Co-Op Narratives South America

Artificial Lifts and Spanish

Story and photo by Hammed Oseni,

If you would had told me during my freshmen year that I would be living and working for one of the largest oil and energy companies in the amazon region of Ecuador two years later, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Now, as a fifth year, chemical engineering major, I’ve finished up my third co-op at Schlumberger.  

After discussing my interest in the oil and energy industry with Dean Richard Harris of the College of Engineering, he suggested I apply to Schlumberger (Big Blue).  Taking the Dean’s advice, I applied to Schlumberger, along with a handful of other companies in the industry.  I was pleased to accept an offer to move to Ecuador and start working with one of biggest names in the sector of my dreams.  

My co-op with Schlumberger in Ecuador was my first experience not only working outside of the United States, but it was also my introduction to the oil and energy industry.  I’ve always had an interest in the industry, and my co-op with Schlumberger’s Artificial Lift team allowed me to gain experience in the upstream sector I’ve always pictured myself in.  While living in Ecuador, I was also able to gain experience outside of the oil and energy sector- I was able to learn about different cultures and languages.  

Going into my co-op, I had a very basic knowledge of the Spanish language- I knew how to count numbers, and how to say “I don’t speak Spanish”.  Because the official language of Schlumberger is English, I didn’t foresee my limited knowledge of Spanish being an issue.  However, within the first week of my co-op, I found myself pulling out my phone and resorting to Google translate for help.  I soon learned that improving my Spanish would not only assist me in the learning process, but would also allow me to develop a better rapport with some of my coworkers.

The learning curve proved to be a steep one.  I found myself learning from the technicians who were speaking in Spanish, while assembling the artificial lift equipment, and having to read to get a better understanding of what I had seen earlier in day.  With the help of online translators, and the supportive staff, I was able to gradually improve my Spanish.  I was in a constant learning mode.  Every day, I found myself constantly reflecting on every interaction to understand what was going on around me.  

From rotating around the different units in the artificial lift department, I not only picked up some Spanish, I also learned technical skills and was able to observe how the segments function as a whole.

The cultural adjustments didn’t stop there.  My work schedule was 20 & 8, meaning that I worked 20 days straight and got 8 days off.  This was very different from the typical 9-5 hours I was accustomed to from my past internship experiences at Clariant and Bristol Myers Squibb in the United States.  I experienced firsthand how different the lifestyle of a Field Engineer can be.  This internship gave me a true sense of what it would be like to work in the oil industry.  

After 6 months of working in Ecuador, conversing in Spanish became easier and I learned how to find a balance with the Field Engineer lifestyle.  During my breaks from work, I visited other parts of Ecuador and immersed myself in their culture.  

At the end of my co-op, I reflected on my 6 months of living in Ecuador and I can say it was challenging- but worthwhile.  Not only did I get my foot into the door in the industry I intend on building my career around, but I also met many supportive people along the way. Although many of our conversations got lost in translation, and living away from home wasn’t easy- it all made me a much stronger person.

My co-op allowed me to experience some of the challenges that come with my intended future career- a valuable opportunity that many post-grads don’t have the luxury to have.  I picture myself having a global career in the future, working for an oil and energy company, like Schlumberger, and this experience reassured me of what kind of career I want.  

Living in Ecuador for the past 6 months has offered me a wealth of new and exciting experiences.  During my 6 months in Ecuador, I’ve traveled to places I could have never imagined, experienced a range of different cultures, and spent time on a continent far away from home.  

Working in the oil and energy industry is definitely not for everyone.  To future co-op students looking for similar co-ops: you will be challenged and pushed outside your comfort zone, you will be away from your family and friends, and you will experience culture shock, but through it all, it is important to remain resilient and positive.  Remain proactive about learning as much as possible, and assume positive intent in all your interactions.  The experience is truly worth it and will prove worthwhile wherever you end up.