Articles Conservation People & Places

My experience as a SAHC Student

6 July, 2021 3 min reading
Ivana Božulić, Structural Engineer and PhD Researcher at EPFL - Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics Laboratory, Lausanne, Switzerland

My experience as a SAHC Student

September 2018, twenty-six complete strangers from all around the world met in the city where Portugal was born – Guimaraes. Coming from different cultures and speaking different native languages, they had one thing in common – love for the cultural heritage. I am very grateful that I had a chance to be one of them.

SAHC Programme finds a unique way to combine structural engineering with architecture, history and conservation. Through six different courses, ranging from structural analysis and earthquake engineering to nondestructive testing, lab work and strengthening methods, we were taught the necessary skills to be great professionals in the field of conservation of monuments and historical constructions. 


All the assignments were done in teams, where everyone had an opportunity to express his/her own opinion and discuss possible solutions. For me personally, learning how to interact with other people, accepting better ideas and defending my own with proper arguments was an important and very useful skill, especially in such an interdisciplinary field as it is the conservation of buildings with cultural value.

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The SAHC Programme is research oriented, which means that it follows the most advanced discoveries in science, but at the same time, the invaluable knowledge gained through the coursework is applied to the real historical case-study structures through an integrated project. Going on site and actually seeing how the structure works, how ancient masons understood the nature and engineering and how I have a chance to help in preserving that little piece of history, was really an amazing experience.

The second part of SAHC Programme is the dissertation time. My Master’s thesis was carried out at CTU in Prague, and its objective was a non-linear numerical evaluation of load bearing capacity and stability of St. Barbara Church in Otovice, Czech Republic. This period of SAHC is very intense, since in 3 months it is necessary to merge all the obtained knowledge in one project. At the same time, it is very fulfilling to see the final product of one-year long work.  


My time in the SAHC Programme has been fundamental in expanding my knowledge about existing buildings, especially masonry ones. During this time, my passion for these structures grew and recently, I have started my PhD at the Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics Laboratory at EPFL, Switzerland. This new adventure would be impossible without attending the SAHC Programme.


Despite all the academic benefits and provided knowledge, the most special part of SAHC are people. Starting with Professors, who are more than helpful, and who share unselfishly both their knowledge and enthusiasm for built heritage. Their devotion to this field is enormous and they always behaved as we were one team with the same objective. 

When it comes to the cultural experience, it is not only about the buildings. For example, with the same joy SAHC students celebrated both Holi and Christmas, everyone’s birthdays, Thanksgiving, Diwali, etc. Organized field trips to UNESCO protected sites in Portugal also helped to bring us closer. During the semester, we had a chance to explore Portuguese culture, to try pastel de nata and rissóis, to learn medieval dances, to sing Christmas songs in different languages, to surf in the Atlantic, or at least try to. All these things made my SAHC experience unforgettable. 


When I met my new colleagues for the first time, I had no idea that some of these strangers would become my closest friends. Without all the laughs, trips, cafeteria breaks, this unrepeatable year would not be the same.


To all the new students who are enrolling to the SAHC Programme or who are considering to apply, I would strongly recommend it. One right decision makes a big difference.


SAHC is really a life changing experience. In one year you will become a part of a big, international family – the SAHC Family.


SEE ALSO: What is like to be a SAHC student?

Click here if you want to know more about SAHC advanced masters