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February 24, 2011

Braving New Worlds: Why Career Women Are Moving Abroad

braving new worlds march 2011 article

Sisters Meagan Ryley (left) and Kayleigh Ryley.

Photo Credit: Kainaz Amaria

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Sisters Megan Ryley, 31, fashion designer, and Kayleigh Ryley, 25, graphic designer
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Megan Ryley
Why I wanted to live in India:
After working in New York City for a few years, I needed a change of scenery. I applied for a job as a design consultant with one of India's largest garment manufacturers, which makes clothes for Gap and Nike. A couple of years later, I met and married my husband, Tarun, who is from Mumbai. Together, we started our own business, a small manufacturing company in Mumbai. I also design my own clothing line called The Divine Life of Ryley, which I sell at Anthropologie, Big Drop, and other U.S. stores, as well as in India.

Crazy adventure: I once took a trip through Rajasthan in northern India with friends, which meant taking several overnight trains. Imagine sleeping on a hard slab of a bed, your head bouncing around due to the bumpy tracks, soot blowing in your face through open windows, and a toilet that's a hole in the floor, straight through to the train tracks. When you arrive at your destination, all discombobulated, you hop on a bicycle rickshaw and try to hold onto your luggage.

Greatest challenge: That would be my stomach. I had food poisoning nine times in the first year. I was always on the lookout for usable bathrooms. Now, after four years, I have a stomach of steel.

Major mishap: One day my landlord randomly decided she wanted to boot my husband and me from our apartment. She probably wanted to rent it to someone else and charge more money. But we had signed a lease, so we weren't budging. She decided to go to the police and essentially accuse my Indian husband of running a prostitution ring involving white women. We had to go to the police station repeatedly to defend ourselves. Finally, when we forked over some cash to help the officers understand our side of the story, we won.

What I love about living here: The rich colors, textures, tastes.

How the experience has changed me: Growing up in America, I got used to round-the-clock convenience. After a few years of intermittent Internet service--and intermittent everything service--in India, I realize how lucky I've been in life.

Kayleigh Ryley
Why I wanted to live in India:
The country first captured my imagination when I was a kid, leafing through the glossy photos in National Geographic. I loved the jam-packed city streets and sweeping landscapes--such a crazy contrast. A couple of years ago, when my sister launched her own business in Mumbai, I came to help her get her company off the ground, then decided to stay. I got a full-time job as a graphic designer at an advertising firm in Bangalore.

Biggest surprise: The staring. Everywhere I go, people stare at the blue-eyed foreigner. It's hilarious. Young boys like to snap pictures and pretend they didn't. At the Taj Mahal, entire families lined up to take pictures with me.

Major mishap: Once, when I was shopping for a sari to wear to a friend's wedding, I decided to try on another kind of outfit, called a lehenga, a jewel-covered halter top and low-waisted skirt. But when I asked the boys working in the store if I could see a lehenga, I mispronounced the word, saying "linga." The boys all turned red and completely avoided eye contact with me. "Do you have any?" I pressed. "I want to see!" I learned later that "linga" means "phallus."

What I love about living here: All the hand-painted posters, signs, and funky typography. I post my favorite examples on my site, kayleighryley.com.

How the experience has changed me: I've learned to negotiate. In India, practically everything you buy--a carpet, a trinket, a rickshaw ride — involves serious bargaining.

How you can get here: Join an India expat group on Facebook, MySpace, or Meetup. Or try monsterindia.com.

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