An inspiring evening with 4 accomplished women immigrants

Written by Netsanet Tekeda Alemu


To mark the completion of two spring series of the LEAD program and the graduation of 18 young women immigrants from the program, New Women New Yorkers held a roundtable discussion at the Mid-Manhattan New York Public Library (NYPL) on May 3. The panel consisted of four inspiring and successful immigrant women.

Arielle Kandel, founder and director of NWNY, welcomed the panelists and participants, and thanked NYPL for their generosity and continued support of the LEAD program and NWNY. NYPL has been collaborating with New Women New Yorkers for the past several months, hosting the LEAD program at its Allerton and mid-Manhattan locations — it also recently welcomed the program to a third location at Chatham Square in Chinatown.

The panel discussion was moderated by Mia Toftdahl Olesen, LEAD Program Coordinator, and Pamela Dicent, facilitator for the LEAD program, and the panelists consisted of women who immigrated to the US from countries as diverse as those of the LEAD program participants: Elena Walker, a fundraising professional from Russia; Linda Baron, a PhD student and entrepreneur from Colombia; Paula Freire Bastos, a business and finance consultant from Brazil; and Ruchika Muchhala, a documentary filmmaker from Indonesia and India.

The group of impressive and accomplished women enthusiastically shared personal anecdotes and advice to the graduating class. From discussions of each woman’s experience of moving to a new country to how they make professional decisions, the panel covered various topics relevant and relatable to each of the graduates.

Many of the young women who participate in the LEAD program are at a crossroads, unsure about which route to take for a more successful personal and professional life, so the moderators asked a very pertinent question to the panelists: How do they make decisions? “Sitting and really knowing yourself,” replied Baron. Bastos also chimed in, “Do a lot of discovery.”

The need for an honest dialogue regarding a young woman’s immigrant experience was most apparent when Walker responded to a request to share what it was like to move to the US by saying, “Why do you want me to remember that?”

Walker moved to the US when she was 19 with just $300: “It took two years to be okay,” she said. “It took 10 years to be great.”

Many immigrants, especially women, feel alone and defeated, assuming everyone else is getting on better than they are. But the truth is, it takes time to get comfortable and at ease after uprooting one’s life from the comforts of the familiar. As a remedy to the barriers these women face — loneliness, pessimism, and obstacles in a new country — Baron suggested the graduates chip away at their struggles bit by bit, and to remind one’s self that they are temporary.

When a spring 2016 graduate of the LEAD program asked the panelists if they thought the US was better than their home country, the internal conflict was evident in each panelist.

Baron said that the “safety the US gives you as a woman is incomparable,” and Bastos agreed, adding that as a woman, the priority in deciding on a location should include how much it allows for personal evolution. Each woman agreed that it isn’t a case of which country is better, but rather which country offers the best opportunities for personal growth and development in a stable and secure environment.

The discussion ended with new bonds formed between the participants and the panelists — all of whom felt great optimism.

If you missed out on this roundtable, don’t worry: NWNY is hosting its second annual benefit on June 20, 2016 from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. The event will feature a panel discussion with another group of accomplished immigrant women, called “Coming to NYC, Authentic Voices of Immigrant Women.” The evening of learning and celebration will also include music, plenty to eat and drink, and a silent auction. Space is limited, so don’t wait to purchase your ticket(s) here!

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