I will never forget the day that I was accepted in the European Master of Science in Photonics (EMSP). Honestly, I did not have much information about Belgium and Brussels or did not have a contact in EMSP so that I could use the opinion of somebody with experience (all I went on was the information given in their website and reviews online which turned out to be completely true – no brag). It was a weird feeling; I did not know how everything will go, but I went with it as it was one of the most famous Photonics schools worldwide and I acquired a merit-based scholarship that covers my whole stay. Of course, the great professors there were really enticing to work with and to learn from, too. Later on they turned out to be something more than experts in teaching although being renown for their research and their cooperation with biggest names in the industry.
I took a flight from the capital of Iran, Tehran, directly to Brussels’ Zavantem Airport (BRU). The first few days spent in Brussels were worrisome but at the same time made me feel like a new person. Brussels was so different in culture and architecture than what I had seen in my whole life, even from internet. Media cannot do any place justice, and it was proven to me to be true. The first 10 days, I was staying in a hostel (reserved one month in advance) in the curb of the city which was on one of the main roads connecting to the city between eastern forests of it. It, being a sports center, was filled with people most of the time; Everybody was so bashful and free. Everything had a great vibe. As it was away from the city center, it had neighborhoods full of houses and it gave me an insight in the general way of living in Brussels and generally in Belgium. It is such a tranquil environment (of course students mainly fancy the city life and crowded streets and wild parties – which no doubt Brussels and Gent are the right place for this type of person). But, the main problem that I encountered in these first few days was that it was my first experience out of my own country; it was stressful, I did not know how to get around, how to do usual stuff like buy groceries and etc. which seems rather normal to locals. So, I had to do a lot of online reading about everything and just take a couple of steps back and observe how people normally do things. It was somewhat challenging to get used to a completely new system (even the toilets are different here; for God’s sake, they just wipe, they do not wash!). The advantage of Brussels among all the metropolitan cities of Europe is that approximately everybody, old and young, can speak in English. So, you will not get lost, you always have the help of great Belgian people who are cheerful and answer you kindly no matter who you are (I am talking as a brown skinned person in a country which people are mostly pale and blond – just look at Indy in the first picture).
There were a lot of introductory sessions for both the university and the department as well as B-Phot group. So, everything was covered thoroughly and enough information was given to us which made me feel a little bit less afraid of the situation. That the group secured rooms for all of its students was also a big problem solved which normally costs new students a lot and messes with their minds. All these added to super kind people helping you at every corner of your way made the transition super smooth and easy for me. So, my first encounter with the group and university was amazing and I was feeling so confident and reassured about my choice. Let me add this that every student is of course in contact with one of the admission board professors and the secretary of B-Phot prior to arrival who of course make you feel welcomed and fully supported in advance (it proved to be a true feeling after spending one year there).
The academic board of B-Phot introduced us to their system and in only a few weeks we were adapted to it and felt confident that we knew how everything works and what we should do and we had a clear plan about our 2 years (please take a moment to think about this, it is literally masterpiece of a work). It might seem a small point, but, from the point of view of a student who has experienced a couple of systems and has an eye for educational stuff, I promise you that they did hell of a good job (the proof would be that I set out a plan to do both international internship and go on an exchange programme to Sweden (for medical Photonics) and everything has gone according to plan (which of course would have been literally impossible without B-Phot’s full support); it of course was not the case for everyone because of the reasons I will explain in the following paragraphs.
The first semester’s courses were really fundamental (specially more challenging for engineering students) and with the super dense schedule of 4 to 8 hours a day of lectures, it was even hard to breathe. The courses were not impossible, but covering a lot of stuff while being accompanied by a lot of more courses and lab sessions which made them challenging to follow. All of this was made easy by a very professional teaching board. They are absolutely brilliant people who have taken their jobs seriously and their focus is completely on the students and their needs (nobody feels special in their classes while everybody feel special if it makes any sense to you :D).
One of the main challenges in living in a European country is that you do not speak the language and mostly you feel left out among the locals. They talk and laugh and have fun, but, you do not understand anything. You would not even get most of it if one would explain it to you (the foreign guy). Yet, do not worry, not only the university, but also the city is international. You can find a lot of people who have the same situation as you do (especially keep posted about Erasmus community’s gatherings and events). B-Phot’s board are mostly made of Belgians, but the students are mostly international and the group holds some events in which you can connect to these awesome people and they do everything to make you feel at home. I strongly say that after a year spent as a member of B-Phot, I am sure that this group is more than an academic group; we are a family and I am sure that I, personally, will do more than enough to return the favors and all the support and opportunities they have provided.
The second semester, although designed to be a little less dense, was a little more challenging to deal with, mostly because of the professors coming from other departments (not having good course notes and not understanding what a Photonics students need most for their careers). It was more stressful and busy. Yet, completely manageable and every year it gets better by “caring” students who are kind enough to share the problems with the board. In addition, after one semester, one would learn a lot about the city, Belgium, and Europe in general, so, you will be able to make fun plans and visit places and get familiar with Europe and its rich culture. For instance, I visited the Netherlands, France, Italy and a couple of cities in Belgium in the second semester, while having a GPA close to “great distinction”.
Students of EMSP can also enjoy the privilege of having the exchange coordinator as their group’s academic coordinator. So, the processes are faster and the information about these actions are first hand from the boss. That is why it is so easy for the students of EMSP to benefit from the experience of living in another country while having an Erasmus grant which covers at least the housing there. Hence, you can use the general education of EMSP in Photonics and then specialize in anything related to Photonics in the partner universities of B-Phot (ETH, EPFL, Lund, Saint Andrew’s, ITMO, etc.). Also, you can request the board to find an internship opportunity in whichever country you want because of the vast network B-Phot has.
Now, I am an intern at iCube Laboratories of Strasbourg University (under supervision of Prof. Sylvain Gioux) which is based at Civil Hospital of Strasbourg which is the Health Campus of the university, too. The group is based at IHU building because of their close collaborations with surgical groups (for which Strasbourg Medical School is famous). The hypothesis underlying the work is that near-infrared light travels deeply into living tissues and interacts with endogenous molecular constituents, namely oxy- and deoxy-hemoglobin, water and lipids, providing key information regarding tissue perfusion, oxygenation, hydration and metabolism. In turn, such information can be used to differentiate diseased from healthy tissue. In this project, I will cover the flow imaging part of the imaging system. Furthermore, this internship has given me the opportunity to practice all that I have learned in EMSP and of course gain some experience (and keep myself from being bored in the summer).
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Meanwhile, if you have any question about my time in EMSP, ask right away in the comments section or get in touch using my contact. Cheers!