I was in touch with a former student, Eric, who is doing interesting work in Saudi Arabia. I asked him for a short progress update and here is what he had to say:
I am working on the The Ma’aden Bauxite and Alumina Project. It is a grass roots aluminium complex consisting of an aluminium Smelter, a rolling mill, and the alumina refinery. When completed, it will be the largest fully integrated aluminum complex. The Project is located in Ras Al Khair (formerly Ras Az Zawr) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). CBI’s portion of the project consists of the tankage for the Alumina refinery, currently there are 123 various tanks in our scope.
I am one of two project engineers on our site. I have been on site now for about 7 weeks. I have about another 18 months left. We work 6 days a week 10 hr days with Fridays off. I am on an 11 and 2 schedule. This means I work 11 weeks then I am off for 2 weeks. They fly me to and from Houston or equivalent for my 2 weeks off. The weather this summer has been between 35C -48C with humidity ranging from 35% to 85%.
Prior to coming to this project I worked in the CBI engineering dept for 6 months and the CBI estimating dept for 6 months.
The project has just started to get going, so a bulk of what I do right now is deal with foundation related issues with the client. I go out on joint surveys with the client. Then determine whether the foundation they are providing us is acceptable per the code applicable to the tank. We use API (American Petroleum Institute) code for most of what we do. I coordinate engineering related issues on site, with our engineering offices. I also handle field sketches in microstation (CAD software) and go out with field engineers to check field layouts. I am also involved in preparing QC/QA documents and material tracking documents.
I live on the site in a "man camp". I live in a trailer that resembles a dorm room with very basic amenities. I put a coffee maker, tv, xbox, and a few other items in the room to make it feel more like home. We eat in a mess hall that serves normal items, e.g. eggs, rice, salads, fish, chicken, french fries, desserts, sodas, NO PORK. There is no gym or recreation here, so I run, do push-ups and play xbox for leisurely activities. The closest city is about 1 1/2 hrs south of here, Jubail. I would describe camp life kind of like prison life. Wake up, eat, work, eat, work, eat, 1 hr recreation, sleep.
Being on site in Saudi Arabia is not really something you can prepare for. You are put in the middle of the desert away from family and friends with basic accommodations in very different country than America. Interestingly enough though, Tufts was diverse enough to prepare me to living in a foreign country. The reason I chose to take on a foreign assignment was to accelerate my career, the excitement of working in a remote location overseas and on a large project, and the financial gain. I have always wanted to travel the world and I have the opportunity to do so while working overseas. I recently spent time in Brugge, The Hague, and Amsterdam for an extended weekend. I plan on spending Xmas in Prague and Vienna and New Years in Paris. This is a long way from where I come from [which is Missouri].
Eric recently had some time off and returned to the Boston area, where I was fortunate to see him for an afternoon. He is doing very well. He commented about issues related to security for Americans working in Saudi Arabia. Although current reports are tense and he receives security alerts, his perspective is that the perception and circumstances for the civil engineers abroad is different and much less tense than what is reported by the press.