Many Nepali women are now building careers abroad; what has your journey been like?
Asmita: My keen intuition for understanding international affairs in the hub of international relations itself has brought me to Switzerland. Nepal, followed by India, now I am pursuing my Ph.D. in International Relations from Geneva School of Diplomacy. Even though I am married to a radiation oncologist in medicine and residing in Switzerland, my journey like many started from the scratch.
Anupa: My journey started by discovering my calling. After I moved back to Nepal in 2002, I started my career with the private sector and realised early on that my true calling lay somewhere else. Driven by this realisation, I made a courageous decision to transition from the private sector to a career where I could actively work towards making a positive impact in people’s lives, particularly those who are marginalised or disadvantaged. I was with the World Bank Group in Nepal for eight years which gave me insights into development challenges at a local level and fuelled my passion for making a difference at a larger scale. Motivated by the desire for continuous professional and personal growth and to be able to contribute to global development efforts, I then transitioned to a global position based in Washington DC. I must add that I am fortunate to have a strong foundation and early experiences that facilitated me to achieve what I aspired to, many women/girls don’t have that.
Nandita: Everyone has their own story, destiny, and journey. For me, coming out of a small village not knowing what the future had in store for me was already overwhelming. But when I look back, my journey has been fascinating. Every up and down that I have been through has taught me valuable lessons in life. Times were hard when I did not know what to do or how to do it, but I trusted the process, did my part, and now I am here and still have a lot more to do.
Manisha: I recall my journey started with many limitations and was all about having the courage to survive. The journey has been emotional, challenging and satisfying. The best part of living in London was the learning process, going through so many difficulties, and each time overcoming it. The reward was that in a fairly short period of time, I am mentally stronger and financially independent.
Dr. Tsering: Nepali women have proven themselves nationally as well as internationally so it doesn’t matter where one decides to lead their journey. It was the curiosity of unknown that drove me to this part of the world. The journey has been fun as well as frustrating at times specially when things don’t go as you plan due to unexpected changes. However, personally this journey of leaving the comfort of being in Nepal surrounded by people you have grown up with has been challenging yet exciting with meeting new people, making friends and learning from different cultures.
What are the major challenges that have got you to where you are today?
Asmita: The major challenges I faced were related to education and adapting to a new place. In education, the admission process, getting valuable recommendations, financing tuition, and being remarkable in my field was in itself rigorous and tough. Besides, finalising research proposals and building up chemistry with academic supervisors were also very essential and challenging.
On the other hand, I faced cultural shock and language shock which made me feel isolated initially. I couldn’t culturally bind and hence, after two years of learning the language, my confidence to socialise has soared. As a result – Bonjour, Comment çava, Merci beaucoup, Au revoir is not just French language to me now, it’s an emotion.
Anupa: Along the journey, I have encountered several adversities that have slowed down my progress. First, starting without an established professional network was challenging. It required proactive efforts on my part to build connections, seek mentorship and find opportunities. Second, understanding the political landscape and navigating organisational culture was daunting, particularly in a multicultural work environment in a new country. I had to actively seek guidance from experienced colleagues, observe the dynamics within the organisation and learn to adapt to cultural nuances, build capacity, communication styles, professionalism, and work practices. Third, overcoming my self-doubt. I have faced moments of uncertainty and fear of failure and it required conscious efforts to recognise and celebrate my strengths and achievements to slowly build self-confidence. It is still a work in progress and I would like to show gratitude to my mentors, both male and female, who have encouraged and supported me in addressing these challenges. Me being a woman, these challenges brought in multiple layers of additional complexities. International careers involve travels and periods of separation from your family which required additional planning and negotiation. Being a single mother in a foreign country with a traveling job was not easy.
Nandita: To be right here where I am today, I have sacrificed a lot. Coming out of my comfort zone from a small village with very less people around me was already challenging enough; in addition to that, leaving the country, friends and family was even more challenging. There has not been a single day where I haven’t faced any kind of challenges but overcoming these obstacles has made me into whom I am today.
Manisha: In the initial phase, the most challenging aspect was to adapt to a completely new world – cultural and financial. Full-time studies and part-time work to sustain in one of the most expensive cities in the world especially after having a child and having no one to help was the hardest phase. Many women at such time are forced to make a choice to sacrifice their dreams. I was one of them too but I was very fortunate that I could recollect all my scattered dreams and restart once again to make them come true despite all those odds.
Dr. Tsering: Challenges were about being prepared for what comes next. I always believe in proper preparation to prevent problems. I am always focussed on the preparation and the rest falls into places itself.
What is the difference in the working environment between Nepal and where you are?
Asmita: Sharing a border with five nation states here, many cultures are intertwined. Cantons to cantons, Suisse Allemand to Français Suisse dialects and way of working vary. Compared to Nepal where bureaucracy prevails and choices of upper hierarchy personnel matter, in Swiss, individual consideration and collaboration of all are considered, Teamwork and direct democracy are the driving force of workplace procedures and every step is backed by research, evidential data, innovation and creativity. Populist stuff isn’t entertained here, everything is evidence-based and depicts realism. Besides, punctuality is highly expected of everyone and every entity’s confidentiality is respected here. In addition, I have a wonderful work-life balance and stability.
Anupa: The work environment across geographical boundaries is experiencing a blurring effect due to technology, diversity and interconnection. Advances in technology have led to increased interconnectivity and collaboration among professionals from different countries and cultures, breaking down traditional geographic barriers or differences. We all have experienced this in the last few years of lockdown. Globalisation has led to interdependence among countries and economies. Professionals are now more likely to work with colleagues, clients and stakeholders from different countries, necessitating a global mindset and intercultural competence. The work environment is becoming more globalised, and the differences are blurring.
Nandita: The working culture abroad is way different from Nepal. Everything is systematically organised, you get what you put in, and the more you work, the more you get paid. You get to work with so many people from multiple backgrounds, cultures and countries which not only helps one to understand the significance of diversity but also makes one open-minded and open to different experiences. However, despite how much you make monetarily, working in Nepal provides a different fulfillment of the heart.
Manisha: The work environment seems better and safer in developed countries. In Nepal, laws are there but seem least practiced whereas here in UK laws are strictly followed by both companies and employees. Health, safety and employee rights are given high priority. There is good pay package and benefits like maternity and sick pay schemes here but in Nepal, it seems very limited to big companies only. People work under good systems here whereas there seems hardly to be any system practiced in Nepal. Punctuality and value for time is a big concern while this aspect in Nepal needs to be improved for sure.
Dr. Tsering: As a dentist back in Nepal I was always blessed and had the opportunities to work with some of the great dentists in Nepal so the working environment was never an issue. Compared to Nepal, we do have easier access to various trainings and professional development activities which does help you to better yourself professionally.
What advice would you give to young women aspiring to build successful careers in the international arena?
Asmita: The arena is getting tougher and more competitive. From negotiating for peacebuilding to becoming entrepreneurs, this world needs more Nepali women in the forefront. Many women are still deprived of opportunity, but those who aren’t and have the resources, explore their fields, make friends all over the world, build a network, meet many professionals, and be able to stand up financially.
Besides learn a different language besides English, whether it be Chinese, Russian, French, or Deutsch. It’s fun and go for it. Meanwhile do not forget to spend some time with nature, to calm yourself; after all, we are only humans.
Anupa: I have been inspired by “Adam Grant’s” concept of “learn, unlearn, and relearn” which resonates with the notion that growth and development require a willingness to challenge ourselves, question assumptions and embrace lifelong learning. I have always been curious and one aspect of my curiosity is a strong aversion to complacency. In my career, this curiosity and fear of complacency have motivated me to take on diverse roles, seek out learning/unlearning opportunities and push beyond my comfort zone. I have moved from the private sector to bilateral to multilateral, worked in several countries all over the globe, and worked on different sectors and topics. This continuous learning process has worked for me and hopefully would work for you too.
Nandita: Luckily, I haven’t come across those situations where my being a woman has affected my way of life. However, there have been issues of uneven wages among me and my fellow male actors, but I would not want to blame anyone because we are addressing these problems and moving forward progressively. If you have been through scenarios where you were forced to step down from something or if you are being treated unjustly just because of your gender, then the best thing to do is to speak up.
Manisha: It’s fascinating to see our young women marching ahead so well despite all the odds. To all young women out there I would like to say, keep dreaming high. Don’t be scared of failing or making mistakes. Always be ready to explore, and learn every day. You can change the pace of your work according to the situation but don’t ever give up or stop.
Dr. Tsering: My sincere advice as it may sound very cliché to the young Nepali women aspiring to build successful career in any part of the world would be – Be sincere, work hard, go out of your comfort zone and test your limits. I always tell my boys if there is something you find difficult and think that you can’t do it, then just go and do it and you will kiss success. Same advice goes for our younger generation.
How do you stay connected to your Nepalese roots?
Asmita: Nepal is in my heart and mind; hence I am still active in the Nepalese diaspora. Meeting up with Nepalese and sharing Momo and Daal Bhat has been my part of keeping in touch with my Nepalese roots. In the context of living abroad, like being an honest law-abiding Swiss citizen, paying my taxes, and respecting the laws of the land and sovereignty. It pleases them to see us adapt to their culture and language. This may be simple but it’s very practical. Besides, the Swiss already have a good image of Nepal, They go “wow” at the sound of Nepal!
Anupa: This is an interesting question and I have been pondering on it for some time. To explain better, I would have to bring in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which suggests that individuals have a set of fundamental needs that drive their behaviors and motivation. When I was working in Nepal, I was at a self-esteem level where I felt a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose through my desire to give back to society. I was a founding member of a leading organization that worked on women’s empowerment, volunteered in an NGO working on access to finance for women, and always looked for opportunities to contribute to collective well-being.
Strange enough, when I moved to Washington DC with my son, I always joked that I have moved down to the base, at physiological need. I had to focus on getting a safe and secure environment for me and my son to start a new life in a new country. It’s been eight years now and I am slowly climbing the ladder to reach where I was before – self-esteem. Now, as an empty nester with a stable career, I feel I am ready to be more engaged to give back to my community. I am open to ideas and opportunities. Please feel free to reach out. At a professional level, I have been fortunate enough to be able to stay engaged in Nepal through several projects related to enhancing the entrepreneurship ecosystem and witness the growth of an early-stage pool of ecosystem builders like incubators, and accelerators offering services to strengthen the startup ecosystem.
Nandita: Leaving your country and going abroad can always be challenging, but we can counter it with proper mindset and preparation. It is obvious that things like food, culture, clothes, people, and all can be way different from what we are used to seeing in Nepal but understanding that every country has its way of life will make us mentally strong in these situations. There are going to be problems such as home-sickness, culture shocks, inter-personal communication, language, and all but instead of getting de-motivated by these things, we should look at the bright side and use this opportunity to expand our horizons, learn new things, and unlearn and relearn what we already know.
Manisha: Doing something allied to Nepal while living far from it has always offered me a splendid feeling of home regardless of my being at vast distance away. The more years I live in London, the more I feel deeply connected to my roots and origin in Nepal. I am part of Pasa Puchah Guthi UK and NRN UK organizations that are working tirelessly for decades to preserve our culture, language and rights far from Nepal. I also got an opportunity to represent Nepal after being crowned as Mrs. Nepal Universe 2018. To be called and known by the name of the country among more than 100 countries was incredible. Being able to establish LFH Foundation which aims to bring together all Nepali women residing around the globe is an honour. Mrs. Nepal Universe has become one of the platforms I am also using towards empowering women.
Dr. Tsering: Maintaining strong connection with Nepalese roots shouldn’t be and has not been difficult. One needs to just be proud of being Nepali and express it and stay connected to family and friends and the community. I have always tried my best to give back to the community even when I was in Nepal and will always do the same. I believe it doesn’t have to be something big or extravagant to be part of community service as every effort counts and makes the difference.
What are your future goals?
Asmita: With respect to my interest in working in public diplomacy (reaching out to foreign nationals directly) and nation branding, now I’m inculcating in understanding and accepting the lives, language, and cultures of the Swiss people, which they are pleased by and appreciate. Similarly, I want an impact to be created by them accepting our lives and culture as well and spread Nepal’s’ exposure in international realms.
Anupa: At this point all I can say is, I would like to deepen my engagement in Nepal. Particularly in the field of entrepreneurship development. I am looking for opportunities to collaborate with like-minded individuals, build meaningful partnerships, and contribute to collective efforts for common goals.
Nandita: Perseverance, patience, courage, and honesty.
Manisha: My goal has been always to live my dreams on my terms compassionately. To keep creating more jobs, entrepreneurs, and to keep supporting women are my forever goals.
Dr. Tsering: Goals in life keep changing personally and professionally but it is always important to remain true to yourself and become a better human being. My goal in life is to always move forward. If I fall, I want to get up, dust myself off and keep on going.