Asian Institute, Dr. David Chu program in Contemporary Asian Studies, Collaborative Master’s Specialization in Contemporary East

Bridging the Gap: Asian Institute’s Mentoring Program Connects Alumni and Students

Two silver koi are seen from above swimming at the surface of water.
Crossing Currents by Emi Yasuda.

In an age where young people have tremendous access to online career resources, sometimes face-to-face connection and conversation is what is really needed to cut through the noise. That’s the impetus behind the Asian Institute’s Mentorship program, which is entering its fourth year of matching Institute alumni and students.

The program, which is run by student coordinators with support from Asian Institute staff, aims to connect undergraduate students with alumni of the program, who can share their insights and experiences on a range of topics – from developing a course schedule that suits their professional interests, to thinking about grad school or polishing a resume or LinkedIn profile to apply to jobs.

But it’s not just about the practicalities of preparing oneself for life after undergrad, says Angela Minyi Hou, a mentor and alumni of the Contemporary Asian Studies program. She says that in her three years of experience as a mentor in the program, “This is very much a ‘bring your whole self’ type of program – it’s not just about sharing your GPA or your coursework but it’s about communicating strategies to cope with, say imposter syndrome, or other more holistic issues that you might face at school or work.”

Those deeper conversations are fostered through an orientation session offered by the Asian Institute, which provides resources for mentors and mentees to ensure that each party knows how to best offer their skills and experience, and identify the kind of advice they’re seeking. This is supplemented by workshops that mentees attend through the University of Toronto’s Career Learning Network, which provide additional training and insights they can bring back into discussions with their mentor.

Mayu Adachi, who graduated in 2021, landed a post-graduation job through connections she made as a mentee in the program. Now, she’s returned to the program as an enthusiastic mentor, paired with a second-year undergraduate student. She says for mentors, “It’s a great way to stay connected to an amazing University of Toronto community. For me, since I learned so much from this mentorship program as a mentee, I want to give it back and help mentees who are in a similar situation as I once was – being lost and scared of what will come next in post-graduation life.”

Mayu’s experience as both a mentor and a mentee in the program gives her unique insight into the struggles students face, and how community, connection, and advice from someone who has been there before can make the transition to the workforce smoother.

Angela agrees, saying that given what a pivotal life-stage the mentees tend to be in, the connections she has made through the mentorship program tend be deep and genuine. Beyond job applications and resume questions, she says “We’ve also talked about cultural nuances, including what it means to be from Asia and to study Asia, especially if the mentee and I share personal linkages to the region.”

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my mentees. Their fresh perspectives, their diversity of thought is the kind of thing that brings me back to the program year after year. Some of them have become close friends.”

Deep Leekha, a mentee during his undergraduate studies three years ago, says his mentor, a graduate of the Asian Institute’s Collaborative Master’s Specialization living in Hong Kong, helped connect him with a post-grad internship that he ultimately landed. More than the job, however, he like Angela says their friendship has been most valuable to him. “It’s been three years since my time in the mentorship program ended, but we remain in close communication,” he says, noting that they talk about everything from economic trends to where to find the best egg waffles in Hong Kong.

After just over three years of operation, the program is gaining momentum as mentors and former mentees keep coming back to share their experience and time.

Says Angela, “It’s important to me to stay connected to the Asian Institute and give back to a community that has made a huge difference in my life.”

Learn more about the Asian Institute Mentorship (AIM) program.