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Economic musings by a “Millenial” traveller

They call us the “unlucky” generation – by “they”, I mean the same people who now claim Europe (Greece in particular) is going nowhere but down from here on out. These pessimistic, almost insulting, group make up a great deal of the media elite, feeding us with information that only makes us feel worse.

Now, that’s not to say the situation isn’t bad; I would say that we are unlucky, simply because this problem we have to fight is not really ours. There have been many (usually older) people who have claimed we are a lazy and entitled generation, incapable of working as hard as they did, but the sad truth is that this generation has less to work with in terms of employment and finances. Regardless of who has it better, this generation of millenialsĀ  – also known as generation Y – had no major part in the economic downturn. We were all 15-20 (give or take a few years), thus not major players in the game. Now, however, we face a weaker global economy, and an odd spiral in educational standards.

The first – the weaker economy – is something I’ll touch up on a bit later. First, however, is the issue of education. This does not apply to all of the world, but for those of us in North America (and much of the West, I’m sure), increasing standards on education have made it impossible for many of us to make a promising start after an undergraduate degree. For me, the choice to go to graduate school was one I made when I was much younger, and in a very different economic climate. With that said, that isn’t true for many – if not most – students who now face the hardships that come with graduate school; applying to and funding grad school are two major issues, and aren’t even all that recent graduates and students face. Yet, we’re forced into a life of continual education even when it doesn’t necessarily benefit us greatly. After a great deal of research – informal and formal – I’ve come to realize that most people gamble with the idea of grad school simply to secure a job afterward, which is not a guarantee. Though for me, graduate school seemed like an obvious choice due to my professional endeavours, the older I get, the more I wish I could quit school; this has made me rather disappointed in the education system itself more than myself, as my curiosity and need to learn has not lessened.

This may not be the most eloquent way to put it, but I believe education has increasingly become a business. While colleges and universities have been that way for a while now, it is more evident now than ever. The problem isn’t as severe here in Canada as it is in the United States, but the recent protests in Montreal show that it’s an issue here that many students are not willing to overlook. While the price to get an education rises, the more I realize that our emphasis on a university education is far overstated. While I was lucky enough to take some interesting courses that taught me about certain things that I wanted to learn about, a lot of what I learned about could have been learned through my own reading; in fact, when I enrolled in university, there were a lot of things I had already known due to my own curiosity. I made it through many classes without doing much extra work at all because the courses didn’t challenge me – a student who has now graduated from university on the honours list – enough. I had many courses wherein the professor was not equipped to teach us the subject, or simply wasted our time. I started university as a hopeful teenager who loved school and thought of it as a somewhat romantic experience. I walk away from this experience on the opposite end of the spectrum – while I maintain some of my hopefulness and love for learning, I do not believe in the “system” any longer. As many analysts predict that our generation will see a shortage of young people trained in the trades, I begin to wonder just how necessary most university degrees are. While I won’t put any on the spot, I have heard of many programs that, to me, just didn’t seem all that useful. Even my own degree, which is considered a traditional degree, wasn’t necessarily something I needed to go to university to learn about. But, what does it matter what I think? As long as we all conform to these standards, nothing will change. It might just be time to ask for reform, or look forward to different means of being successful; it isn’t limited to having a bachelors degree. I often wonder why our schools never tested our career capabilities/suitabilities, or why university was put on such a pedestal; I found some of my high school courses just as challenging, and often even more rewarding. We continue to belittle certain forms of education and training and believe university training is always superior – it’s that mentality that has gotten many of us into trouble.

On the other hand, the problem with education, rising standards, and rising tuition are all tied to problems we face with the overall economy. Student debt has reached ridiculous, almost unbelievable, levels in the United States, and threatens to further weaken the world. Debt, in general, has posed many problems in recent years, and is the reason for so much of this catastrophe. The Spanish bank bailout that occurred this past weekend is a very good example of how debt can cripple a country to the point of needing international aid.

The Spanish case is particularly interesting to me and always has been. Several years ago, I recall reading about the Spanish banks bailing out major football giants, Real Madrid, and despite how young I was, I remember thinking about it to a great extent. While the club is considered among the richest in the world and undoubtedly brings in a great deal of cash for the city and country, it still seemed somewhat irresponsible. My opinion might have been clouded with bias – being a Manchester United fan with no desire to see a major competitor bailed out – but it still stuck with me as an easy way out for an organization that did not take responsibility for its position. The most recent bailouts of the banks themselves has proven to be worrying in a similar fashion; these banks lent out a great deal of cash despite it not being necessary or intelligent. These circumstances make it very obvious that banks need to be regulated more carefully, thoroughly, and that loans should not be treated as business deals when they affect an entire nation. Furthermore, why complicate the process of finances with interest rates, penalties, and the rest that goes with modern western banking?

With that said, my main reason for worry is that I plan on moving to Madrid in under 3 months. I was recently offered a position in Madrid with a development program that is considered of great importance to the Spanish government, but there are no guarantees when it comes to the Euro Zone. I’ve started to wonder if this program will be around in 3 months, 6 months, or even 2 weeks from now. I’ve also started to wonder if these economic downfalls will be coupled with even more uneasiness around the country, protests, and even demonstrations of opposition towards foreigners coming to work in a state that is currently unable to fully provide for its own people.

As a kid, I remember reading a book about a young girl who traveled to Spain for a year – she was a writer, a filmmaker, and had many other qualities I possessed. That book became my inspiration, as I had always wanted to experience Spanish life for a substantial amount of time. I pictured what it would be like, but let it slip from my mind until I reached university. I tried to make this dream a reality through study abroad programs, but realized I wouldn’t be able to fund the project as I didn’t want to ask my parents for any more money and was equally unwilling to take out any debt. It seemed difficult to manage, but my dream to travel Europe never took a backseat. While I visited Spain in 2009, I wanted to go back on my own – without my parents, so that I could grow on my own – but didn’t imagine it would happen right after graduation. I found this position only a couple of months ago, applied late with little hope, but had it offered to me a few weeks later. Everything seemed to come together, and I realized this was my chance to do something I had always wanted to. Despite many protests, I decided to reach for the stars, and set my plan in motion. Now, I find myself wondering if this was merely a teaser – something that wouldn’t be able to happen, after all, because of the economic downturns of the last 5 years.

Those of us now able to take charge of our own lives are finding ourselves stunted by the mistakes of our predecessors. We have been given the burden of reshaping the world for the better; much of this ties into our political scheme as it does our social and economic scheme. Our grandparents had to fight a physical war; we are given a different war. With the many challenges industrialization and extreme capitalism have brought fourth, this generation has a great deal to focus on. As part of the “millenials”, “generation y”, and “unlucky ones”, I hope we can do things that never seemed possible before. I hope that we can bring our societies out of these unhealthy spending habits, and lessen the emphasis on unimportant matters of status and of little practicality. While I am a dreamer, I like to be a realist. Some may say it’s impossible, but impossible is nothing.

2 thoughts on “Economic musings by a “Millenial” traveller

  1. I think you’re right on about higher education becoming a business. Student loan debt will undoubtedly be the next bubble to burst, and when it does, we can expect some serious fallout, especially because it can’t be discharged in bankruptcy here in America. As bad as undergraduate debt is, it pales in comparison to what a lot of people in America face for graduate school, especially law school. Definitely not a good situation.

    • It’s really interesting that you mention law school debt – I just took my LSAT and was thinking that I would never do law school in the States unless given a 90% scholarship (read: impossible). Even in Canada, it’s costly, and almost doesn’t seem worth it knowing the current climate for that kind of employment – not to mention what comes with it.

      I fear for the world when the student loan debt bubble bursts.

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