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Trans-National Migration and the Kiwi Identity

Trans-National Migration and the Kiwi Identity.

It’s that time of the year again. The sun is shining (allegedly), the birds are chirping and thousands of young New Zealanders are working as hard as they can to save the cash needed to head overseas.

The big OE is a rite of passage for many young Kiwis, serving the same function as war did many years ago, the chance to go out, see the world and discover what it means to be a New Zealander.

The phenomenon has long interested Lincoln University academic Jude Wilson who is studying the OE for her PHD. She has interviewed more than 80 New Zealanders who have left our fair shores over the last 40 years in an attempt to disseminate just what it is that makes us such migratory creatures.

Mrs Wilson has n the past studied geography and sociology, but it was the broad nature of studying at Lincoln that drew her to the campus.

“The benefit of being at Lincoln is that I don’t have to be any one discipline. If I were writing a PHD for geography, I would have to limit myself to migratory patterns. Without any set discipline I am able to explore the topic from different perspectives,” she says.

It was while studying tourism that Mrs Wilson became interested in the possibility of studying the OE: “I realised the OE doesn’t fit into tourism theory and literature,” she says. This omission stirred the curiosity of a woman who has visited 75 countries in every continent bar Antarctica.

She believes the portrayal of the OE in Newspapers and magazines – squalls of ferrel Kiwis packed tightly into Acton Town flats in London, working in bars and contiking the continent over summer – is not necessarily accurate. While she met New Zealanders who had done just this, she also met some who had avoided London, and the UK, altogether in an effort to break the mould.

This leads to a discussion on semantics. By definition being overseas an OE, but is the archetypal overseas experience the only real OE?

Mrs Wilson was in London this northern summer to interview New Zealanders currently on their OE.

“When I was in London I felt like I was doing anthropological studies on the Kiwi tribe,” she says.

“The reason people go has changed. People these days tend to go away after having stuck around for a few years after school first. This way when they get to London they can continue a career and live in decent accommodation,” she says.

While in London, many are being well paid and have clear goals as to what they want to do with their capital upon returning home – buy a house or pay off a student loan.

She talked to different clubs and businesses that support the New Zealand community in London, which is estimated to be as high as 100,000 people.

“Some people said being in London was like being at Varsity with money,” she says. “Everybody they know is of a similar age and there aren’t the same constraints on their time.”

“Even if you are at home and you live by yourself, you still have to go to your gran’s eightieth birthday, or see your parents once a month,” she says. “Overseas there is unlimited freedom to do what you want and be who you want to be. You’re not always going to be George’s daughter… People can create themselves while they are away and that is one thing that I find really interesting.”

She says the OE is one of those subjects that hasn’t been touched because people think they know what it already is, but is hoping that when she presents her research next year people will have a fuller understanding of what it means to have an overseas experience.

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