The Kiwi OE is a fantasy that I was brought up to believe in. In my pākehā, upper-middle-class world, your 20s are not complete without wandering around Europe or South America for a year. In the Kiwi OE narrative, travel is a compulsory experience. To be a well-rounded person and live life to the fullest, you must go overseas and gain perspective on our small country. And that’s not correct at all.
When we assign value to our travel and say that it makes us better people, we’re saying that those who can’t travel are worse off. That their life experiences are somehow less valuable because they stay in New Zealand, no matter how deeply engaged with their communities they are. As a value judgement, there are a heap of problems with that.
Travel is expensive and inaccessible for a lot of New Zealanders. The reality is, the two islands we live on are far away from most places. We have to fly to get out. Because of that, leaving the country for a week costs over $1000 (and that’s a low baseline). That’s a cost that a lot of people cannot afford.
So, who travels? Those who can afford it. Money dictates who can travel and who can’t. Travel, in terms of self-improvement, is on a par with any other commodity. Like a swimming pool or a motor boat or a comfortable office chair, it’s not something you earn, it’s something that you buy.
You have paid for an experience that other people can’t have for simple economic reasons. That experience is not inherently more valuable just because it occurred outside of NZ. Saying that you have visited 30 countries is not worthy of praise or admiration. There’s no medal. Travel is not an achievement; it’s a commodity. Other people could do it too, if they could pay for it.
Your life experience does not depend on where you’ve been. It depends on what you’ve done. Suggesting that travel gives you experiences that New Zealand could never offer diminishes the experiences and work of those who stay in the country. There are a lot of valuable experiences within New Zealand. It’s not necessary to leave in order to complete a ‘full set’ of life experiences. People can live richly and deeply while staying in one country.
I love travel. But the fact that I have travelled says nothing about my life experience or my ability to succeed. Flying overseas is not a necessary part of life. Say it with me: I am travelling because I like going to new places. I don’t have to justify my enjoyment by claiming it is self-improvement.
The entire idea of the benefits of the Kiwi OE is a product of privilege. The fact that you can travel is great. Enjoy it. But remember that it’s a privilege. And don’t suggest that it’s something everyone should do because of all the benefits you think you’ve gained from touring the Andes for a few months.Support Villainesse