Mentors ensure that the path from studying to career is shorter for foreign students

Several business academies focus on mentoring in order to strengthen their relationship to the business world and facilitate the transition from studying to career. At Business Academy Aarhus, more and more international bachelor students accept the offer of a Danish mentor from the business community.

‘How did it go with your latest hand-in?’

Danish Magnus Albin Olsen leans over the conference table and smiles accommodatingly at his mentee, Uzbek Darikha Kulbaeva.

It is late afternoon at Business Academy Aarhus and most students have gone home. But in a conference room in the Financial Management Department, Darikha and her mentor have just sat down. Darikha looks at her prepared notes. Before the meeting Darikha had booked the room, fetched water, and written an agenda which she sent to her mentor a few days earlier. Tips for a job interview, is the first point.

‘As a foreign student, this is a huge opportunity, and I expect to get a lot of positive things out of this process,’ says Darikha.

Everyone can use a helping hand

Magnus Albin Olsen is 30 years old and works as a business adviser for Nykredit. But what makes a busy bank employee spend time and effort doing this?

‘It is rewarding to be involved in helping a young person on their way. I’m here to share the experience I have gained. As a mentor, I get insight into some of the challenges students have. Darikha is outgoing and is working hard to forge a career and perfect her Danish. Everyone can use a helping hand I wish that I could have had a mentor when I was a student,’ says Magnus.

Eager to get a network

Darikha is 26 years old and moved from Uzbekistan to Aarhus in 2013 to study Financial Management and Services.  Before she came, she had completed a BA in Mechanical Engineering from Tashkent State Technical University. Darikha  was offered a personal mentor right at the beginning of her studies, and she immediately said yes.

‘I am very eager to get a network, get integrated, practice Danish and learn to fit in with Danish culture and the Danish labour market,’ she says.

Doubling of the mentor programme

The number of mentor courses at Business Academy Aarhus has greatly increased in recent years--from 14 in 2013 to 30 last year and 46 this year. The dedicated mentors include directors, consultants, farm owners and self-employed.

Among Darikhas fellow international students, a Croat, a Czech and a Lithuanian also got a personal, Danish mentor.

Currently, there are ten international mentor couples at the Academy, but in the autumn even more international students will be offered a mentor, says the coordinator of the programme Mads Mahler.

‘We are very aware that the relationships must be good. The mentor must not feel obliged to find an internship for his mentee or share their network. Being a mentor is not driven by a desire to make money, but by a desire to make a difference for someone else. The mentor can for example, help the student put into words what they can use their education for. Mentee and mentor must dare to share. We are never able to predict whether the chemistry will match, but the more honest and open they are, the better. They will encounter ups and downs along the way, so it is crucial that students want a mentor, and that the mentors take their role seriously.’

Darikha can already see benefits thanks to her mentor.

‘I get a lot of new information about the Danish labour market, culture and finance topics. It’s great that I can ask Magnus about a lot of things and that I can practise my Danish. Magnus has, among other things, coached me in relation to student assignments, internship applications and given me tips on how I can expand my professional network,’ says Darikha.

Magnus Albin Olsen can see huge advantages for students like Darikha getting a mentor from the business community.

‘For the foreign students, there is the added benefit that they can train their Danish and get some insight into the Danish labour market and culture. I think it also helps to give them a clearer picture of what awaits them after the last exam,’ says Magnus, who has a background as a financial economist from Business Academy Aarhus, which he supplemented with a graduate diploma in finance.

From Danish irony to the banks’ contribution rates
‘What is it like to work in Denmark?’ Darikha asks Magnus, who willingly starts to speak about the Danish working culture, what is expected and how one should behave.

Darikha listens intensely and scribbles down notes. After an hour and a half they have a covered a lot: Danish humour, irony, banks’ contribution rates and do’s and don’ts for job interviews.

Darikha thanks Magnus for his time and they agree on the next meeting in about a month and a half at Magnus’ office in Nykredit.

Internship at Siemens

But even before then, Darikhas many internship applications and efforts to learn Danish have borne fruit. She has succeeded in getting access to Siemens Wind Power A/S in Brande, where she, as part of her programme will spend six months as an intern in their offshore division.

‘During the application process, it definitely helped that I could train, spar and ask Magnus for advice. He has, among other things, helped me with my CV and read my applications.’

When Darikha is finished her BA in Financial and Management Services, she  is hoping to get a full-time job in Denmark. By that time, her mentor relationship with Magnus will probably be finished, but hopefully by then Darikha will have learnt so much that she no longer needs his help.

Facts about the mentor programme

Ten of the 46 mentees are international students.

The Mentor programmes lasts 6-12 months.

Prior to the programme, both the mentor and mentee fill out a form in which they answer various questions about their professional background and experience. The respective teachers and Mentor Coordinator, Mads Mahler,  then pair the couples.

The mentor and mentee usually meet 4-6 times. The mentee takes the initiative for the meetings and prepares an agenda, which is sent to the mentor prior to the meeting - this ensures that no time is wasted. Each meeting lasts about one hour.

The agricultural and environmental management students choose their own mentors, all the other students get one appointed.

Six programmes, including five on a bachelor level, are in the programme.