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American Dreams: Then And Now
1:28 am
Tue July 10, 2012

'Globals' Generation Focuses On Experience

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 12:58 pm

Jennifer Larr has the itch to go abroad. She's 26 years old and has already spent a year studying in France and two years in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, and she is headed to Uganda this summer for an internship. She's also a graduate student, studying international relations at UCLA.

Larr is part of a growing number of 20- and early 30-somethings whose American dream has moved beyond suburban homes and traditional nuclear families, and it's one that now goes even beyond U.S. borders.

Larr and others like her are more likely than previous generations to live, study and work abroad. As they travel the world, they're now abandoning some of the traditional tenets of the American dream that their parents held dear.

National pollster John Zogby has been chronicling this trend for years. His book The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream discusses some of the changes taking place in Larr's generation. He has a name for young people like her: "first globals."

"Two out of three of them have passports," Zogby says. "They are well-traveled; technologically they have networks that include people all over the world. They have a desire to be nimble, to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they're in a position to do that."

It's a generation just as likely to watch the World Cup as it is the Super Bowl. It's not, however, just the children of the wealthy and the educated, says Zogby. "This is expanding beyond the Wellesleys and the Stanfords," he says. "It's different now."

There are a few reasons why. More than 270,000 students studied abroad in the 2009-2010 school year, according to the International Institute of Education. That number is three times what it was two decades earlier. At the same time, the Internet and social media have made every part of the world seem instantly accessible. America's youth is just more diverse — and international — than ever.

On top of being globally minded, Zogby says, these first globals have a different perspective on the idea of ownership as a tenet of the American dream. They are putting less emphasis on accumulating traditional things like homes, cars and the types of families their parents had. Instead, they're putting more energy into acquiring experience.

Larr, for instance, says she can do without the house and the kids.

"People will always rent you apartments wherever you go, [and] not every woman wants to have a child and be a mother, and be in the house all the time," Larr says.

She could even do without the marriage.

"I've been in a really long-term relationship, and we're really happy the way we are. We can be committed to each other without necessarily having someone approve it," she says.

Zogby says that all of this is reflected in his research, and that much of what made older generations tick just doesn't work for first globals.

"The permanence of owning things doesn't exist," Zogby says. "The permanence of living somewhere doesn't exist. The permanence of getting a job and holding on to that job for the next 40 years doesn't exist."

For many of these first globals, the idea of public service is a common thread. La Mikia Castillo, 28, recently graduated from USC's Price School of Public Policy. Her family is from the U.S. and Panama, and she has studied and traveled in Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

"My American dream is for other people to be able to achieve whatever they want to achieve," Castillo says. "It's not really about me and what I have as an individual. It's about trying to make a difference around the world."

Franklin Gilliam, dean of UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs, says dreams like Castillo's represent a new way of seeing the world that's become common among first globals.

"It's a sea change in orientation," Gilliam says. "They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in West Los Angeles."

Julia Capizzi, a 33-year-old recent USC graduate who is studying for the Foreign Service exam, agrees.

"The larger world beyond L.A., beyond Chicago and my immediate experiences is an extension of me," Capizzi says. "So I feel an obligation to know what that is. Otherwise I feel like I'm walking around with blinders on."

Capizzi also says her American dream is better than that of her parents, because she and people like her aren't afraid to literally go anywhere to accomplish their goals.

"I think that my generation will be more fulfilled than my parents' generation," she says.

But she admits that she had to make some sacrifices to live the life of a first global. She doesn't own a car or a house, and she says she would love to have already owned a house. There are a lot of different parts of her life, she says, that she's had to come to peace with to pursue her goals.

In spite of any reservations, the Capizzis, Castillos and Larrs are here to stay, says Zogby, as is their new take on the American dream, and it may upend traditional ideas of family and citizenship as we now know it.

"[There are] going to be so many families out there where Papa's in Singapore and Mama's in Mauritius, and Baby is somewhere back and forth," he says.

The question is, what will that baby's dream be? And will it even be called American?

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The desire to leave one's home country is what we're considering in the latest installment of our series American Dreams. Today's young Americans are more likely to live, study and work abroad than previous generations. And as they travel the world, they're abandoning some of the traditional tenets of the American Dream that their parents held dear. Here's NPR's Sam Sanders.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Jennifer Larr has the itch to go overseas. She's 24 and she's already spent a year studying in France, two years in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, and she hasn't had enough yet. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Jennifer Larr is 26.]

JENNIFER LARR: I'm about to start my internship, actually going abroad again, to Uganda.

SANDERS: Larr is part of a growing number of 20- and early 30-somethings who are creating an American Dream that goes beyond U.S. borders.

JOHN ZOGBY: Two out of three of this age cohort have passports.

SANDERS: National pollster John Zogby writes about the American Dream. He has a name for these young people. He calls them first globals.

ZOGBY: They are well-traveled. Technologically, they have networks that include people all over the world. They have a desire to be nimble and to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they're well positioned to do that.

SANDERS: It's a generation just as likely to watch the World Cup as the Super Bowl. And they're not just the children of the wealthy and the educated, says Zogby.

ZOGBY: This is expanding beyond the Wellesleys and the Stanfords. It's different now.

SANDERS: The numbers prove it. More than 270,000 students studied abroad last school year. That number's three times what it was two decades ago. And colleges around the country are well aware of this trend. Here's a recent video promoting study abroad programs.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) The world's a big place outside the United States. College is a short four years you don't wanna waste. If you want to go abroad before you graduate, you better get on a plane...

SANDERS: Also, the Internet and social media have made every part of the world seem instantly accessible. And America's youth is just more diverse and international than ever. Zogby says, these first globals are putting less emphasis on accumulating traditional stuff and more on acquiring experience. Take Jennifer Larr. She could do without the house.

LARR: People will always rent you apartments, wherever you go.

SANDERS: She could do without the kids.

LARR: Not every woman wants to have a child and be a mother, and just be in the house all the time and...

SANDERS: She could even do without the marriage.

LARR: You know, I've been in a really long-term relationship, and we're really happy the way we are. You know, and we can be committed to each other without having to necessarily have someone approve it.

SANDERS: Zogby says that all of this is reflected in his research.

ZOGBY: The permanence of owning things doesn't exist. The permanence of living somewhere doesn't exist. The permanence of getting a job and holding on to that job for the next 40 years doesn't exist.

SANDERS: For many of these first globals, the idea of public service is a common thread. La Mikia Castillo is 28. Her family is from the U.S. and Panama. She studied and traveled in Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

LA MIKIA CASTILLO: My American Dream is for other people to be able to achieve whatever they would like to be able to achieve. It's not really about me and what I have, as an individual, it's more about trying to make a difference in the world.

FRANKLIN GILLIAM: It's a sea change in orientation.

SANDERS: That's Franklin Gilliam. He's the dean of UCLA's Luskin School of Public Policy. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The official name is the Luskin School of Public Affairs.]

He sees lots of first globals on a daily basis. And compared to his generation, he says this one has a new way of viewing the world.

GILLIAM: They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate, that somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai, may, in fact, have consequences for what happens to me in West Los Angeles.

JULIA CAPIZZI: The larger world is an extension of me. So, I feel an obligation to get to know what that is. Otherwise I feel like I'm walking around with blinders on.

SANDERS: That's USC student Julia Capizzi. She also says her American Dream is better than her parents', because she and people like her aren't afraid to literally go anywhere to accomplish their goals.

CAPIZZI: I think that my generation will be more fulfilled than my parents' generation.

SANDERS: John Zogby says the Capizzis, Castillos and Larrs are here to stay, as is their version of the American Dream.

ZOGBY: There are going to be so many families out there where Papa's in Singapore and Mama is in Mauritius, and Baby is somewhere back and forth.

SANDERS: The question is what will that baby's dream be? And will it even be called American? Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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