Transitions and Mentoring Toolkit

The Identities in Transition Project

The Transitions and Mentoring Toolkit has directly emerged from the Identities in Transition research project, which was funded by the Mastercard Foundation Partners Research Fund.


The Identities in Transition project began in 2020, during the start of the global pandemic, and it was completed in 2023.

This study is based on a collaboration between two universities - the University of Edinburgh (UoE) in the UK and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. Both institutions take pride in welcoming international students from African countries. Each institution is a partner with the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

Together the two institutions have welcomed and hosted hundreds of international African students through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

The research project had two main goals:

  • To develop a deeper understanding of Mastercard Foundation scholars’ experiences of transition from Global South schools and universities to higher education institutions in the Global North.
  • To develop support systems that are grounded in the scholars’ experiences, by focusing on mentoring, as an effective educational practice that can aid African international students’ transition and academic performance.

Identities in Transition in numbers:

More than…

  • 20 Mastercard Foundation Scholars co-researchers
  • 4 Academic researchers
  • 20 Mentors
  • 6 Mastercard Foundation team members

Key Question

One of the key questions behind this research is: How do African International students transition into a new academic environment and how does this impact upon their identities?

Although African international students make up a growing proportion of international student populations, there seems to be limited knowledge around their unique transitional experiences and challenges.

Although there is a great deal of research on international students' experiences in general, international students can have very different experiences depending on their country of origin and its culture. For example, a student from Ghana may have gone through an academic experience grounded in their culture, and this may be different from that of a student from China or India or America. Hence, we cannot consider international students as a singular entity and categorise all of their experiences in a homogenous way.

This research aims to fill this knowledge gap through the documentation of the lived experiences of African international students who moved to study in Canada and Scotland.

Identities in Transition research phases

  • Phase one (Sep 2020-March 2021): Learning from Scholars & Mentors. Interviews with mentors and focus groups with Scholars.
  • Phase two (Apr 2021-March 2022): Photovoice: Documenting lived experiences of transition & belonging. Mastercard Foundation scholars Toolkit team starts identifying main themes from the photovoice project. 
  • Phase three (Apr 2022- Feb 2023): Two groups come together-Collaborative analysis. Synthesizing photovoice booklets & co-constructing Transitions and Mentoring toolkit.

Research Methods

The Identities in Transition project involved a wide array of methods, including in-depth interviews, focus groups and photovoice, that the two research teams carried out in parallel in each institution.

Phase one

The project began by interviewing UBC and UoE mentors of African International students at each institution. Understandings from these interviews helped identify some of the key issues described by mentors from both institutions, regarding their role, but also the power dynamics that encompass intercultural relationships and working with minority students.

During this phase, the research team also conducted focus groups with Mastercard Foundation scholars in UBC & UoE which aimed to explore their experiences of change, challenge, accomplishment, and academic identity development.

The learnings from these focus groups helped frame the next phase of the project as the key themes identified by the scholars became photovoice prompts for phase two (Home, Community, Movement & Transition).

Phase two

The second phase drew upon photovoice methods and involved MCF scholars participating as co-researchers to collect, discuss and analyse their experiences of transition to UBC and  UoE through photographs. Photovoice is a method that primarily relies on the use and analysis of images to tell a story and invites photovoice participants to document and reflect on their experiences through their collected photographs. The process promotes critical dialogue as a means for inspiring hope and also change.

At the end of phase two, the MCF scholars Toolkit team started identifying the main themes that emerged from the photovoice project, which laid the foundations for the Transitions Toolkit.

Phase three

During phase three, the two groups came together to engage in a collaborative analysis of the data, synthesize the Photovoice book and co-construct the Transitions and Mentoring Toolkit. The two teams initially started their collaborations online, as they discussed their photovoice processes and shared their preliminary photobooks. To begin the process of putting the cross-institutional pieces of our research puzzle together, Christina, one of the UoE research facilitators, travelled to UBC.

In July 2022, five MCF scholar members from the UBC team travelled to UoE to be greeted by seven members of the UoE team. During this productive visit the two teams worked together to synthesize their research data.

Photovoice book 

Participatory Action Research: MCF Scholars as co-researchers

The Identities in Transition employed a participatory research action approach, which involved researchers and participants collaborating closely in each step of the research process. In our project, Mastercard Foundation scholars have worked alongside the research team, helping define the research problem, developing questions, gathering data, analysing the collected data, and identifying resources and recommendations during the different phases of the project. The Mastercard Foundation scholars from UBC and UoE played an especially important role in creating and putting together our photovoice book.

Identities in Transition project outcomes

We see the insights that were gained through this project as essential to the design of intercultural mentoring programmes, while also filling a knowledge gap regarding the understanding of how intercultural mentoring relationships develop and evolve. This research identified key issues regarding the role of mentors, drawing upon their own understanding of their practice, but also the power dynamics that encompass intercultural relationships and working with minority students.

Our research has highlighted that there are many positive ways in which a mentor can support their mentee, and it is important that a mentor develops both their skills and their intercultural perspectives. A mentor can possess all the required skills, but not be interculturally sensitive and therefore not make the most of the relationship, or a mentor can be a considerate and interculturally sensitive person, but still lack the right tools to translate that into a productive developmental relationship. Therefore, it is key that people who engage in intercultural mentoring possess both the skills and the awareness of what engaging in an intercultural relationship means.

By becoming aware of their power and privileges, the mentor can allow space for the mentee to share decision-making about the content and the journey of the mentee’s development. Doing so can create a positive space where knowledge and development is co-created with both mentor and mentee learning and developing. At the same time, it is essential that mentors examine their unconscious biases, so that they can become more aware of their personal biases  and thus encounter and listen to the mentee as an individual and not a label. Our research has identified that when mentoring people from another culture, it is key to understand and appreciate that there are differences by developing a cross-cultural awareness in order to find ways to engage meaningfully and respectfully with mentees and their unique cultural backgrounds.

At the same time, by capturing the experiences and lived knowledge of MCF scholars who have undertaken the journey from their respective home countries in Africa to universities in the UK and North America, this research identified the challenges that appear as they transition into a new cultural and academic environments and the resources they can use to address them. For instance, our research identified the academic transitions experienced by Mastercard Foundation scholars, which include adjustment to different demands of academic study, adapting to different approaches regarding teaching and learning, and the manner in which classes, student-staff interactions, and evaluation systems are carried out. These academic transitions refer to significant changes in a student's life that thus encompass a variety of adjustments to learning, attitudes, perceptions, and skills, and refer to a substantial shift in a students' life from one level of understanding, growth, and maturity to another, as students become active and independent learners.

Furthermore, our research has identified the cultural transitions Mastercard Foundation scholars undergo, as they move across the world to become international students, while embodying a diverse range of unique cultural experiences and perspectives. People follow various cultural pathways, nonetheless, all journeys possess certain aspects in common: the need to acknowledge, and adjust to new circumstances, people, ideas, practises, and modes of communication. One of the main findings of this research is that as African international students leave home to study in North Europe & North America, they can experience being part of a minority group for the first time. When students participate in ethnically non-diverse environments, they might feel that they stand out from the rest of the group, thus feeling uncomfortable, self-aware, or isolated. For instance, African international students might experience microaggressions in their new environment, which can increase the feelings of discomfort that go with partaking in non-diverse spaces. Microaggression is a term that describes brief everyday verbal or behavioural remarks or behaviours, whether deliberate or accidental, that convey hostile, disrespectful, or biased slights towards any group, particularly culturally oppressed communities. Thus establishing an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment, and reducing the gap between university staff and students’ understanding and racial literacy and the lived realities of international Black and Minority Ethnic students is key to creating academic environments that don’t support the development of microaggressions.

This research has also highlighted that as African international students move into unfamiliar educational and cultural settings, this can have an impact on their wellbeing as it involves separation from the familiar things one knows, and the creation of new meaningful connections within one’s new environments. Our project illuminated that Mastercard Foundation scholars can experience an array of positive emotions associated with the creation of a new home through forming new relationships with others in the host culture as new relationships can become sites of great strength in their new contexts.

Identities in Transition Project Team

Research team University of Edinburgh co-researchers team University of British Columbia co-researchers team

Dr Christina Sachpasidi, UoE

Dr Barbara Bompani, UoE

Dr Cynthia Nicol, UBC

Hammed Kayode Alabi

Henry Anumudu

Josephine Ekira Chikwana

Jesse Jedidia

Favour Onyenma

Ifeanyi Omah

Faithy Ngaira

Mary from Kenya

Abena from Ghana

Abigail Okyere

Marian Orhierhor

Andrews Nartey

Judith Nuhu

Anne Joseph

Atang Koboti

Kimani Karangu