Sept/Oct 2010

Canadians Abroad

Seizing every opportunity to learn: Pascal Coursol views the world as his classroom

By Heather Ednie

Pascal Coursol 

Coursol with guides on safari in the Botswana bush | Photo courtesy of Pascal Coursol

If life is one long learning experience, then the entire world is the classroom setting. Opportunities for self-improvement abound for those who are willing to work for it, and Pascal Coursol, process superintendant – reduction at Aluminerie Alouette, is firmly dedicated to continuous learning. “When opportunities to learn present themselves, it’s very difficult to say no,” he says. “I want learning opportunities to continue throughout my career.”

Habla español

At 39 years of age, Coursol has fast become a leader in process plant optimization. In his previous position at Xstrata Process Support, his group focused on global plant optimization for Xstrata and non-Xstrata customers. Recognizing the leadership role Chile plays in copper production, Coursol decided to learn Spanish to increase his effectiveness within that community.

“In December 2006, I spent one month with a family in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and the following December I spent a month lodging at a hostel in Val Parizo, Chile,” he recalls. “I took lessons and immersed myself in the culture and it paid off. I hardly spoke English when I started with Alcan in 2003; today, I speak three languages.”

The globe trotter

Using his new language skills as a lever, Coursol visited most of the smelters in Chile and Peru, and attended a Chilian conference in late 2007. When the economic downturn hit in late 2008, work in North America slowed tremendously, but Coursol and his team were busier than ever, focused on plant optimization projects around the globe.

“Late 2008 was a time of intense travel,” Coursol remembers. “Starting in August with a pilot plant campaign in Finland for Barrick Gold, I then travelled to Germany and South Africa for two other pilot campaigns for Xstrata Nickel. From there, I flew to the BCL smelter in Botswana to initiate a plant optimization project. I was only back in Canada a short while before returning to Chile and Peru in early 2009 for two other projects with Codelco and with the Southern Peru Copper Corporation.”

Live and learn

According to Coursol, a major benefit of working on international projects is learning about various cultures. “I’ve gained a better view of the world,” he adds. “One of the toughest things when travelling for work is learning how to adapt to different cultures. Sometimes you speak to plant engineers and your message is conveyed up; at other times, you can only negotiate with directors or general managers to get things done. The speed of the flow of information, and the types of communication road blocks, can be challenging; you need to spend time right at the beginning to understand the culture around you.”

Although he views each trip as an opportunity to learn, one particular trip to Botswana, where he was one of only a few white people in the town, was a true learning experience for Coursol. “I’d never had that feeling before — of being so visibly different,” he recalls. “It was eye opening. And everyone was really nice — as I walked in the town, children would run around me, smiling. I was just amazed at how welcoming the people were.”

Coursol spent a full month in Botswana on that trip, and feeling the need for a little down time, he went on safari and even slept in tents in the jungle. At dinner one evening, a local woman told him that she would never sleep in one of those tents, because the previous week, a snake had entered one of them. “I said, ‘your ad says they are insect proof,’ and she said ‘yes, but a snake can pass through anywhere,’” he recounts. Luckily, no snakes found their way into his tent on the trip.

No place like home

In October 2009, Coursol joined Aluminerie Alouette, in Sept-Îles, Quebec, where he manages a process group of 65 people. Feeling the need for more stability in his life, Coursol says it was the right time to cut back on all the travel. In his current position, he is building on all the experience he has gained.

“I was able to travel all over the world because of what I learned in Canada,” he smiles. “Then, I landed a job in Canada due to my varied experience acquired around the world.” Life can be ironic sometimes.

Post a comment


PDF Version