Travel: Morocco (part 1) – The Beach of Essaouira

My Moroccan holiday had started in a typically frantic style. After getting next to no sleep the night before, I made my way to Luton airport and onto a 7am flight to Essaouira. I had originally planned a 2 hour camel trip, and to be picked up from the airport by the guide, although I had cancelled this the night before, predicting my sleep deprivation. I was glad of this, as I managed to take the day at my own pace, meeting an expat local at the airport who offered me advice and allowed me to share his taxi into the Medina.

I was immediately struck by the pleasantness of Essaouira. The road from the airport to the town winded tightly around modest looking orange houses, passing small farms and assortment of animals – goats and sheep mostly. The weather was warm, the sky blue, a welcome contrast from the grey London that I’d just left. I noted the sticky sweet scent in the air, perhaps a smell that permeates countries of warm, tropical climates. I noticed a similiar smell in Kuala Lumpur and Heraklion. Each of these places I’m sure have their own distinct aroma, but the Essaouira aroma for sure brought back memories of those places. Just stepping foot in a Mediterranean climate, and having my senses immersed for the first time in North Africa was a thrill.

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My British taxi companion, who owned a holiday home in the center of Essaouira, imparted valuable advice as we rolled into the Medina. I learnt the cost of catching a Taxi around the Medina, an affordable 7 Dirham (about 50p), as well as where the good drinking spots were found (which he indicated were filled with interesting characters) and that if I wanted a feed, the market at the wharf was best. There you get fresh fish of your choice and have it cooked in front of you. As a appealing as that sounded, I opted to first head to a bus depot and book my bus later that day to Marrakesh, which for 100 Dirham secured myself a seat on a comfortable Supratours coach.

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I then taxi’d straight to the beach entrance, where a mass of Camels were lazy spread out on the sand. As I stood surveying the beach, wondering which Camel was to be my ride of choice, a Berber guide came straight up to me, towing two Camels behind him. He asked me if I wanted a ride, to which I asked of he could take me to the castle’s made of sand. He indicated yes, and mentioned the Jimi Hendrix cafe, something I had a vague interest in seeing, in spite of the exaggerations of the amount of time Hendrix actually spent in Essaouira. Having researched about the culture of haggling in Morocco, I tried my skills out for the first and eventually agreed on good price for an hours Camel ride. I was a initially little wary that this would be the most quality ride, seeing as my Camel looked a bit past it’s prime. Cappuccino, as he was named, was also reluctant to sit down, the guide had to give it a small whip around the legs with his rope to encourage it to do so. The camel knelt down with a groan and in spite of my reservations, I hopped on the seat on the poor old creatures back. Cappuccino set off shuffling down the beach, with a friend Camel following behind, and my guide holding the rope in front. The experience was a slightly odd one, and while it was a  fun and slightly surreal introduction to Essaouira, I was happy I had chosen just the hour long ride, and not the 2 hour trek as previously planned. I did not make it to the Hendrix cafe, although I saw some nice sand dunes, and the guide was good enough to take photos for me. Perhaps If I return to Essaouira, I will chose a healthier looking Camel, to make the animal rights side of my personality a little less guilty.

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Now off the Camel, I tipped my guide for his extra help taking photos (and a music video shot), and proceeded to a beach side cafe for a beer, and to change into togs. Hurling myself into the North African sea, ignoring the slight chill, I spent a good hour rolling amongst the considerable surf. Many other travelers had the same idea, although most people I shared the water with were showing off impressive surfing skills. Essaouira, I soon learnt, has waves just right for surfing, hence the share amount of them out in the water. I took to body surfing, and met a couple of Danish blokes body boarding nearby. We exchanged brief pleasantries, before they took to the task of catching waves with much concentration. I bobbed around in the water a bit longer, appreciating the novelty of being in the North African sea, before returning to land.

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Back at the beach side cafe, I met a British man working from a camper-van in Essaouira –  he has traveled here to chase the sun and escape the British winter, and also his girlfriend who had just that day joined him. She recognized me from the airport, having had been on the same flight. The next few hours slipped away in a haze of beer and baileys, and before I knew it I had only 30 minutes to make the bus I had booked to Marrakesh. Not wanting to leave without seeing some of the port, I said goodbye to my new friends, and quickly ran to the nearest taxi I could find. Having made it to the port, in less than 10 minutes I ran to the sites I had been interested in – the location where they had filmed some of Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3. I had to give the guards 20 Dirham, as the port entrance was near closing time, but having quickly snapped the desired photos, I again grabbed a taxi and rushed in the direction of the bus depot. Somehow I made it in time, and with a few minutes to spare I boarded the bus.

On the road to Marrakesh, there are apparently goats perplexingly standing in trees. This seemed something to witness, though in part due to the sleep deprivation of catching an early flight, and also due to the drinks consumed, I soon nodded off. The tree standing goats would have to wait ’till my next Moroccan visit.

Next time – the chaos of Marrakesh, adventures to the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and how to fall for the most obvious of Moroccan tourist traps.

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An Update On Life in London

I hate to think of this blog being dead, so for the first time in over a month I’m focusing and finishing a post. I had a good run there for a while – several posts a week for a few months. I guess it was the extra free time from being unemployed for the first time in several years combined with the excitement of being a new city. But then suddenly – inspiration caved away. To be completed honest I seem to have been in a post-travel rut for the last month. The first few months in London were hugely exciting, full of ups and downs – and although I found myself missing home I had enough anticipation and hope about what was to come in London that I remained optimistic. But during this last month, I guess the reality of living in this city dawned on me. It’s an expensive place, it takes a very long time to get anywhere and much of the time – it’s pretty boring. Just like anywhere. I’ve traveled half way across the world and relocated to a major international city only to find that life is much the same here as it was back home.

Not a huge revelation I suppose – I’m the same person here as I was 3 months ago in Auckland. You take your problems and personality traits with you. Life doesn’t automatically change just because you’ve moved to some foreign place with a lot of history between it’s walls and within it’s streets. The grass is just as similar a colour as what the saying suggests it will be.

So no great revelations, but I have learned a great deal. About myself, about friendships – about how people half way across the world from each other are not all that different at all. London is still a fantastic place and I’m having a lot of good times, and new experiences. Obviously I’m not leaving yet – I’m getting enough out of living here to stay for the time being.

There’s a lot I’ve been wanting to write, review and talk about – but have been lacking in concentration and motivation. I could be concerned about views a little too much. Rather than just writing what I want, I end up writing posts in order to get my view counts to rise. Sometimes it seems a waste of energy to write long blog pieces only to get a dozen or more eyes scanning the page. I don’t know how many people actually read these, probably very few. I’m not making any money from whatever views I do get on this blog, wordpress takes whatever cents I could be making. I’m therefore far from a successful blog writer, but considering this is only one of the many hobbyist activities I’m pursuing – it’s not a huge deal. I should probably keep writing for myself, little diary entries such as this, and then it might be much easier to keep up the posting regularly.

Just this last week I saw both Morrissey and Martin Phillips live in London. Both were great, although for me Martin Phillipps took the cake – playing a mix of rarities and crowd pleasures. Morrissey was great for sure, but his ego is so far up his own ass – he seems to really believe in the mythology of himself – that too much of the show is all about worshiping the great Morrissey, rather than about good music. Morrissey has a lot of good songs, but he chose instead to play majority songs from his newest albums, mixed in with 90’s deep cuts. The diehard Moz-heads seemed to love it, I guess I’m just not die hard enough. These are concerts I should review in more detail – and hopefully I’ll get around to more of that soon. Off to Greece next month as well – first time in the Mediterranean and could supply inspiration for a post or two. I’ll most likely just eat some awesome Olive drenched food, and stare at some old things.

There is a lot more I want to write about London as well. The city and experiences within it have been well covered within blog posts – but I feel there is still room for another voice on the joys are struggles of this over-crowded British center. Alas, life in London will continue – I will endeavor to tell you more about the stupidly high cost of living and terrible experience that is the London underground. Until then, here is video of a rap set I performed recently at Cafe 1001, in Shoreditch:

How to live and work in the UK! – Steps to getting the visa

Before you head off on your ‘O.E.’ (if you’re a Kiwi the classic adventure is working in the UK), the first and most obvious step is to obtain the legal right to live and work in that country. As an Australasian or Commonwealth citizen one way to obtain this is via the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, which allows a member of the commonwealth to work in the UK for 2 years.

If your parents or grandparents were born in the UK you can obtain a 5-year Ancestral visa. Of course, if you or your parents were born there, you most probably can get citizenship.

I successfully got my Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa back in June and have now successfully managed to get set up in London. I feel therefore I can be of some help sharing my experiences.

Application

You can apply for this at this website: https://www.gov.uk/tier-5-youth-mobility

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the Tier 5 visa, you must be between 18 – 31, from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Monaco, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Republic of Korea and have not secured the visa in the past. You must have proof of funds of £1,890 Pounds and apply outside the UK.

Also, you can only apply for this visa within 3-months of when you plan to enter the UK. If you submit the application and pay the fee, your visa will start from the date you set, within that three months, regardless of whether you’ve entered the UK or not. It therefore pays to apply for the visa once you have a definite date of arrival.

You can not get this visa more than once. So make sure you’re ready to go before you apply.

In saying that, it is relatively easy to obtain the right to work in the UK. These are the steps I took to gain the Youth Mobility Visa.

Filling out the visa

Start an application online: https://www.visa4uk.fco.gov.uk/

Fill in your personal details. You’ll need this information:

  • Current passport number and details
  • Previous passport details if you have them
  • An address and contact details to give of someone in UK
  • Your past UK and international travel details of the last 10 years
  • Details of your parents, their DOB, etc
  • Details about children/dependent’s you may have
  • Past UK medical treatment details
  • Proof of funds for £1,890 Pounds

There are a few tricky questions within the application, one of these I encountered was regarding your passport. Place of Issue I was initial confused about as there wasn’t a section on the passport that stated that. I eventually decided to put New Zealand for Place of Issue, and Issuing Authority as DIA WLG. My visa got approved so it must have been correct.

You have to claim points towards the visa, to show you’re of the correct nationality, the right age, and have enough funds. You can work out the calculation for this here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/pointscalculator

If you can’t be bothered doing the calculations – fair enough. The points as you list them on your application are:

  • Age Requirement = 10 points
  • Maintenance Requirement = 10 points
  • Nationality Requirement = 30 points

Biometric Appointment

After filling out your form, you sign an online confirmation and then proceed to choose a date to get your biometrics taken. Biometrics are a scan of your finger prints. Once you have chosen a date, you have to pay for the application. This costs $426NZD

You can generally get an appointment within just a couple of days. When you head off to get your biometrics taken, make sure you have these documents:

  • your current valid passport
  • a passport sized photograph of yourself taken to UK passport specs (wise to get this done professionally)
  • a bank statement showing you have at least £1,890 in savings
  • the print out of your application
  • a print out of your biometric appointment confirmation
  • Two courier bags with postage pre-paid, one to send off to UK immigration, the other you send with you application so that they can send your passport back (hopefully with the visa inside)

You must at this stage check if you have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge. This is a recent addition to the application process, and citizens from New Zealand do not have to pay this surcharge. You do however have to include an IHS reference number, confirming that you’ve either payed or are exempt from paying. This can be obtained here: https://www.gov.uk/healthcare-immigration-application/pay

The IHS reference number is then written on the front of your application, which seems odd to me, but that probably shows how new this addition to the application is, the fact they haven’t included a section in the application for it.

Sending Application

In New Zealand the options of where to head to do your biometric appointment are:

Immigration New Zealand
39 Paramount Drive
Henderson
Auckland

Immigration New Zealand
110 Wrights Road
Addington 8024
Christchurch

BHC Wellington
Immigration New Zealand
Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment
Level 2 Kordia House, 109 – 125 Willis Street
Wellington

Because I lived in Auckland, it’s probably no surprise that I headed out to the Auckland Immigration office. Being out in West Auckland, it’s a fairly out of the way from where most of us live and work in the center of the city and it took a good hour commute to get out to the appointment. The appointment itself was very quick and painless. The man there had a look at my documents, took my finger prints and then stamped my application front page.

At this stage I headed straight off to the nearest NZ post store, double and triple checked that I had all the documents correct, made sure I had a courier bag with postage paid for include inside for them to send the passport back to me with, and then I sent it all off, crossing my fingers and my toes.

Biometric Residence Permit

Also, as of the 31st of May, instead of straight given a sticker in your visa that states you are able to work in the UK for two years, you will be given a vignette that allows you to enter the UK within 30 days of the date you gave as your start date. Once there you pick up your biometric residence permit, or BRP from a post office near to the address you gave on your application. You can apply for another 30 day vignette to pick up the BRP if you enter the UK after the initial 30 days have expired. I did not have to go through this as I applied before the BRP came into effect, and my man Chris from Aussie Nomad is a lot more knowledgeable in this than me, so head over to his site for more information. Alternatively email the UK immigration department in charge of all this, if you need any more information: BRPCollection@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Wait times

The visa arrived relatively quickly. These are the dates of my process:

  • Sent application off: 6th May
  • Biometric Appointment: 11th May
  • Sent documents off: 11th May
  • Received email from UK immigration station decision had been made: May 25th
  • Received visa: May 29th

I had put on my visa the start date of 8th of June, although I was quite worried about it arriving in time for when I actually left the country, which was the 15th of June. Turns out I needn’t be, as it all arrived well before when I needed it.

Living in London

I’ve now been living in London for nearly two months, so I can probably offer some advice for how to get prepared moving to this city and country. I will do a larger guide later but the one thing I can stress for now, is that it is EXPENSIVE. People say that London is one of the most expensive places on the planet, and they’re not lying. I would recommend taking well above the amount required for proof of funds. Depending on your situation when you arrive, if you are traveling or sight seeing first, make sure you have enough funds to cover your adventures. I brought some where roughly around $10 000 NZD and I have chewed through most of this, perhaps somewhat due to attending music festivals. The exchange rate is also not great, as I write this something like 2.4 New Zealand Dollars equal one British Pound Sterling. In saying that, I didn’t spend a lot on accommodation when I arrived, having had a family member to stay with for the first few weeks. I would recommend greatly finding a friends couch to doss on for a few weeks at the very least, until you find a job and have some sort of income rolling in.

Accommodation isn’t hard to find, but it is overpriced. Jobs likewise, there are plenty of them, but most are low paying bar or cafe type jobs. London can be hard on a low wage. Once you start earning pounds, I’m sure it gets easier, but as I write this I’m still awaiting my first pay – a month into the job.

Not to put anyone off, London is great and if you want the adventure, come along. But be prepared for this place to leave a nasty hole in your wallet though, at least at the beginning.

Other Guides

There are many guides already available on the internet that give exhaustive information for what this involves. The best of these, or the one I referred to the most, was by The Aussie Nomad. Chris who runs the site is a great guy, spending a lot of his own time and effort answering questions in the comment section of his Tier 5 Youth Mobility guide. He’s answered many of my questions – so I suggest you head in the direction of his website for extra advice.

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A Season Of Firsts part V: First day in London and it’s a toilet-less Blur

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.

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Unwrapping the bags at Gatwick

On the 20th of June, 7am in the morning, I arrived in London. That’s over a month ago, so any thoughts I’ll be sharing on this iconic city will be from the mindset of the jaded recent arrival, rather than the completely naive and fresh London immigrant.

London has very few public toilets. This was my first major revelation about the place, and one that would strongly taint my initial first impressions of the city. Making my way from Gatwick to a hostel in a suburb I had no idea about, dealing with the underground for the first time, trying to use Google Maps and orientate myself with a 24 KG pack on my back; this was all hard enough. Let alone with a full bladder, and seemingly no way of emptying it. I skipped the toilets at Gatwick assuming I would easily be able to find one on the way. This is one of the largest cities in the world after all. The only one to be found at London Bridge Underground Station required coins, and I didn’t yet have any Great Britain Pounds to my name. There was none to be found at my next stop of Rotherhithe either. This is now a good hour and a half after I boarded the express train from Gatwick into the city. London looked nice, but I’d not yet seen any major landmarks yet, just suburbs of brick houses and a grey-ish sky. It was beginning to seem a particularly anti-climatic entrance to the city, but one that in it’s own way was quintessentially London.

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My introduction to London

I didn’t make it all the way to the Hostel, I had to dive into the first bushy area I could find and illegally relieve myself, making the most of the one of the conveniences of the male gender. Now able to think straight, I soon found my hostel and proceeded to the next mission of getting some Pounds in hand. Turns out withdrawing money from a New Zealand Debit Card was an equally frustrating endeavor, with the ATM in the hostel spitting my card back at me without handing over any paper. Off I went to find the nearest Barclay’s which were apparently fee-less. I got lost, ended up at a small Thameside mall, and gave in to the first ATM I saw. I would soon find out that there was no avoiding bank charges when withdrawing from an overseas account in the UK. So advice for anyone traveling soon; take all the cash with you.

My first day in London was therefore suitable un-restful. That afternoon, on my return to the hostel I would receive a message from a friend. Blur were playing Hyde Park that afternoon, so it was off to that. Being unaware of the time it takes to travel throughout London, and lacking in any sense of direction I gave up on trying to navigate the tubes and instead booked an Uber. Probably the best decision I made my first day in London, as the Uber got me right to Bethnal Green Station early. I met up with my friends and was able to head to Hyde Park together, right on time to see all the support acts. I wasn’t too tired at this stage; I had slept enough on the plane from Dubai to London, but I was completely overwhelmed by having finally made it to the British metropolis I had been anticipating for sometime. Being overwhelmed I was unable to truly appreciate seeing Blur live, or appreciate what it was like to actually be standing in Hyde Park. In fact, it didn’t seem that special. Turns out Hyde Park is just another park, which happened to have a large stage situated upon in, and a lot of people milling around listening to music.

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We’ve made it to a concert

It may not have the wisest idea to go to a large music festival the day of arrival in a completely foreign city twenty four hours from home. But regardless, Blur were amazing, and maybe one day I’ll see them when I’m not confused – and truth be told, slightly drunk. The ciders were flowing, the exchanging of dollars for pounds were taking place, and my slightly hedonistic first Great Britain summer was had begun. How else do you spend your time in London, then spend all your money on music, arts, performances and substances? I should add, before I sound too jaded, that Blur at Hyde Park was a great concert that well lived up to expectations. The set-list was huge, the new songs sounded great side by side with the old classics and they even made time for fan favorites like Stereotypes. But the whole thing was a bit of a.. fog. Too much entertainment, too soon.

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It was all a Blur

It would not be long until I would have a job yet again. Applying for positions before arrival turned out to be a wise option, and within days of touching down I would have my first interview. Finding a flat was not easy, and for someone looking to keep costs to a minimum I soon learned I would have to settle. London is no place for indecision and my problem solving skills were immediately tested. Savings would not last long, and as I sit writing this, I’m wracked with doubt about how I’m going to avoid expensive meals and drinking sessions yet still remain social. Still another month to go until that first paycheck comes.

If you take anything from my experience, it’s to be prepared. For the bank charges and for the lack of toilets. Learn from my mistakes – use the Airport toilet before you hop on the train to the city. London is a hard enough city without having to deal with a bursting bladder and no options to empty it.

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Disregarding the puns – Blur are awesome

Why does North America hold such attraction to adventuring Kiwis?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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