To OE or Not to OE?

This morning New Zealanders woke up to the following headline:

“New UK immigration policy could bring an end to Kiwis’ traditional OE”

Many young New Zealanders spend two years working in the UK, on their overseas experience (OE), like Ro is right now.  In fact, I think I have more friends based in the UK than I do currently in NZ.  Some go over and work in typical holiday jobs, in bars and restaurants.  But most I know are young professionals, who look to gain overseas experience, while filling their weekends with travel.  Most of them return to NZ after their 2-year stint, bringing back valuable global skills and a newfound appreciation for life in NZ.  Sounds great right?  Well, the dream may be coming to an end.

I will let Ro delve into more details about the reasons why she decided to do an OE.  She will probably say it was one of the best decisions of her life.

I, however, have decided at this stage not to do an OE.  Well not in the traditional sense as I outlined above.  Most people assume I’m not doing an OE because I don’t like travelling.  The opposite is true, in fact: I spent a year living in Switzerland when I was 16.  So I know the excitement that comes from being able to jump on a train and find yourself in France or Italy.

Whenever I feel like I need to explain to others why I am not doing an OE, I mention two reasons.  The first being that I don’t want to only travel for two years, I want to travel for the rest of my life.  I want to do an amazing trip every single year!  I figure the best way to set myself up for a lifetime of travel is to put in the hard yards now.  I am trying to make something of my career and thinking about setting up some investments.

The second reason also comes back to money.  Like many people my age, I came out of University with a large student loan.  I spent five years at University, completing my Masters, so my loan was larger than most.  A note for the non-New Zealanders: our student loans are interest-free while you are living in NZ.  However, once you are overseas for more than 6 months, you must start paying interest on your loan.  And the idea of having to pay interest on a $68,000 loan freaks me out.

There’s also a third reason I don’t often talk about: I don’t enjoy my career.  At all.  But I have spent so much money ($68,000) that I feel obliged to give it a real go.  But I can’t bring myself to fly halfway around the world to continue in a career I feel lost in.  I worry I will return to NZ, almost 30 years old, and be stuck in the wrong career.

I know, I would have gained valuable experience and made the most of all the travel opportunities.  But I would have returned to NZ in the midst of a serious identity crisis.  So instead, I am trying to figure myself out in NZ.  At least here I have the support of my family and am not crippling my financial health.

It is so hard watching and hearing the stories from all my peers.  I definitely feel like I am missing out.  But I am playing a longer game, trying to figure out my career, become financially stable and set myself up for a lifetime of adventure.  And I am hoping it will pay off in the long run!

However, I think it will be truly sad if New Zealanders do not have the option of an OE in the UK.  It has become such a strong part of our culture, almost a rite of passage.  What do you think?  Will you go on a traditional “Kiwi OE”?

Photo by Tamara Menzi, via


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