Mentorship builds lifelong connections

BCCIE recently had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Josie Jiang, Senior Manager, International Student Program, Comox Valley School District and Myrna Ordona, International Student Advisor, Coast Mountain College about their BCCIE Mentorship Program experience.

Hi Josie and Myrna. Thanks for agreeing to share your mentoring program experience with us. Just to help orient me. May I ask who is the mentor and who is the mentee?

Josie: Technically I’m the mentor and Myrna is the mentee. But to be honest, it seems like we’ve been mentoring each other.

Myrna: I think that’s the beauty of our relationship. We both feel like we are both a mentor and mentee.

Did you both start the BCCIE Mentorship program in 2020?

Myrna: I started last year. It’s my first-time being part of the program.

Josie: I was a mentee before, but this is my first-time being a mentor.

Where did you hear about the program and what got you interested in participating?

Myrna: It was recommended to me. While I’ve had a lot of international travel experience, I’m new to international education. So, when I started my role as an international student advisor at Coast Mountain College last March, my supervisor recommended the BCCIE program to me. She felt that it would be a good way for me to learn more about the sector and start making industry connections. So, I ran the idea past my manager. She was very supportive and told me that many of my colleagues were alumni of the program. So, I signed up.

How about you Josie? When were you first part of the program?

Josie: I started as an international student in Canada about 10 years ago. After I graduated from Royal Roads University, I was lucky enough to jump into the international education sector right away. When my husband got a job in Dawson Creek, we moved to Northern BC. I found myself working at Northern Lights College doing admissions and recruitment for their International Department. I got to travel a lot, meet lots of people, and learn about sector organizations like BCCIE and the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).

I was very lucky to meet a lot of great mentors like Cyndi McLeod (CEO, Global University Systems) and my program mentor Derek Lemieux (Director International, Coast Mountain College), who generously shared their knowledge.

The BCCIE mentorship program gave me the opportunity to learn from people who were senior to me. This was important to me, especially at the beginning of my career. Interestingly, my program mentor Derek was the Director of International Education at Coast Mountain College at the time. It’s the college that Myrna now works at… such a small world.

I now work for the Comox Valley School District in their International Student Program. I moved from post-secondary to K-12, just before the start of the pandemic. I had one overseas trip to Europe before the pandemic hit and everything changed.

I completed my mentorship with Derek in 2018. EJ from BCCIE contacted me in 2020 about becoming a mentor. I told her that I wasn’t ready yet to become a mentor. But she said that the mentee she had in mind was someone from a Northern BC post-secondary institution. She felt that my experience would be a real asset. She asked me to just meet her and give it a chance. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s been beautiful mentoring Myrna. We really complement each other.

Have you had the opportunity to meet in person? Or has it been all online?  

 Myrna: It’s all been virtual. I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I can meet Josie in person and give her a hug. With all the communications we’ve had, I feel like we’ve already met. We’ve become so close. I see Josie as much as my work colleagues. She’s part of my network.

Josie: I am really looking forward to the day we meet as well.

Myrna: When we do meet in person, it will a real testament to how much we’ve overcome this past year. Just to be in the same room together will be a thrill.

Have you found it hard to keep connected? How have you structured your mentorship?

Josie: No, it’s not been hard to keep connected. We do monthly meetings online.

 Myrna: Yeah, Josie schedules recurring meetings in Microsoft Teams to make sure we set aside time to meet regularly.

What did you find most surprising about this entire experience?

Myrna: I was just surprised at how well we’ve been paired. It was like the program knew us. I didn’t know what to expect or if I would be paired with someone who’s going to get me. I was nervous. But Josie’s been wonderful.

At first, it was weird. Getting used to everything being virtual because of the pandemic. But you get used to it. I was also surprised by the funding provided by BCCIE to help with professional development outside of the program. It was really generous. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s allowed me to sign up for webinars I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend.

What have you enjoyed the most and least about your program experience?

Josie: One of the things I like the most about the program is the opportunity for mentees to job shadow their mentors. To see what they do in a typical day and how they handle things. It’s a good way to understand the organizational structures of other organizations, how roles and responsibilities differ between institutions, and how they treat their employees.  It’s such a valuable experience. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, Myrna couldn’t visit me at my office and have that opportunity. I’m sad about that.

For instance, in 2008, when I went to visit Derek at Coast Mountain College, I learned that Myrna’s current position was not under the supervision of international education. It was supervised by student services. It was a surprise to me. Because of job shadowing, I got the opportunity to ask the reason the international student advisor position was under student services in the organizational structure and better understand their rationale and the potential benefits and challenges of their organizational.

What’s your most important takeaway from your time so far as a mentor and as a mentee?

Josie: I would say Myrna and my friendship with her would be my most important takeaway. I knew from our first conversation that our relationship was going to be truthful, authentic, and open. Trust is so important. It allows you to be vulnerable. From the start, we were comfortable showing each other our vulnerabilities and supporting each other. It allowed us to become friends through the process.

Myrna: So nicely put, Josie. I would have to 100% agree with you. Our friendship has helped me grow as an international education practitioner. It has helped me take a step back and see things in a different light. It’s wonderful to be able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through, but who is not a work colleague. Someone who can give me feedback and help me look at things from a different perspective. It’s important to have someone to talk to.

Josie: Myrna and I spend lots of time exploring our own identities. I’m an immigrant from China. Myrna is second generation Canadian. She speaks English without an accent. We spend a lot of time exploring how that affects us. It can be uncomfortable, but it is an important conversation to have. Because how you perceive yourself could be different from how other people perceive you, especially as an Asian woman.

Myrna: Women need to support women.

What’s the most surprising thing that you learned about yourself in in the program?

Myrna: It’s not about the mentorship program. But something that I’ve become more aware of because of the pandemic. It’s that you need to focus on yourself. When you have difficulties or challenges, you need to look inwards.

Josie: I’ve been in Canada for a while. I’ve adopted a lot of Canadian norms and values. But when I’m under pressure, I tend to go back to my roots. I grew up in China, which is a very competitive culture. You’re always competing with and comparing yourself to others. You’re not allowed to fail. But when you live like that you lose the opportunity to connect and have meaningful relationships. I’ve had to learn to deal with the prospect of failure by talking to others and reflecting on my actions/feelings. I’m always learning new things about myself.

Myrna: I’m always looking for new things to learn and grow. When I applied to be an international student advisor, I had this idea that I understood other cultures and what culture shock was like because I had lived in England, taught English in South Korea, and travelled in the Philippines. I thought I was culturally competent. But I’ve come to learn, with help from Josie, that I have so much more to learn to break down the stereotypes and biases I didn’t even know I had.

She has made me step back and reassess my experiences. I feel like my eyes have been opened and I’m ready to learn, change, and grow. My conversations with Josie have taught me that I still got a lot to learn.

Josie: We all have a lot to learn. I am so grateful to be on this learning journey with Myrna and the trust she has given me.

What are your plans career-wise? In an ideal world, where do you see yourself in five years?

Josie: In all honesty, with the pandemic, I feel like I’ve been on hold for the past year and a half. I started my position just as the pandemic hit. So, I don’t know what it will be like when things go back to normal. I still have a lot to learn in this position.

So, one of my biggest challenges will be learning how to manage people who are very different from me. How to factor in different ages, genders, backgrounds, races, unionizations, etc. to my management style. For example, how to manage those older than you. I believe in equity, diversity, and inclusion. It’s so important. To help me with this, I’m currently working on my executive coaching certificate at Royal Roads University.

Myrna: Like Josie said, currently all we know is how to operate under pandemic rules. So, in the short term, I would like to know what will be like when students are on campus again and having in-person experience.

As we slowly get back to normal, it feels like I’ve come full circle. I want to experience what I was originally hired to do. Don’t get me wrong. I love my duties as an international student advisor. But my duties shifted because of the pandemic. I do a lot of things my predecessors didn’t have to do and can’t do a lot of things they did previously. I’m looking forward to the fall. I want to experience the position fully by running on-campus orientations, seeing students in person, and helping them fully experience campus life.

Longer-term, I would like to pursue my master’s. I’m not sure which directions my studies will take. I’m a teacher by training, so perhaps a master’s in international education or education. Maybe I’ll end up back in the classroom teaching in K-12.

Do you have any final thoughts and maybe some advice for people thinking of joining the BCCIE Mentorship program?

Josie: Go for it. I have benefited a lot from mentorship. Knowledge sharing is so important. As a mentor, I want to encourage more people to become mentors. You don’t have to be perfect. What’s important are the relationships you develop and what you learn from each other.

Myrna: Yeah. From a mentee perspective, it’s been a great learning opportunity. I highly recommend it. In the future, I’d be open to becoming a mentor too. The program has been a great experience. I am so grateful to have crossed paths with Josie. From the beginning, it has felt like we were both learning from each other, that we were both the mentor as well as the mentee.