Young Women Speaking the Economy: From Aarhus to Oakland

[Editor's Note: Our newest project, Young Women Speaking the Economy, brings 44 young women from four countries together to discuss their thoughts and ideas about entering the workforce at a time of economic uncertainty.

As part of the exhibition, four events are being held in each of the participating countries--the U.S., Denmark, Sudan and the Philippines, with the exhibition creators traveling all over the world to meet and discuss their ideas in person at these events. For the next few months, we'll be publishing some of the reflections from student participants who traveled to foreign countries as part of this project. This post, written by Kristina Moeller Andersen, who traveled from Aarhus, Denmark to the Bay Area, San Francisco, is the first in the series. Check out Kristina's project here, and explore the whole Young Women Speaking the Economy exhibition.]

Kristina in San Francisco
I had the opportunity to travel to the United States as the student representative of my home country, Denmark. It was my first trip west of the Atlantic, but my expectations made up just a very light part of my luggage. I was looking forward to traveling to the epicenter of the Young Women Speaking the Economy project, and I was grateful to be selected to go, but the distance and my uncertainty about the week’s program definitely kept my expectations in check.

It only took me a short time to get use to the waves and rhythm of Bay Area life, and I felt comfortable in all ways during my short stay. I believe it was due to the generosity and interest in why I’d traveled, which I met from every angle. It doesn’t take Americans a long time to start a conversation with a stranger!

One morning when we had brunch with some other exhibition participants and students at Mills College, I chatted with a girl from the Bay Area. I asked her, “What does an American look like?" and she replied after some consideration, “Everybody can be an American,” implying that nationality doesn’t presuppose a specific ethnic origin. I felt that one reason for the warm and welcoming attitude I met was due to the diverse and multicultural composition of the American society. Xenophobia seemed unacceptable in California, compared to the attitude towards foreigners in my own country, Denmark.

Participants in Young Women Speaking the
Economy meet at Mills College
During the last six months 44 young women from around the globe discussed subjects ranging from stereotypes to generational differences to gender issues, using online platforms such as Facebook and Flickr to communicate. The final Young Women Speaking the Economy exhibition reflected the sum of many months of these conversations.

Shortly after I arrived in the Bay Area and met the other participants, we celebrated the opening of the exhibition. Although the day it launched online was the first time it was available to the public, in a sense it felt like the end of a long process that myself and the other participants had participated in.

Meeting the other students was essential in my assessment of the importance of participating in Young Women Speaking the Economy, and it has extended my connection to IMOW and my interest in women’s affairs in general.

A few of the Young Women Speaking
the Economy participants
During my trip to the United States, I met women of my own age but with very diverse backgrounds, and what struck me the most was the similarity of our hopes for the future. It seemed to me, that the dreams of young women around the world in my generation are universal: studying something we are passionate about, using our educations to get a job, and on another, personal, to eventually start a family. In that way, borderlines and cultural differences were not revealed.

Another essential feature of my meeting with other Young Women Speaking the Economy participants was how commitment and enthusiasm are contagious! I met women who were so deeply attached to this project and women's issues broadly. Through conversations, laughter and art, these women inspired me to deepen my own engagement in spreading the voices of women worldwide.

Where I find myself now seems very far away from where I was when I began this project. Last autumn I rarely and only reluctantly entered into discussions about gender, since I believed that instead of highlighting the differences, you can gain much more by focusing on what men and women have in common. I applied to participate in Young Women Speaking the Economy because I was interested in global issues and cross-cultural dialogue--not because I was particularly interested in gender issues. But during the last six months I have realized that it’s still of great importance to address gender issues and to make sure that the voices of women around the world are heard.

-Kristina Moeller Andersen
Young Women Speaking the Economy