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Working lives

Joanne Wall, 27, was until recently working for Balfour Beatty in Hong Kong, on West Rail Contract KCRC402. In February she will join Raleigh International in Belize, as the voluntary organisation's construction manager.

Route to job

I graduated from Loughborough University with a BEng (Hons) in civil engineering and started work with Balfour Beatty in 1995, following a successful one year undergraduate placement in 1993/94. In 1996 Balfour Beatty sent me to Hong Kong, where I initially worked on a highways contract. I then joined the British/Chinese/Japanese joint venture constructing the passenger terminal building at Hong Kong's new international airport. In the past two years I have become a chartered civil engineer and member of the ICE and have achieved associate member status with the Association of Project Management.

In April this year I joined the Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation West Rail team to assist in the documentation and procedure set up of the early stages of engineering works on site. Since then, I have decided to leave the BB team in Hong Kong to pursue a voluntary role with Raleigh International in Belize, Central America and afterwards to study for an MBA in the US.

Expectations

I was initially sent to Hong Kong on a four month secondment. My main concerns beforehand were the language barriers and the expectations of the expatriate staff, especially as I was not long out of university. I suspected that what I had learnt on site in the UK was going to be very different to what I was soon to experience in HK.

The reality

The first thing I noticed which was different from the UK was very simple and to do with the working day. At noon everything stops.

Local engineers and labourers rarely work through their lunchbreak.

Safe working practices are also very different. Many labourers wear rubber slip-on shoes and sometimes not even a hard hat (although they are obviously stopped from working until they put one on). And trying to get them to wear a harness at a height is a constant battle.

I have noticed massive improvements with safety awareness on site over the past four years, however, thanks to toolbox training and new legislation.

Cultivating a team environment became very important to me, and I made an effort to get involved in site socials, which helped local workers become more comfortable in approaching Western engineers.

Advice

Working in a new cultural environment taught me many things. Not only did I have to be a competent engineer and manager, but I also had to understand the many different approaches to managing local people.

Working in Hong Kong has provided me with a wealth of experience I would not have got had I stayed in the UK. I would certainly encourage anyone considering a posting overseas to go for it.

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