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Europe vs. USA Gen Y: More or Less Prepared to Face the Future?

Technology has enabled much broader information sharing across borders than ever before. So much, that Generation Y is the first generation to share a majority of values and lifestyle desires across regions than any other generation. Well summarized by Joel Stein in the recently popular Time article The New Greatest Generation, he writes, “Each country’s Millenials are different, but because of globalization, social media, the exporting of Western Culture, and the speed of change, Millenials worldwide are more similar to one another than to older generations within their nations.”

And yet, I see differences in how countries are choosing to raise their future generation and therefore, the attitudes with which they enter adulthood.

Last week, I spent time traveling across Europe on a business trip – from Czech Republic to Germany to Switzerland to Poland. Looking at the financial and environmental challenges that face our generation, I compare my experience with Gen Y in the US with those in Europe and wonder, who is more adequately prepared?

On this trip, I met a number of Gen Y as well as had a chance to learn from the corporate perspective of training and development programs in these regions. My key observations primarily concern the surrounding environment in which kids are raised and the differences in the structure of education.

Surrounding Environment: Informed/Diverse and Sustainable

1. Informed/Diverse – Unlike other generations, in the US, Generation Y has been the least interested in following news and current events. In general, US has always had a…well…US-centered focus on history and events. Europeans distinctly have a much more global view of history, although it’s impossible to avoid bias, and have seemingly studied much more history overall. As a fellow US Gen Y said to me, “I think people in Europe can tell me more about the US than I could tell them.”

But furthermore, in European Generation Y, I found that they are much more aware of news and current events, due to:

  • Proximity — To other countries and cultures. They are more affected by events that occur in countries nearby. For example, in the case of the Euro or the current events going on in Syria, an event in one country can set a chain reaction that affects all of Europe. From a US perspective, I find it harder to keep informed solely because of the lack of proximity to everybody else. However, with the level of globalization today, it would be a mistake to say that events happening in other countries will not affect the US.
  • Relevance — Of news and media. News is distinctly more practical and relevant, much less celebrity and “me” focused, unlike US news. In general, news in Europe is focused on actual, real news. For a good example, look at this great comparison of Time covers in the US vs all other regions. It might seem dry to cover actual news, but mostly because many of us don’t know all the details – personally I find real life more interesting than Snooki’s life.  I’m honestly surprised that US media continues to focus on sensationalism and irrelevant opinionated, drama inducing “news”, when many, especially Generation Y, ignore news for this very reason. I’m hesitant to call it news at all. It’s more of “News-like substances” (like Michael Pollan’s Food Like Substances). I haven’t subscribed to television in 10 years, get my news from BBC.com, and use Hulu/Netflix for everything else. Yeah, I’m one of those people and I am proud.
  • Diverse — So, so many languages. There is both an acceptance and distance between cultures and ethnicity in Europe. On one hand, people know more about each other and grow up with many types of cultures around them. On the other hand, they often stick to what they know – the Spanish hang out with the Spanish, the French hang out with the French, you get the picture. Regardless, its a bit easier to care about other cultures when they are around you.


Being informed and having a global perspective is a key factor in being ready and able to face the challenges ahead as productive, contributing members of our global society.

2. Sustainable

In Europe, it feels like everyone has the right to sustainability. In the US, it feels like you’ve got to be ‘able to afford’ things like organic food or even recycling in some places. If it’s not about the affordability, it’s about the accessibility. It doesn’t feel like it is in our everyday habits to be sustainable.

In stark contrast, environmental initiatives are highly visible in Europe:

KLM Airline Lunchbox Packaging

  • KLM Food: The food served on the plane boasted organic bread, cheese, and meat, in a recyclable package, made by paper supported by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – rail, bus, tram, subways. Probably the first time I have seen an airport completely empty, yet a train station in the same hour that is bustling with activity.
  • Wind Turbines – Throughout the countryside we saw Wind Turbines everywhere
  • Solar Power – Solar panels could be seen on house and corporate office rooftops
  • Small Markets – Most people shopped in smaller markets vs. large grocery stores or department stores
  • Articles on Sustainability – Even the magazine on the plane had articles highlighting key innovations in sustainability
  • Toilets: Barely any water is refilled in the pot. Most toilets have two options for the flush that vary the amount of water used.
  • Recycling: I have no words, just the picture below:

 Recycling for containers for paper, plastics, aluminum, waste oil, green glass, brown glass, you name it.

The focus on sustainability as a natural, given way to live is important as we look to the future. The challenges facing the world environmentally are huge and it’s going to be a tough, hard transition for many US citizens. I am proud to say, however, that a lot of US Gen Y are very concerned about the future and make it a point to support environmental initiatives. It just seems to be much harder in the US and not as encouraged to live sustainably.

Education System

I appreciated Europe for this from my career coach perspective. It was not all about college, college, college. Vocational and Technical schools are huge in Europe, specifically Germany, and provide practical experience starting from 14. Job experience in your teens is a must for some countries. Getting a good job is not reliant on having a college degree. There seems to be a much broader variety of approaches to getting an education in Europe.

In some ways, this narrows down the options early on, but what I’ve learned from working with teens in US is that there is way too much choice, not enough practical experience to help one narrow down options, and carrying the chaos on through college, post college, and all the way back to living in parent’s basement. I can’t tell you all the number of times I’ve heard high school students tell me how bored they are and then to hear from college students in their first two years, why am I repeating what I just did in high school? This I hear especially from students who took AP courses in high school.

High School in the US is one of those things that solely relies on the student to have motivation to challenge themselves. If challenged appropriately and with some long term perspective in mind, high school is great. If not challenged at all, high school is seriously seen as a waste of time and $800 prom dresses. If we as adults have a hard time motivating ourselves and pulling together strategic life plans, can we really expect teens to do this on their own? The structure provided in European schools takes some of this out of the equation. Oh and I forgot to mention, in many countries, if you do go to college, it’s paid for by the government. I’d be happy to not worry as a parent about having to save $80,000 per child for college education that is seen as a must-have in order to get a good job (and yea I’d be fine if I knew that’s what my higher taxes were going towards).

When I work with Europeans, they always seem to value the practical, common sense approach more than my American counterparts. This attitude of practicality first, simplicity first is a great capability.

To summarize, with their innate awareness of cultures around them, environmental consciousness, and a more practical education system focused on preparing them to be productive members of society, I’m inclined to say I like Europe’s Gen Y’s a lot. I find that it takes a lot more personal effort and motivation in the US to get the same knowledge and practical experience that Europeans seem to get relatively easily. Not everything is about fluff, a bit more grounded in reality, and yet, like anyone in our generation, not afraid to dream and dream BIG.

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