OE (overseas experience)

Overseas experience

Overseas experience (OE) is a New Zealand term for an extended overseas working holiday. Sometimes referred to as "The big OE" in reference to the extended duration of the travel - typically at least one year, and often extending far longer. It is believed to have been coined by New Zealand cartoonist and columnist Tom Scott.

It is common for young New Zealanders to spend a number of years overseas, during their late teens to early thirties. This period of overseas travel plays an important part in the lives of many by broadening their experience in life - especially important for relatively isolated countries such as New Zealand.

New Zealand

A typical OE is mostly or entirely self-funded, occurs within a few years of university graduation, and centres on London. As this implies, the typical OE traveller is in his or her early to mid 20s, middle class and often Pakeha. However variations on this are not unusual: many travellers have no university education, and are thus able to have their OE in their late teens or early 20s following a few years in the workforce; an increasingly popular alternative to London is to spend a year teaching English overseas, especially in Japan or South Korea; and enough Māori take OEs for there to be a permanent Māori culture group (Ngati Ranana) in London. The European OE usually includes travel within Europe and, recently, a pilgrimage to the Gallipoli battle site.

London's 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. In addition, British immigration law until the 1970s allowed 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 Prime Minister Helen Clark described the OE to Britain as "an important tradition for many New Zealanders"

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 rather than something frivolous. Large numbers of New Zealanders live and work in Australia but this generally not considered to be an OE.


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