In the past, the typical destination for the traditional Kiwi O.E. (overseas experience) was the UK, the mother-land, returning home in search of adventure, to see the world, and perhaps find a nice European to marry in order to gain dual citizenship. The last part might be unlikely, but pretty much, Kiwi’s went to the UK, got drunk, worked crummy jobs or in some cases good jobs and then came back with tales of their adventures. But being in the modern age where travel options are expanding and more countries than ever are opening their borders to international travellers to come work and stay for an amount of time, the UK OE is now not as definitive as it once was. Sure, loads of young New Zealanders are still embarking to the cold of the UK to get their overseas kicks, but more and more are choosing places such as Germany, Japan, Korea, Canada and the US to have their major overseas experiences. North America and particularly the US are becoming increasingly more desired choices, in the form of Camp America exchanges, the J1 graduate working holiday visa or contikis and other such short-term travel options. What is it about the US that is attracting so many of our youth to it?
Perhaps there are several obvious dimensions to that question. I’ve already mentioned one of them, the UK was previously one of the few choices if you wanted to work overseas. I believe Canada had it’s borders open a few decades ago, but perhaps only for Ski-field work. Maybe the previous generations held more of a connection to Great Britain as well, as the further along we get in New Zealand’s history, the less of the connection we retain to our colonial forebearers and the mother land that threw them on the boats and sent them over here. For those that have not travelled greatly there is most likely still an attraction to seeing Britain, Scotland and Ireland, the castles, green fields and iconic cities such as London and Edinburgh but there is now just as much of an attraction to seeing the plethora of other worldly option available to us. Some want to see the sprawling cities of Japan, while teaching english and taking in influential modern Japanese culture such as Anime and J-pop. Others head to South America, get lost in Brazil, Argentina or Colombia, hanging out with frequently easy-going of friendly Latin Americans. Still more others want to volunteer or work in Africa, helping out those less fortunate and seeing the sights of the Sahara.
But North America and particularly the US is rapidly becoming a contender for the default destination for New Zealanders looking for an overseas experience over those other choices. Perhaps with the United States being the dominant worldwide cultural force, it’s no wonder that so many Kiwi’s are aiming their dreams towards it. We are surrounded by images of America in popular culture; New York being the city of dreams, Chi-town, L.A., San Fran, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., the settings of so much film and television we perhaps already relate to them as if we live there. American history has been taught to us from a young age, from The Simpsons or high school history classes; we know as much about their battles for independence, civil wars and civil rights movements as we do about our own history. We’re surrounded by their fast food, they set the dominant trends on much of our fashion (hiphop, grunge, hipster-ism). We want to experience this world of popular culture for ourselves, live some kind of American dream, albeit briefly.
New Zealanders are going to the States in spite of all the political and economic unrest occurring the country. In spite of the violence, poor healthcare and economic instability, Kiwi’s are still taking up the chance to visit the States on one year working visa’s, or in some cases even trying for green cards. But economically, it seems most of the world is going to the shitter, so this perhaps is not deterring people as much as one might think it would. Jobs are hard to get everywhere, in New Zealand, UK, Canada and the States, so if the same challenges are facing us everywhere, why let that stop us visiting a desired country. As much as we hear about the tough economic times in our country and overseas, mostly everyone I know that has gone to the States or UK has found work, and in many cases career related work as well. Maybe that says something for the good reputation of the Kiwi work ethic internationally, or perhaps we’re just willing to go hard to make it in spite of the odds.
There are still restrictions on getting working holiday visas to the States, you can only currently get one within a year of graduating, so this makes it difficult for many people to be able to stay there for a longer period of time. Many people choose instead to get the three-month visa waiver, see a bit of the country, go for a road trip and then move on. So while the US is becoming more and more a destination of choice, perhaps the restrictions will keep people spread amongst the various international alternatives. I myself nearly took up the J1 working visa but ran out of time, and I’ve now been pursuing other options for an OE, which include visiting the States. Perhaps I’ll get their and find the grass is not necessarily greener. Most people seem to have a fairly sobering experience once they get to the States or other international locations they’ve been interested in.
What are your thoughts on Kiwi’s looking to States as a potential OE location? Why does it have such interest for young New Zealanders? Have you got any personal experience of the States to shed light on the topic?