Overseas Experience (OE) is a New Zealand term for an extended overseas working period or holiday. Sometimes referred to as "The big OE" in reference to the extended duration of the travel - typically at least one year, and often extended far longer. It is however generally expected that the person returns after a few years; armed with the work and life experience, and wider outlook obtained overseas.
Often centred on London, such trips date back to the 1950s, but were described as going home, a working holiday, or an overseas trip until the term OE was popularised by New Zealand cartoonist and columnist Tom Scott in the mid 1970s.
The term OE is very much a part of the New Zealand vernacular, to the extent that official government literature, such as the official IRD website, have sub-categories devoted to the cultural experience .
The abbreviation OE is sometimes spoken as if it is a formal qualification - as in "do you have your OE?" - because before 2004 the top secondary school qualification was UE - "University Entrance". The phrase also indicates that the trip is considered to be an important milestone in one's career development especially for professional and employees of large multinationals and is often asked during job interviews.
A typical OE is mostly or entirely self-funded, occurs within a few years after university graduation, or having worked for a few years and traditionally centred on London. The typical OE traveller is in his or her mid 20s. Variations on this are not unusual. A popular alternative to London is to spend a year or so teaching English overseas, especially in Japan or South Korea. Enough Māori take OEs for there to be a permanent Māori culture group (Ngāti Rānana) in London. The European OE usually includes travel within Europe and, recently, a pilgrimage to the Gallipoli battle site. In recent years, Asian countries, specifically Singapore, Japan and China are seen as popular destinations due to their economic significance with New Zealand.
London's traditional position as the default OE destination is probably a result of what historian James Belich calls 'recolonisation'. He describes how New Zealand developed very strong cultural ties to the United Kingdom, and London in particular, and as a result tended to see London as the centre of the universe and pay little attention to other places. During the 19th and early 20th centuries many white colonials in the British Empire viewed Britain as "Home" even if they had never been there. London, as the capital of Britain and the Empire, was especially attractive. From the late 1880s to the early 1900s 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders traveled to Britain each year, with the number doubling between the World Wars. British immigration law until the 1970s allowed Australians and New Zealanders to live and work in Britain as British citizens. The continuation of the trend may be residual recolonialism but in addition most New Zealanders have friends and often relatives in London, and its favourable working holiday scheme, proximity to the rest of Europe, and the fact that it is English-speaking also make Britain a desirable destination. In 2003 former Prime Minister Helen Clark described the OE to Britain as "an important tradition for many New Zealanders".
Working holiday schemes
New Zealand has reciprocal working holiday schemes with a large number of countries. These allow young people from those countries to apply for a working holiday visa for New Zealand, but also for New Zealand citizens to apply for a working holiday visa to be able to work and live in those countries for (usually) up to a year. In order to be eligible, travellers need to be between 18 and 30 (sometimes 35) years of age. Some countries (like the USA) require applications to be made through organisations like IEP or CCUSA. The full current list of countries covered is:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- United Kingdom
- ...was coined by the father of Massey University lecturer John Muirhead, who used it in the 1960s. Writer Tom Scott heard it when he was a student as Massey, and later used the term freely in his "Listener" column, and it rapidly became part of the language., Max Cryer, "The Godzone Dictionary: Of Favourite New Zealand Words and Phrases"
- "There and back again: The big OE", Shane Gilchrist, 9 Mar 2014, ODT
- "Unpacking essence of the Kiwi 'Overseas Experience'" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- "The Big OE", An exhibition by Sir George Grey Special Collection, Auckland Libraries.
- "The "big OE" -- is it draining our talent: Kerr Inkson, Professor of Management at explains new research.". Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- "www.ngatiranana.org.uk/". Archived from the original on June 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- Belich, James (March 2002). Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000. University of Hawaii Press. p. 606. ISBN 978-0-8248-2542-3.
- Woollaeott, Angela (2001). To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–6. ISBN 0-19-514268-3.
- "PM welcomes extended UK working holiday scheme". Retrieved 2009-07-24.