Conversation circle focuses on international women

Published Jan 15, 2013 at 12:01 am (Updated Jan 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm)

An ongoing series at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library is focusing on helping women who have recently moved to the South Hills from other countries. The international women’s conversation circle started about two years ago, and the group meets once-a-month at the library. Many of those who participate in the conversation circle also attend English as a second language (ESL) classes at the library.

Mt. Lebanon’s group started with a grant from Dollar General and the group is presented in cooperation with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and the library. Cynthia Richey, director of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, said that Mt. Lebanon’s library is one of the largest hubs in the South Hills for ESL classes. A similar group meets in Oakland, but having one in the South Hills is more convenient for residents.

“It’s really fun to have this,” said Peggi Kelley, area coordinator for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC). She added that women who come to the meetings are from countries like Colombia, Switzerland, Germany, Syria, France, Japan, China, Thailand and Russia.

On Jan. 9, the library welcomed Brent Rondon, manager for global business programs at the Small Business Development Center at Duquesne University, who spoke to a group of about a dozen women on how to try to start a small business.

“It’s very easy to open a business in Pittsburgh,” Rondon said, adding that people can choose to either open a business locally or one that exports items to their home countries.

Rondon said that for those interested, the Small Business Development Center offers free seminars and also free market research and consulting for international folks who are interested in starting a business.

He offered some advice – ask a few quick questions before starting, such as determining if there’s a market for the product, how to enter the market, how to finance the startup costs, and the logistics of starting a business.

Rondon told the group that Pennsylvania is a good state to be in as far as exporting goods. “Pennsylvania has the largest amount of overseas offices,” Rondon said. He said Pennsylvania has offices in 23 countries and that if Pennsylvania were a country, it would have the 17th largest economy in the world. “We have a lot of foreign companies doing business here.”

Rondon also talked about several successful businesses that have utilized the Small Business Development Center, including a Washington County woman who makes chocolate fudge and ended up doing business with Japan after attending a trade show. Some people from Japan tasted her fudge and wanted to buy it to sell it in their country because it was “made in the USA.” The Japanese even wanted the labels printed in English because it was an American product.

Ulla Kuenzili, from Switzerland, attends the conversation group at the library because she wants to “learn and speak better English to have a conversation with other people.” Kuenzili, who has lived in Upper St. Clair for about six months, worked in the pharmacy field in Switzerland.

Angela Bejarano-Nova of Colombia attended the seminar because she and her husband are considering starting a business. Bejarano-Nova, who lives in South Fayette Township and has a background as a chemical engineer, said she isn’t sure what type of business they will start, although she is leaning toward something in the food industry as they owned a restaurant in Colombia.

Bejarano-Nova said she is also “thinking about how we can help our relatives in Colombia and Mexico.”

The next conversation circle will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 13 at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. Light refreshments, coffee and tea will be served. The GPLC is also looking for volunteer tutors for ESL workshops at the library. The workshops start Jan. 21. To volunteer, call the GPLC at 412-393-7600.

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