How do millennials fare in one of the richest cities of Europe? We interview two Genevans to find out.
After studying international relations, M. (30) works in HR for a global financial institution in Geneva. She always thought she would pursue a career in development, and even spent a gap year teaching French in an orphanage in Senegal. She remember fondly her humanitarian time. It was there that she first became exposed to foreign cultures and discovered her passion for kite surfing and Kizomba dancing. But after a brief, unpaid internship at the UNHCR, where she struggled to pay rent for her shared room in a 5-bedroom flat, she realized that she would have a more “sustainable lifestyle” if she entered one of the city’s many financial institution. Today, she’s a successful Talent Manager.
Like many young ambitious people in Geneva who have flocked to the city in pursuit of philanthropic careers, how does she feel for choosing the corporate world?
“I feel very fulfilled in my job. We help develop young talent, and our bank has an active CSR section. As a team, we are active in Movember fundraising, and we’ve even banned plastic straws in the office.” *(her bank however finances controversial cobalt extraction in the DRC).
Unlike M., S. (33) always felt his future lay in Geneva’s business circles. A son of Serbian immigrants, he saw finance and consulting as a way to fortune, until the global financial crisis made his ambitions seem less tenable. He still managed to snap a job at a global consultancy, after spending a gap year in his ancestral country.
“Consulting was a shock after a year in Serbia. There, people have stronger social bonds, but no money. In the crisis environment of 2007/8 I wanted money, so all else had to go. It was tough scoring a job, but with enough persistence I made it. Ever since I started work, I kinda lost touch with my friends and family, but I still feel it was worth it.”
S. still hangs to identifiers of Serbian identity – Orthodox crosses, Cyrillic shirts – as a reminder of the good days during his gap year. ¨I would love that those days could have gone on forever, but my life was here.¨
Though high salaries come as a perk, working in Switzerland has its downsides. For one – the country is not kind to its women. It was the last nation in Europe to give vote to its female citizens – in 1971. How does M. feel about that? “It’s hard. Really hard. It may seem long time ago, but institutions haven’t adapted yet. The whole system is geared towards women staying at home – supermarkets close early during working days; there’s a shortage of kindergarten spots; paternal leave is virtually non existent. Moreover, men are very traditional and conservative. In banking especially, men are just not used to working with women. When I speak in meetings – I don’t feel like my male colleagues take me seriously.”
But even S., who identifies as a straight cis-male, does not find the situation great, “My relationships are suffering due to my work. I barely get to see anybody. I thought status and money would help me attract a mate, but in a city that is so rich, being a middling consultant does not cut it. I guess I should have cultivated a personality,¨ he says sardonically.
When we inquire about her private life, M. is elusive. After a break-up last year, she again shares a flat with 5 roommates in downtown Geneva. “I haven’t had luck in finding love here. Ever since my romantic relationship in Senegal, I never felt the spark again. Swiss men are very polite, but sometimes that kills the vibe. I wish they would sometimes hold the door open, or pick the bill, or even help carry my bags.”
But Switzerland loves its strong men. It is one of the few countries in Europe that maintains a conscription based military. Its militarism is mixed with the sense of national pride, nationalism even – the flag is an inescapable part of the Swiss landscape: it’s everywhere from train-stations to chocolates. S. explains us that he had to go though a military training and that re-trainings are a normal occurrence. Is he proud of his military contributions? “Of course I am proud of my country! It has maintained great living standards for us. I think military brought me character. After my service I started running. Then I decided to go boxing. It builds character. And I get to punch people.”
How do our two millennials see their future in Switzerland? “Climate change is an issue. I’m not sure I want to have children, if this is the state of the world we are leaving to them,” M. complains. S. is equally pessimistic about the falling economic standards. “Our parents had many more opportunities at our age. They could afford to buy a car, a flat even, and didn’t have to worry about the pension system going bankrupt. Now, most of my salary goes on avocados, organic coffee beans, fancy gym memberships and flight tickets to meet my friends around the world. At the end of the month, there’s barely any money left in my bank account.” But S. tries to keep a positive face. “The falling life standards kinda remind me of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but we’ll just keep on plowing on.”
(This is a satirical article intended to illustrate the way Eastern European countries are portrayed in the media. We do not intend to cause any offence to the great country of Switzerland.)