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Professionally Driven: Our Women Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk
Migyul Magazine, Vol.2, May 2004

The demands of a legal career for Rinchen means proving that she is as good as her male colleagues if not better. Sarahana, freelancing as a graphic designer, adapts to the fast pace of deadlines and works on several projects in a day. Tenzin’s international career creates possibilities to learn about different cultures and share a little of her own while working with people from all over the world. Tsering braces herself to face the challenges of new motherhood and meet the demands of her role as technical designer in the fashion district. On most working days another Tsering, a doctor, barely has enough time to grab a quick bite for lunch, frequently sacrificing that privilege between appointments with patients.

Indeed these stories have a familiar tune. They are stories of women of the new century establishing themselves professionally, often in gender biased environments. Interwoven with this immediate understanding is the fact that all these women are members of our Himalayan community. They face the obstacles of pursuing their respective careers as immigrants in a foreign land. (Not very surprisingly, it is not uncommon to discover that many young professionals of our community belong to the first generation of immigrants here.) They are driven to create their own identity.

In sharing their stories, our women reveal that aspirations are achievable and that dreams can be made into reality. They make us proud as they walk the walk and talk the talk.

Since last June, Richen Sherpa has been working as principal law practitioner specializing in U.S. immigration and international law at the International Law Associates, LLC. Sarahana Shrestha has been balancing school, free lance graphic design assignments and several internships. Her recent stint is a new media intern at Universal Records in Manhattan. For the past four-and-a-half years Tenzin D. Dharlo has been in the field of administration at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Tsering Y. Sherpa is currently completing her fellowship in infectious diseases at NYU Medical Center. Tsering D. Lama is a technical designer at Perry Ellis, a competitive fashion design company in Manhattan.

On getting started

Rinchen: I completed my B.A. degree from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, and my LL.B from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University, and finally my Masters in Law (LL.M.) degree in International Transactions and Comparative Law from the University of San Francisco School of Law, in San Francisco, California.

Sarahana: I started off on print but soon moved to audio visuals, which includes web designing and computer graphics motion.

Tenzin: I was fresh out of college when I first joined the UN in 1999. While in college, I sent out resumes like you would not believe. I really worked overtime in doing that, I would sit for hours searching different sites on the internet and mailing resumes to different companies and non-profit organizations. In hindsight, I might have gone overboard with the process.

Tsering Y: Don’t clearly remember how it all happened. I do though remember saying that I wanted to become a doctor when I was a young girl but initially, I think, it was my parents who instilled the idea into me. I guess one thing led to the other and here I am. I’ve had to journey through five years of medical school in Lady Harding Medical College, Delhi, followed by three years of residency in Internal Medicine at Harlem Hospital, Columbia University and now completing my Fellowship in Infectious Diseases at NYU Medical Center.

Tsering D: I’ve always been interested in fashion, though the concept of it was limited since I was not aware of the multiple options that lie within this profession. I’m sure a lot of people still probably hold similar knowledge. When I look back, I admit that opening a boutique at some point was as far as my imagination stretched. I suppose much of this outlook changed after I came to the United States. While I was in school — the Fashion Institute of Technology — I realized that there were varying options which further helped me narrow my career options and specialize in a particular skill.

On overcoming barriers in the community

"It is a challenging job for a woman to prove that she is as good as her male colleagues — if not better."


Rinchen: In India there is a lot of gender bias at the workplace, especially since the legal profession is totally male dominated. In the United States, the environment is more conducive for the professional growth of women lawyers. It is a challenging job for a woman to prove that she is as good as her male colleagues — if not better.

Sarahana: Convincing people back home, Nepal, of its importance has been quite a task since graphic design does not play a big role there.

Tenzin: I was lucky in a way that I did not come across any barriers. My parents as well as my sisters have always been there for me when ever I needed them. My parents have provided me with the education I needed in life to succeed. I cannot stop emphasizing the importance of education and family support. I feel that having an education exceeds experience, with the understanding that experience is as well an important component of life.

Tsering D: I’ve constantly faced criticism that fashion was simply training to be a darji. I suppose there was no novelty in cutting and sewing of clothes. I did not let such opinions deter my spirit or discourage me to pursue what I was interested in. I am glad that things eventually worked out. Even to this day it is relatively difficult to convince people back home that fashion is a respectable profession. The only way out for me is to tell them that I am working in a reputable and big company. That does the trick!

Tsering Y: First of all trying to make it through medical school was a challenge. While in college in India we were called the chinkies, a negative connotation since our teachers and doctors thought us to be dumb and not serious. We had to work extra hard to convince them otherwise. I finally made it through the five gruesome years.

On motivation and support

Rinchen: My mother, and the valuable lessons that she has taught me over the years. She has shown me that I don’t have to be superwoman to be a wife, mother, friend, sister, and have a great career at the same time…..that a good education is the best gift parents can give their children…. that I ought to stand up for everything I believe in, and most important, that my being a woman should never be used as an excuse to cover up my failures and weaknesses.

Sarahana: My motivation is design itself and I have been fortunate to have a supportive family.

"My motivation, inspiration, and strength come from my family. My family is my comfort zone, we talk about everything; we have discussions on life, on current issues and of course the plight of our country. I must say that we really are an open family."


Tenzin: My motivation, inspiration, and strength come from my family. My family is my comfort zone, we talk about everything; we have discussions on life, on current issues and of course the plight of our country. I must say that we really are an open family. I think parents should know what their children are doing and sort of monitor them. Another person who affects me on a daily basis is my husband. I have been married for only a short time, however I have known my husband from my college years and he inspires me a great deal. For a young person, he really sets his goal and does his work with utmost humility. My husband and my family are my strengths; they motivate and inspire me.

Tsering D: My father was always very encouraging. He had confidence in me and supported me to do what I was good at. My mom’s opinion, not very dissimilar to most people in our community, was wary that I had no future as a darji.

Tsering Y: My family’s constant motivation and support for what I am doing . And definitely also the satisfaction of reviving people from their illnesses and their total faith and hope in me.

On the immigrant status

Rinchen: Law firms in the US usually have reservations about hiring foreign lawyers, unless they have completed their J.D. from a well known US law school. The going is tough because everyone has to start from scratch, but I guess the road to success was never easy to begin with.

Sarahana: Most positions are freelance; that complicates matters for non-citizens; I haven’t been able to take up numerous contract-based projects because I do not have a work permit yet.

Tenzin: To answer truthfully, being an immigrant has never hindered my goals or me personally. I would like to believe that it will never hamper my dreams, hopes and aspiration for the future. When I first came to the states, my 7th-grade guidance counselor told me, “This is the country of opportunity and I should take every opportunity that come to me and go after my dreams as nobody will come to you and offer them.”

Tsering D: I found myself constricted in my choices on opting where I worked since my first priority was to settle for a company that was willing to sponsor my working status. As a result I had to comprise on many things. Though after the initial phase and after considerable experience in this field one has more credibility and is therefore more saleable in the job market.

Tsering Y: My residency in the US has been another hurdle. As a foreign medical graduate as were thousand of other aspiring doctors from all over the world, we had to take an extra test that the American graduates did not take and the test was very expensive, so for someone who has just arrived into the US it was financially draining as well.

On challenges and demands

Rinchen: Multi-tasking, late hours and efficient time management! I suppose this is the same for all professions in the United States.

Sarahana: Deadlines compromising designs to serve function first.

Tenzin: We have to face deadlines and also different types of bosses and their work habits. One of my main responsibility is to handle the promotion cases, recruitment cases within our division, so I really have to work on schedule otherwise it can jeopardize staff members’ chance of promotion.

Tsering D: First and foremost was to find a job. Now my work involves ensuring that the designs, created by designers, comes across as envisioned. The biggest challenge is conveying this through to the production team since most of the work goes overseas. Communicating ideas and overcoming the distance gap can be quite a task.

Tsering Y: Time is one of the biggest demands. One never knows when one will be done with work because it is difficult to clearly predict how much of your time each patient will take. The other challenge is to have to be able to be up to date with medical literature and medical technology. It is an ever evolving field so one is constantly studying, reading, researching.

On advantages and limitations of professional growth

Rinchen: I can only think of advantages if you are a lawyer in the United States! For women it can be difficult, though not impossible, to balance their professional and personal life especially if you happen to have a particularly demanding career. I believe there is no limit to professional growth in any career as long as you are an efficient and sincere worker, and willing to make sacrifices to realize your goals in life. Especially in professional organizations in the US, a good worker never goes unnoticed.

"The advantages are the fun of doing something you love.."


Sarahana: The advantages are the fun of doing something you love. Limitation: Can’t think of one right now.

Tsering D: Definitely. All experience gathered along the way only helps you climb further up professionally. I’ve expanded tremendously since I first started working. There are several layers to this job and each post can certainly be achieved with increased time spent in this field. To the extent that even at the age of forty or more you can still find a fabulous job.

Tsering Y: Advantages are that it is mentally satisfying and the disadvantages are that we have to be very careful and watch out for ourselves because of the medical malpractice lawsuits and that sometimes hampers patient care.

On options and opportunities

Rinchen: Needless to say, the legal profession in the US is very lucrative. There are boundless opportunities in laws such as copyrights, patents, and trademark laws, which are synonymous with scientific, and technological progress. There are avenues opening up everyday. Therefore, there is no actual limit to how much one can learn in this profession.

Sarahana: Employers in graphic design mostly look for how well ideas are communicated visually; priority is given to how experienced you are with software, deadlines, etc.. the more work experience the better; everything boils down to your portfolio in the end. You have to be able to understand the artist’s image and be able to project that in your work. If your work is good, getting a job isn’t hard — although most jobs are project-based or freelance positions, which is hard for non-citizens. Full-time positions usually are for finance companies, etc., which have a more dull sense of design and aren’t as creative as companies that offer freelance jobs.

Tenzin: Since my current field is administration, it is very general human resources type of work. Nevertheless, within the organization, they are many possibilities. There are so many other interesting areas such as human rights, peacekeeping, disarmament affairs and political affairs.

Tsering D: Like most other professions, the field of fashion and design is a vast one. In the case of apparels itself one can opt for fashion designing, merchandising, pattern making, technical designing, production management. These are just to list a few. One can also opt for interior or jewelry designing with possibly similar or more options.

Tsering Y: Well, there are two major fields that one can choose. Either the clinical or the research path. The first involves contact and working with patients. For e.g. examining patients in clinics and hospitals and treating them. The research setting is basically working on a project that will affect the practice of medicine. For e.g. working on a new medication for a disease, or working on a disease that is not clearly understood, such as the recent SARS outbreak.

On a typical day at work

Rinchen: Work….work….and more work!!

Sarahana: Design, design, design.

Tenzin: After getting freshly brewed coffee from the cafeteria, it is straight to work which consists of making phone calls, drafting memorandums, preparing different forms for recommendation to post. I guess it is interesting in its own unique way.

Tsering D: As a technical designer I have to work very closely with fashion designers. A very interdependent relation, so to speak. Though nothing close to the world of glamour, an idea that had initially evoked my interest in fashion. Nonetheless, hectic days of fitting, measurements, specifications and it goes on till the design is transformed into a ready to wear apparel.

"However long or difficult the day may be I always walk back home with a sense of intense satisfaction that I made at least one person happy or happier."

Tsering Y

Tsering Y: Each day is different and as alluded to earlier I can never predict when my day will be over. In a day I see many patients, some are patients that I have been seeing for a while and some are new patients that may have an infectious disease issue that the primary doctor wants us to help the with. However long or difficult the day may be I always walk back home with a sense of intense satisfaction that I made at least one person happy or happier.

On future plans

Rinchen: Better immigration lawyer, and a wiser human being.

Sarahana: Founder of my own design company.

Tenzin: Let’s see, five years from now? I would like to see myself moving up the ladder in the UN.

Tsering D: It depends where I am. If here, in the US, perhaps as a senior technical designer or (laughing) even as a technical director. If in Nepal then I’d definitely want to establish an institute where fashion interests can be enhanced and expanded.

Tsering Y: An infectious disease consultant in a hospital and also with a booming private practice. And probably with two kids and more weight and gray hair.

Advice to our readers

Rinchen: I hope to see more people from the Himalayan community joining the legal profession in the US in the coming years. We are always here to guide you!

Sarahana: The more work experience the better.

Tenzin: I would like to stress to the younger generation of our Himalayan community to strive for success in whatever field they desire. It is important to go to school and get an education as well as being true to yourself. I feel it is imperative that we preserve our unique beautiful culture yet at the same time learn to appreciate the new culture which we are living with. Finally, “It is today that we create the world of the future”. Eleanor Roosevelt.

"Don’t hold yourself off just because others are not keen. If you are cut out for it and have the knack you won’t regret."

Tsering D

Tsering D: I’ve heard that a lot of younger people show interest in this field, though I personally don’t know anyone as yet. I’d advise to those interested to give it a shot. Start with a semester at school, see how it goes. Don’t hold yourself off just because others are not keen. If you are cut out for it and have the knack you won’t regret.

Tsering Y: Don’t be afraid of the medical field, because it is not as difficult as it sounds and even if it is, it’s not definitely have to be ready to work extremely hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Look If I did it I think anyone else can.