Is youth mobility socially mobile?

by Monica Nica

Heading to Naples we were hoping that the sunny weather we had experienced up to that moment would get even better. Instead, rain and clouds insisted to tag along with us through the two days we spent there. But the outside chilliness was counteracted by the warmth with which Nicola and his family welcomed us in their home. His mother not only treated us with a delicious traditional Easter dinner, but also with some interesting thoughts on the youth’s situation nowadays. For example, something that worries her is the fact that young people do not consider family and community ties as an important piece of the puzzle called life.

During the event, although we started the presentation on the topic of youth mobility, the conversation quickly went far beyond it as most participants were knowledgeable in the area. We touched upon issues of identity, the future young people envision for the EU, the moral values defining society today, and equal opportunities for youths.

We have already travelled 4000 km, visited 5 cities, met and discussed with almost 100 hundred people, and they unanimously agreed upon one thing: travelling is great! Everyone should travel, everyone should meet people from other countries, and everyone should experience other cultures. Many young people said that after returning from yet another trip they feel different relative to their friends who stay at home, they feel they know more, they feel they can do more. As I travelled a little bit myself during the past 3 years, I can say one thing: travelling is addictive! Once you start, you can hardly stop. There is always a new place to discover and interesting people to meet.

DSC01189If only everyone could indeed profit from all the advantages of travelling: independence, self-confidence, better language skills, adaptability, and inter-cultural communication abilities among others. The main recurrent reason for not travelling given by the young people we talked with was unsurprisingly related to the financial situation. Most simply cannot afford it.

Since my travelling has all the time been connected with something educational or professional, I had some kind of scholarship, but there were always expenses which I had to cover myself. If it weren’t for my parents and friends helping me out with that part, I wouldn’t have been able to travel anywhere. Even when all the expenses were covered by the organisers of the conference, the procedure usually involved a reimbursement. So there’s no such thing as free travelling, which means that the majority of young people can’t enjoy the benefits of it.

Mr. Luciano Griffo from Europe Direct in Napoli said that the EU mobility programmes are very good and that all young people should participate in them. At the same time, when asked about the real availability of these programmes for all youths, he admitted that they indeed represent opportunities mainly for university students. And the majority of university students come from middle and upper-middle classes.

DSC01174Without the support of family or friends, it can be very hard or even impossible to rely solely on the grants offered through the various mobility programmes. Even in AEGEE members have to pay in order to avail themselves of the wonderful travelling opportunities highly praised by everyone we have talked with.

Unfortunately those who can’t afford it are the ones who need it the most. The active youths already possess the skills and resources necessary for political participation. If decision-makers want all young people to be active citizens they need to offer everyone the tools necessary to address the barriers for participation in terms of skills, language, knowledge and ethos. Studies show that the more socially excluded young people are, the less they participate. But if given a good social condition, they are willing to exercise their formal rights. It might seem like an enormous task to undertake, but why not start with making the mobility programmes truly available for every young person, irrelevant of their social condition.