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Susan Gobbo is the Co-Founder of the International Mentoring Program - St. Louis, the Co-Founder of the International Spouses/Expat Group and she works part-time as a consultant for the Women Connector Program from St. Lois Mosaic Project. She has a unique story and an even more unique career path. A native of Brazil, she worked as a physical therapist for 15 years before moving to St. Louis in 2008.
Susan moved to the United States for love; her husband was transferred for his job. While they were originally only meant to be here for a short time, they’ve lived here ever since. At the beginning of her time in the U.S., she enjoyed the differences between the two cultures. However, she began to miss her career, her financial independence, and her purpose. Without a green card and credentials to work as a physical therapist, she was unable to work and she began to feel like she wasn’t contributing.
After five years of living in St. Louis, Susan received her green card but still couldn’t work as a physical therapist. Even though certified in Brazil, she would have had to start her doctorate again from the beginning to be certified in the United States. This was a difficult blow to her. “Our profession is linked to our identity, especially in the United States. The first question anyone asks here is ‘what do you do?’”
This was a challenging time for Susan. In Brazil, she was the head of the ICU department in the Heart Hospital and had a prestigious career. In the United States, she felt judged by others because of her accent and her career status. The language barrier was frustrating and prevented her from speaking her mind and connecting with others; people assumed that she had no education. She began taking language and communication classes to overcome this. In one of these classes, she had to write a paper, and she decided to do some research and write about culture shock and eventually how it can affect the expatriation process. This was a revelation to her—she quickly learned that she was not alone in her transition experience.
Susan wanted to create a space where women like her could gather, make friends, and have a purpose, facilitating connections and education that she did not have when she first arrived in the United States. “We’re in the same boat!”, she wanted to say to women like her. “You are not a problem. You are in process. You are not alone.”
The International Spouses/Expat Women Program is sponsored by St. Louis Mosaic Project. Designed for highly educated foreign women who have moved to the St. Louis area with a partner and for relocated expatriate women. The majority of the women involved have degrees and had successful careers in their country of origin. Her top priorities are creating safe places for women of different cultures to feel like they are a part of a group. “This is my passion. Helping these people to feel at home, like they belong, and like they have voices.”
Susan, along with Ann Schlafly, started The International Mentoring Program - St. Louis, creating spaces for American women to partner with expatriate women and their families and help welcome and integrate them into the St. Louis community; to educate and increase awareness of international cultures and experiences within the St. Louis community; and work to eliminate prejudice, discrimination, and biases of the community toward individuals of different cultures.
Susan volunteered in many locations to fill her time before starting her organization. She served on the board of a Brazilian organization where she designed and coordinated a Portuguese language program while also teaching Portuguese to adults. Her passion for culture and language continued to grow, and she was able to provide purpose and volunteer opportunities to other expatriates. Susan is part of the Board Women's Society of Washington University, and she is also involved with other organizations related to the STL international community. Recently, she co-founded the Immigrant Professional Women Group together with three Forum St. Louis members, Nalini Mahadevan, Ekin Pellegrini and Min Jung Kim. She’s received several awards and recognitions, including the 2017 St. Louis Mosaic Ambassador Award and the Women of Achievement 20202 Multicultural Enrichment Award.
Susan encourages other members of the Forum to mentor a woman from another country! “I feel St Louis is my home now,” Susan says, “but no one knows how hard it is to rebuild your career, your life, your identity, and your sense of self.” As successful women, Forum Members can make a huge impact in the lives of these women as they make their transition into American Culture.
Susan spends her free time with photography, music, scrapbooking, movies, and piano, which she’s recently gotten around to playing again after the pandemic. Her husband works for Nestle-Purina and spends as much time volunteering as Susan does. They frequently travel together. They have a daughter, Laura, who is a senior at the University of Kentucky studying Communications.
Susan’s recommendation: Read Owning Your G.R.I.T: 40 women's stories of Harnessing the power of Growth, Resilience, Intention, and Tenacity by Jennifer Bardot (a member of St. Louis Forum) & Carrie Burggraf. Susan contributed a chapter to the book, "Rediscovering and Rebuilding Myself,” which tells her story in more detail. For foreign-born people, she recommends the book “Welcome to the U.S.A.- You’re Hired! A guide for foreign-born people seeking jobs”, by Betsy H. Cohen, to which Susan is one of the expert contributors.