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Photograph: Time Out
Photograph: Time Out

This is 21: meet Earth’s newest adults

What does it feel like to become an adult during the pandemic? This is the only living generation that knows

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The world’s freshest generation of grown-ups slid out of birth canals in Y2K, turned 16 as Trump got made president of the USA and graduated from teenagehood amid the pandemic. What the hell does all that do to a person? That’s the question we were so desperate to find an answer to that we set out to interview 21-year-olds from Time Out cities across the world about their likes, dislikes, hopes, fears and ambitions. What we discovered is a generation who are politically astute, social-media-obsessed, career-hungry, isolation-exhausted and extremely ready to go to an actual club again. 

Read more of Time Out’s This is 21 project

This is 21

Yu An, student from Hong Kong
Photograph: Time Out

Yu An, student from Hong Kong

‘Obviously, there are things we can’t do right now, like clubbing [if you are not vaccinated] or attending large gatherings, but hopefully, that will change soon. I definitely think that the pandemic accelerated the way I look at my future, with everything being shifted up in perspective by about a year. It’s a little frightening to enter a job market that’s the most volatile it’s been in years, but I’m certain that’s not a worry exclusive to people my age.’

Sara, student from Miami
Photograph: Time Out

Sara, student from Miami

‘I’ve lived in Miami my entire life. I’ll be a senior this fall at Florida State University up in Tallahassee. And as far as my life down here this summer goes, I’m working a part-time job at a restaurant and other days I exercise, lay by the pool and hang out with friends. I’m excited for travel to come back. I haven’t ever been to another country, other than stopping on a cruise, and I was supposed to do a Birthright trip in Israel last summer and study abroad in Italy this year, but both were canceled. I’ve been basically nowhere in the past two years. I’m also excited about concerts. I’ve had tickets to Harry Styles since 2019 and I finally get to go this October.’

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Stafi, photographer from London
Orlando Gili

Stafi, photographer from London

‘Before the pandemic I was doing so much, like a ridiculous amount of jobs. I’ve been working as a freelance photographer since I was 16. It meant I missed out on normal teenage life. Now I’m trying to take a step back and actually enjoy myself rather than feeling in a rush to get somewhere. In fact, I saw a video the other day where these young people, who were like 16 or 17, were saying “If you’re our age and you don’t have a job: what are you doing?” And I was like: Sorry, what? You should really be enjoying life. You shouldn’t be forced to “hustle”.’

Olympia, LGBTQ+ activist from Barcelona
Photograph: Time Out

Olympia, LGBTQ+ activist from Barcelona

‘I was born in a small town in Asturias. And, when I came out as bisexual, I felt way more comfortable in Barcelona than at home. There is the anonymity of the big city, but there is also a dissociation: it is safer here than in other countries, but Barcelona is not free of violence towards the LGBT+ community. We have Pride but there are still a lot of homophobic attitudes, and some of my friends are scared of holding hands with their partners… I feel there are a lot of things that could be improved in that sense. I love Barcelona, and I am a romantic when it comes to my relationship with the city, but lockdown made me realise all the things I would like to change about it. Because I spent so much time at home, when I could go outside again, I felt more strongly about problems like cat-calling.’

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John, amateur actor from Hong Kong
Photograph: Time Out

John, amateur actor from Hong Kong

‘Our generation is culturally diverse, and we aren’t as sensitive as we’re brought up to be. Our self-deprecating humour doesn’t mean we all hate ourselves, it’s more of a reflection of a lot of the current events in the world. Though with teenagers nowadays, their randomness makes me feel old! I feel like their sense of humour has transcended, and anything is funny now. I once saw someone laugh at a slice of bread falling down, which is a total mood.’

Jackie, artist from LA
Photograph: Time Out

Jackie, artist from LA

‘I’m most excited about reconnecting with the art community in person post-pandemic. I miss participating, attending and hosting all sorts of art events. I still have yet to go to a bar in LA or go to other 21+ events because of the pandemic. I was definitely bummed out about turning 21 during a pandemic. I had all these plans I wanted to do with friends but I know the health of my family and community is way more important than to put them at risk for a few hours of fun. When the time is right I know all these things I wanted to do when I turned 21 will still exist regardless of how old I turn. In the meantime, I love going down the rabbit hole of finding music playlists people make online and going through them to find new artists. I’ve recently found out about a Latinx punk band named Fea and I’m obsessed with them.’

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Brian, photography student from Hong Kong
Photograph: Time Out

Brian, photography student from Hong Kong

‘I want a simple life, not necessarily to make big money but to spend every day happily. Humans are so vulnerable, so I just want everyone to be safe and happy. I don’t think that I will be staying in Hong Kong in the future due to my studies, but there are a lot of uncertainties on what will happen next. If I have a choice, I feel like Iceland would be a good place for me: less people, fewer buildings, and a slow pace of living.’

Ava, art student from Sydney
Photograph: Time Out

Ava, art student from Sydney

‘I met one of my closest friends in a Zoom tutorial lesson at my art school. We would chat about “Drag Race” over Zoom meetings meant for our group assignment. Finally, one of us worked up the nerve to ask to hang out in real life when lockdown was over. I remember the first thing they said to me IRL was “omg you’re not a hologram”. I think older generations are quick to villainise and generalise our generation and can be quite apathetic to what the pandemic has taken away from us. Of course, everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, but we have just left high school and had all these expectations of our twenties, and university, the promise of the best years of our life finding ourselves, but we can’t even leave the house. We are graduating from our degrees on a Thursday afternoon in our lounge. We are sick of being criticised, we have the weight of the world falling apart, a shit job market and a collapsing housing market. We are just trying to find some glimmers of joy.’

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Oliver, fashion student from London
Orlando Gili

Oliver, fashion student from London

‘At school, I was more into art than academia. And, because of that, they ruled me out as misbehaving. That caused problems for me. The government needs to create more opportunities for families from council estates. Growing up in Hackney and Harringay, I don’t think there were enough opportunities, and we didn’t get to see outside of that space. I’d put together a programme that lets them see London in its entirety.’

Anneka, nutrition student from New York
Photograph: Time Out

Anneka, nutrition student from New York

‘I really think that there is no better time than your twenties to be living in New York. The pandemic put everything on a standstill for about a year, but the city never lost its magic. That said, there are a lot of things I would eventually want to change, like building out more green spaces and making healthier lifestyle choices more accessible to all populations. I would love to make an impact on the health and wellness industry. There is a disturbingly large amount of misinformation when it comes to health in the media and very few unbiased outlets to fact-check these fad diets or celebrity health brands that take over the internet. I hope to change this.’

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Harmony, editor of an LGBTQ+ magazine from Hong Kong
Photograph: Time Out

Harmony, editor of an LGBTQ+ magazine from Hong Kong

‘I recently graduated, and I'm going to grad school this September, but apart from work and studying, I run an independent magazine called Ourself Zine, a publication for and by the queer community in Hong Kong that also hosts community events. We started this project to create a more optimistic representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the city and share the stories of LGBTQ+ youth, shedding light on our relationships and everyday experiences.’

Rita, jazz trombonist from Barcelona
Photograph: Time Out

Rita, jazz trombonist from Barcelona

‘I am a musician – my job is to play live. The pandemic has really impacted my professional life as well as my personal life. But I feel grateful to have concerts booked and to see that people are buying tickets. However, there is always the possibility for things to get cancelled, which didn’t happen before, so we are learning to live with this uncertainty. It is also funny to see how different everything is in other countries, since I am touring around Europe I see people with or without masks, for example, depending on the country. But it is wonderful to see people excited about music, after everything we’ve been through.’

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Nupol, activist from New York
Photograph: Time Out

Nupol, activist from New York

‘As a product of one of the poorest congressional districts in NYC (Brownsville, Brooklyn), I understand the issues that disproportionately affect Black and Brown people. Poverty is one of the most pressing issues NYC faces and it’s inextricably linked to the rise in violence in the city. I’m worried that if disenfranchised communities don’t receive the resources they DESERVE, violence will continue to tear communities a part. The Black Lives Matter movement gives me hope though. We’re not just fighting against police brutality. We’re fighting to dismantle every oppressive structure in this country and replace it with equitable systems. The strength and unity of the people on the frontlines inspires me so much.’

Isaac, student from London
Orlando Gili

Isaac, student from London

‘Right now, because of the pandemic, you feel like you’re missing out on what was supposed to be, I guess, the wildest years of your life. I came from a Muslim family – I’m not Muslim myself but that’s my background – so I didn’t do any of that fun stuff up until 18, when I could go out with my friends and go to nightclubs and be away from my family. So now it just feels like I only got a little taster of that life for like a year and a half, and then it got pulled away again. I worry about missing out.’

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