Maurice Rosario enjoys the culture and lifestyle in Cairo but having lived abroad for years he finds it increasingly difficult to define home.
CV: Maurice Rosario, 50, started his career in 1978 as an assistant architect at Gulf Consultant and has worked for HN Construction Company and PRC Engineering before joining GMW in 1987. He is now an executive associate there.
How did you end up working in Istanbul?
I started my overseas career in 1997. I lived in Turkey for five years and am now working on the large-scale project of international airport in Cairo, Egypt. I spend 50% of my time there.
Was it difficult to adapt?
In Cairo, there are many cultural differences. Social and cultural backgrounds are very different. The way of doing business is different. To a certain degree there are things you are not prepared for. For the people who work with me in Istanbul, it was difficult to adapt. We have had discussions about how to deal with certain situations to deliver the service expected from us to our clients. The worst mistake a foreign company can make when working abroad is to say, "we are here to show you the way", because you can only hurt the pride of your clients. A simple statement like that can lose you a contract.
Have you learnt Arabic?
I was born in Iraq so I could speak Arabic. Unfortunately I haven't been able to use my linguistic skills yet. In Cairo I work with 28 Egyptian people and speak to them in Arabic but they respond in English. I have no idea why. It was the same in Turkey. Even when I was the only British person in the room, people would speak in English.
Do you miss home?
Once you start living abroad, it becomes very difficult to define home. When my wife and I arrived in Istanbul we didn't think of it as home. But after four years with the Turks having been extremely generous and sociable, it was difficult to define where home was by then. When we decided to come back to Britain, it was really difficult to return.
You now work in Cairo, how much time do you spend there?
This year I am going to spend one third of the year in Egypt, last year I stayed for half of the year.
The worst mistake a foreign company can make when abroad is to say, “we are here to show you the way”. A statement like that can lose you a contract.
Would you like to move elsewhere after Egypt?
There are opportunities to work in Dubai but I don't particularly want to move there.
What advice would you give to people who would be tempted to work abroad?
To consider how long you want to stay away. If you stay too long in a place, it'd be too difficult to return. You won't be able to adapt back to the UK. I know a couple who spent most of their working life in Cairo. When they retired they came back to the UK and they couldn't stay. It can be a danger to turn a short experience into something longer. You have to draw the line somewhere.
What is the best thing about working abroad?
There are many perks like the weather and experiencing different cultures.
What is the worst thing about working abroad?
The perks make you forget that it will be difficult to adapt back to your previous lifestyle. It is much more demanding too. My wife and young son are in the UK now and it's very difficult to be away from them.
What has been your worst experience?
Too often you sit in your office and a group of people come without calling before. Even if you have made prior arrangements to meet your clients they will hold you there. I have to adapt to this, but I don't like it very much.
There is a pride and a motivation among the construction people one doesn’t easily come across in the UK construction industry.
What has been your best experience?
It's the people who make the experience memorable. In Turkey they are trying to achieve greater heights. They never fail to surprise me. The whole experience was an achievement. We set up a new office in Istanbul with a team of 30 and had to deliver a large project [the new international terminal and multi-storey car park at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul] in a very short period of time [two years]. It was a success and the client came back to us for more. We all had a real sense of pride in what we've done.
Moreover there have been a good number of Turkish companies, especially engineering ones, that have adopted the work lifestyle we've brought in.
So you've influenced the business culture. But what can the UK construction industry learn from Turkey or Egypt?
Well, I guess from Egypt, you could say how to built pyramids (laughs). More seriously there is a pride and a motivation among the construction people one doesn't easily come across in the UK construction industry. There is no issue about working beyond the working hours. It is much more difficult to motivate people in the UK. People in Turkey and Egypt are motivated 24 hours a day if the person who leads the project sends the right message.
What do you see from your Egyptian office window?
The desert. We have set up our office on site and the airport will be at the fringe of the capital in the desert. It's in the middle of nowhere. It's good to experience what the building workers are experiencing.
What about Middle-Eastern food?
In Istanbul the food is wonderful. They do the best simple grilled fish. In Egypt I have fallen in love with a dessert called Om Ali which means the mother of Ali. It's a sort of bread pudding with the most delicious nuts and spices.