Classes, Art, and Bug Consumption

This blog has earned itself chapters because it is so long…


And so it’s begun! I’ve now completed the first two weeks of my master’s program, and attending classes has been nothing short of an adventure! Since I’ve last posted, I’ve also added a mattress and shelving unit to my room, went to a bizarre play, and ate insects. However, not to get too far ahead of myself too soon, here’s some things about my classes: I’m taking 9 of ‘em and they total 33 credit hours! Am I crazy, you ask? Maybe, but if that’s the case, everyone else at this school is crazy as well because my workload is rather typical; ergo, I’m in good company here. I remember back at Oregon State having to get an advisor’s permission to take 22 credits one term! I can already feel my free time becoming a little more constrained, but I’m not too bothered by it because I am very excited about what I’m about to be learning. And now, with probably more detail than is necessary, here are my classes!

  • Flow of Dispersed Media – Up until now, I’ve only ever studied the flows of liquids and gases. In this class though, I get to learn about the flow of particulate solids dispersed in a fluid. The professor worked for a food company dealing with dispersed media flow, so he sure knows his stuff. An example application of this subject would be the question of, “If I mix an instant hot chocolate powder pack with water at almost boiling temperature with a straw at 120 stirs per minute, how long will it take for the powder to be completely dissolved?” I’ll get back to you on this later in the semester.
  • Two-Phase Flow and Heat Transfer – There exists no class that could be more up my alley! The subject of this class is the same area of thermal and fluid sciences that I was practicing these last two years in my lab at Oregon State. I also like that while I am already familiar with general concepts, I’ve still been learning things that had never even occurred to me before!
  • Cavitation and Interface Phenomena – Years ago, I asked one of my professors at Oregon State which class I could take to learn more about interface phenomena only to learn that no such courses covered the material. Not so here! Here, there’s a whole class for it! Also, this class is the first on this list that is taught in French. After the first class, the professor sent out an email querying the students to see if people would prefer the course taught in English instead. I replied “No way, Jose. Keep it Français!” Okay, maybe I didn’t use those words exactly, but I was certainly all for the French. It’s like learning for free! We’ll see how well I keep up, but so far I like it. Taking a class in French is interesting; I think of it as akin to taking any other class, but while also, simultaneously, trying to solve a Sudoku with one’s non-dominant hand. Let’s also throw in the metaphor of the Running of the Bulls because once you slip up on understanding for a sentence or two and fall behind, well, so much for comprehending that concept. At that point, might as well just bide thinking power and start preparing for the next concept to be taught.
  • French – At the end of the intensive courses of summer, I graduated to the French level B1! (The European language acquisition scale goes A0,A1,A2,B1,B2,C1,C2 with C2 being the best). Unfortunately, none of the B1 courses fit into my schedule and I even wrote the university nearby to see if they could accept me with no avail. As a result, I’m again in an A2/B1 class. I also hope to complete B1 level work throughout the semester and will hopefully be placed in B1/B2 next semester. Here’s to hoping!
  • Thermal Turbomachines – This class is also taught in French and is all about the conversion of heat to mechanical energy. Yep.
  • Digital Humanities – After 5 years of baccalaureate core classes to round me out as a student, I thought I was done, but not so fast! EPFL has even their master students take one baccalaureate core class. To my initial chagrin, I dropped my Engines and Fuel Cells class to sign up for one of the remaining few human sciences courses. Digital Humanities. Uhh, registering for this class felt like being a cat jumping off a high dive: only a matter of time now before the inevitable misery. But woah, can I be wrong sometimes or what!? And in this case I was very wrong! This class has already been a blast and will definitely be a good way to break up the monotony of all engineering classes. I started to gain hope even before the first class once I saw that the professor was in a recent TED Talk . Then I went to class and learned more about the subject; digital humanities is all about using technology to aid the humanities and arts. I like arts! I like technology! The lecture is the most technologically forward class I’ve ever had. During the class, we are encouraged to live tweet our comments, thoughts, and questions about the course. Also during the lecture, there are real-time collaborative documents open that everyone edits. We take notes on them, share ideas, and solve problems. Okay, so the format is pretty fun, but what about the material? It’s also worth mentioning that this course lasts the entire academic year. Well, if you watch the TED Talk included, you’ll see that EPFL and an Italian university are working together to create what they call a Venice Time Machine. And the best part…I get to be a part of it! Next term will be dedicated entirely to a project of my choosing relating to the Time Machine. It all seems very fortuitous because, besides having a constant interest in Italy, the first city that I plan on travelling to in the near future is Venice! What chance. I think this means there are going to be good times ahead in that class!
  • Hydraulic Turbomachines – This class is about the analyses that go into the development of hydraulic power generation. Unlike thermal turbomachines where heat is converted to mechanical power, the aim of this class is to harness the power of moving water. Yep.
  • Instability and Turbulence – Honestly, I don’t understand what’s going on in this class at all, and embarrassingly, this class is in English!! Every lecture we study a different type of unstable flow. Last week’s lessons were about waves, ripples, and streams of liquid breaking up into droplets.
  • Aerodynamics – Finally, you’ve reached the last class on the list! My aerodynamics class is taught in French and is given by the same professor who teaches my cavitation class. I’m glad that I am already rather familiar with the subject material because the professor teaches with very conversational French. In other words, he uses expressions and syntax I’m only familiar with thanks to Lucyl and Eléa. Sometimes, words are left out or phonetically jammed together, which has been making that class a fun challenge

One thing that I’ve remarked while being here is that this campus is incredibly bilingual. It is as if there is an understanding that if you are here, you know both French and English. Besides the student publication having some articles in French and others in English, when it comes to learning, it would not be possible to study here knowing only one language. Many of my classes have a recitation hour in the week where a PhD student walks us through some practice exercises. Interestingly enough, I’ve two classes where the recitation language is not the same as the teaching language. In one case the teaching language is French and the recitation language is English and a reverse case for another class. Furthermore, the PhD students didn’t ask us if that was going to be okay. It’s not thoughtless; there’s just the understanding that you can understand both languages. How cool is that! What’s more, in several of my classes, the teachers have listed the languages they speak (four is the most that I’ve come across so far) and permit students to ask questions in any of those languages, then they’ll respond to the question in the teaching language. What a contrast this has been from universities in America!

Speaking of universities in America, I must mention how grateful I am for my alma mater. Already, I feel more knowledgeable about the subject matter than the level at which the professor’s expect the students to be at (minus Instability and Turbulence; I think that professor assumes we’re all geniuses). Besides my familiarity with the subject matter, I also feel like I have gained a large pool of resources and techniques available to help me solve any problem. Particularly, I am very grateful for my mentor and how much “extra effort” she had us do in her classes. What I initially saw as unnecessary steps or methodology, I now use all of the time in my engineering work, and I can already see that these steps are setting my work apart in a good way! I am also really grateful for all of the years that I worked at the laboratory. It has been great engineering experience and with all of that time spent getting myself accustomed to problems of two-phase flow, I am chomping at the bit for my two-phase flow and heat transfer class to start getting tricky, so I can really what I can do!

This blog entry is already pretty long already, but, spoiler alert, it’s not about to stop anytime soon so I hope you’re comfortable 😀


It has been so much fun learning French. Some days are good days, some days are bad days, but at least now, the bad days really aren’t that bad. I still can’t watch a movie or listen to the radio without problems, but instead of getting discouraged, these frustrating experiences make me only want fluency more and motivate me to practice often. Occasionally, I’ll do thought checks and repeat my last thought to myself to see if it was in French or English. More often than not, it’s still English, but sometimes, especially after a lot of speaking or listening, I’ll be naturally thinking in French! Those are always fun moments. While on the topic of French, I’d like to share with you just an example or two of the exciting obstacles when learning a foreign language. Vocabulary is certainly not the example because, while there is a lot to learn, you can usually just replace the English word with the French word and you’re good to go…grammar on the other hand is usually the nightmare. When it comes to word order, things can change quite a bit. A word for word translation of “I’ve never been there” would yield “I there am never went.” And sometimes tenses change up a bit from the English way: while one might say “I have been waiting for the train for 10 minutes” in English, one expresses the same sentence in French as “I am waiting for the train since 10 minutes.” These things are easy to remember when writing slowly, but when engaged in fast conversation, there are a lot of rules to keep track of! On the upside, the more I practice, the more these things seem natural. However, this has started to give me occasional uncertainty with English. As I was writing this entry, I came across a moment of uncertainty with something I wrote, but left it as an example to use for this section. Earlier, I wrote “one thing that I’ve remarked.” I know that before all of this French immersion, I would have written that phrase as “one thing that I’ve noticed.” I also know that the verb remark came to mind first because that is one way that one can express the concept to notice in French. The thing is, that as French is becoming more natural, I am becoming less and less unable to discern if certain expressions make sense in English, but are just uncommon, or don’t make sense at all. Can one have remarked at the professor’s kindness? Can one profit from the sun by going to the park? When unsure, I usually play it safe, but know that these questions have been present as of late.


Okay, now for some actual events! And pictures! Sorry to keep you in anticipation for so long. So, I’m in my new apartment, and I love it! There are no pictures yet because it is still a work in progress, but it’s on the way. The first several days in my new place, I slept on a fold-out cushion bed, graciously lent to me by Lucyl’s mom. After a few days of that, I decided that I needed a mattress. There is an IKEA about 15 minutes away by train, but the question then becomes how do I get the mattress home? My game plan was to just wait around in the delivery pickup area and start asking people if they were headed into town, but then I saw that the mattress that I wanted was sold “rolled up for easy transport.” Perfect, I thought! I’ll just walk it home. Well, than plan became anything but perfect rather quickly. True, it was rolled, but it was about as tall as me, over 60 pounds, and there was no easy way to carry it. But, somehow, I did it! I walked it from IKEA to the train station, rode the train with my new mattress, and then walked it one mile to my apartment. I must also mention that I did all this 50 feet at a time. After 50 feet, my arms would be far to fatigued, and I’d have to wait two minutes or so to regain strength again. It took me over an hour to walk one mile! Finally, the night ended with a trip to the university where there was a free concert.

The following day, Lucyl came to Lausanne to spend the weekend with Eléa and me! She arrived on Friday night and I got to roll up my sleeves and practice some cooking! The next day was Lausanne’s annual La Nuit des Musées where for just one inexpensive ticket, one could visit all 24 of Lausanne’s museums. The three of us set out first for the university where there were several art installations. The one at the library was the epitome of eerie.

Dripping Human

Here you see the shoulders and head of a human figure, carved out of ice (yep, that’s mostly ice), and melting slowly onto long nails. Though a little discomforting, I really really liked it. Besides the one pictured, there was also one other very similar and also three ice heads suspended upside-down slowly melting away. All of the ice sculptures were dripping into pools of water. Each pool had a microphone picking up the sound of drops hitting the surface of the water and it was amplified and echoed around the library courtyard.




Afterwards, we took a walk to Lac Léman and walked along the lakeside! (Eléa took one for the team and was the photographer for the picture below)

Lac Leman 2

This had been Lucyl’s first time to Lausanne, so it was great showing off the city. It’s no Grenoble to me yet, but it’s still pretty cool. From the lake, we went to the vivarium (…which is also an English word!?!? How did I not know this word before!?). Anyways, we had the opportunity to see a wide variety of venomous reptiles and alligators, but the best part was certainly eating insects. I didn’t catch all the names of what I was eating, but I know that there was chocolate with insects, rice with insects, a nice insect curry, and finally a dish of just fried insects. I must admit that these plates were all very delicious. It was the texture though where things were often a little strange.


After the vivarium, Lucyl and I went to a play. Weeks prior, I had pulled a number out of a hat at the university and won 2 free tickets to a play! The play was called Perturbation and was about a young man who accompanies his dad, who is a doctor, as he visits his patients in the country side. Wow, was this play strange. In the first hour and a half, there were a plethora of physically and mentally unstable characters, one of which had a collection of dead birds and two of which were entirely naked for no apparent reason. Only when we arrived did we find out that the play was 5 hours long. Add the strangeness to the fact that my comprehension wasn’t the best and there was a night of museums happening, we decided to leave at the first intermission. We only ventured out to one more museum. It was a gallery featuring the photography of one artist who has traveled the world and another who has spent time capturing the growth and changes of Haiti. While there, we went to a photo booth!


I don’t know why photo booths aren’t more common in America, they can really be pretty fun. The next day, we all had a picnic at the university and then spent the afternoon doing homework in an empty classroom; I need to at least occasionally feign studiousness if I want to pass my exams come January. After taking Lucyl to the metro station, I simply returned to campus to do more classwork.


While I have yet to have my apartment in a good enough state to show off, hopefully some photos of the campus will suffice for now. These are both from our quad. The first is where I treated myself to lunch yesterday.


That’s right! A wood burning pizza oven right on campus!


This picture is a market that shows up on campus every Monday. Presumably, the guy in the middle is having a tough time deciding between the 40+ varieties of cheese available at the cart next to him.


I’ll finish this blog with one more story, and that story shall be the awesome ciné-concert that I just attended. First off, and something that I should have mentioned in the language section: learning a language is full of many fun surprises. About three weeks ago, I went to the arts and culture booth on information day (also where I won the tickets to the previously mentioned play). I didn’t know exactly what the woman at the booth was saying because she was speaking really quickly, but she strongly encouraged me to put my name and email address on a list. Okay, sure. Well, a couple days ago I found out what that was for: I signed up for free admittance to a ciné-concert! I claimed my tickets pronto for this rare occasion. A ciné-concert is basically a silent movie plus an orchestra. At the dawn of filmmaking, moving pictures were just that, moving pictures. There was never audio synchronized with the video recording. In lieu of an audio reel, a musician (or several or many) would play music during the feature. I took a music of film class where we learned about that era and since then I’ve always wanted to attend a recreation and tonight was my night! Tonight’s feature was Metropolis. It is a science fiction film from 1927 Germany in which a labor class works tirelessly for the very rich and several characters work to change the system. Like any good science fiction movie, there was a humanoid-robot, and, like any good movie in general, there was romance. Below is a picture of the orchestra just before the film started.