HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Global Generation

A recent story on NPR reminded me of a topic I've thought of writing about before: the fact that many members of my generation have a much more global outlook than those that came before us, and are willing to live almost anywhere. While our parents may look at the prospect of visiting a country and wonder, "Why?", we think, "Why not?"

There are many reasons behind this, including cheaper means of travel, the spread of social media and the ease with which one can connect to every corner of the globe, and perhaps a rejection of what are considered 'traditional' values. I'm going to use the U.S. as the basis for this post, since that is where I'm from, and it's also what the article uses.

The stereotypical 'American Dream' that emerged after World War II is one of order and stability - a white picket fence around your well-manicured lawn, a comfortable home, a car, 2.5 kids, a dog and a long career at one company. For new immigrants, and soldiers returning from the battlefield, that was a perfectly understandable sentiment.

To today's generation though, with the world at our fingertips, that is boring. Now, I'm not saying every person under 30 is looking to jet off to Tanzania or Bangladesh and eschew the comforts of America. I have friends back home who are getting married, having kids, and buying houses, things I can't even fathom right now. (By the way, I'm 24.) I have to give credit to my parents for not putting any pressure on me to start a family, and while they would love for me to be back in New Orleans (or North America), I think they recognize that the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

However, there are millions of young people who are getting away from established values. This is more than just simple wanderlust, it's a sense that the world is more interconnected than ever before. NPR quotes a professor from UCLA as saying that, "They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in Los Angeles." And how could you not have that understanding? When your iPhone is made in Shenzhen, your shoes are made in Dhaka, the person helping with your computer is in Bangalore, and your shirt is made in Phnom Penh, you come to realize how closely linked everything is.

As part of this generation (the article calls us 'first globals', a term I'm not sold on) it is common to have friends and acquaintances from all over the world, whereas previous generations only befriended people in their neighborhoods, schools, or companies. We can visit cities as spread out as Seoul, London and Chicago and have people to hang out with, and once you start making friends abroad you run into them in the most remarkable places.  You learn about other cultures, you pick up slang and colloquialisms. In a sense you become a global citizen, where any country is a potential place to live. To quote NPR again, the members of this generation "are here to stay...as is their new take on the American dream, and it may upend traditional ideas of family and citizenship as we know it."

As common as these views are today, they do still meet resistance from some people. Some Americans wonder why on earth anyone would want to voluntarily choose not to live there. Becoming part of the global generation doesn't necessarily mean you are rejecting the U.S. - I'm glad I grew up there, and I've had so many opportunities thanks to the country, but that doesn't mean I need to spend my entire life there. There's so much else to see, entire continents I haven't even visited yet. Sure, I plan to move back at some point, but I couldn't tell you when, and who knows if that will actually even happen. 

In fact, that is another big difference between those who have 'gone global', and those that haven't. Whereas some of my peers back home have steady jobs at major corporations and can easily map out their next 5-10 years, I can barely map out my next 5-10 months, and my friends here in Vietnam are in the same situation. We accept uncertainty as a trade-off for gaining experience, like cycling from London to Saigon or traversing India by train. 

Now, just to clarify, I'm not criticizing people who have chosen to settle down and start families. I do look at the stability they have with envy from time to time, and everyone is free to pursue their own lifestyle. Just because they haven't been to Turkey doesn't mean they've accomplished anything less than people who have, and  I get the feeling that sometimes travelers forget that. That life isn't for me though, at least not yet, and I have no problem with not owning a car, a house, or anything worth more than around $500. (Excluding student loans, that is...) I'm happy to be part of the 'first globals'.

UPDATE: Today I came across a story on The Atlantic's website entitled, "To Make America Great Again, We Need to Leave the Country." It discusses lessons the country and its citizens can learn from other countries who are now doing certain things better than the U.S., and how experiences gained abroad can be turned into benefits for America. It serves as a great companion piece to both this post and the NPR story. I share many of the sentiments expressed by the author, so to the few family members who actually read this blog, it should give you a good idea of why I'm so set on living abroad for the foreseeable future. Well worth a read.

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