A very warm welcome in a very hot city

In February this year, I packed my bags and moved nearly 7000 kilometres southeast – after completing trainee rotations in Orkanger and Oslo, it was time for a change of scenery. The change from an office environment in Oslo to an industrial plant in India has been a big one, not least because of the sudden temperature increase of around 30 degrees. Fortunately, I have received a very warm welcome, and my third and final trainee rotation in Elkem has been a very special one indeed.

This blog post was written by our trainee Bård Sve Wallentinsen.

When I joined Elkem’s trainee programme in 2016, I was promised diverse experiences, and I can certainly say the programme has delivered on that! I have worked with mechanical maintenance in Elkem Thamshavn, on climate and energy projects at Elkem’s headquarters, and I am writing this from Elkem’s smelting plant in Nagpur, at the very centre of India. Elkem has plants all over the world, and it’s been clear from the start that I wanted to use this opportunity to work abroad during the programme. After some back and forth last Autumn between the plants in Paraguay and India, it was finally decided that I would have the chance to work here, with process improvements in the casting of liquid metal. This has turned out to be an excellent opportunity to continue learning about the lean philosophy in the Elkem Business System, and to better my understanding of various processes at our plants.

It’s not easy to sum up my experience going from Oslo to Nagpur – as you can probably imagine, living in India is rather different from Norway. To put it briefly though, I’ve had a wonderful experience, marked by warm hospitality, spicy hot food and even hotter weather. The climate is perhaps the most drastic difference, with temperatures in May reaching 44-46 degrees nearly every day. Fortunately, I have air conditioning in my office and in my apartment, bringing indoor temperatures down to a balmy 26 degrees. As you can imagine, working near furnaces containing liquid metal is a real challenge in this climate. There is really no other option for all of us here than to sweat it out, and to make sure you get enough water and salt. Fortunately, the monsoon recently arrived in India, marking the end of summer and the start of the rainy season until autumn starts in September. This season brings a very welcome drop in peak temperatures to “only” 30-35 degrees. Nagpur is such a dry city that it still only rains about half the days in this period, and usually concentrated in heavy showers of an hour or two. Several people here have asked me how the rainy season is where I’m from, but I’m not sure they believe me when I explain that my home town of Bergen has a “rainy season” of around 10-12 months…

Picture: My apartment is in the block in the background. Some of the neighbourhood cows in the foreground.

With a population of 3,6 million people, Nagpur is considered a small city in India, and most people tell me there is not much to see here. As a foreigner however, things such as food, traffic and simply the amount of people everywhere is pretty exotic, and there are temples everywhere serving the diverse population of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. The city is famous for its oranges, and I have enjoyed these very much, along with an abundant supply of mangoes during summer. Reading the local paper can also give some surprises, such the front-page story a couple of months ago, titled “Leopard enters bathroom near Hingna, rescued after 5-hr ops.” Elkem’s plant is in Hingna, but I’ve unfortunately (or fortunately) never seen any leopards or other large animals other than cows roaming the streets of our neighbourhood. I was lucky enough see a tiger in the wild, as my wife visited me during the Easter holiday, and we saw some of the “mandatory” tourist sites, such as the Taj Mahal, and went on a tiger safari. I have also been fortunate enough to attend no less than four weddings, which you probably know are rather larger affairs than in Norway. My colleague Pradip invited me to both his engagement ceremony and his wedding, pictured below. The wedding entailed five days of various celebrations, ceremonies and blessings, and the wedding reception saw a total attendance of more than 2000 people in the course of a full day.

Picture: With my colleagues Irfan and Pradip and their wives, during Pradip’s wedding.

I think the strongest impression I will have from my stay in Nagpur is the friendly reception I have received from my colleagues, and the hospitality I have experienced in general. It seems my colleagues feel personally responsible for making me feel welcome not just at the plant, but in India in general. I am very grateful for the kindness and inclusiveness everyone here has shown in receiving me, and hope I can return the favour when I will see my Indian colleagues again during their travels to Norway.

This is my final entry to this blog, so it might also be time to reflect on the almost two years that have passed since I became a trainee in Elkem. It’s difficult to overstate how privileged I feel to have experienced such radically diverse challenges and working environments, and I have learned an incredible amount in two short years. I look forward to meeting the new trainees starting this August, knowing full well that they will have a great start to their careers in Elkem, as I have.