I'd been wanting to do it for ages. This was going to be the culmination of 3 years of work on what had been one of the most interesting, but also challenging, projects that I'd worked on – supporting the safety case for a nationwide implementation of a new ATM system. I was going to be on-site for two months 6000 miles away. In Bangkok. Was I excited? You bet!
I'd been to visit AEROTHAI (our client) several times before, but only for two weeks at a time, and was used to working very closely with them. This trip definitely felt different though. A real opportunity to make a measurable difference to the project.
Each day was undoubtedly busy, but brought something new. Most lasted 12 hours, some 15. However, each was made easier by the fact that our clients made it as simple as possible for me to settle in. They were warm and welcoming. I have to say they took me to some great restaurants that I would never have found otherwise. They were a pleasure to work with.
I rode a moped to work each day, weaving through what felt like miles of traffic. It's not something that I would recommend for the faint hearted, but it definitely beats walking in 30-degree + heat. When there I spent most of my time meeting with the different teams working on the project, trying to understand their plans and the key risks involved. I would then feedback the outcomes to the Helios team in the UK, who were always on hand to support me when needed. Then I'd progress my analysis, making sure it was as comprehensive and complete as possible, building a better picture of the situation day-by-day.
I had some amazing opportunities out in Thailand. I visited Chiang Mai and Phuket air traffic control centres, to understand local risks that could affect the success of system implementation.I was even lucky enough to spend some time exploring both places and do some surfing! Another highlight was updating AEROTHAI's senior management on Helios' progress. The idea of presenting to them was a little daunting at first, but the important thing for me was making sure I was confident in the key messages I had to convey. Ultimately, they were happy with the work we did.
Weekends gave me the chance to step back and appreciate my surroundings. Bangkok really is an incredible city, full of life and excitement. I visited temples, countless shopping malls and now have a sizeable list of recommendations for brunch, lunch and dinner. I ventured outside of Bangkok too. One weekend, one of my friends at AEROTHAI took me to Thailand's ancient capital, Ayutthaya. It was an amazing place, full of ancient ruins. Seeing it definitely made me want to go back and explore more of Thailand.
I opened by saying that I really wanted to go to Thailand but I never said why. I wanted to challenge myself as a person and a professional, to learn as much as I could and make a lasting contribution to the project. Being out there on your own teaches you to think on your feet and makes you more self-reliant. When you're in meetings you have to make sure you understand the issues being discussed so you can draw sensible conclusions and relay what you've learnt to the team.
I learnt so much, in a way that only being on-site can give you. That knowledge is invaluable, particularly when it comes to understanding why some project decisions needed to be made. More than that, Bangkok exposed me to a different culture. I've already mentioned the warm and welcoming nature of Thai people, but it's also just nice to take a step back and understand that Bangkok (and Thailand in general) is just different to what you're used to, particularly if you've spent all of your life in the UK. It's vibrant and dynamic, all underpinned by a sense of organised chaos.
Since I returned, I've had time to reflect on my experiences. I miss it. I feel that I've come back not only with a more complete understanding of the project, but also having made a contribution towards its overall success. Perhaps more importantly, I've come back with a fresh perspective on life and work. It was an incredible opportunity (and it goes without saying that I'll be forever grateful to both AEROTHAI and my team for making it happen). Would I do it again given the chance? Absolutely.