The figure of a mentor is an important one and it is so underestimated, especially in Italy.
If you are a young student with a life full of decisions to take and roads to choose from, a mentor will brighten up your future, make you feel safer and substantially contribute to your happiness and success.
A mentor is someone who begins to know you and follows your progress; a mentor gives you advice, inspires your path and connects you to people that may help you.
Anyone can become your mentor: a school or university teacher, your parent’s friend whom you really admire, your boss, a colleague, anyone you meet during your life at whatever stage you are at… the only requirement is that it is someone you value and that cares for your life and the decisions you will make throughout it.
A mentor should act freely and shouldn’t be given nothing in change. However what they do get in return is the chance to share your path and success, meet your other mentors which should add value to their network, feel “useful” to be able to help a person’s career and always have your gratitude. A mentor is usually someone older than you, not necessarily in age, but in experience; I see it as an exchange of experiences between two people.
The mentor figure is a common one in the US whereas in Italy it does not seem to be as appealing. I came across this demotivating story from my friend who attends an Italian University. She is almost about to conclude her studies after five years of hard work. She has been assigned for the last couple of months a professor to help her write the final thesis as all Italian students are. The professor could be a possible future mentor whom to bond and form a lasting and respectful connection… if it weren’t for his egoistic behavior. He has asked for her to attend a conference in which he spoke and she happily participated in the 5 hours conference which had nothing to do with her study field and wasn’t even interesting for her… (nothing so bad up to here..) At the end of the afternoon he merely said hello to her or thank you for coming and later sent her an email asking her to call the conference organizers to try and get the conference audio recording and to transcribe the whole recording to paper so he could publish it. This very diligent girl subjected to this crazy requirement and spent days doing what he had asked for and emailed him everything. As a reply she got a cold thank you and an invitation to another conference.
I would not have told this story if this were a one-time episode: unluckly this happens all the time in Italy. Professors who are supposed to follow and help you when you write your final thesis, are also the ones who decide upon your final degree grade and students feel therefore obliged to agree to stupid requests and favors… Teachers and professors who could have the chance to meet young people, the future leaders of tomorrow, should be willing to connect and help them in their path and be happy to do so.
To my opinion, we are ages behind this in Italy: students are seen as pupils to interrogate and grade and professors act and “teach” from behind their desks and their day ends when the bell rings. My advice to these teachers is that they really miss out on a whole bunch of opportunities and lack a fundamental ingredient of their job (or any other job really): passion and curiosity. To students who have never came across the figure of a mentor, I advice you to begin keeping in touch with the people you admire: keep them updated with your progress and ask them for advice when you come across a hard decision or just need a small opinion. For no reason comply to time-waisting favors from people who are not interested in you, in your future and in your potential.