For a good majority of my life I have always looked for a good mentor, and I looked for one in the times in which I felt I needed one the most. In these times it didn’t seem like I could find one. I would pray for one, hope God would just send me one, hope for someone to offer me guidance or support, but it just wasn’t happening for me when I felt I needed it the most. One very important part of my gap-year experience has been having the privilege of receiving mentorship and support from my awesome team leader Elise Collins (SHOUT OUT). Through my experience with Elise as my team leader I have had the opportunity to observe what a good team leader is.
The first traits of a good team leader from my experience have been open ears, open arms, unlimited smiles, encouragement, and genuine support. I could not imagine my gap-year experience without someone supporting me by just having open ears and a heart to listen. During the gap-year can reflect on many times where the simple art of just listening was the most relieving and therapeutic solution for a difficult time. Along with open ears comes the offering of a space excluding all judgment. As a fellow, a lot occurs in our mental space during a gap-year in another country. Going hand in hand with open ears, is the value of a good team leader offering their mentee/fellow open arms. Open arms are not limited to only the physical representation (referring to hugs), but it’s fostering an environment in which the fellow you are mentoring feels so safe, and in a state of comfortability that they feel they can always come to you for help no matter the circumstances. Another supporting quality of a good team leader is the unlimited smiles. It is nice when you are having a bad day or time and you can go to your team leader and be replenished by a warm smile, which has a profound effect on your interaction with your team leader and just your mood in general. To expand, being able to have access a source of encouragement is quite vital to a successful gap-year experience because a fellow will no doubt have hard times whether it be physically, emotionally, or mentally during their gap-year. Having access to encouragement and support is a fellows life-line at one point or another.
Furthermore, since during a gap-year fellows are faced with many challenges it helps if a team leader has a vast amount of experience in life, and it also helps if your team leader is the same gender as you are. When it comes to life experience it helps if they have adequate life experience because they will be able to offer more wisdom through experience that way. They would be in a position where they have the answers to maybe not all of lives experiences, but at least a good amount. Since my team leader also has a solid experience of India because she has spent adequate time here it offers her mentees great in-country survival advice. Lastly, having a team leader that is the same gender as you is very helpful as a woman when you are trying to thrive in such a male dominated patriarchal country like India. A lot of situations can become very disempowering so having an experienced woman figure offers better support because as women there are just some issues men would never understand. Some issues are also just uncomfortable to discuss with men in general because as men they would only understand to a certain extent or just try to empathize. Without a team leader like Elise, I would not have survived certain points in my gap-year experience. Every fellow deserves a genuine and life changingly supportive team leader.