Originally from Birmingham and part of a very traditional family, I've been fortunate enough to develop a career in the construction industry and work for a company that has embraced my enthusiasm and ambition.
The 15 months I spent as a project manager working for Turner & Townsend in Atyrau, Kazakhstan was nothing short of amazing and a real test of my confidence and resilience.
Turner & Townsend knew I wanted to work overseas and, in March 2011, when I was asked to be part of a new office in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, my first reaction was 'wow'. It was a huge opportunity but equally scary as it's not a country I've ever thought about visiting let alone working in. Like many other people I've spoken to in the UK, all I knew about Kazakhstan was what I'd seen in the media. I'm pleased to say that it is an amazing country and has equipped me with some lifelong lessons and many memorable adventures.
Underpinning my entire work ethic is sharing experiences and working together. With that in mind, here are some of the experiences I gained which may help other people, particularly women, wanting to work in Kazakhstan.
The quality of construction can be quite poor and in some instances shocking which indicates a lack of local skilled labour.
The weather ranges from -40C to +40C which had a significant impact on construction. Most external works come to a halt during the months of November to February. Not only was this difficult to work in but it was also hard from a lifestyle perspective. There was no surface drainage system in the city of Atyrau which meant that any rain and melted snow would remain for weeks. This combined with the soil and debris within the city meant that I went through so many pairs of footwear! Snow was even carted away to the outer city before melting, to lessen the impact of surface water.
Safety around Atyrau, Kazakhstan is also an issue. Common sense should be applied - so that means no wandering around streets alone at night. My firm had a clear policy of not allowing women to travel unaccompanied after dark and providing transportation where necessary which was re-assuring to say the least.
I only saw one Indian female expatriate working in Kazakhstan throughout the whole 15 months I was there which was surprising, but this didn't phase me at all. In fact it made for great conversation with some of the locals who couldn't speak English.
The city of Atyrau itself was limited in terms of things to do but I made the most of this. I invested in a pair of roller blades and joined the locals along the river footpath. The culture and hospitality of the locals is a true credit to the country. I will never forget the day that I walked into the office during Easter and found chocolate eggs on everyone's desk, or the day that I received a present from employees on my birthday, or the food that the locals brought to the office for no reason at all, just because they wanted to - in my experience, this rarely happens in consultancies.
The confidence I've gained from the day to day challenges have made me a stronger person and have given me appreciation of a culture that I never thought I would have the pleasure of exploring. I've also learnt that you can go anywhere but what matters most is that you have a good solid team of people (male or female) to work with so that you can overcome challenges together. I had great support from Turner & Townsend who looked after me both at work and outside of work. The expatriate team from the UK who established the Kazakhstan office comprised of five males and myself, and I truly believe that my contribution to the team as a female made a huge positive difference to all of our experiences.
Since returning to the UK, I was thrilled to find out I have been shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell, it's an amazing feeling. Particularly as the awards create an excellent opportunity for me to inspire and motivate others and subsequently increase participation for women in work.