The two-way street of mentoring – participant experiences


Our Turku MESH mentors and mentees agreed to share their online mentoring experiences in 2020. Below are some insights from the interviews we conducted.


In our participants’ opinion, MESH stands out from other mentoring programs in providing a more personalized support and detailed information on how to proceed with the job hunt. Moreover, some of our mentors are internationals themselves, who have a lot of personal experiences to share with their mentees:

I want to see if I can help immigrants to find work, help more people with what I have learnt… I have gone through my own process to figure what works and what not, and I have met a lot of people. Mentor 2

Furthermore, all of our mentors are here to help the mentees see their strengths and get a realistic view of their employment opportunities.

 “We have all the answers within ourselves, and we need someone to show it to us, ask the right questions or the right narrative”. Mentor 1

 “…[in the job market/entrepreneurship] there is also the soft side in the sense that you should know yourself and you should know where you are stepping into; the requirements, challenges, etc.” Mentor 4

Trust between the pair

A milestone in building up the relationship is mutual trust and common interests. Sharing dreams and insecurities with the mentor requires trust and commitment. Once this connection has been established, the relationship may even flourish into friendship and outlast the timeframes of the program.

“It is good to take the time and build the trust. If people click, it does not mean that the collaboration stops within the project.” Mentor 1

Our mentee Lauren Stevens agrees with this, who has already made friends with her mentor from another program, and sees a high chance of becoming friends with her MESH mentor. Another of our mentees, Lorenzo Di Greci, is confident that the mentoring relationship may continue further;

“…the relationship was based on common interests, so it is a pleasure to share thoughts.”

Our mentee, Kristina Jankuc, mentioned that committing to the program and putting in the time is essential for the relationship to work out:

I think two times per month is important to build up trustas people are ready to give up their time.

Breaking through the culture

Cultural awareness is a big step towards a smooth transition into the working and social life. Being aware of the basic cultural behaviours helps to build up networks:

If you tend to achieve and gain acceptance or approval by the locals, then you should know about the culture. If you are not able to maintain small talk, then it is harder to get into the inner circle.” Mentor 4

“… they say it is important that through time you become known to Finnish people through some organized activity, e.g. “meeting club of xxx”, “Handcrafts on Thursdays”, etc. You have to become familiar, and then you can start saying “Hi!!, and sometimes someone will say: “Let us go have coffee!”…” Mentor 3

However, to achieve a continuous and dynamic communication, cultural awareness has to be extended both ways. As our participants put it figuratively, “it takes two to tango” and communication is a “two-way street”. It would be desirable for both parties to shift the focus from only noticing cultural differences towards acknowledging similarities as well.

Do you speak Finnish?

In Finland, MESH mentoring programs extend to Turku, Tampere and Lahti. In Turku, the mentees are free to use English or Finnish with their mentors. However, the working life picture may be substantially different. In fact, many of our mentees believe that one of the main obstacles in finding employment in Finland is the lack of Finnish skills. Knowing the language facilitates socialization with colleagues and makes one look more credible.

“Every country’s people like to speak their language…. If you can speak any Finnish, they will be happy to communicate.” Mentee 3

 “I think it [knowledge of Finnish] adds bonus points and credibility and respect towards you.” Mentor 3

Added difficulties are the difference between the spoken and literary Finnish, as well as a perceived lack of support by the Finnish speakers. Therefore, a future consideration for fluent Finnish speakers would be to try being more patient and understanding with those, who are still learning to communicate.

Online mentoring

For the last year MESH mentoring programs have been conducted mainly remotely. Some mentees reported missing the in-person experience of meeting their mentors. Other mentees, like Lorenzo Di Greci, seemed to be happy with it:

“Online mentoring was perfectly fine, as my generation is the one who plays videogames. Nothing new!”

Another of our mentees, Lauren Stevens, does remote work due to COVID19. How did online mentoring add to that?

 As both of my jobs are online, I have been feeling very isolated. But the mentoring program feels good, it works really well!”

As a matter of fact, online mentoring enables MESH mentees to connect with mentors from all over Finland. Physical location is no more a limitation in networking with professionals. Admittedly, it might get more challenging to meet up for a cup of coffee if your pair lives across the country, but communication and sharing ideas via online platforms is a guaranteed way to stay connected.

Take away tips for your job hunt

Our mentors shared some helpful hints on how to navigate through the employment processes. Having pre-emptive approach towards tackling any structural inequality was suggested to be the attitude to deal with issues connected with language, prior studies and other cultural aspects:

  • Aim to get an official recognition of your prior degree, if you are not sure companies accept international degrees in Finland
  • If you are in a lockdown, use all the free time to boost your Finnish, as well as improve other required skills for the job market
  • Be proactive in contacting companies. Just pick up the phone and call them!
  • Do not take “No”-s personally
  • Consider doing some volunteering to start building up local networks
  • Think about the option of starting your own company

Last but not least, adopt positive attitude and persistence despite the seemingly unfavourable circumstances. Remember to add these “superpowers” to the list of your soft skills when you are filling in your next job application! 😊


Author: Roza Pambukhchyan, MESH intern, Turku University of Applied Sciences

Picture: Prateek Katyal, Unsplash