buses, cars and tram lines so you must be extra careful. If biking is not your thing, you can acquire a 3 month-card that allows you to move in public transport. You can buy this card outside the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station in front of the bus stop.

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Last (and really important) don’t feel ashamed of contacting any of the IMFSE students that have already lived in Ghent! we’re really open to any question and willing to help anytime 😀

Good luck and enjoy your new journey!

 

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A bit about evacuations, food and, rainbows.

One of things that I find really entertaining about moving around in big cities is using their metro stations. There is something about trying to figure out the correct directions that makes me excited all the times. It might be the possibility to get lost and the challenge it represents not to do it correctly, especially if it’s a different language from the ones I´m used to.

This experience was not different when we visited Stockholm and for me, it was particularly more exciting as my thesis topic is about fatigue during evacuations of deep metro stations; therefore, when it was time to ¨chase art¨ in the more than 110km of tunnels, I couldn’t stop projecting myself in the future trying to model the evacuation from deep underground.

We started by choosing the metro lines colors that had the most amazing underground art according to travel blogs around the web. It took us a bit more than two hours to visit a total of 8 metro stations, each of them with different themes representing different ideas. The one that consumed most of our time was Stadion, because it has a huge rainbow and it’s the perfect picture spot. We found one with peace and brotherhood messages on it, and even one with nuclear sign in the wall. If you have the time, and love pictures

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However, the most expected one was Solna Centrum. Why? Well first, during human behavior class we were learning about evacuations and the picture of this specific metro stations was show in the lecture. Second, as part of my thesis preparation, I participated in a laboratory experiment to learn a bit more about fatigue during ascending stair evacuations. I had the opportunity to experience how is to move against gravity in moving stairs and let me tell you… is harder than it sounds.

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After being part of the experiment, looking down and up of those stairs was almost overwhelming. I couldn’t even imagine how it would be to be down there in rush hour trying to move upwards as fast as I could to reach safety. So, my excitement about my thesis grew, and this particular traveling adventure motivated me to keep learning and reading about evacuations in order to prepare myself the best to develop my thesis in January.

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Oh! By the way, if you like food, two things are not to be missed while visiting Stockholm: Princess cake at Vete-Katten and meatballs at Cafe Trenan. There´re no words to describe our facial expressions when we tasted the cake. About the meatballs, we read that they were off-menu as they were so good that if they were in it, the café wouldn’t sell anything else than those meatballs. Again, internet reviews didn’t disappoint.

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What is panic anyways ?

If you remember my first blog you might remember that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Well, seems that I have finally overcome a childhood fear and now I do know how to! But let´s go back a few months and remember when I said that I ¨panic¨ just with the idea to ride a bike… because, what is panic anyways?

One week before spring break, we started with the second part of our semester with a really expected course called ¨Human Behavior¨. Since last year, we´ve been hearing just good impressions about it, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The class is interesting and the professors are constantly challenging us to break our paradigms. For example, when I say that I used to ¨panic¨ with the idea of riding a bike, what do I mean? is it really panic? Does panic even exist?

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Before continuing with the reading, please take a couple of seconds to try to make a panic definition of your own, done? Ok, let’s go further into it.

It is said that panic is a reaction involving terror, confusion and irrational behavior, precipitated by a threatening situation (Goldenson, 1984) however, can you picture any other way out of the 5th floor of a burning or collapsing building that isn’t by jumping to the void when you have smoke all around you? If you can’t think of other way to save yourself, is it really irrational to take the only choice you think you have at the moment?

These sorts of ideas were discussed in seminars and classes, each of them with different points of view and examples of what panic means in the media, and why is not ok to use this term when referring to fatalities in fire scenarios. For example, in 1903 a fire at the Iroquois theatre in Chicago occurred leaving at least 602 deaths. The newspapers were stating the victims “panic state” for the deaths as when the doors of the theatre opened, they found bodies piled up behind doors and under windows, supporting the theory that “panic didn’t allow them to think rationally and look for secondary exits than the entrance door and windows” however, now we know that poor fire safety measures lead to the unnecessary fatalities, and regulations were improved after this tragedy.

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Iroquois theatre, Chicago 1903

During human behavior classes, we learn a lot about the decision-making process that people follow during fire situations, and now we have different persepectives on how safety measures in building designs should be implemented considering the most likely human responses in emergencies.

Its important to stress enough the significance of having a class like this through our preparation, but is funny how it does not only increases your knowledge in the fire safety field, but it also changes your communication skills. Now, every time I find myself about to use the world ¨panic¨I stop and change it towards a more appropiate way to define my state of mind. Instead of saying ¨I used to panic in front of a bike¨ now I say ¨I was afraid of falling off the bike and hurt myself, but now I´m even going to the beach with my friends by bike¨

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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