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The perfect job? Work's great and life is relaxed for space engineers in the tropics

Fed up with dreary weather? Fancy the tropics instead? If you're a space engineer who thrives in humid weather, consider Europe's spaceport. DW spoke to Tamara Tezzele about life and work in Kourou.

Watch video 01:05

A scientist's life in the tropics

DW: We're in this wonderful place in Kourou, French Guiana. You're an engineer with the French Space Agency, CNES, and you live and work here?

Tamara Tezzele: Yes, in fact I was born here. I grew up here. And I work here on what we call a "local contract," which means I'm here permanently in French Guiana. That's not the case for everybody.

So living and working here would be normal for you. What about other people, do most people here work in the space industry?

Yes. I might be wrong, but I'd say in Kourou about 80 percent of people work in the space industry - as a support contractor, or for CNES, or for Arianespace and so on. 

Describe your daily life. What's it like working here? Is it relaxed? Do you put down your tools and head for the beach when it gets too hot?...

Life is very relaxed here. For people who like to be outside, people who like the sun, the rain, and the beach, it is very peaceful. The rhythm of life is quite slow, so we're not as stressed as you'd be in Paris or in Toulouse, where I went to study. So it's quite nice.

Tamara Tezzele (DW/Z.Abbany)

Tezzele is a payload manager at the spaceport in Kourou

But work is completely different. Because I work in customer support, I am on call. I have to work Monday to Saturday, and I can be called in at 8pm … so that's very different. But fortunately we have this [indicates the sunny environment]. Otherwise it would be very difficult if both professional and private life were stressful.

You studied in France, but you returned home to a job in the space industry. Is that the only job prospect here? Is everyone who's born here predestined for a job in the space industry?

Not everyone, but perhaps 50 percent of people. Local people know about the European Spaceport. The French Space Agency, CNES, is also well known, and that's important, because we have a launcher in the sky every month. So we're very involved in the space industry, compared to France, I guess. In France, people aren't so aware that we have this European spaceport here. But people who were born here are very interested in it.

Do France and French Guiana differ in other ways as well? They're both French, but would you say this was an "outpost" for the "mainland"? Is this like another country?

To be honest, France was a very different country for me! French Guiana is France but it's completely different. My first reaction when I arrived in Paris was, "Oh, why are so many people always running, what's happening?" - because it's not like that in French Guiana. In Toulouse it's the same as in Paris.

What struck me was the Metro. Everybody is always running because they don't want to miss a subway, even though they know there's another one every five minutes, so there's no need to be in such a hurry, you know? So there were many things like that that surprised me. The character is also very different. And it's a different culture. It took me about a year to understand the way of life there, and the way people think … and the weather! Winter was very difficult for me.

And you didn't want to stay there?

I believe it's important for people who were born in French Guiana to move abroad. It is absolutely necessary to open your mind, to talk and meet with other people, and to learn new things. That's important...

Iguana Echse (DW/Z.Abbany)

An iguana in Kourou: not the sort of thing you'd expect to see on the Metro in Paris

But so is coming home?

Yes, that is also important - to bring all that back. To be honest, I hadn't wanted to come back when I did. But I did because there was an opportunity. I had wanted to travel farther around Europe or go to New Zealand, things like that. But life has some surprises and I got an opportunity to work here with the French Space Agency, so I said, "Why not?"

What's the future for the space industry here? Is it solid? This was not the first home of French or European space launches, so how are things looking now?

I'm not really sure about the industry. The launchers are manufactured in Europe because that's where the high technology is, and you could say, the bad thing about French Guiana is that we don't do high technology yet.

How do you fix that? Is it a case of bringing more people here, or educating local people to develop more homegrown talent, more high technology?

Look, this is only my point of view, it's not the way everyone sees it. But I believe it's important to have the high technology in France, so that people have to move. I don't believe that having high technology here, or a big science university… well, it could be nice, but the problem that I would see is that people would stay in French Guiana, they would only [know] French Guiana, and never think about moving. And science and research need different cultures and countries to improve.

Tamara Tezzele is an engineer and Payload Facilities Manager with the French Space Agency at the Guiana Space Center, Kourou, French Guiana.

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