Expat Women Share What It’s Like Working in Bhutan
It isn’t an easy task to leave your home, friends, family and familiar spaces to come and work in a foreign land. From selling what little they had, facing skeptics at home to learning to adjust to a new way of life and finally finding themselves – these Expat women have gone through it all. They share their experiences and what it’s like finding themselves in a place different from their own.
By Chimi Wangmo,
Photos by Gyeltshen Tobden
Carolyn Mize, USA
“After applying all over the world to both paid and volunteer positions in any place that needed an Emergency Medicine doctor and a Pediatrician as a means to give back to the world, my husband and I landed in Bhutan. Bhutan was an easy choice that had interesting positions for both of us and a government that is so invested in improving the lives of the citizens and advancing medical care. For us government support to the medical field means that their time will be turned into lasting change.
In the department of pediatrics with six brilliant pediatricians, five pediatric residents and other supporting staff, I work in the neonatal units caring for premature babies that need extra support before they are able to go home and jaundiced babies. The doctors here are doing an incredible job with less staff, less resources, less money and despite that they provide excellent care for our patients. I am so thankful to be working with Dr. Yoriko Nishizawa. She has been a mentor, has included me on many projects and has already taught me so much.
Working so closely with women and children, I am so proud to see so many women in medicine here. Knowing that young women are advancing the medical science in this country is exciting. The other thing that I have noticed is women breastfeeding here. It is so great that breastfeeding is so common and so socially accepted here! Breastfeeding is the healthiest feeding choice for almost every baby, but in the US many women don’t have a place to breastfeed at work and don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public because it is less accepted.
There will always be people to tell you what you can’t do and why your plans won’t work. If they are giving you helpful advice, listen and change your plans, but if they are just telling you no, find a way to achieve your goals anyway.”
Charmie Chedda, India
“Only pure love matters. Nothing is more important than love and nothing can truly entice me if love is not involved. We humans draw our own borders. The truth is we are all truly same. We share the same space of dark and light internally. I guess I receive immense love wherever I go because my intention of love reaches before I do.” Charmi Chedda
Charmi Chedda worked as an art and theatre teacher with Druk School. Having recently joined the Ministry of Education, Bhutan, she has been instrumental as a creative art director during REC’s reintroduction of Shakespeare in school curriculum staging the drama The Bard of Avon. She has also written and directed the plays I and Yours Truly Bum Jarim for RENEW. The latter was staged during the ‘International Day of Violence Against Women’. She is currently working with 64 students for the next MOE production.
“Living in Bhutan has been nothing less than a fairytale. It’s always the first step that’s the toughest, but once taken, there is no looking back. In the beginning it is a little challenging. You miss what you have left behind – friends, family and life. But honestly when I came to Bhutan, I came home. I rediscovered myself and this country and the people embraced me with open arms. It’s pure karma. Nothing seems new – not the ema datsi, not the mountains, not the full kiras or nor some special places like Dechenphug or Talo zong. I’ve been here before.
I feel blessed I am able to work with children and youth of Bhutan and ignite the flame of performing arts in the country. It’s a meaningful and purposeful journey now. I am a drukpa too.”
Sophie Ali, England
“It was a mad dash trying to organise myself to come to Bhutan as I only got confirmed a couple of months before I flew out. I had to quit all my work and organise cover (a risky move in my industry as work builds up over time), rent out my London flat and borrow money from family members to cover the cost of my tickets and other travel expenses.
I thought all of this would be worth it – to come and spread the gift of music here at Kilu, Bhutan Music School and the wider community.
This experience has been such a blessing so far, both the positives and the negatives. The best thing on arrival had to be the scenery. I’d never seen such a green landscape and such beautiful mountain ranges before and I felt so lucky to be here. The next thing has to be the people, I’ve met some really incredible people since being here, both locals and international. Thimphu seems to draw a certain sort of person and living a simpler way of life is such a valuable experience for me, coming from the target-driven, dog-eat-dog world of London town. I have of course come across things I struggle to relate to here, one of which being womens rights. Something I’ve always felt very strongly about and I feel that Bhutan still has a long way to go in terms of the support it offers to women and the views that are embedded in the culture here. Although I believe RENEW is doing great things to try and move this in the right direction. I was also shocked at how low incomes are relative to the cost of living here and I feel I’ve been very spoilt with the life I grew up with in the UK.
I’ve always been a strong believer that life’s about the journey not the destination, even though life sometimes takes you the long way round for the better. I’m just trying to make the most of my journey.”
“I chose to come to Bhutan as opposed to staying and training in India because the crafts are given importance here. Even His Majesty is working towards bringing back the art of the blacksmith. I was lucky to get the opportunity to work on His Majesty’s project as an apprentice to the master blacksmiths at Wochu, Paro.”
Shraddha was an intern with Zorig Chusum from April to June 2015 and then a part of the King’s Project at Wochu, Paro where His Majesty had gathered all the blacksmiths to form a teaching community to bring back the craft in Wochu where it originally was known for.
“I graduated as a Retail Space Designer in the year 2014 but volunteered at the Bamboo Centre at Auroville, Tamil Nadu where I was part of a team who built their bamboo store house. Here I am not talking about just sitting in an office space and designing a building but actually being on the getting my hands and feet dirty. I continued my work in bamboo the following year at IBUKU – a bamboo architecture firm in Bali, Indonesia. No knowledge is unimportant.
However I arrived in Bhutan in the month of February 2015 to pursue my career in the art of a blacksmith. The education system in a way blinded me and last year was an eye opener. I made the conscious choice to do the very thing I love – work towards having my own workshop.
My career choice I have come to realize isn’t something educated people believe they can do. It’s a myth that hand work can only be done by people who are not graduates. To add on, my field is male- dominated but there are many really good woman blacksmiths rising in today’s time.
I was never an avid hiker but the forests high up in the mountains just before the tree line stops is what changed it all for me. This means I really have to work hard towards getting to that altitude. I love being among them and will miss them the most when my time here is over.
I believe in being bold enough to make that choice even if the path is different and not common. You should do what makes you comfortable and keeps you being you. As what some of my friends and I have come to realize – it’s the journey that is important and not the destination.’’
Hard it might have been, but these women made it seem possible to actually believe in a higher purpose of what you’re doing no matter where in the world it may be. And may be sometimes we might have to take that plunge to actually realize that the journey isn’t so much about separating ourselves from others but about finding our place even if it isn’t at home.