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The Big OE

October 13, 2012

How come our adolescent fiction doesn’t seem to explore ‘the Big OE’ … just a thought cos I found an old article I had kept when I was researching NZ identity…

In it, ‘Visiting Brit Anna Hart’ (p.12) describes her encounter with the New Zealand attachment to their ‘Big OE’ and writes:

“the Great Kiwi OE is an emotionally charged, high-pressure audit of personal and professional worth. / The first thing that struck me about the Kiwi OE was how seriously this time-out is taken. Bex Gilchrist, director of IEP (a non-profit organisation facilitating work, travel and volunteering opportunities for young people overseas) says, ‘New Zealand is the only country in the world to give a name to the experience of working abroad – that’s how deeply ingrained it is in our national psyche.’ While Wikipedia sits on the fence in the great ‘Pavlova: Kiwi or Australian?’ debate, it describes the ‘OE’ as ‘a New Zealand term for extended working holidays.'” (p.12)

“…the Kiwi OE isn’t about visiting the nicest country in the world. It’s about visiting the country of your ancestry, making sense of family traditions, folk songs, art that references the past. ‘Visiting England wasn’t just a holiday,’ my friend says of her own sojourn. ‘It was the missing bit of the jigsaw of my life.’ Christmas dinner finally made sense, after experiencing the sort of brutal weather in which a stodgy meal is a treat rather than a chore. …She saw her time in the UK as a means of manually plugging herself into the culture to which she strongly related, but had never experienced first-hand.
This totally understandable desire to experience British/Scandinavian/wherever culture direct from the source, as opposed to the export variety, is one pillar of the Kiwi OE.” (p.12)

“Without exception, the New Zealanders I spoke to saw their OE as some sort of aptitude test, a challenge, a necessary rite of passage. Meanwhile, Brits coming in this direction can just relax and have a beer in the sunshine.” (p.12)

“The classification of the OE as a badge of honour on this side of the Tasman is something noted by Australian demographer and author Bernard Salt. ‘New Zealand has institutionalised the idea that you’re not a complete Kiwi unless at some stage in your 20s you go and live abroad,’ he tells Sunday.” (p.12)

“To the older generation, my year in New Zealand seems frightfully indulgent and professionally reckless. This is because, true to egocentric form, Britain considers the rest of the world a holiday destination.” (p.14)

Ref: Anna Hart ‘great expectations’ Sunday (Sunday Star Times Magazine) January 23rd, 2011, pp.12-14

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