The Mentor Relationship is a Mutual Inspiration
Wisely Lopez García’s way into the Danish labor market as a psychologist goes through a degree at a Danish university and as a volunteer at Børnetelefonen.
Mentee Wisely Lopez Garcia
· Moved from Columbia to Denmark in 2014 because of her Danish spouse.
· Psychologist and has worked for 5 years as a lecturer at two different Columbian universities.
· Studying at Roskilde University to be able to work as a psychologist in Denmark
· Main purpose with the mentor/mentee relation: clarification of job opportunities and educational needs.
· Age: 38y
Mentor Katrine Damgaard Elsnab
· Studying her master’s degree in psychology at the University of Copenhagen.
· A volunteer at Livslinjen.
· Age: 31y
By Jørgen Poulsen
Mentor and mentee are generally excited about their first meeting. How will it go? Will they click? This was also how Katrine Damgaard Elsnab felt when she, as a brand new mentor, agreed to meet with Wisely Lopez García at a café. She says: “I had no expectations that I could make everything possible in Wisely’s life. I was just excited to meet her and if we has anything in common – if not a cup of coffee could feel very long… but it turned out to be a great meeting. Although I have never been to Columbia, I have traveled a lot in Central America and South America, and I imagined that I was meeting a little Mexican-looking woman. Therefore I was surprised to meet a black woman. We quickly came to talk about that and she explained that in her part of Columbia there are many blacks. We talked for hours and she told me about herself. She wanted a lot of things and was keen on telling. It was really amazing.”
Wisely shared Katrine’s experience about their first meeting and they therefore quickly found each other and their own work form as mentor/mentee. “I had expected it to be more formal with a lot of specific questions – but it was very relaxed, open and useful conversations. I feel like Katrine is a girlfriend. We talk well together, but it is very professional at the same time.” Wisely exsplains.
Heard about KVINFO’s Mentor Network from a Friend
Wisely learned about KVINFO’s Mentor Network through a friend she had originally met at a chat club at the local library: ”She was kind of my partner when I practiced my Danish. One day she invited me to her home where I met another woman who had been a mentor in KVINFO’s Mentor Network. She was sure I could get a mentor, who could help me find my way through the Danish educational system and into the labor market.”
After just two years in Denmark Wisely thought that she was managing a Danish everyday life quite well. However, on the labor market it was more difficult knowing what to say and do. That’s why she pursued the idea of a mentor: “Although I have an education and a lot of work experience, everything was new. It was the simple things like how to contact people in a work context. I was also in doubt as to whether I could get a job with my education or if I had to take a new one. I needed someone who knew the Danish circumstances from within.”
That she got with Katrine, who finishes her master in psychology at the University of Copenhagen next year. She knows both the educational and work related circumstances.
Needed one more year at University
Together they started to clarify whether Wisely could use her Columbian education to get a job: ”I wanted to work and contribute to society. Therefore I first tried to look at what job opportunities were out there, but I quickly realized I had no chance. Then I started to try and get my Columbian education approved. The result is that I will have to do another year at the master’s degree program in Denmark, if I want to work as a psychologist.”
To Wisely it makes sense that she has to do another year at university: “It is another culture than in Columbia, and psychology is very related to language, social structures and norms.”
With support from Katrine, Wisely began to investigate how to apply for admission and what university to look for: “Katrine was very supportive, and she also helped with the practical stuff: How do I write an application? How do I book a student counselor? What does pensum [latin for ‘course of study’] mean? Can I become authorized as a psychologist if I study at the University of Roskilde? Katrine even found a student at the University of Roskilde that I could talk to. She explained how her study was and together with Katrine I attended some of her lectures.”
If I was in the same situation
Like Wisely Katrine got the idea of joining KVINFO’s Mentor Network from others. For Katrine it was an inspirational lecturer at the university: “When I looked at her LinkedIn profile, I saw that she was a mentor at KVINFO. When I subsequently read about the Mentor Network online I found it really exciting. Even though I got the impression that you had to be “really grown-up” with a job and all, I contacted them and we did an interview where I told them a little about what I had done”.
Katrine had traveled a lot and lived abroad, where she didn’t really know anyone. That was what made her want to be a mentor: “I’ve experienced that cultural things can mean so much. I therefore imagined that I would like to get a mentor if it was me who moved to another country – and that it would be both relevant and rewarding to give another woman a helping hand in entering the Danish society and labor market. It wasn’t that I thought I would save the world. I really did not. Just meeting people from another culture is really exciting.”
Age difference not a problem
Katrine had her own considerations before she agreed to become a mentor for Wisely. Partly because she is younger than Wisely, partly because Wisely already had a lot of experience as a psychologist: “I gave it some consideration because I could read that Wisely had worked in psychology and done social work and that she was older than me. I thought why would she like to talk to me? Can I contribute with anything?”
However it turned out neither the difference in age nor the difference in work experience was an obstacle to a successful mentoring relationship. Just as it is the vision of KVINFO’s Mentor Network, it has been a relationship on equal footing, which Katrine has also benefitted from: “We have had many talks about psychology. Professionally she is miles ahead of me and has a giant network. It almost came to that she had to help me find an internship, thus reversing the mentor/mentee relation. It has also been extremely exciting because she is good at things that I myself have difficulty with.”
Mentor also benefits a lot from mentoring
Their mentoring relationship has lasted for 1 ½ year. Now Wisely and Katrine are considering ending the official mentor/mentee relation and simply continue on as friends.
Although it is Katrine who has guided and supported Wisely along the way, she as a mentor has also benefitted: “It has developed me, my views, my perspectives and my attitudes. I am inspired by people who also travel or choose to move to another country. They have a certain drive within them. It has been very inspiring to meet a person like Wisely, who really wants something and, although she has had some guiding, has done all the work herself. When I’ve found myself in a difficult situation, I have often thought of Wisely as a role model. She is one of the most positive persons I know. If there is something that’s a bit difficult she will be like: yes, but it will work out anyhow.”
Katrine continues: “I don’t really know how to categorize these experiences… Wisely and I have also had some very interesting talks about life and what it means to be happy. We haven’t just discussed how to get into the University of Roskilde and that sort of stuff. I think that we go well together, and today I consider Wisely my friend.”
Wisely as a future bridge-builder
By the summer of 2017, Wisely has already completed the first semester in Psychology and Culture and Speech Stduies at the University of Roskilde. It has been a little challenging she says: “But I can see that I can use my background and experience as a psychologist. At the same time I can use my personal experiences as an immigrant. In that way I can help others in the same situation get integrated. This new education qualifies me to work with both Danes and immigrants, so I see myself as a bridge-builder in the future.”
Wisely feels confident in her new role as a student: “Sometimes I’m in doubt about things, but I don’t feel insecure. I can do it – that goes for my job as a volunteer as well. Katrine and I both work as volunteers at Livlinien, I answer the children’s phone and Katrine answers the adult’s phone. I wasn’t too happy to have conversations with adults. Even though it is also challenging with children, they are very clear – if there is something they don’t understand they say it right away. It hasn’t happened yet. It has improved my Danish. I’ve been on the children’s phone for 400 hours and have spoken to 1000 children over the course of a year.”
A great success
Katrine thinks that it has been a successful experience and she is considering a new mentor/mentee relation: ”I’m really proud of Wisely. I think she has fought a lot and I’ve been able to follow her journey. Such a success experience makes you want to try it again. I also hope that Wisely will want to become a mentor, I think she would be really good at it. It is easy for me to sit and talk about entering the Danish society, but I have never tried it – I was just born here.”