There and back again: Islands learn from each other about bringing youth home

Young people tend to leave home, and for islands this can have a special significance.

'It's an issue for all islands'

Islanders will leave. The question is whether they will come back. (Laura Meader/CBC News)

Young people tend to leave home, and for islands this can have a special significance.

A conference at UPEI last weekend brought together researchers from around the world to discuss how to deal with the tendency of youth to leave.

"It's an issue for all islands. I think leaving the island is part of being an islander," said Gerard Prinsen of Massey University in New Zealand.

It is such a common practice in New Zealand there is an acronym for it: the OE, or overseas experience. The question is when, or if, they come home again.

If they can be attracted to come back, said Prinsen, the OE can bring advantages to the island home.

"If people come back to the island they bring not only experience and professional skills but also networks from where they have been," he said.

"Migrants going back and forth, they bring not just the skills they carry in their bodies or in their minds but also the personal connections. And that is very important in a globalized economy."

Learning new strategies

The researchers also shared strategies for increasing the chances that young people would return.

"Iceland has one of the best examples of repatriating their youth," said Jim Randall, co-ordinator of the Island Studies program at UPEI.

Jim Randall wants to learn from Iceland's example. (CBC)

"There's a recognition in Iceland that young people may go away, whether it's for education or whether it's for early career development, but they come back."

Randall is interested in taking a closer look at those programs, and seeing if they can be adapted for Prince Edward Island, or, for that matter, other islands around the world.

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With files from Island Morning