May 4, 2012
As members of Generation Y reach their twenties and thirties, more of them are putting off desk jobs, mortgages and marriages and choosing to see the world instead.
Older generations may see it as lazy escapism, but Monash University Australian and international tourism scholar Irina Herrschner says travelling can be a savvy career move.
Ms Herrschner’s masters study, ‘The Young and the Restless’, explores why more young people are spending more time abroad, the influence this has has on their lives course and how Generation Y is driving societal change.
She defined Generation Y as people born between 1980 and 2000.
“Generation Y is a very individualistic generation, where everyone is doing everything for themselves, and going away really fits that bill,” Ms Herrschner said.
She said it was common for young people to go away on a short trip after they finished school, only to develop a greater appetite for travel.
“They notice there’s more to their life and to the world than just their country, she said.
“They finish their degree and they go away (again).
“The biggest group is still not travelling.
“It’s just that the fraction who is travelling is getting bigger.”
University of Western Australia graduates Lauren Cramb (26) and Chris Le Messurier (27) are part of that fraction.
The two do not know each other but the impact of overseas travel on the course of their lives has been surprisingly similar.
After graduating from St Hilda’s at 17, Ms Cramb went straight to North America on student exchange.
She returned to Perth a year later with little idea of what she wanted to study but found that her mother had already enrolled her in an economics degree at UWA.
“As soon as I finished uni I worked in finance for about a year but I felt I was wasting my life and everything was a bit too serious,” Ms Cramb said.
Like many of her friends, also in their early twenties, she already had a mortgage and a serious boyfriend.
“I just needed to get out of there … so I quit and went to South America,” she said.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Mr Le Messurier also took a gap year in North America after he finished high school.
He returned to Perth when he was 19 and took up a Science degree at UWA.
“In my opinion I was still far too young to go to uni,” he said.
“When I finished, my lecturers wanted me to do and honours or masters and I thought, f*** that.
“I was also in a relationship that I wanted to get out of, so I ran away, which is my usual response.
“I was probably 23 at that stage and I didn’t really have any passions developing yet, other than travel.”
Mr Le Messurier spent another year overseas, travelling through Russia and China and working in England.
“I got back to Perth and it seemed really small after all that,” he said.
So he decided to go away for a third time.
This time he travelled to Budapest to work in a hostel, then to Chile where he taught English.
Like Mr Le Messurier, Ms Cramb had trouble settling into life in Perth after her second trip abroad.
“I was in the Amazon for four months and it was just the most amazing experience,” she said.
“Everything was so basic and removed from everything else and you had that time to think about what you valued and what made you happy.”
Ms Cramb developed a passion for sustainable community development and an appreciation of simple living, but found that it did not fit with her life back home.
“Dad was throwing money at me to stay in Perth but I still just didn’t want to settle down,” she said.
Instead, she went to work in the Kimberley on the luxury yacht True North.
“It sounds really clichéd but I found it so hard to reconnect, especially with my family and also with my friends in Perth,” Ms Cramb said.
“My dad always tells me he only changed his job twice in his life, and tells me stick to something.
“But with our generation, if you’re doing something for more than a year you get bored because there are so many choices available.”
Ms Herrschner agreed.
“Generation Y’s parental generation are the baby boomers,” she said.
“They grew up in the post war society, where the dream was pretty much a man, a house a dog a child.
“They were happy and content with that, but it seems that Generation Y now is exploring all the options they have.”
Ms Herrschner said the internet was also driving Generation Y’s tendency to spend long periods abroad.
“Generation Y is also the first digital native generation, which changed our outlook on the world,” she said.
“Now you can go away and still take part in the social life at home and that makes it easier for people to stay away for longer because you don’t have to give up as much.”
Because it was now easy and common to connect with people overseas, employers’ demand for individuals with broader cultural understandings had increased, Ms Herrschner said.
Ms Herrschner’s studies were focused on professional working holiday makers but she said the same formula applied to people who had volunteered overseas or just travelled.
“It always depends how an individual is selling this time abroad,” she said.
“You can sell it as, ’well I didn’t really want to do anything so I just sat on a beach and got drunk’, or you can sell it as an experience which made you more independent and more flexible.”
Mr Le Messurier, who is living in Melbourne and studying a Graduate Diploma of Education, agreed.
“I know perfectly well if I walk into an interview and anyone asks me a question like that I’ll win them over with the experiences I’ve had,” he said.
Ms Herrschner said these experiences also enabled people to make more informed choices when it came to selecting a career path.
For Ms Cramb, this meant returning to university to do a postgraduate degree in community development.
“It’s amazing,” she said.
“The hardest part is living back at home but it’s about working towards something so I’ve got to grin and bare it.”
She said she did not feel disadvantaged when she compared herself to peers who had stayed in Perth to pursue their careers.
“I feel free,” she said.