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Global citizenship Generation Y: global citizens

Spain, France, Germany, UK… Those are the top destinations for Gen Y students to study abroad. If this generation does not study abroad, then they will probably plan a journey around the world or spend a few months in some or other country. Sometimes I feel odd for not having studied abroad or having made a trip around the world. But why do these youngsters travel so much? According to World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation, young travelers now represent 20% of international tourism. But their goals for traveling are different.

The purpose of traveling purely for leisure has dropped from over 75% in 2007 to a mere 47% in 2012. According to Anna M. Zanghi (Global Lead Youth Segment Product at MasterCard), youngsters travel with a purpose; they travel towards something vs. typical adults (who travel to get away from something): study abroad, internships, learn a language, cultural immersion, volunteering, meeting relatives, etc. Youngsters are trendsetters in traveling, having started the whole experiential tourism trend. But those are definitely not the only reasons they travel for.

I think their respect for ethnic and cultural diversity makes them more willing to travel to countries with a different culture. This cultural barrier is much smaller for them than for older generations. According to a survey by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), fear of discrimination and of cultural differences are the least discouraging factors for working abroad. This result was found both for students who have and for those who have not studied abroad.

Secondly, these digital natives grew up with the Internet, which provided them with a huge amount of information on different cultures and countries. The other side of the world doesn’t seem that far, with just one click away. This can trigger them to visit the offline world in real life instead of only online.

Thirdly, the growth of organizations such as Erasmus, AIESEC or AFS makes it easier for students to travel and study/work abroad. In the academic year 2012/2013 the Erasmus program celebrated an important milestone: three million students enjoyed the opportunity to be an Erasmus student. They are stimulating and helping them to travel and have this once-in-a-lifetime experience. AIESEC is present in over 113 countries and territories and counts over 86,000 members, which makes them the world’s largest youth-run organization with 26,276 exchange experiences delivered in ‘12-‘13. This number is only increasing. It appeals to students for the work experience and leadership opportunities they can get. AFS is another organization which gives young students the opportunity to live/study/volunteer abroad.

The combination of traveling and working is much more in line with this generation’s idea of lifestyle. Work is not as much a central part of life as in the older generations, but rather a necessity because of the financial need to support their lifestyle. Nonetheless they use this experience to boost their résumés and value on the job market.

Finally I think it fits perfectly with their profile. Gen Y is considered to be open-minded, sociable, highly motivated toward their perceptions of success; their image is important. Traveling is a perfect fit, since it encourages one to meet new people and explore new cultures. It is cool to tell stories about all your experiences and this is also quite positive for your image. They perceive these journeys as something unique which will only make them more valuable in their careers. But those are just my ideas.

To get some unique insights from a professional GenYer, you can read this interview with Cassandra Ruggiero, Global Vice president of Public Relations for AIESEC. She talks about the growth of AIESEC and Generation Y.

First of all, can you tell me in your own words what AIESEC is?

AIESEC is what we consider the world’s largest youth-led organization. We develop leadership in young people aged 18 to 30, but generally in university students and recent graduates. We do this by facilitating our global internship program. This program sends young people, who are studying or have recently graduated, around the world on work experiences or volunteer experiences. This leadership development happens not only when they are on the internship experience but also by volunteering for AIESEC at their university. The work they have to put in to be able to send someone abroad or bring someone to their city takes a lot of effort, which helps build their professional as well as personal skills; that is what we consider to be the leadership development that will help them later in life in whatever they end up doing.

What is, according to you, the success of AIESEC? How did you become the world’s largest youth-run organization?

AIESEC was created 65 years ago, right after World War 2; our original purpose was to create bridged gaps between nations in Europe and to create a cultural understanding between young people. From the local office all the way up to the global office, the bulk of people who are working are not older than 30, that’s why we consider ourselves the largest youth-run organization, because the decisions made in the organization right up to the global level are all made by young people. As the internship program got bigger and bigger, we started expanding in other countries and we felt that AIESEC had a clear value to the student population. We’ve been growing ever since. This year we’re in 124 countries and we are still expanding.

What are the challenges and what is positive about working with Gen Y?

Some of the best things about working with young people is that they have a genuine kind of energy and passion and they are willing to try things. That’s something we thought when we first started this organization. We need to make them understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. As soon as they believe in that, they’ll put their heart and soul into doing whatever it takes to make things happen. We have a really great time working this way with young people and they are really willing to learn and try new things.

I think there is an immense pressure on young people right now to gain a certain skills set and they really value gaining this with AIESEC and getting this practical experience since they are not getting that during their education. The hardest thing about working with this young generation is the resiliency and being able to keep pushing and keep trying new things. We tell them: ”Failing once or twice does not mean you have to give up. Let’s find a new way to tackle the challenge.”, because they tend to drop off rather quickly.

Could you explain the rising number of Gen Y traveling around the world?

They feel like they need to have the skill development, leadership etc. on their résumés to be successful. So a lot of people join these organizations to gain these skills and to prove that they are doing things outside of university. A lot of young people don’t find the opportunities that they want in their own countries so they are taking a look elsewhere. And they find our organization because we’re located right at their universities and campuses. They go abroad to either gain experiences that are really going to make them stand out or to get some more professional experience.

I also think there’s a different way to travel for young people now. It’s not just about going to another country, but about going as a citizen of that country or as a global citizen and they are going to these countries to really experience them instead of going to a resort. Through these programs, they really get to live with the locals in the area, either students or families. When they have the feeling they can have an impact in a community, it’s really an amazing experience for them which changes their lives and I think it’s what people are looking for right now. That’s why our volunteering program is growing quite quickly, to the point that we’re organizing 22,000 exchanges and our community development program grows every day. So there are a lot of young people who are looking to experience this and we feel like they are doing something positive.

Some are already talking about the generation after Gen Y. What do you predict for this generation and traveling in general?

I’ll talk about my own experience here. I have a younger brother who is already in the next generation and there are some clear differences in our view upon the world. Generation Y just started to experience the economic downturn, the lack of jobs, but we’re still able to fight it a little bit. As for the next generation, it may be an even more negative outlook for them. It doesn’t seem like things are turning around very quickly so I think they’ll probably travel even more. They will definitely look elsewhere to find different opportunities because they are being brought up to the field as to having no opportunities to them where they are.

We see more and more people who sign in on our opportunity portal that we have just launched. People are really looking for opportunities to do something. I think the other generation will really need to seek value in the things they do, value in the companies they work for. I think our global community development program will grow a lot, even in the next few weeks, months and years, because we’re giving them an experience they cannot get by themselves, we give them a place they can really explore and where they can live an adventure and experience a whole new culture: society, food… And there are a lot of videos available about young people doing these type of things. A 24-year-old just became youngest person to travel every single country in the world. Stories like that tell you that people really serach for something new, fun and creative; I don’t think that’s the environment they are no longer in when they are at the university. I think they are craving more. The even younger generation is just being brought up in this and they will seek for this even more than Gen Y which thought “I still have a chance to get on the job market, I’m going to keep working really hard so I can get better.” I think they are going to have a different mindset in general.

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