Guest blogger Shelly Biswell, formerly of northern California and a resident of New Zealand for the past 14 years, is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. This is the first installment of her experiences living overseas. She has promised to keep us updated on her progress.
In one week, at the age of 53, I get on a plane to do what a large percentage of New Zealanders do in their teens and twenties – I’m going on my big OE (Overseas Experience).
We’re selling the car, we’ve got the house rented, and most important, my adult daughter will care for our dog (my biggest concern in this whole decision). My husband has quit his job. I’m wrapping up most of my work, except for a couple of contracts that I can do while traveling, which will ensure we can pay our remaining expenses here in New Zealand.
We’ve bought tickets to London, rented an Airbnb for the first 10 days, and have a few contacts and some potential prospects for work and housesitting, but that’s all we’ve done to prepare. Our aim is to be gone for the next 12 months or so.
It’s somewhat scary and, yes, somewhat indulgent, but that’s the point of an OE. We send our young people out into the world to see how others live and find their own way – a sort of Kiwi Rumspringa.
Looking up OE on Wikipedia, one discovers that, as a country, we’ve been doing this only for 60 or so years. Although it strikes me that the writer Katherine Mansfield and her peers were on their OEs early in the last century. At that time, however, New Zealand was still very much part of the British Empire, and going to the United Kingdom (which is still where many OEs begin or end) was considered more of a “coming home”.
We hope our young people return and many do, but the New Zealand diaspora is impressive. There’s no doubt for me. New Zealand has become my adopted home. We moved here 14 years ago and became dual citizens in 2007. It has been a good country to us, and there is still so much I want to do and experience here.
But last January, I was feeling a bit – well – too settled. I realized that while I was still working hard for my clients, I was tired and worried that I wasn’t giving them my all. I talked to my husband about it, and he was in a similar place. In fact, he went in and told his boss that at the end of 2018 he was planning to go overseas. At that point, our feelings turned into a plan.
Because OE is such a part of New Zealand culture, we’ve received nothing but encouragement and gentle teasing about what took us so long. My own family has been understanding too, since I come from a long line of travelers. My 80-year-old aunt still takes regular trips to the UK on her own.
Even with all the support, however, I was self-deprecating about our planned adventure. I told people that we might be broke and back within three months, but my wise friend Amber looked me in the eye and said, “So what?”.
It was in that moment that I understood that the whole point of taking an OE is not about a destination, it’s about stepping outside your comfort zone.
Even before getting on a plane I’m feeling the shift in my own life. I’m excited to try and do different things at home, and more appreciative of the world around me right here, right now. In that way, this OE already seems to be leading me home.
When not on her OE, Shelly Farr Biswell works as a communications consultant in New Zealand.