What was your experience with Generation Gap

Abi and what now? : The Generation Gap


They want to break out, break out of their padded world, shake off their devoted parents for once and get by on their own. Yes, they too dream of a different life; But unlike the hippies in the seventies, the high school graduates, who you could perhaps call the “Gappies”, are only dropouts for a while.

Emil, for example. As a German, he lived in Brazil with his parents for a few years. In a neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro where there were fountains that splashed in well-tended gardens. He only knew from the newspaper that Brazil is a country of escalating violence. But after graduating from high school, he wanted to get to know the other Brazil. That is why he applied to the volunteer organization "weltwärts" and moved to one of the poorest favelas in Sao Paolo for a year. There he took care of street children. He played soccer with them, did their homework and talked about Germany. "I learned‘ a lot more from the children than the children from me, "says Emil. "I've seen how little you need to live, but also how important it is to share."

I learned a lot more from the children than the children from me. I've seen how little it is to live, but also how important it is to share.

Emil on his voluntary social year in Sao Paolo.

When Emil came to his dormitory in the evening, he cooked pasta and did his laundry. It may sound silly, but so far his mom had always done it for him. Emil was happy to take care of these things himself now. He has a good relationship with his parents; that is precisely why he tried to report as rarely as possible. If he wasn't too tired, he would study Portuguese until midnight or go online to look at the websites of various universities. At that time Emil had no idea what to study and urgently needed time to think undisturbed.

The desire to slow down

Emil shares the desire to slow down his own educational biography with many young people. “Gap Year” is the magic word of this generation, because it conjures up and tames all their needs, ambitions and longings. In a representative survey of 21,000 schoolchildren by the Trendence Institute, only 44 percent wanted to start studying immediately after graduating from high school. 56 percent initially planned a one-year break, the vast majority of them abroad.

Admittedly, the choice of subject has a certain existential significance. But why is it so difficult for high school graduates today? An important reason is, of course, G8, the shortening of high school time: The G9 material has to be worked on in less time. The lessons last deep into the afternoons, and there is hardly any breath left for an extracurricular life. In addition, the students are simply younger and, at the age of seventeen, often do not feel ripe for the step to university.

The flaming idealism of the "fridays-for-future" movement

In the past, parents often determined their children's education. Today they prefer to take an individualistic approach, and as a son or daughter one is doomed, so to speak, to be free. Added to this is the variety of possibilities, which often have a paralyzing effect on our children. In Germany alone 10,000 undergraduate courses are offered. But which one is the right one? The explosion of options increases their fear of making wrong decisions, increases their greed to want everything at once, and makes it difficult to settle for a single field of study. Demands grow with prosperity: studies must lead to a job in which one earns well, realizes oneself - and also saves the world at the same time. This shows the flaming idealism of the "fridays-for-future" movement, but also a powerful influence from consumer society.

Many parents of the German middle class fell into a kind of educational panic after the Pisa shock, constantly worried that their own children might not be prepared for the international job market. Today's high school graduates have an abundant awareness that they should invest in a good education, master foreign languages ​​and have intercultural experience. They have internalized this mission, and that's why, even in the wildest gap year settings, they think about what it will look like on their résumé afterwards.

The Grand Tour as an opportunity

The idea of ​​a gap year is not new. The tradition of the “Grand Tour”, an educational trip for the sons of the European nobility and upper middle class through southern Europe or to the Holy Land, has existed since the Renaissance. It should put the finishing touches to the upbringing of the pupils, deepen their knowledge and language skills, create new impressions and - unspoken - also ensure a certain erotic experience.

Few could afford such a thing. Today the Grand Tour is within reach for ever larger parts of the German middle class. An astonishing development that makes our prosperity visible and the extent of globalization that has already been achieved. What is new is that young women now also have the opportunity to broaden their horizons - to find themselves in the world and the world within. You go to Canada as an au pair, do work & travel in Australia, go backpacking to China.

While these variants of the Grand Tour are mainly used for self-optimization, the voluntary social year also has the impulse of wanting to help, of solidarity with the poor and needy of this world. I know young adults who look after orphans in Tanzania, the severely disabled in Lebanon and refugees in Sicily.

Even the state gets involved when the gap year is combined with social work. The “weltwärts” voluntary service is financed, for example, by the Federal Ministry for Development. Since it was founded in 2008, almost 40,000 volunteers have swarmed out to help others and, of course, themselves with their development.

Some doubt, scoff, that this is nothing more than an “ego trip into misery”. Well-trained helpers could do a lot more than people fresh out of school. But a large-scale evaluation of "weltwärts" shows that the high school graduates can do something meaningful and bring many valuable insights back to their home countries. That is why the organization wants to expand its target group and also address young people who do not have a high school diploma and have no academic parents.

Aha experience guaranteed?

But neither Grand Tour nor social year guarantee a clarification in the upcoming study subject and professional question. You don't have to have your big aha experience like the daughter of a befriended couple of architects on a peak in the Himalayas: I'm going to study environmental technology! Sometimes this evidence experience comes, mostly not. And then our brave backpackers descend from the Himalayas, after a year they are back at the Berlin airport, welcomed by their relieved parents and still do not know what to study.

Often it is not enough to brood over the right subject somewhere. You need information, conversations with people who know their way around. If you don't know whether you want to study history or economics, then you should try both. Social work is good, but it doesn't necessarily help. Unless there is a direct connection - for example, when a young woman finds out through care work in a Tanzanian children's home that she would like to study special education.

Happy as a couch potato at home?

Not all those who have the courage to leave gaps go on a journey. Some simply stay at home and enjoy doing nothing after graduating from high school. First relax, come to yourself. But be careful! The couch potato existence with an abundance of time and days without a plan, structure and meaningful tasks has its pitfalls. This is shown in the book by nineteen-year-old Olga Rogler with the eloquent title “Now I'll chill first and then I'll do NOTHING.” There she describes her gap year at home and how she initially enjoyed her lack of plan, but then fell into a little depression expires. She gets up late, watches Netflix series all night, hangs out on social networks and begins to envy all those nerds who applied for something in time.

For Olga's parents, this situation is sometimes difficult to bear. Should they leave their daughter alone or help her organize something sensible? Should they even dictate a training path for her so that she has the chance to rebel? Generation Gap is a sheltered and yes, maybe a little spoiled generation. She has a very friendly relationship with her parents, has been allowed to participate in discussions since early childhood and is used to being asked in all private and political matters. She has developed an impressive independence of thought and opinion, but is rather helpless in practical action.

They seldom received instructions, seldom helped at home. Actually, they found nothing in letting their parents serve them up to their late teens. At the same time they sense that it could be a great liberation to serve oneself once, to experience oneself as useful and competent in the service of a larger community. Because in the wake of the G8 there was not only a shortening, but also a flattening of schools. This ensures that our children are thoroughly fed up with stuffing finished knowledge into themselves after graduation. They hunger to be challenged as whole people. They want nothing more than to be able to find their way through to some remote corner of the earth, where the tentacles of parental care cannot reach them.

Let's let them go!

Outlook: In the next few weeks we want to tell different adventures of Generation Gap. The adventurers and their parents have the floor.