At the beginning of our mentorship, he assigned me two books to read, The Economics Book and Explanation of Economics. The economics book mainly covered the history of economics, and how it went from a mere thought, to social science, and finally became the basis of how every country operates. This book covered many theories, going from the most basic theories about property and debt, all the way to very modern and complicated concepts like the gold standard vs oil-based currency, and how wars can both drive and stifle the economy. The Explanation of Economics was also quite interesting, but as the book was in Chinese I had a bit of trouble understanding some of the concepts, and so I wasn’t able to learn as much from it. I originally planned to finish both books by early February, but as I had extra time I read ahead and finished both books already.
I had two meetings with my mentor, one on Saturday, January 23rd to ask him about several concepts that I couldn’t fully grasp and had another meeting the next day (it was getting late on Saturday) where he gave me some examples, both current and historical, to help me further understand how these concepts can be applied to real life. Both meetings went really smoothly, and our conversations really helped further my understanding.
What went well
The books were very helpful – I mentioned this in the progress report already, but the books that my mentor assigned me were very helpful. Before this, I have always been interested in economics and knew about many of the terms and concepts, but I didn’t really understand any of them. The Economics Book acted like a dictionary, in that it covered every topic, and introduced me to many new ones, helping me make connections I’ve never even thought about before.
My mentor was supportive- My mentor simplified down a lot of the concepts and supported them with real-life examples, which was very helpful to my understanding as I had neither the knowledge nor the vocabulary to understand textbook answers. For example, when we were discussing “invisible factors” such as stability and the importance of a single currency, he gave the example of COVID-19, and gave specific examples and how each situation could have gone differently if something else happened.
My peers were encouraging – I am working together with Joanna for this in-depth project this year, and she helped me a lot. One of the main things she helped me with, was that since her Chinese is better than mine, she would often translate and explain some parts of “Explanation of Economics” that I couldn’t understand to me.
I also had several in-depth discussions with Colby, Evan, and Mel about current political events, especially regarding Biden’s economical policies about raising the minimum wage, and they all presented new and interesting points that I have never thought about before.
However, despite these successes, I did also encounter several challenges, especially when communicating with my mentor.
As my mentor taught political economics in China for several years, his stance on some specific economical policies are different from how most Canadian economists view these problems, so I had to avoid discussing these topics when discussing with him, or at the very least take his advice with a grain of salt when we do talk about them. He also viewed most policies from an authoritarian point of view, ignoring the fact that neither the Canadian nor the US government has as much power as the Chinese government, so many of his criticisms, although valid, aren’t really fair, since the government can’t really do anything else.
How to agree, disagree, and differ
I didn’t have too many difficulties conversing with my mentor. If I thought his opinions were valid, I asked questions, expressed my agreement, took notes, and generally just learned from them, and if I thought they were a bit skewed or not the most fitting for our current situation, I would either point it out and discuss it with him or just smile and nod if he’s only mentioning them as a side note.
I also learned a lot through discussions with peers. As none of us were able to convince each other, we had continuous discussions that lasted for days. During these conversations, we were generally (somewhat) polite, and although the debate did get a bit intense on several occasions, we did always manage to calm down and sort through our disagreements. One of the lessons that I learned through these debates was to always remind myself to stay on topic, or go back to the original topic if I realize that the debate was getting off track, as it was extremely easy to get off track when arguing about sensitive social topics and start arguing about something barely relevant to the original topic. Another lesson that I learned was to find the key point of disagreement and talk about that, rather than discuss the entire topic as a whole, to avoid pointless disagreements and actually be able to reason out our disagreements.