< SWITCH ME >

Is European youth being McKinseyed? Or does the Goldman & Sachs trauma make young people even more likely to burn out in the paranoid struggle to escape from the threatening fear of losing their jobs, when they've scarcely even managed to find one? Who still wants to save the world? And what happened to the famous Spaßgesellschaft, the youngsters who are only after parties and a nice, carefree life? – E&M asked young people from all over Europe about their visions for the future. If the results show anything, it is that generalising about Europe's growing up citizens is the wrong approach.

Orest, 16, from a small town near Tarnopil, Western Ukraine. The leader.

orest
Photo: Orest
Orest:"If I fry chips at a McDonalds in America, I earn more than if I teach at a school in Ukraine."

He is not so much into writing about things. He's the one to fix them. "I was pretty good at maths and history. I painted, I drew, I did web design. But in the end I chose the other top one: politics."

Orest – a slim guy with the athletic figure of a basketball-player and dark, deep-set eyes under serious, arched eyebrows – articulates himself in excellent English. He spent a year in the US with the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, an initiative funded by the US Department of State to find and support adolescent executives. This summer, Orest will apply for both Ukrainian and American universities, but all he wants is to go to the US again: "the education there simply is the best." After studying international relations for a few years, he would ideally come back to Ukraine to work there. For an American institution, of course. As an ambassador.

Politicians and diplomats are not precisely what Ukraine lacks most. If that was decisive, he ought rather to become a blue-collar worker or an engineer. But being a leader is not a profession, Orest says. "It is a personal quality, which I have experienced since my early school times." Even against the background of a financial crisis, Orest is convinced: if you really work hard and excel, you'll get the job. Those who don't can fry chips at McDonalds. "Although," he adds, "if I fry chips at a McDonalds in America, I earn more than if I teach at a school in Ukraine."

Mare, 18, from PÄrnu, Estonia. The drifter.

Mare
Photo: Mare
Mare: "if I wanted to become a doctor or a diplomat, a lot of traits in my character would not be satisfied."

"I don't know what to do." Her gaze is ponderous, a bit melancholic, and a bit shy – shy in an interesting way that makes you want to learn more about this dark-haired, dark-dressed girl with dark high-heels and dark voice, and that makes you guess already that you might never completely shed light on her very being.

It's not that Mare lacks ideas or talents. She has won chemistry competitions and is happy when creating something: cooking, sewing, drawing, taking photos. "I could become a medical surgeon," she mentions. "But then I would start working when I'm 40, is that worth it? – I thought of international relations. But the first image people get when they see me is that I'm fun, I'm into partying. If I wanted to become a doctor or a diplomat, a lot of traits in my character of me would not be satisfied. – I could just skip a year. But if I was not in the same situation, I would consider people doing so pointless. Anyway... there is not so much time to think seriously about it, when school is so tight."

No, Mare says, principally there is no pressure emerging from her family, which she describes as practical, living practical values. But pressure often works implicitly. She assumes that it's rather herself maintaining her aspirations. That smouldered away as long as the end of her scholar career seemed still far off; that will settle, she could always say to herself. But then it grew near, and things didn't settle. That brought her to a point close to panic, things couldn't go on like that. And that was when she decided to let things float. Is she happy? "I am for sure not happy", she says, "but... things will certainly settle."

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