'Unpacking' the OE: An exploration of the New Zealand 'Overseas experience'
The acronym 'OE' stands for 'overseas experience', an extended working holiday experience undertaken by many young New Zealanders. Historical circumstances, geographical factors and socio-cultural links have established Britain as the foremost destination for the OE. The OE has been practised for more than five decades and has become a cultural icon in New Zealand. Departures overseas on such journeys are seen as part of the social norm and are commonly regarded as a 'rite of passage' for those participating. Despite this prominence within New Zealand culture, the OE has attracted limited research attention. Frequently, the OE is presented in an easily recognised stereotypical form (that is in itself outdated); little is known about what is involved in the OE experience itself. The aim of this research was to test the reality of the OE experience against the OE stereotype. The two specific research questions asked were, 'what does an OE involve?' and, 'what changes have there been in the OE over time?’ A qualitative research approach was employed and fieldwork was undertaken in New Zealand and London. Semi-structured interviews were used to gather information from 70 OE participants who left New Zealand on OEs between 1968 and 2004. In addition, 26 key informant interviews were conducted with people involved in the provision of OE services and infrastructure. These interview data were supported by participant observations at venues in London popular with those on OE, material published in newspapers, magazines and on internet sites that cater to the OE population (in both London and New Zealand), and, in New Zealand, by a review of popular OE material (such as literature, plays, film and advertising). The thesis presents both an historical view of the OE and a snapshot of its practice in 2004, from both New Zealand and overseas perspectives. The study found that while the practice of the OE has changed considerably over time, the stereotype has remained relatively stable. The importance and role of the underlying cultural aspects of the OE suggested that the OE is a New Zealand cultural practice, despite occurring overseas. A broad theoretical framework derived from the cultural studies literature was employed to understand the cultural aspects of the OE, the changes in the OE stereotype and OE practice, and the increasing divergence between these. The OE was found to be a cultural process embedded in history and in social, economic and other (for example, technological) temporally changing environments. Over time, the OE itself has been transformed by these processes and has contributed to changes within them. Partial insight into selected aspects of the OE also were obtained from theory and literature pertaining to stereotype formation and maintenance, tourism and migration studies, and other OE research. This study (and possible future studies) of the New Zealand OE contribute new understandings within a number of disciplines and fields of study. As a touristic experience, for example, the OE presents a culturally specific type and form of backpacker travel. The working holidaymaker aspect of the OE cuts across the traditional boundaries of work and travel. As a manifestation of migration, the OE is an exemplar of new forms of transnational communities that are being created by an increasingly globalised workforce. A culturally specific New Zealand diaspora has emerged and is maintained by this migration.... [Show full abstract]