Pranita Chitrakar our inspirational woman of the week, received the Monbusho scholarship given by Japanese government for foreign students in undergraduate and graduate level. After studying Japanese language for a year, she joined Tokyo Institute of Technology and did her bachelors degree in mechano-aerospace engineering. Currently, she is working for Bank of america Merirll Lynch as a software engineer.
What motivated you to get into your field of work? Were there people/ events in your life that encouraged you?
I was always fascinated by their idea of aero planes and astronauts even when I was very young. As I grew up, I decided that I wanted to become an aeronautical engineer. I was inspired by Kalpana Chawla, the first female astronaut from India. Looking at her, I was inspired to attain something big like her.
How does it feel to be a girl in a field that is hugely male dominated?
I personally don’t feel it is just a huge matter. If you look at the numbers, yes, there are fewer women in the engineering field, even less in the mechanical department. It’s almost like in the movies, filled with girls. In my aeronautical class, another part of mechanical engineering, among 49 students, there used to be 3 girls. That is a huge difference, but the girls who are studying are no different than the boys. While working in the lab, there were times in where I couldn’t lift up the heavy equipments designed for my course. During those times I had help. Otherwise, there have been examples of the female students excelling. I believe it doesn’t really matter if you want something- you can get it.
What are the challenges being a woman in Nepal and how is it different from being a woman in Japan?
Actually, there aren’t manny differences between the two. My parents were really supportive for me. So it was easy. The difficulties you face are the usual, having to really behave yourself when you are in road, being expected to act like a “well-mannered girl”; otherwise you are scrutinized. But when it came to education and other basic things, it wasn’t that difficult.
In Japan as well, although the places are different, these kind of things don’t really change. However, I will say this- since people are more educated there, it is much easier. It’s not like in western countries though, women may excel in their occupation, and is often expected to come back home and cook for her family, and clean. It really depends on families. I have seen families with really dominating males as well. Sometimes, there are some exceptions, when the husband in the house also takes maternity leave to take care of the baby.
There have always been gender stereotypes about jobs and courses. Do you think one’s gender actually matters to what you want to do for the rest of your lives?
No, absolutely not. If a woman has capacity and determination, she can do whatever she wants. If you’re a girl and you have the abilities, you’ll do it. But if you are a guy, fit for that role but you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s just no good! At the end of the day, it actually just comes down to talent and how much effort one puts in. Yes, we are physically weaker than men, there is no denying that, but mentally, we are just as capable.
I, myself seen a lot of women who have done things in their lives that are far away from the stereotypical image of the society.
How was your family’s reaction when you told them about your decision? Were they supportive enough?
They were really supportive. When I had just passed my SLC, my mother asked if I would study commerce since the family’s economic condition would make it hard for me to study science. I talked to my school principal and he arranged a scholarship for me at Pinnacle Academy. After that, there weren’t any restrictions. It was more about my choice.
How would you describe Nepali women?
Honestly, I don’t think you can really generalize something like that. Since Nepal is so different geographically and economically and socially from place to place, a Nepali girl from eastern Nepal and one from western Nepal would be completely different. Her environment is different, upbringing is different and thus, dreams are different as well.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you during your work or outside of work?
In my campus actually I have met so many women, especially my seniors that inspire me. There was one of my senior called Mota (牟田). That is her family name. Here, they call people just by their family name. We seldom know the person’s name. She was a really bright lady. Most of the people finish their bachelor’s in 4 years. She worked really hard and finished it in just 3 years. The year she was supposed to be doing her last year of bachelors, she was doing her masters. Moreover, she was also actively participating in all kind of programs and projects. Whenever she had projects, you could see her waking up early, 4 or 5 in the morning, working with the guys. I don’t know where she’s working right now, probably JAKSA. JAKSA in Japan is like, NASA of the US.
Another person was a girl from Bangladesh called Sushmita. She was from a different university. A foreign student topping a university by studying in a foreign language, is a huge deal! She really inspired me!
What are some of the obstacles to leadership that are unique to women in Nepal?
A girl has so many, more responsibilities. Taking care of the family and balancing professional life as well.
The main problem women face in Nepal is that they’re expected to be subtle and the underdog. They will not tolerate girl speaking up for something. And if a woman tells a male what he should do, she is never taken seriously or positively. The male ego never allows them to. And this is not just problem for Nepalese women, but for women in many parts of the world. The society doesn’t really accept a girl who hold leadership positions. She is considered to be out of her place.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
I wouldn’t say proud, but I have been really lucky to have earned that scholarship and study here. When you come out of your cocoon and see the bigger world, it really widens the world. The first time I was here for the language class, the instructor asked how many had come through the government scholarship and 60 of them were there, from different countries. There were Asians and then there were ones from western countries and there were people for countries I’d never heard of. But being there, getting to interact with so many people gave me an opportunity to learn so much and expand my horizons. You get to open up your mind to so many new things and so may new cultures from all over the world.
Having stayed abroad for almost 5 years now, how do you view the condition of Nepal?
Politically and economically speaking I would say its unfortunately deteriorating. We don’t have a constitution or even a government at the time. It’s all messed up. There is a lot of political- nothing is certain. And there is no electricity or water.
But if you look at some other aspects like education, it sure has developed. More people are getting educated now. The society is changing from its orthodox values. People are more wide minded. But there is a negative side to that as well; there is no trust among people. People were more helpful and friendly. If you ask someone for help, back then; they’d help you as much as possible. Now, they’d rather be on their own way. They have been busier in their own work. One reason for this, could also be that crime has been increasing. I remember when I was younger, a simple theft would make big news. These days, murders take place so much more often. This has made people trust each other less.
A lot of youth who go abroad just end up there and get settled. You are one of the very few who got this opportunity to study in a prestigious university abroad with a scholarship. How do you plan on carrying that in the future?
Right now, I am working as a software engineer in a bank because I need to support my family. I am still not sure on what I’ll end up doing. I am still looking out and after gaining some more experience and also, being capable financially, of course I want to come back to Nepal and do something positive for my country. I won’t stay here forever of course. I want to set up a scholarship fund for adults to continue their studies.
What are your plans for further studies?
I actually had an opportunity to continue my studies with a Master’s degree. But then I decided to work right now, to support my family first.
As a Nepali youth, how do you see the future of Nepal?
Like I mentioned earlier, the politics are worse than ever. As a young woman, what I think is that you don’t really have to be a politician to improve this condition. From their own field, if everyone does their job and contributes their own ways, it will make a difference.
What is one thing in your life that you badly want to achieve? That could be in your job or just on a personal level.
Of course, I want to be successful and happy like anyone would. I have been trying to help my family right now, and I will continue to do that. On a professional level, I would like to work in NASA someday. I changed my mind. I used to find astronomy lucrative. It sort of felt glamorous. I realized how much fund is wasted in that. People spend millions and millions of dollars in knowing if there is life on outer space when there are millions of people who die of hunger on Earth. So I moved on from Astronomy. Now I’d rather work on the mechanical field.
What advice do you have for someone who would want to go into your field?
If you do something in your life, do it because you want to. And not because your father or mother told you to. Even if the public criticizes you for it, you should go for it. Never underestimate yourself because of any restrictions form the society.
Being young is the proper time to explore. The more you read, the more you learn. Every young person should know what’s going on in the world. If you do not like books and intellectual blogs, you at least should be watching the news. Somehow, being active and aware to these things actually contributes in self development.