First Semester: The Challenges of Growing Up

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ImageInternational Youth Day is a time to celebrate the youth of countries from around the world. The United Nations announced the theme for this year as Dialogue and Mutual Understanding, emphasizing the importance of communication not only within their generation, but among different generations as well. Only through conversation and open dialogue can opinions and perspectives be understood, cultivating ideas for change and developing aspirations for the future.

As a recent college graduate, I look back on all my years of study and remember how hard it was for me to decide what direction I wanted to take, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. There was a point in time when I felt trapped in the idea that I have to figure out my life RIGHT NOW; have Plan A, B, and C all worked out for every twist and turn life might throw at me. It was a disheartening feeling having this weighing over my head, and surprisingly even though my elders said this should be the most exciting time of my life, I felt more alone and frightened than ever before.

When feelings of isolation rushed over me, my only escape was in the comfort of my friends, parents, and counselors. I attended a university with a strong international exchange program, allowing my interest of different cultures, traditions, and circumstances to blossom, and introducing me to both new and familiar perspectives. What I discovered was even though we might not speak the same language, eat the same food, or have the same hobbies, we are all connected by one similar thread—anxiety. With my future beckoning me as I neared graduation, the sad state of the economy made future opportunities seem grimmer than ever before. I reached out to my good friend, who had come to my university from Sri Lanka, and she spoke to me about her frustrations back home. Even though there are many differences among our countries, we found reassurance in realizing our generation overall was full of doubts and insecurities.

International Youth Day promotes fostering the confidence within ourselves to pursue the unthinkable, allowing for each of us to create the person we truly want to be. The younger generation can learn from its predecessors, but personal growth will come when combing the right resources with fresh perspectives.

ImageIn accordance to my friend’s personal experiences, the publication, The Challenge of Youth Employment in Sri Lanka, expressed how the shortage of jobs has been attributed to causing the youth unrest over the past several decades, spurred by the youth’s sense of exclusion. There seems to be a disconnect between what the Sri Lankan education system teaches and what the labor market requires. The publication expresses how there needs to be more attention given to school programs to help guide students through their career choices.

The government of Sri Lanka is hearing these cries for help. Even though the process might be an uphill battle at times, a framework is being made to produce concrete and implementable youth employment policies to help the youth of Sri Lanka reach their fullest potential.

While tying together both my friend’s stories and the message in the publication, I came to one obvious conclusion—our generation can make a difference all across the world. As the world population ages, we have the chance to fill the gap with new and fresh ideas; opening up new chapters, not only in our own lives, but writing pages of world history that are still yet unwritten.

To all those of the previous generation, we just need someone to listen; someone to suggest possible paths, but not decree them to be the “only way.” We need a shoulder to lean on, even if we insist we don’t.

To all those of my generation who might be reading this, don’t let your fears have a strangle hold on your thoughts. Talk to your peers (in and out of your country) and you will see how we are all in the same boat…traveling across unchartered waters and looking for somewhere to anchor safely. This is not easy, of course, and there are many struggles, but know you are not sailing this ship alone. Your crew is all around you—International Youth Day is a day to celebrate each other.

For those of you in Sri Lanka who, like my friend, are looking to learn more about opportunities available to youth in Sri Lanka to engage in Development dialogues, please take a look at the Development Resource Centers under the Public Information Center Services program in Sri Lanka.

For all those across South Asia, and around the world, visit the World Bank’s homepage to learn more about your country’s opportunities and latest topics on youth debate.

Also, please visit the UN’s webpage on International Youth Day, to learn more about its programs and mission.

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