Yuri Imamura, Kanda University of International Studies
Scott Shelton-Strong, Kanda University of International Studies
Imamura, Y., & Shelton-Strong, S. (2019). Advisor as a significant other. Relay Journal, 2(1), 66-68. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/020109
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Introduction by Kie Yamamoto
While advisors take a neutral position in advising sessions, their particular positionality derived from their sociocultural background often–and naturally–encourages learners to openly share their stories. In those cases, advisors are positioned no longer as “advisors”. Rather, they become “insiders” of the learners’ lived experiences. Some of the stories become highly sensitive as the learners create a personal space based on the trusted relationship. It requires a great degree of responsibility to listen to their life stories, yet learning advisors appreciate the learners’ desire to share who they are. The two stories below describe how learning advisors play a role in their learner’s narratives as significant others, highlighting their shared backgrounds with their learners.
Building Rapport through Sharing
I have luckily had lots of memorable advising sessions with KUIS students, and the most memorable one this academic year happened on the very first day of the fall semester.
One student came to my office to tell me she came back from the U.S., and the session started very casually. She would usually talk to me at the help desk for small talk while she was working at the SALC counter. In the session, I let her talk because I sensed that she wanted to share her experiences in the U.S. with someone who has studied abroad before with an empathetic ear. It took over an hour, and she deeply reflected on her experiences including challenges and told me how she tried to deal with the difficulties. Then the student suddenly said “I wanted to know of challenges and obstacles, even small ones that might potentially happen in study abroad contexts before going to the U.S.” She continued “I wonder if I can do something for other students by sharing my study abroad experience as a senior student.” I told her about the study abroad event that former KUIS students held in the SALC in the past and asked her whether she was interested in organising another one. She expressed an interest in it so we brainstormed together about what topics would be useful for those who may want to study abroad in the future. I was so glad that she saw the challenges she experienced in the U.S. in a positive way by herself, and even thought about further action for supporting other KUIS students.
Looking back on the advising session with the student, my suggestion might have been a bit straightforward; yet, I was pleased that it led to an event where she could take ownership and share her valuable and enriching experiences with other students.
Rapport and Relationship Building through Shared Languages and Understanding
One particular student comes to mind when I think over the many memorable advising encounters this academic year. This is not one particular advising session, but rather the sum of several, and the unique character of these.
This student has a Colombian family background and Spanish is her mother tongue. However, she has lived and attended school in Japan since she was 10 years old and uses Japanese as a first language. Because I am also a Spanish speaker (from Spain) when we had our first advising session this year, I asked which language she preferred to do the advising session in. She chose to use Spanish. This was somewhat of a surprise, but made it very interesting as it meant that she could express herself easily, without having to rely on her English, which as she explained to me, she lacked confidence in.
One of her main concerns was based on whether or not she could make the new friends and contacts she wanted and needed, and to speak English with others outside of the classroom to help her fit into the wider picture of her new university life. She began to come and speak to me on a weekly basis while I was at the Learning Help Desk. This became a regular occurrence. We normally continued to use Spanish to do this, even in the face of me code-switching into English when it seemed to be appropriate to the challenges or situation she was describing to me. In fact, we had several sessions in which we used English almost entirely over a period of weeks. I use her initiative to guide me, but we normally return to Spanish when she comes to speak to me now.
She has shared many important and successful achievements with me, and I have seen her change and grow in leaps and bounds. In this case, I believe using Spanish in advising has enabled me to not only reach into areas in our conversations where we could easily build trust and rapport, but also employ the subtle nuances of language to mediate the reflective dialogue, which are normally unavailable to me when speaking to a Japanese speaker of English in advising. I absolutely agree that it is very often the relationship-building that enables us to foster deeper reflection and co-constructed dialogue, and it has been a real joy for me to be able use a shared experience and language to do this as an advisor.