The Big O.E.

I don’t know what prompted me to decide to write up my stories and discoveries about England and Ireland now, twenty years on from when I first set foot upon these shores, because surely I would have had ample opportunity earlier.

Some people have a clear plan for their holidays and travels but, back then, I didn’t.  However Overseas Experience, or O.E. as we liked to abbreviate it to in New Zealand (and presume still do?), is not just like a regular holiday where you travel away somewhere with definite days on when you leave and return as well as a rough, if not definite, idea of where you’re gonna stay.  

Rather, the working holiday is one where you disappear for anything from one to up to five years or more – according to the generousity of the foreign nations, who you decide you want to live and travel in, accepting you with the requisite visa.

In my case back then in 1991, that visa was called a working holiday and young people from New Zealand (NZ), under the age of 28, were able to come for two years and work up to half of that time and travel for the other half.  Reciprocal arrangements worked between the two governments in the other way, of course, and so I guess the scheme governmentally amounts to some kind of young persons’ exchange programme.  Perhaps scarily, I have not thought too much about it up until now – apart from the fact that I just made it here in time to the United Kingdom (aka the UK) before my 28th birthday, along with a hot £1500 (or was it more?) in my hand and so sufficient means to get started on finding a base and travelling here – or return home to NZ if it was not working out.

So that, really, was the extent of the plans to get away for a year or two.  A sufficient wad of cash and a right to work somewhere else while living it up through travelling a little.

Somewhere along the line though, my working holiday went from being something that was just an extended holiday to being a bit more than that.  Weirdly, I wasn’t even conscious of it at the time I first arrived in the U.K. – but perhaps if blogging or other ready means of communication was available to keep in touch with friends and family back then, then would I have discovered it earlier?  Moreso, perhaps, if I kept a regular and more reliable journal – as I noted some did – but then  who knows if anyone ever gets to read those again, including the people who I noted (often religiously) writing them?

The thing is, the Big O.E., as my friends and I liked to call it back then, was just something that you went and did for a year or so and then returned home.  Somewhere along the way I think I crossed the line, as the more I travelled, the more I wanted to go further.  There was a name given for this back then:  backpacker – however I did not always travel with a backpack on my back.   

I was not a traveller either, as the word “traveller” has a different connotation – and was one that was reserved for what had once been a band of nomadic people, primarily known as gypsies, who had no fixed home and wandered from one place to the next according to some code for a way of life.

Yet that was not me either, as I was happy to be in one place for a while, and then discover things about the places around it – as I did in London for two years – however, after that, I was interested to go further and discover something more.  Seeing how far I could travel overland in 1993, and whether I could make it all the way back to Australia without flying, was the first full test of that travel bug I had caught.

It was hardly a holiday as much as a journey, and I was not exploring, as the places were not new, just not frequently travelled – although part of the travel was taken with a company that did expeditions as far as India and I wish now that I had had the courage to take that part of the journey on my own.

It was just something I wanted to do, following instincts of where it would lead me and learning something new.  Since discovering about how I have accidently travelled on The Pilgrim’s Way when I first came here, I have wondered whether I was, in fact, some kind of accidental pilgrim – but I would hesitate to call any of these journeys or travels a “pilgrimage”, because it’s never been clear to me when and where I do things that there is something more in it beyond “me” – however I have met people who consider their journey to be one (and see blog that follows on that).

Yet for me, a journey is different to a holiday as it is one where I’ve taken time out to go somewhere to find out about someone or something that means something to me – but what is it that would make that journey be seen to be something more than that.  What makes it a “pilgrimage”, and one go on one – like those travellers in Chaucer’s Tales were supposedly doing all those centuries ago and many do today on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain?

I am beginning to wonder now whether I was an accidental pilgrim, either all those years ago or in 2006 when I decided to retrace my steps.  The thing is, it all began with finally deciding to take the Big O.E. – and so I have my friends to thank for encouraging me to finally do that, as well as the governments of New Zealand and the United Kingdom for making it possible then (as they do now). 

However what do I do with what I learned, and where am I supposed to go now?  Maybe a mid-life or mature life O.E. is required, friends and governments – or is that what is meant by “taking a sabbatical”?  Unfortunately that sounds very academic and holy to me – and like I have to have some form of intention now.  So who makes up these general formulas for people and citizens to follow or take at various points in their lives?  Coz that’s perhaps who I need to talk to right now!! 😉


About Matt's Tale

A New Age travel writer, seeing the old in the new and the bold in the blue - but mainly seeking the freedom to be, as much as to do. His tales come from meeting modern day travellers following their likes of King Arthur to Geoffrey Chaucer, leading him on to places considered "Camelot" and different ways to see Canterbury and cafes a lot. Email: Twitter: @mattstale
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