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International group helps ease homesickness for some

WOODBURY -- A group of women who gather every month at a Woodbury coffee shop shows just how small the world is. Or how diverse the city has grown to be.

The International Women's Group of Woodbury consists of members who come from all different parts of the world: Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Hong Kong, England, Canada, France, Lebanon, Egypt, Argentina and Chile, just to name a few.

The group was started just last spring by Lisa Vale, an American whose family traveled for work to Brazil, Italy and Spain for 15 years before finally settling in Woodbury.

When she first moved back to the U.S., she met a woman from Mexico who was having a hard time adjusting to life here. And that's how the group formed.

While living in Italy with her husband who was there on assignment for 3M, Vale had met Jeanne Chausee, also a Woodbury resident now and part of the group, and they became good friends who helped each other out when homesickness kicked in.

"It's kind of nice to be able to reference 'Gilligan's Island' or the 'Brady Bunch,'" Vale said.

So she could only imagine what non-Americans living in the U.S. without friends who could give them a taste of home were going through.

While living abroad, Vale said a group of women in Spain helped her adjust to life in a foreign country and she wanted to do the same here.

The International Women's Group started out with just a handful of women who met for coffee. Then as word got out and friends invited friends it grew to include 50.

"There is a need for it," Vale said.

Some of the women just moved to Woodbury, while others have called it home for more than 20 years.

Juliana Capdevila, who first moved from Argentina to Apple Valley then to Woodbury, said on top of being new to the country, she couldn't relate to anyone in her neighborhood.

"When we used to live in Apple Valley we were the strangers," she said, adding that her family was the only one from a foreign country.

"Now in my block, it's probably two American families," Capdevila said with a smile.

The group met recently at Panera Bread where they planned future gatherings that will include a Brazilian lunch and a Lebanese breakfast.

Two Lebanese women who knew each other from church were surprised to run into each other at Thursday's meeting.

They sat at a table where they met other women from neighboring Middle Eastern countries. The table behind them had a few women from Hong Kong and Peru who said Vale had invited them after meeting them at the grocery store.

In fact, most of the women in the group were recruited by Vale who's been meeting them at the YMCA, grocery stores, and even the Kowalski's parking lot.

"She just grabbed me at Costco," said Vera Sleiman, a Lebanese woman who's lived in Woodbury for 21 years.

Vale said in addition to getting women from the same countries in one room to become good friends, they also provide resources for each other when it comes to their kids, schools and family activities.

It's ironic, though, that Vale looks for women outside of her culture after years of looking to make friends with Americans abroad now that she's here for good.

But it's because she lived in foreign countries for so long that she feels something like the International Women's Group of Woodbury would help women adjust and like life here.