Fighting the “brain drain” syndrome in our region: Youth is our treasure!

As a consequence of many factors, youth unemployment in the Western Balkan (WB), as well in whole Europe peaks at a historically high level. Different dynamics are contributing to this trend in the WB, but it is also a result of indigenous structures within the countries and certain traditions characteristic for the region. Deeply entrenched regional stereotypes, lack of awareness and youth “brain drain” are among the pieces that make up the complex regional puzzle. Raising awareness about these challenges and the need for timely solutions is therefore crucial.

When I mentioned the specific factors contributing to the youth unemployment in the region, I had in mind a mentality specific to the socialist setup. As a matter of fact, the transition from socialism to the liberal democracy in WB was not smooth. It completely changed the circumstances in which we are living and securing jobs. Nevertheless, heritage and a spirit of socialism, in which our parents grew up, when people were obtaining adequate jobs immediately after graduation, seem to be still present. As young generations can expect the same? I am asking myself: Are these ghosts of socialism, which are completely incompatible with the logic of capitalism, haunting us in a way that could contribute to why we are passive, instead of actively finding a job after graduation?

A dilemma my comrades are facing nowadays, when it comes to finding job after finishing education, is whether to stay in country or to go (leave the country). In our minds, staying sometimes resembles Don Quixote’s fight against the windmills - embodied in challenges for finding a job that stems from the system and mentality, while going abroad sometimes presents leaving everything behind and starting from the beginning and alone. There is always a risk in making a life-changing decision, but losing time being in the state of apathy and indecisiveness seems worse. Instead of it, trying and fighting, even in the cases we don`t get precisely what we want, could provide for a precious experience we could learn from.

But here I would also like to highlight some problems of this so-called “solution” which going abroad presents, because it is very often connected to disappointment, which can lead to insufficiently grasped decisions. When we are facing problems, when it does not go all the way we want, it seems that the easiest way is to go and live in a “happier country”: A country that offers more opportunities for finding a job, and which, in general, seems to promise a better quality of life. We are running away from our own country, from our own reality, indecisive about our choices. Actually, self-awareness and awareness about possibilities our country offers is crucially important while making such a life-changing decisions.

Why I mention self-awareness? Because it is a consciousness about one’s own personality, including strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and affections. Self-awareness is the first step in creating what we want and mastering our lives. In other words, it is a pathway to happiness. Exchanges during studies, traveling, inspiring talks, self-reflection, can help us reach that stage. Only then we are able to take life-changing decision based on what we want.

While I was an exchange student with Erasmus +, I managed to adapt quickly while I encountered no language barriers. However, staying abroad, finding a job, and starting to build my life there was not an option I seriously considered. Actually, moments of self-reflection were always leading me to the final conclusion that I don’t want to accept the title of a foreigner, and all other aspects this status brings to the life of an individual who decides to live outside of their own country. Moreover, it is the topic I often raise when talking with friends who have been in the same position, potentially having the same dilemma. I realized that they are facing many fears when making the decision, but one I would like to highlight is provoked by the unfavorable initial position we have outside our countries.

That`s why I think we need a wake-up call. If we do not feel well in our own shoes in our country, no other country will be able to promise anything better! Especially, not in the long run. We need to work on ourselves, no matter where we are. Our burden will always be the same, unless we learn how to handle it. As the Greek philosopher Heraklit alr years ago already said 2500“Panta Reism” everything flows, -everything flows, and that’s also how we have to deal with structures depriving us of something at the moment. We are those whose responsibility it is to cope up with current trends, leaving behind stereotypes, expectations, prejudices. Only like that will we be able to make progress and find our own space!

Author: Bojana Lelatović