Journey to Edinburgh: Tips to Avoid Misfortune

Let me start this blog post by saying that my Erasmus experience, so far, is the best that has ever happened in my life. If you are the type of person who wants adventure, who wants to try something new, who is outgoing and wants to meet a lot of people, and who wants to be exposed and serve as a melting pot of different cultures and personalities, then this challenge is definitely for you. If you are up to the challenge of packing your whole life in a couple of bags and suitcases, moving in to a new country and adjust all over again almost every six months, moving out just when everything is almost settling in, then I encourage you to apply.

To the new batch of IMFSE students who already started their journey, congratulations! This experience is a roller-coaster-ride of emotions. You will probably experience a lot of “first times”. I, through IMFSE, experienced for the first time to go out of my country, to see and play snow, to do backpacking and visit different countries in just a couple of days, to eat local delicacies, to try authentic Belgian waffles, beers, and fries, to shop at the famous IKEA in Sweden where it is actually from, to have “fika”, to say common Belgian and Swedish phrases, to know how -18°C feels like, and a lot more.

But, let me burst your bubble. Being in a mobility program is not only rainbows and chocolates. There is always the stress of finding accommodation. You will, at some point, experience being a homeless person, scouring the streets of the city trying to find a place you can call home. There is the stress of putting everything in your luggage and hoping that it will not weigh over the limit as things accumulate over time. There is the emotional stress of leaving people you made friends with and of sad the possibility that you might never see them again.

Sharing Ghent tips to my classmates!

But for me, and I am speaking this based on experience, the worst side of being in a mobility program is the bureaucratic process; i.e., VISA APPLICATION. For the lucky holders of the powerful passports in the world, you can end reading this blog post if you opt to, hahaha! But for those who are in the bottom of the passport ranking list, you might find this post helpful in the future and you know who to contact just in case this unfortunate events regarding visa happen to you which I hope not, though. These tips apply mostly for UK Visa but there are other things that you might find helpful as well.

  • Request for your CAS number immediately after receiving your Offer Letter.
  • Read the instructions of the visa application carefully and prepare all necessary documents. I was refused an entry clearance visa because apparently, I did not submit a tuberculosis screening test. There is an exemption to the rule, though. There is a clause that, at the time of online application, if you have been living in a country for more than 6 months which is not required to submit that test and was not away from that country for more than 6 months as well. Remember that this requirement is based on residency and not on nationality.
  • If you believe that your application has strong grounds, request for an administrative review. You can ask the university for help if the case is a bit too complicated. They are very supportive to their future students and they can contact the Home Office directly.
  • Better check with the Visa Application Center first than to shell out money to call and email the Home Office.
  • Do not buy flight tickets if you do not have your passport in your hands. An assurance that you will receive the passport is not enough.
  • Always have a back-up plan. I missed my flight and because late bookings are very expensive, the cheapest option to go from Brussels to Edinburgh is using two bus journeys although it took me 20 hours to arrive.
  • Do not lose hope and bring with you a lot of patience. Patience is a virtue, indeed.

Despite all the hardships that I went through to get to Edinburgh, the journey made me a better person, I met good people along the way and experienced cool stuff. One notable person is the Border Police who checked my documents. He then saw the glorious “International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering” in my school documents. “You should have been here a few hours ago. We had a small fire earlier.” I smiled back and we had a short chat. He wished me well for my studies and he told me to have a good time in the UK. I also got to experience crossing the underwater tunnel at the English Channel. The bus went inside a gigantic train! After less than two hours of being shaken, the bus went out of the train. Voila! “I am in the UK, finally!” Although the journey to Edinburgh did not become easy on me, so far I am in love with this city so stay tuned to next adventures.

At the border of France and UK before going through the underwater tunnel

The bus going inside the train!

This last part is a shout-out to all the persons and institutions who were part of this overwhelming turn of events. To Jane O’ Loughlin of the International Student Advisory Service who called the Home Office personally to expedite the administrative review and to follow-up on my passport, thanks a lot! To Grunde Jomaas, our professor, I appreciate that you keep updating on me from time to time and that you even moved one class the next day for me to be there.

To the Paris Visa Application Center, the university told me that two other students got delayed when they applied from your office. I hope that in the future, other students will not suffer the same misfortune.

Finally in Edinburgh!

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When Summer Becomes Synonymous to Wildfires

After a very cold and long winter, everyone in Europe is looking forward to the summer months. Travelling, sunbathing, going to the beach, and picnicking with family and friends are just some of the activities to enjoy the vacation. However, same as the unusual winter that swept the whole continent during the last month of 2017 and earlier this year, the heat of this summer according to locals is also uncommon.

Temperature in Belgium rose within the mid-30°C range. It certainly feels like home except that air-conditioning is quite rare. Last week, I just cannot bear the heat anymore that I bought myself an electric fan. One thrift store ran out-of-stock for that day while the nearby appliances store has people only looking for no other than electric fans. While that was the worst so far that we, in Belgium, are experiencing right now in this exhausting heatwave, it is a totally different and level-up story in other countries in the EU particularly in Greece and Scandinavian countries.

Summer getaway turned into a fiery nightmare! Part 1 (Photo Courtesy: http://www.express.co.uk)

According to ABC News, death toll in the outskirts of Athens, Greece is already 91 while nearly 200 are injured, and 25 more are missing. The fire which simultaneously started at different forest areas on July 23 is believed to be caused by arson and aggravated by the wind with speed of up to 60 mph (97 kph). Even the wide roads, which supposedly should have acted as a stopping boundary of the fire, did not do much of a help as the fire was able to jump to the other side of the road and continue burning the areas close to the sea. These areas were where some people evacuated while waiting for rescue, standing in the water for hours on end. This wildfire is the worst that happened to Greece since 2007 when 67 people were killed.

Summer getaway turned into a fiery nightmare! Part 2 (Photo Courtesy: http://www.express.co.uk)

Going to northern part of Europe, one might think that there is no forest fire in the regions near the Arctic. According to the Business Insider UK, in Sweden, a total of 25,000 hectares of forest got burned due to more than 80 wildfires across the whole country. In Finland’s Lapland region, fire burned through 6 hectares of forest near Rovaniemi where the popular Santa Clause village is located. Who would have thought that Winter Wonderland can turn into a fiery inferno?

Fires near the Arctic Circle! (Photo Courtesy: http://www.bbc.com)

The problem with forest fires is that it is very unpredictable. Although fire in itself is already uncertain, the weather also poses a great role for it being uncontrollable, coupled with the large boundary of the control volume. Unlike buildings where fires can be contained, forest fires are virtually impossible to prevent from spreading especially when the fire is already full blast. There are no such things as sprinklers and compartmentation for the forest unlike in enclosures and if there will be, it will be economically unviable. The best way to tackle this disaster is prevention and efficient extinguishment and rescue efforts.

While Europe is experiencing scorching weather, back home we have a problem with floods as of the moment. How awesome can it be if we could only teleport those rain clouds in the spots where there are forest fires? Then, everyone will just be happy and safe.

One Last Lund

The semester in Lund, same as last semester in Ghent or in Edinburgh, went by so fast that it seems like everything happened in the blink of an eye or a snap of the fingers. Now, the first-year IMFSE students are not “fresh” anymore as what the word freshmen suggests. A list of the new batch of students were released last April and will be going to embark on a journey of a lifetime, the same as what we are currently experiencing which will soon end for the graduating second-year students this 25th of June in Ghent.

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Levels of winter in Lund

We have seen Lund in its darkest, coldest, and most depressing days. However, we have seen it in its brightest, liveliest, and most vividly colorful days as well. We arrived in Lund during the winter –  excited to meet new classmates from two constituent universities where we started: Ghent University and the University of Edinburgh. We attended classes together during the winter when the weather and ambiance made it so hard for us to get out of bed. We did so too during the spring when the sun made us want to go out of the classroom and bask under its heat.

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Group photos of various moods: formal, serious, and competitive

We learned the complexity of human behavior during fires. We experimented the effect of certain parameters in the properties of a flame. We studied the theories behind computational fluid dynamics and simulated several fire scenarios. We discussed what humans value, quantified the expected consequences when these values are negatively affected, and provided ways on how to minimize risks. We visited firefighter’s training centers, research facilities and consultancy companies.

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Bonding moments (I should say that I like the bottom picture!)

We did all of that while enjoying the company of each other through study groups, travels, movie nights, karaoke in the laptop, Uno games, dinners, barbeques and some were even “Dancing in the Dark”. Happening right now is the FIFA World Cup in Russia, who is going to forget the IMFSE Sprinklers? Our motto is “If we cannot score, just do not let the other team score.”, which we were not able to do. HAHAHA! Our batch experienced what, according to the news, is one of the coldest winters in Europe. Thanks to the “Beast from the East”. Our batch was also very lucky to have seen Lundakarnavalen, an event that happens in Lund only every four years.

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We just want to have fun!

Since it is summer break, we parted ways. Some went home, some moved to a different country. As I was carrying my luggage towards the train station, I was just gazing at the small buildings while thinking of all the good memories (and the weight of my luggage, haha!) that we had here when we considered Lund our second home for a good six months. Tack så mycket, Lund!

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IMFSE Sprinklers!

Sunny days are here. Suddenly, everything has color and everyone gets out of their hibernation. What is the best activity to enjoy the warm weather than to play sports under the sun? The organization of fire protection engineering and risk management students hosted a football tournament last May 13. The IMFSE crew was invited to participate and we named our team “Sprinklers”.

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The IMFSE Sprinklers! (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)

To be honest, the IMFSE group came unprepared. Everyone was shocked to see the Swedish teams in full gears. However, that did not intimidate and stop us from enjoying the event and scoring some points. Thanks to our star players, Jamie Crum and Bogdan Albulescu, and our goalkeeper, Andrei Lazouski. We battled with four other teams. And although we did not win any game, we proudly wore our IMFSE shirts with the flame logo on top of our hearts. The spirit of camaraderie was felt from everyone with all of the cheers and shouts. If there was a best cheering team award, it would have been for IMFSE Sprinklers, haha!

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The Sprinklers just having a good time together. (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)

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Enjoying fika! (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)

In the end, everyone enjoyed and to quote my classmate Bogdan, “…it was the best since I am on this program.” Now, on to more challenges with blazing hearts, IMFSE Sprinklers!

The Future is BRIGHT and HOT!

That is the caption that I put on my latest Facebook profile picture taken during the 1st-year IMFSE students’ trip to Borås, Sweden. So, what is with the caption? It goes like this. Honestly, when I was choosing between two international programs a year ago, I am having some doubt whether to go with the IMFSE or the other one. I shared about that in my first two blogs. Questions like “What will I do after this?”, “Is there a good job opportunity waiting for me after I graduate?”, and “Is it a good strategy to take a specialized field to win in my career as an engineer?” are always in the back of my mind. During this trip, I could remember telling one of my classmates “Fire engineering is indeed alive!” after seeing several career paths that we as fire engineering students could embark ourselves into after this program.

IMFSE’s typical Thursday morning is either a lecture or a seminar. But the Thursday that is April 26 is a different one. The whole class decided to visit two world-class FSE facilities in Borås, Sweden. We first visited the Södra Älvsborgs Räddningstjänstförbund (Södra Älvsborg’s Rescue Service Federation), an emergency rescue training facility which has trained not only Swedish firefighters but also firefighters from nearby countries and from countries as far as Australia and Malaysia.

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The visit there started with a good fika which filled up our stomach after a four-hour drive from Lund. We then proceeded to a lecture room. From the short lecture, I realized that learning how to put on a rescue suit as fast as possible and how to operate a rescue equipment is not the only competency that a firefighter should have. A good firefighter should also have substantial knowledge of fire dynamics so that he/she will be able to fight fire properly and not to aggravate the situation. After the lecture, we went to try an armalite-like water gun with ultra-high pressure than can reach up to 300 bars. Given the pressure, I was expecting that it there would be a huge recoil force but to my surprise, it is very light. That equipment is better than the Cobra in terms of handling because the backward force by the Cobra is higher and it will need at least 2 people to operate and support this force. With everything that I saw and heard from the training facility, I am giving a salute to all firefighters who risk their lives in order to save more lives.

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Our next stop is RISE or the Research Institute of Sweden where we were toured by one of our lecturers in Advanced Fire Dynamics, Haukur Ingason. After having a sumptuous lunch, we went to a conference room where several PhD students and researchers of RISE discussed their studies to us. The tour started afterwards. I was astonished by how massive and how high-tech the laboratories of this state-of-the-art research institute are. There is one big hall solely dedicated for the 50-MW cone calorimeter used to test big fires such as a vehicle fire. The next room is my favorite – a structural fire safety laboratory with big furnaces used to test structural elements and facades. This room comes with a bonus: good party music. After that, we went to the materials laboratory where the fire properties of several materials are experimented. This is where I saw in actual the sets of equipment that we discussed in our Explosions and Industrial Fire Safety course last semester in Ghent University.

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With everything that I learned from this tour, I can say that fire safety engineering, as specialized as it may be, is as relevant as other engineering disciplines are. The way technology evolves very fast makes it more of an interesting subject especially with the global trend of using other forms of energy to replace the conventional fossil fuel which has been around for centuries and is expected to be depleted in a couple of decades. Fire safety engineering also applies to new inventions that sooner or later will be adapted to our buildings and homes. It also applies to natural and man-made disasters brought by rapid changes in our climate. Indeed, the future is bright and hot in FSE!

IMFSE: Informative Methods of Fieldwork, Simulation and Experiment

There are plenty of ways to gain knowledge. For sure, a classroom setting full of theories and equations is not enough for holistic learning. For what is knowledge if it will not be applied? This first period of the semester in Lund University did not fail to give us the avenue to learn outside the conventional method. Professors gave us tasks to be worked on independently, a chance to find out by ourselves the answers to the questions that we have.

Our course about Human Behavior in Fire tackled the psychology behind why humans act the way we do in disaster situations especially fire. One area of this course is about pedestrian movement. This subject area, same as human behavior in general, is random in nature although we can still find values statistically to quantify it such as speed, density, etc. Data about human movement is very little so in our class we designed a field experiment to observe people and collect data. Our group went to the city center of Lund – cameras set up, sat in a bench for a good three hours under the sun to at least keep warm on a 2°C-weather, and started classifying people groups and quantifying their movement.

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For our Advanced Fire Dynamics, each group was tasked to formulate their own scientific question and have it tested in the Fire Laboratory’s 1/3 ISO room cone calorimeter setup. Challenging your group’s hypotheses and seeing trends about what you are observing is both relieving and fulfilling at the same time. While waiting for the room to cool down for the next round of the experiment, we sat in front of the monitor and watched videos of real and experimental fire. Firefighters, although they have trainings, sometimes still get into trouble with fire because of its very unpredictable nature. I guess it is not bad to say that burning things for science is actually fun because this is how we study our enemy and find ways to defeat it.

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Solving equations longhand is quite time-consuming even for just a simple problem. How much more is a very complex one? The answer is in technology through the use of computers. Simulation of Fires in Enclosures is another interesting course where we learn the theory behind fire modelling and apply it by coding several fire scenarios. I might add that programming also takes a lot of time but at least more complex problems can be solved, an obvious limitation of hand calculations. However, always remember that garbage in equals garbage out, that computer programs are just tools to help us make things easier and faster and we still have to go back to the books to explain the results.

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In the end, the classroom is not the only place where we could learn. Be exposed to the world around you. Feed your curiosities. Explore and discover things.

Keep the Flame Burning!

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IMFSE says hi to everyone! (Photo by Elise)

When we want to maintain or improve something, we have to constantly check on it. When we want to increase heat release rate, add more fuel (not always the case though such as for ventilation-controlled fire, HAHAHA!). For IMFSE, February is the time of the year when professors and students convene at Lund University for the Annual Management Board Meeting. Professors Bart Merci, Grunde Jomaas, Patrick van Hees, Ruben van Coile, Enrico Ronchi and IMFSE Administrator Elise Meerburg joined the students in discussion about the strengths of the program and suggestions for improvement.

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Gorgeous student representatives (guys, free dinner will do, thanks! HAHAHA)

Overall, IMFSE got a positive feedback from the students – topnotch universities, variety in teaching, mobility to different countries, international cultural experience and new field of study. No doubt that this program was considered a “success story” by the European Commission. Even if the program is considered successful, the management still wants to strive to make it better edition after edition. The professors also discussed several thesis topics and the strength of the partner and associated universities towards research. Surely, there are still a lot more to learn about fire safety engineering and everyone of us is excited to engage ourselves in contributing towards this growing body of knowledge.

After the meeting, we got to hangout with the professors at O’Learys. We had some drinks and we got to play shuffle board with them. The best battle was between Team Guacamole – Masala (Silvia and Dheeraj) and Team Ghendinburgh (Bart and Grunde). I have to say that the professors did well, after a couple of tries, they learned the physics immediately. But I guess, students become more powerful outside class, HAHAHA! Some played basketball arcade and the results of the battle between two second year students will be kept as a secret forever, HAHAHA!

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Students won!

In the end, it was a really a productive and fun-filled night. IMFSE, already a success story, will continue to improve itself for the next generation of students. Let’s keep the flame burning in our hearts and not in our buildings, HAHAHA!