Monday, June 02, 2008

The big O.E.

Yesterday, our niece left on her big O.E., or “overseas experience”. She’ll be spending about three months in the United States, part of it working at a summer camp for kids with special needs, then the rest on a package tour across America.

The O.E. has become a traditional right-of-passage for young New Zealanders, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Wikipedia has an entry for it. It begins:

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.

All of which is true, although I don’t know if Tom Scott actually coined the phrase or not. My impression is that the O.E. has become far more common since the 1980s, when economic reforms resulted in an easing of monetary policy at the same time that international air travel was becoming easier and cheaper.

In any case, many young Kiwis now take a few months to a few years to travel and work overseas, and they—and New Zealand—are the better for it. Seems to me that the O.E. is a concept other countries—especially my American homeland—would do well to copy.

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