Foreign businesswomen speak at Discover Business Abroad night

Ellie Phillips

“Wafa, hang in there. Tomorrow is a new sunshine.”

These are the words that Wafa Haddad, director of the TigerLilly Arabic Language Academy, used to repeat to herself to keep pressing on during her struggle as a Syrian woman trying to start a business out of nothing in America – twice. Haddad gave up her first business, her home and all her savings to go back to Syria and bring her children, whom she had not seen in 11 years, to the U.S. When they returned, she had to start all over, and from that beginning, TALA was born.

Haddad was the first of three speakers at the Discover Business Abroad event hosted by Grand Valley State University’s International Student Organization. Each of the three female speakers told her own story of struggling to succeed as a businesswoman in America — a struggle that each of them eventually won.

Ahmed Lachheb, president of the ISO, said the annual event is co-organized with Padnos International Center. “This event brings speakers to share their experiences about doing business or working abroad and in the U.S.,” Lachheb said. “This year, we are highlighting success stories of business.”

The event began with an informal networking session outside of Loosemore Auditorium that included a buffet dinner featuring various Mediterranean foods. Following the dinner, the attendees proceeded into the auditorium to hear the speakers talk about their difficulties succeeding in business in the U.S., a foreign country to each of them. Haddad was born in Syria, Marie Dhaine was born in France, and professor Sylvia Mupepi was born in Zimbabwe.

While Haddad spoke about her goal to start a small business, Dhaine spoke about her difficulties finding a job in a business setting in America.

“You’ve got to network,” Dhaine said, describing how, after almost a year of searching, she finally got a job with a French company in America through a connection with a friend, just before she would have had to leave the country. Dhaine attended the Grenoble School of Management, and, as abroad study is required in France, she came to GVSU for the MBA program after seeing how highly the university was recommended by others who had attended before her.

Mupepi spoke at length about the importance of education and business skills, which are marketable throughout the world.

“Anything you are studying at GVSU is a good international product,” Mupepi said, discussing the importance of marketing one’s self and abilities.

The attendees at the event were comprised primarily of international students, though some traditional students came, as well. Gayane Kadaoyan, a student from Armenia, said she came to the U.S. to study Computer Information Systems.

“I always wanted to do my Master’s here,” Kadaovan said, citing the quality education available in the U.S.

Various other circumstances drew the different international students both to America and to GVSU, in particular. Francis Mangala, from Congo, came here because his uncle works at GVSU. Karol Kuska, a student from Poland, came here because of the scholarships.

Though it may seem like a subject relevant only to a small group of individuals, international relations are essential in today’s world to business abroad — and most of today’s businesses involve abroad operation. GVSU offers business summer programs, exchange programs, international internships and many other opportunities for studying abroad.

Anyone interested in studying abroad can meet with Alexandra Schmid, the International Business study adviser. She is located in 447C DeVos Center and can be reached at (616) 331-7452 or [email protected].
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