Mina Wong joined TRIEC as a mentor in 2017 and is a 10-time Mentor. Mina realized that helping new Canadians was something she had done informally for over forty years, ever since her family moved to Canada from China. As a new Canadian in public school, she was helping other newcomers adjust to life in Canada — as soon as she could be a bridge between English and Chinese.
What motivates you to keep coming back as a mentor?
When I learned about TRIEC’s mentoring program in 2017, I signed up to help professionals in the field of education where I worked as a college teacher. Mentoring teachers from other countries was both humbling and exciting. I learned a lot about each newcomer, but also many things that I did not know – about people and their diverse cultures, about Canada’s immigration policies and labour markets, and certainly about myself as an old Canadian in a new world order.
Since each mentee is unique, I have learned the importance of working with one newcomer at a time. But with every mentee, I would still build new relationships based on trust, respect, collaboration, discovery, and mutual success.
For these reasons, I have signed up many times as a mentor, to work with a new mentee each time.
What would be your top tip for a new volunteer mentor?
I would say having an open mind to learn about other people’s realities is a critical approach to helping new Canadians.
Often, we do not know enough about other people’s life experiences and behaviors that can confound or even bewilder us. I can cite examples across regions of war and peace, status of wealth and poverty, complexities in gender relations, unfamiliar cultural and religious beliefs, and diverse approaches to life, family, law, health, work, and human motivation.
For this reason alone, I have learned to not make assumptions based on my own beliefs and values. Instead, it would be helpful for new volunteer mentors to engage mentees in conversations, to find out more about them as multi-dimensional people with complex strengths and needs. It is also helpful to remind ourselves the importance of accepting other people’s limitations, so that we can experience outside our own comfort zones to integrate more inclusivity and diversity.
As well, it would be useful for new mentors to work closely with mentoring coaches, so that they could ask for advice and discuss mentoring strategies.
Otherwise, it is important for new mentors to remember that mentoring is a professional responsibility that holds us accountable for what we say and do as helpers. We should always keep in mind that we are dealing with people’s lives and well-being. We should always be honest with them about what we can and cannot do in the context of helping.
What has been your top aha mentoring moment?
There have been many aha moments since my first mentoring partnership in 2017, but one may be realizing how often newcomers experience culture shock, especially in the process of integrating themselves as workers, parents, and learners – but often in silence.
Some new Canadians come from cultures and regions that are completely different from Canada. An example may be very experienced teachers who have never taught students of a different gender. Likewise, some mentees may have never worked with people who have visible and invisible disabilities, or those with different sexual orientations. These newcomers may experience a culture shock so deep that they want to retreat to a safer mental space, and not deal with the distress.
These observations have prompted me to try building trust and respect early on, so that mentees can tell me about cultural discomfort in their own ways, and so that we can discuss them together toward helpful strategies.
How has becoming a mentor helped you succeed in your own career?
I would say that mentoring has helped me become a more reflective person, a more compassionate teacher, a better critical thinker, and a more responsible leader – because mentoring works with diverse people’s lives, well-being, sense of success, and their future in Canada.
Mentoring has also helped me behave more responsively to my students’ and colleagues’ challenges. From helping new Canadians find success, I have become less hesitant to deal with unfamiliar situations. Mentoring newcomers from diverse cultures has shown me opportunities to work with a wide range of people whose experiences may be completely different from my own.
In practical terms, mentoring newcomers and teaching post-secondary students are parallels that involve learning about people, finding ways to empower them, helping them overcome obstacles, and recognizing success together – no matter how incremental.
In summary, mentoring has helped me become a more conscientious professional in both ideological and practical terms. If so, that means it has given me more success in my career.
Inspired by Mina’s story and interested in mentoring newcomers to Canada. Find out more about becoming a mentor.