The Great New Zealand Overseas Experience

Taking a year or two off from your normal life is so common in New Zealand we have our own acronym for it – OE.

What we forget is that if you’re not a kiwi the term “OE” means absolutely nothing.

So if it means nothing to you, here’s what it means to us: “Overseas Experience.”

It may sound silly, but when you consider that New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million, there’s a ratio of seven sheep to every person (I can hear the sheep jokes already) and we’re geographically isolated out there in the southwest Pacific Ocean, you can see why getting out of New Zealand and seeing the world is viewed favorably.

As for how we travel, because the flights are so expensive and because it takes a good day of solid travel to get to Europe or America, we don’t go for a week or two, we go for months, even years.

Take me for instance.  I am a 25-year-old, who last year found myself out of a job after the politician for whom I had been spin-doctoring retired. I was fit and healthy, financially uncommitted, childless, newly manless and newly happily unemployed, so it seemed like the perfect time for my OE.

I have now been on the road for six months exploring Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, England and Scotland and I’m about to add Morocco and Spain to that list.

But I’m a late bloomer when it comes to getting the travel bug.

Most of my friends have been there, done that and are now slowly filtering back to New Zealand (or jumping the ditch to Australia) to do adult things like get married, buy houses and have babies.

Typically New Zealanders (I’m basing this on my friends and family) either travel:

♦ Right after they finish high school and they find themselves grappling with the age old question – what to do with my life?

♦ In the middle of university when they need a break from their degrees.

♦  Right after university when they need a break before they begin their climb up the career ladder.

♦ Like me, a few years into their careers, when they again find themselves grappling with the age old question – what to do with my life?

♦ Or, like the former neighbors I am currently staying with in London, once your children have grown up and you’re empty nesters.

And a quick survey of my friends from home puts pins all over the map:  there’s a gaggle in London, one in Scotland, one in Norway, one in Mexico, one in Germany, one in Canada, one in America, one in Turkey, one in Italy, a number sojourning in Europe and South America and too many to count in Australia.

But I know that those of you from the northern hemisphere find our way of travel a bit strange.

I know because whenever I met people from your part of the world you tell me. By far the most common question I get is  – how can you afford it?

The answer is I saved my arse off before I left home and I live cheaply. I stay in hostels, I don’t buy souvenirs, the only thing I take is photos, I stay with long lost friends, I house sit and I try to take pleasure out of the free things in life – such as people watching.

As for getting a job, while I’ve got a youth mobility visa that allows me to work in the United Kingdom for up to two years, I haven’t needed to work yet, and to be honest, traveling by yourself when you can’t read a map and don’t know left from right is a full time job as it is.

And, despite the fact that I may very well go home with a blank spot on my resume for 2012,  potential employers would probably view it very highly.

They would probably see it as life experience and view me as a worldly candidate.

And, I bet your bottom dollar, if there were two very similar candidates going for the same job and one had traveled and one hadn’t, the one who had done their OE would get the job, even if it was for no other reason than at least they’d got it out of their system and were less likely to leave in the near future.

Rachael Bruce is a 25-year-old New Zealander, who on finding herself out of a job at the end of last year decided to condense her life into a 15kg rucksack and hit the road. She’s been backpacking solo since January through South East Asia and Europe, and to keep her sanity, blogging about it at www.todayiateabaguette.com.

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