Over-Ambitious Teenagers
April 4, 2008 3:40 AM   Subscribe

If you were writing a book/essay about the motivations of over-ambitious young people, where would you look for research?

One of my friends was asking me why young people (often like myself) would go through all that effort to apply for opportunities (conferences, courses, fellowships, etc) overseas, then go through the hassle of trying to find funding for them. Why not, she asked, just save up your money and apply, or go to something in your own turf?

In my reply, I had mentioned Government grants, and she said that she'd rather her tax money go towards a charity for the homeless rather than "to send an over-ambitious teenager overseas to chat with the UN". That term inspired me to think about doing a book or essay on such "teens" (or youths) - the ones who go conference-hopping, or travel on unorthodox study abroad programs, or hike for weeks in Tibet, or so on. Why do they want to do so? How did they support themselves? What challenges did they face?

To do this though, I need to do extensive research on the background issues so that I know my argument holds water. Which areas can I research to flesh out my arguments?

So far I'm considering:

* Currency values across the world (what can $1000 buy you in different places, for example)
* Why events/conferences/programs charge the amount that they do, and where the money goes to
* The percentage of Government budgeting towards different fields (education vs war vs medicare etc)
* Funding opportunities for young people in this position
* Attitudes towards overachievers - Tall Poppy Syndrome, Impostor Syndrome, etc
* The impact of such programs internationally (for example, the argument that short-term study-abroad/service programs only benefit the student, not the host)

My main argument is that side costs (such as travel) are usually the high and hard-to-fund costs, that Government funding for these efforts aren't very high, that there is very little private support for individuals, that not all countries have such opportunities in "their own turf", and that there are strong benefits to networking and doing service internationally. Would that work? What do I need to look up to make my argument stronger?

Has anyone else done work on this before? What else should I be looking at?
posted by divabat to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
that there are strong benefits to networking and doing service internationally

To underlay this argument, you would want to be broadly familiar with the whole debate over how NGOs and advocacy networks function. (e.g. Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.) There are also a lot of books by and about the kinds of people who are perennial conference attenders -- I recently read a book about Bella Abzug, much of which was about her involvement in these kinds of events, for example -- there are thousands of these, so you can't read them all, but you will want to be familiar with the genre.

The real benefits are probably to the participants in the conferences, and the best way to show that might be to have each chapter feature a representative story of a person. So the chapter on the history of these conferences would tell the story of some person who had been a participant at a whole series of these events; a chapter on fundraising would have someone with a great fundraising story; etc. So I would tell you to tap into the activist networks you already have connections with, and interview a set of people ranging from your age up to quite elderly, getting their stories. You will have to decide if you are more interested in the organizers (easier to find, already used to telling their stories) or the participants (maybe harder to find, maybe less ready to tell the story); you will also need to figure out what is needed in your situation in terms of ethics, getting releases, and so on (this varies by country, what you are doing, and so on -- hard to make generalizations, just don't want you to do the work and then not have it be publishable because you forgot to dot your i's and cross your t's).

I don't know in Australia, but in the US there is a pretty deep history to these activist conferences. I can easily think of examples from the 1960s and 1970s, but I am reasonably sure that I have read about them going back to the 1930s and before. There are some conferences that stand out as seminal events, spawning whole segments of movement activity and organizations, and others that didn't appear to serve any purpose. Why this is -- why the Beijing women's conference is a big deal, but something else is not -- is going to be one of your underlying questions. It's a question you won't be able to answer directly, but the stories you get from people will point to some answers.
posted by Forktine at 4:06 AM on April 4, 2008

I know that Alexandra Robbins wrote a book called "The Overachievers" about high school kids who are high achievers. That book's sources might give you some material for your study.
posted by reenum at 5:06 AM on April 4, 2008

That term inspired me to think about doing a book or essay on such "teens" (or youths) - the ones who go conference-hopping, or travel on unorthodox study abroad programs, or hike for weeks in Tibet, or so on. Why do they want to do so?

#18, #19, #20.
#71. #72.
posted by Laugh_track at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

The Apprentice might provide some light relief.
posted by rhymer at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2008

You might want, in this initial phase, to try narrowing your scope a little. That way you'll have manageable questions to start with, and won't get overwhelmed with the size of the project before you can even begin.

First, narrow down which kinds of programs you're looking at. I would suggest focusing on organized formal activities only, as that will be easier to get info about than the self-directed person who goes to Tibet without a formal program. You might also think about focusing just on programs that are designed to promote one kind of goal (cultural exchange, for example, and exclude ones that are meant to promote scientific work). I think you will find the project much more manageable if you pick a narrow target group to work on at first. Once you get the initial results, you could then apply the same method to other target groups.

Second, it sounds like you want to ask two major types of questions about these programs:

1. What do the participants want to get out of it, and what do they actually get?
-Who chooses to do these kinds of projects?
Demographics, how these vary by region (maybe quite different in areas that are already cosmopolitan vs areas that are homogeneous), etc.
-Do different groups choose projects with different emphases, or different funding sources?
-What reasons do they give for wanting to participate?
-How do the programs market themselves? What benefits do they promise? (this is an indirect way to get at what the participants are drawn to)
-What is the popular perception of such programs in the demographic that the participants come from? (are they seen as resume-builders, or as valuable in their own right?)
-What effects do these programs actually have on the later lives of participants?

2. What do funding entities want to get out of it, and what do they actually get?
-What effects do these programs have on the host area or organization?
-Do they achieve what they're meant to achieve?
-What funding schemes exist now for such programs? (private nonprofit, government, in-between)

Take a look at that list of questions. Each subquestion is a biggie in its own right; can you narrow your focus to just a few of these? It sounds to me like you're more interested in the first major question than the second, and it sounds to me like you're more interested in knowing why participants enter these programs in the first place, rather than knowing what effects the programs actually have on them. (I could be wrong about this.)

At any rate, I think you'll have an easier time actually getting solid answers if you can narrow down the question.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:07 PM on April 4, 2008

Response by poster: LaughTrack: considering I'm not white, and the people I know who have the biggest trouble with this aren't white either, I'm not sure that would give me any answers. There is a certain cultural divide though.

LobsterMitten: My question is more "why do they go through all this trouble to participate in such events, and why should we care?" Funding is definitely a big part of it, but there are also many considerations - is the work worthwhile? is there impact? would the time have been better spent elsewhere? which places offer actual opportunity for change and which are just talkshops?
posted by divabat at 3:29 AM on April 7, 2008

divabat: those are all good interesting questions. I just mean, if there isn't a book that answers those questions for you -- and you really want to do research on this and get an actual answer -- you should probably pick just one of those questions to start with.

Maybe the last one is the one of interest to you, as you try to think about programs to apply to? If so I think the first step would be to get in touch with whatever centralized agency keeps track of these programs in a given country (for starters, and move on to other countries one at a time). Find out what it takes for a program to be accredited to give university credits as a study-abroad option, from the central accrediting bureau, for example. Then you can track down a bunch of these programs and start collecting information about them.

A next step would, I think, be to pick a sample of say 10 or 20 and see if they will put you in touch with some recent "grads" so you can ask them why they did the program, and whether they feel like it was worthwhile.

Either of those steps would probably lead to lots of interesting connections even if you weren't able to follow through with the full project. Maybe you could use these to write up a proposal for a more full study, and submit it to an accreditation board to see if they would fund you to do the study. Or submit it to a charities-rating organization, or some other likely funding source.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:36 PM on April 7, 2008

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