Global Connections #8: Mentorship in College & Beyond ft. Culture Crossings

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Podcast Transcript: Global Connections #8: Mentorship in College & Beyond ft. Culture Crossings 

Guests: Asuka Ichikawa & Phoebe A. Lee from Culture Crossings


Asuka Ichikawa  0:00

Thank you for inviting us. My name is Asuka and I came to the US as an international student. And then I both worked in Japan and the US.


But right now, I’m a prospective PhD student in higher education program at Old Dominion University. And my research interests, our mobility, identity and wellness of international students. So we’re really happy to be with you both today.


And yeah, culture crossings is Phoebe and my really like a passion project that came up


to really reflect on what it means to live in between cultures and countries, as individuals. And when the pandemic hit Phoebe and I happened to reconnect, and we wanted to do something something creative project that can be of support for other people who may be going through similar journeys and challenges of what it means to have cross cultural identity. And yeah, so we created this podcast about a year ago. And we can talk about this more later. But Phoebe and I both met, when we were both attending University of British Columbia, which is in Vancouver, Canada. And there was a mentorship program for international students. And Phoebe was my mentor. And I was a new student coming in. And that’s how we met. And


I suppose I can hand it over to Phoebe to introduce herself now. So yeah.


Phoebe A. Lee  1:43

Yeah, thank you ask her. Yeah, so as Asuka said, we started Culture Crossings, about a year ago. And it was really a way for us to reflect on our experiences growing up in between cultures. So I’m Chinese, but I was born and raised in the Philippines. And then my family and I came to Vancouver, Canada, when I was about 13. And so I grew up in Vancouver, as well. And then I went to the University of British Columbia. And that’s where I met aska. And after that, you know, it was a series of transitions and kind of moving around then living in different cities, throughout my 20s. But


But yeah, I mean, we can certainly touch on that a little bit later. But yeah, basically, my background is in journalism. And also I am very passionate about, you know, creating my own creative projects as well. So, on the side, aside from my day job, I am working on writing a fiction book, and also working on Culture Crossings.


Xiaoyun Sim  2:59

Yeah, thank you both for introducing ourselves. And it’s really interesting to see how both of you met during college and with different passions and interests, because of a pandemic. And with technology, how you were able to reconnect with each other and start this creative project on recording the podcast called culture crossings, and where you both shared about how you met, it reminds me of how I actually met Bianca. It’s also through a mentorship


experience. And just I don’t, I don’t want to talk a lot about the long story about how we both met. But we started it ACPA together at the commission of global dimensions of student development. And that’s how I met Bianca being able to work alongside with her and being able to just learn from her because she was already a professional in student affairs during that time, and I was still a graduate student, navigating the field itself, and I was able to get a lot of information from her and learn from what her story was going into the field. So I don’t know, Bianca, if you want to share anything more specific about how we met.


Bianca Chau  4:07

Yeah, and I think, um, I wouldn’t quite describe xiaoyan and I’s relationship as a mentorship relationship, it very quickly became a friendship and, you know, simultaneously we were, quote, unquote, colleagues. And so I wonder, Asuka and Phoebe


If you could tell me more about your experiences with your quote unquote, mentorship. How did you define yours? And how did that become a, you know, blossom into a friendship? That it is now?


Asuka Ichikawa  4:41

Sure, yeah. It’s really like a serendipity that both of four of us like met through mentorship in some way or another. And just to put things in context.


Yeah, Phoebe and I were part of this mentorship program about a decade ago. So, you know, there may be I mean, the program we


belonged to doesn’t exist at UBC anymore. But I think we can, you know, still communicate the spirit around it. And hopefully that resonates with some of you here. So I think in terms of the mentorship that we were part of, I think there’s both the philosophy behind a mentorship program that was really based on peer to peer learning. And so the mentors who are essentially volunteers, it’s a student oriented, student driven program. So mentors were all students, current undergrad students at UBC, who wanted to


support international students, but also to learn about different cultures. So I think that philosophy really, how do you say like, the power dynamics was a lot more equal than I would say, like a traditional, maybe more hierarchical relationship? And the other factor was, I think Phoebe is, you know, personality being very open, relaxed, and you know, very,


how do you say, approachable? So, I think it’s really both in terms of mentorship style, but also, you know, it has to come across who you are as a person. So when you have a good match between both, I think it really creates a unique type of mentorship. And definitely, I really appreciated how, as an international student, I felt supported, but not, quote, unquote, helped, because I think there’s a, you know, fine line between the two. And so yeah, I really, really appreciate it, Phoebe being there, and among other mentors, and I felt like a sense of belonging on campus. So, yeah.


Phoebe A. Lee  6:41

Oh, that’s so sad. I didn’t know that the international peer program doesn’t exist anymore. I think like a modified version is the umbrella of like, pure programs for different sorts of leadership programs. But yeah, yeah, I know, it was a bit thought, but yeah, right. Um, I think, for me, my mindset in joining that program, of course, you know, I also wanted to experience kind of belonging in student groups, during my time at university, and also, you know, learning more about leadership skills, and all of that. But also, my mindset with joining the international peer program at UBC was that I wanted to meet more people like me as well. So even though I was a local student, but I also had an immigrant background. So actually, I could relate more to international students than, you know, local students,


especially local students who were born and raised in Vancouver. And so for me, my mindset was that I wanted to, I guess, help people like me, because I know what they’re probably going through, and, you know, having to adjust to a new environment.


Yeah, and so I think that very naturally, and also, because in terms of our ages, we were quite similar in ages. So I think that just naturally kind of transitioned into more of a, you know, friendship, eventually.


Bianca Chau  8:19

Speaking about that program that you’re talking about, can you share a little bit about how you were paired? Was this like a pairing system? How was the whole program executed so that that mentors and mentees were able to engage? as best as possible?


Xiaoyun Sim  8:42

Yeah, so I do remember, actually, so I’m not sure if you remember this Asuka but um at International House, which is the department that handles all, you know, international affairs at UBC. So in terms of exchange programs, and all of that, and of course, all the international students, if they have any problems or issues, they would go to International House. So aside from volunteering, as like a senior peer for the International peer program, I also volunteered as kind of this.


Phoebe A. Lee  9:17

I don’t know how you would explain it, but basically, as a resource for international students.


So kind of at the help desk, so if international students had any questions or had any concerns, they would come to International House, and then I would be there, you know, like on the front desk as the first point of contact to answer any questions and concerns and if the problem you know, is a bit maybe bigger than we could handle it, then we can refer them to different resources around campus.


And during orientation week, I think it was the first week of school, you know, we were kind of welcoming all the interns.


international students. And I remember Asuka was one of the international students that came to our desk. And you know, so she was kind of asking questions, and I was kind of answering all of her questions. And I mentioned to her that, you know, there’s this international peer program as well that she could join if she was interested. And then she asked more questions about it. And then I said, Yeah, you know, I’m one of the senior peers. So if you want, you can put my name down as a referral. And, you know, you could be in my group. And I’m not sure if you remember this, but I do remember, because you were one of the people that was really engaged, I think that was really interested. And so I do remember that first encounter, and I think that’s how you kind of ended up in my group.


Asuka Ichikawa  10:48

Thank you so much, maybe well, that’s like 10 years ago or something. It’s It’s so nice to hear from you like from, you know, how it was like from your side. And yeah, I remember like, literally like looking for you when I went to International House when there was an orientation for


the mentorship program. And yeah, it’s also just give us a synopsis. So the IPP or international program consists of like 400 to 600 people involved in the program. So essentially, I think most international students would know about it some way or another. Because what we do is, so there are a bunch of volunteer students. And there’s also a group of students called student managers and program assistants, who create the year long program together. And we do special workshops, including campus wide orientation


Yeah, that they mentioned that they want to be matched with, but I think I remember Yeah, like academic was one of the key components because people wanted to seek mentorship in the similar sort of academic environments, but I think also there were cases where, you know, people from different departments got together and got along well, so yeah, it’s a process. But for me, personally, I was so glad that Phoebe was there for me. Yeah,


Xiaoyun Sim  13:17

it’s really nice to hear how like bringing back all the memories that you both shared a decade ago, and how you’ve been a volunteer or how you, as a former international student, Asuka have been through that process. And it just leads me back to when I was an undergrad, I also had a peer mentor that kind of helped me orient to live in United States really teaching me the ins and outs of how to be successful on campus and just being a resource for me. And I think that, like both of you, I am still connected to my peer mentor at a time. And it became from a mentorship to a friendship as well. So it’s really interesting to see how different institutions have those programs in place to help connect international students to domestic local students or just helping them acclimated in


to life if the institution or the country itself. So my other question to talk about is that your that mentioned that


both of you come from different backgrounds called different cultural contexts and the idea of mentorship might sound different in your home country, or where you grew up from. And it’s really interesting to see that yes, we use the term mentorship but the typical mentorship might not be really explain well in this situation itself. But can you maybe talk a little about mentorships in different cultural contexts? And if you want to mention about how it’s different in Asia or in western countries, how would that work?


Phoebe A. Lee  14:52

Yeah, in terms of mentorship in different cultural contexts, of course, geographically, that’s a factor was


Well, I’ve never actually really worked in the Philippines. So I can’t say for sure what mentorship looks like, there. But you know, in Asia in general, I think we have that thing of


not calling our elders by their first name. So we would say, like older sister or, you know, older brother, but and we kind of look up to them as you know, kind of someone with more experience. And we just kind of look up to them in general, but I’m not sure if that would be considered as a mentorship. But then in terms of cultural context, there’s other cultural contexts as well, in terms of institutions. So I think mentorship could look different at school or in the workplace.


So for myself, I think in terms of, you know, school, in the workplace, I feel it’s very different. I feel like mentorship programs, you know, in an educational setting, it’s more of a Yeah, like more of a peer to peer kind of feeling. But in corporate, I feel it’s also very different. I feel it’s more formal, in terms of, you know, me having to sit down with my manager for quarterly reviews or monthly reviews and, and goal setting. It’s just, yeah, it’s just a bit more, you know, formal and there’s more of a hierarchy. At least for me, that’s what I feel like, but Asuka, if you could touch on a bit more.


Asuka Ichikawa  16:39

Sure yeah, I really resonate with Phoebe’s experience, too, because I think, for example, I’ve spent most of my school years in Canada, but coming from Japan, where there’s a lot of seniority, that’s very much respected. And so yes, I remember also not being very used to, for example, referring to my professors by their first names, because it somehow felt very odd.


Yeah, so I still kind of take time to adjust to to make that transition. And so yes, but school wise, I would agree with Phoebe that, especially going through, I guess, more of a Western school environment, mentorship programs, or, yeah, like it can be transferred to friendships of you touched upon earlier. But I think especially in corporate setting.


After college, I went back to Japan, and I worked for an investment bank in Tokyo for about three years. And so again, this is just, you know, in that kind of unique setting, so I can’t, of course, generalize about what’s it like in Japan, but usually in Japan, what’s usually well known is this relationship between senpai and kouhai. And senpais are the people with who are usually older than you, and have more experience. And kouhais are, I guess, sort of the newbies or the new ones in whether in school environment or in company. And nowadays, I think they actually use the term buddy system or mentorship system, in corporate settings to sort of facilitate the transition of new graduates coming from college to transition into professional roles. I also myself went through that buddy system, at the investment bank.


And as much as I really appreciate it, that system, I think the relationship was more. Yeah, very formal. And so I didn’t think it’s friendly, as you know, I experienced in IPP, so, but yeah, how about you Bianca and Xiaoyun?


Bianca Chau  19:13

Thanks for asking. I was reflecting on my college experience because I did my college in Hong Kong at a local university. So that was a little tough for me coming from an international school where, you know, it’s very much the quote unquote, Western environment. And then I was, you know, I threw myself into a local university. So that piece you were talking about Asuka where there’s the hierarchy seniority,


was was very present. And in terms of mentorship, I feel like when I was in college, it was synonymous more to advising and so my mentorship was between like me As a student and a professor, and there’s no such thing as like peer advising, or peer mentorship or peer support, it’s, and if it was to be a peer support, it was very much in a group context, and not in a one on one. So when I came here for grad school,


I was only 24. But I guess I’ve already gone through like three years of local university experience, and then I worked two to three years in Beijing. So I came with the idea of Okay, I need to find someone like, like Sempai that you were talking about older than me, in the, in the in the grad program to kind of coach me through things. And so I had to relearn what it meant to be a mentee. And then also, in turn, be a mentor, who I actually met my current roommate and my very, very close friend now, so and that blossomed into a friendship. But I wouldn’t say any of my relationship in college in Hong Kong had, it’s not a bad thing, but it just didn’t blossom into a what’s called a friendship. And so I can really speak to that cultural, cultural difference. And then also, knowing that my mentorship style is very much hands off, where I feel like in a cultural context of let’s say, we go back to age, I think we do like to over give information and, and do all that we can on our part, so that we don’t feel guilty or feel bad that we didn’t try the best. But I am actually inherently a very hands off person. And so I that’s why I think maybe it’s not, it’s not a best fit for all mentees who are seeking for more hand holding. And so I wonder what yours is mentorship, style is like, including Xiaoyun too, we can all share our our thoughts on what our mentorship style is like, now, and maybe before.


Xiaoyun Sim  22:16

I think before we jump into that question, I want to acknowledge them with Bianca, you said that


you’re kind of mentorship style is more hands off and back home was was more like a handheld thing. And all of us in the room was like nodding and agreeing to that. I just want to acknowledge that piece. And that’s like the, I would say, from my personal experience observing, that’s the main difference that I could see. And like all of you shared, I did my college in a local university back home in Malaysia for two years before transferring here, it was more sort of like the mentors that I look up to are professors or people who are in the field for, I don’t know, 10, 20 years and the hierarchical structure in addressing them by Mr. Who or Doctor Who, it’s really prominent, and we don’t dare to say no, or disagree to their thoughts. And meanwhile, coming here, I realized that I remember I’ve had to readjust to that and kind of like relearn, because they really want your input. And they want to hear what you have to share in that conversation in that relationship. Which was, I think, for me something really hard to adjust to in the beginning because I felt that I wasn’t qualified enough to share my own thoughts air, I guess where the imposter syndrome kicks in. But tapping off my soapbox, I do want to jump in into the question that Bianca was mentioning, like, Do y’all want to share about your culture, your mentorship style?


Phoebe A. Lee  23:52

Um, yeah, I mean, I think I’m pretty hands off as well.


Bianca Chau  24:59

You know, university years, so sometimes I would organize events for club nights. But I’m also mindful that probably not everybody likes that. So the next month, I would organize events that are more chill. So probably just going out to the night market or just food trips. And so yeah, I think my mentorship style is kind of hands off as well, but also making sure that, you know, I’m cognizant of every, like different types of personalities and different people’s backgrounds as well.


Asuka Ichikawa  25:35

That’s amazing, I think, I really think that acknowledgement of different people, I think that’s really key. For me, I think my style is probably, like reflective, and in a way that I ask questions, to understand more about the person, as an individual, to see where the needs are,


where it could be of best, you know, I guess, use, and also trying to, for example, draw out the strength and resilience that the person has already. Part of it, for example, comes from my own experience, being a foreign born professional in the US to give a recent example.


So I recently had an opportunity to volunteer for a mentorship. It’s like a mentorship slash alumni workshop,


And turning it over to you? How about for both of you?


Xiaoyun Sim  28:07

I think like my kind of style is also hands off. And when Bianca asked that question, it prompted me to reflect on my two years assistantship with the Student Union on campus, I do supervise about 24 students. And to me, I don’t see myself as a supervisor, I see someone that they can reach out to and more so of like a mentorship relationship that I want to build with my students. And it’s just, for me, it’s just like, I want to learn from them. It’s how I would approach and where their heads off part comes in. Because I feel that this has more advantage to help them build your personal skills, help them have a sense of discovery for themselves as well. And I think that, that allows


And how can it works in a higher ed situation and I think that it has so much similarities. And also in the same time uniqueness in terms of how everyone’s mentorship style is. So long story short, my mentorship style is like all of you hands off and really learning and hearing from what our mentees have to share.


Bianca Chau  30:25

Or we can even talk about what do you look for in a mentor?


Unknown Speaker  30:32

Oh, that’s a good one. What do I look for in a mentor? Yes. So, you know, back then, when I was applying to grad schools for journalism, so I was writing for a newspaper, back in Vancouver. And actually, I looked to my editors and the publisher of the newspaper as my mentors, but maybe they didn’t know. But it was just for my own personal thing. I would always ask them for advice. And they were always very approachable and very willing to share their experiences in the industry. And so for me, what I look for in a mentor is, you know, someone I feel comfortable, like approaching and someone, you know, I, I trust their, I guess, knowledge and experience. And basically, the personality, I think, and the personality matches very important, I think, because just because someone is very knowledgeable and experienced in a certain thing, and it doesn’t mean that, you know, they’ll be the best person to kind of, you know, give you advice or teach you stuff that you want to know.


Phoebe A. Lee  31:57

Yeah, so for me, I think you know, that personality matches very important as well.


Asuka Ichikawa  32:02

Yes, I would also echo that personality match is probably one of the most sustainable, like elements that could make the mentorship relationship work, perhaps long time.And yeah, maybe I’m just maybe turning this into a question. But I think the way you keep communicating is also important. So I think there’s also a role that mentee and also a mentor could do to keep that communication going. And


also, I think that relationship could change. And also, I think it’s also good to tell yourself that it’s okay to have more than one mentor. Because as you grow as a person in your life course, you know, things change, some things stay the same, but depending on where you are in your life stage, and also where you are in a career, or professional or whatever industry you choose to go with. I think it’s actually natural to, you know, seek out or connect with multiple mentors. And so yeah, I just wanted to chime in and add that part. Yeah.


Xiaoyun Sim  33:18

Yeah, thank you both for sharing that piece. And I think that that really speaks to what you all have shared about the art of finding mentors for different stages in life. But I have a follow up question to both of us that in terms of finding mentors that have four different stages in life, what is one piece of advice that you would share? Like what is something that you yourself would think that it’s important for you to find a mentor, no matter what stages of life you are in.


Asuka Ichikawa  33:48

I would just maybe repeat what Phoebe mentioned earlier that for me, I also think, I would also seek a mentor who I can trust as a person and respect as a professional. And also, if we can communicate with a certain sense of safety, if it’s especially going to be about not just, you know, work, work topic, but if it’s something you know, personal. Yeah, I think that having having that kind of human element in that relationship would be really, really ideal.


Unknown Speaker  34:24



Unknown Speaker  34:25

I think for me, for me personally, it helps me if I don’t completely see someone as you know, my mentor, because for me, it kind of creates that sense of distance a little bit, but for me, I guess I would approach it more as you know, this is someone I want to learn from, so no matter who it is, even if it’s someone younger than me, but if I feel that, oh, this person really has some, you know, maybe knowledge or experience that I don’t have and I like to learn from that person.


Phoebe A. Lee  34:57

You know, I could look to that person as a mentor, as well, you know, as someone I would want to, you know, learn from as well, even if they’re younger than me or, you know, for me, as long as it’s someone that I can learn from.


Unknown Speaker  35:13

Yeah, so I think for me, that’s, that’s what helps me and, you know, finding, I guess, mentors for different stages of my life, it’s just continuing to be curious. And being open to learning.


Unknown Speaker  35:27

I, you know, at first I thought, I’m supposed to, like, ask permission for people, from people, like, can you be my mentor? And then if they say, Okay, then you know, you kind of establish that relationship. But I’ve realized, like, a lot of the relationships I have, whether that’s professionally or personally, they can mentor me. And I don’t necessarily have to ask for permission.


Bianca Chau  35:52

And so I really, really resonate with what Phoebe said is like, as long as you’re open minded, and you are curious, and you want to keep learning, I think that relationship is inherently like a mentor. mentorship, so mentoring. So yes, I really resonate with what Phoebe said.


And as we approach the end of our episode today, I wanted to ask all of you, I think one of the hardest things about any relationship is to maintain the relationship. What kind of advice do you have for all our listeners about maintaining relationships, ranging from use of technology? Or just like Phoebe said, being curious about other people’s lives? How do you what has helped you to deepen and strengthen your relationships?


Asuka Ichikawa  36:52

Okay. Let’s see, I think what has helped me is combination of trying to meet the person in person whenever you can,


and also using technology time to time. And so maybe I’m good old school, I admit. But for me, I think in person communication has really helped me to learn the mentors, personality and you know, things like that, too, and also just talking about things more in depth. But I would also Yeah, I agree that technology can be a huge help, especially during times like, you know, pandemic or especially because I’m imagining that like all of us, one way or another, you are, you know, navigating this multicultural multinational space and so internet is super handy when it comes to keeping in touch with people half across you know, the world or what have you. So I usually for example, take the opportunity of annual greeting season so like, let’s say Christmas for those folks in North America or New Year’s for you know, people in Japan so it’s natural for you to reach out with personalized messages and ask how they are and maybe if I’m back in Japan, I could meet with some of them vice versa. So you know, of course like random things can pop up and you could meet other than those seasons but I think those greeting cards or E cards or you know emails What have you it can be one of the yeah tools. How about you Phoebe?


Phoebe A. Lee  38:45

Yeah, I agree to be consistent and your communication. So for me,


I mean, currently, I’m not in the journalism field anymore, but I do still keep in touch with you know, the paper I used to write for it back in Vancouver so whenever I’m in town I dropped by the office and you know, bring them coffees and doughnuts and you know, how asked how everybody is doing. So I think that you know, constant communication and just keeping in touch even if it’s through email, but if you can drop by in person, I do agree there’s just no substitute I think for person to person interaction. So you know, if you can drop by or you know, meet someone just for a quick cup of coffee, I think, you know, that’s a really good way to stay in touch as well. Yeah, basically.


Xiaoyun Sim  39:43

Yeah. I think like both of you share it really good points and sentiments of like the in person connection piece to maintain the relationship, but I want to share my piece on how I maintain my relationship like, for me as a mentee, how would I still stay connected with my mentor?


Xiaoyun Sim

This might sound different, I think for me to stay connected with my mentors, I use social media, I connect with them either on a professional setting on LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram, however you would prefer to connect on your with your mentors, but I prefer to use social media like Instagram or Facebook so that I can still stay connected to what


happened in their lives, or they could still be connected in terms of like, what has happened in my life. And I recently this last two days, like a connected to my former mentor that I had seven years ago, because he saw a posting that I graduated on Facebook, and we got to chat after that, and we are actually gonna meet on zoom next week. So it’s just really unique to see, like both of you that share, like, during those seasonal greetings or what in terms of what has happened in their lives or your lives, that you are able to reconnect. And I think that the beauty of technology and Internet has helped us a lot. And that that that for me in terms of maintaining relationships is still remember that we are all humans, we go through different feelings together. And in terms of, let’s say, the pandemic we are following through together and maybe a short text of, Hey, how’s it going? How are you, I just want to do a quick check in could brighten up someone’s day. And that’s how you are able to still maintain the relationship and reconnect with folks that you probably haven’t spoken in a couple years. So yeah, that’s just me.


Bianca Chau

Thank you, everyone. I also think remembering little details help, like kind of showing the other person that you were listening it, sometimes I would pose a question, like, Hey, I remember you said you were moving, have you moved already? Or like I remember, you said this, how’s that going kind of thing. So I also tried to maintain my relationship by actually, you know, showing people that I that I remember what they were saying, and even if it might have been a while since I talked to them, I think asking those little things will will


still help us strengthen the relationship. All right, um, I think we’ve approached to the end of our time, I would like to thank both Phoebe and Oscar for joining us today. I truly think that these kind of conversations can go on for another three hours. And so I hope that perhaps this means we will have another collaboration on a different topic. And I really look forward to the day that we can meet in person somewhere someplace sometime. But I would like to thank Phoebe and Oscar again Xiaoyun as well for engaging on this topic on mentorship. And I would like to thank our audiences for tuning in today as well. Thank you


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