Stories: Overseas Experience

  • Russell Brown,

    Be it a bacchanalian romp through the continent or a serious career development move, the big OE has been a rite of passage for young New Zealanders for a century or more. Feel free to file a report if you're on one now, or share the story of the journey that is but a distant memory. Was it the making of you? Did you forget to come home? Do tell.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18707 posts Report Reply

65 Responses

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  • Ben Austin,

    Ok -

    In London the street people all seem to have dogs.
    All food or drink seems to be organic some how.
    People drink alcohol a lot more.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 879 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    ben, some words of advice.

    1. don't fret.

    2. all food and drink is supposed to be organic.

    3. if they try feed you the plastic stuff, leave macdonalds.

    4. if they try to feed you the soylent green, don't fret, it's organic tool.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    4. if they try to feed you the soylent green, don't fret, it's organic tool.

    Lawl. Soylent green is dickheads!

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4340 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    organic tool ?

    Since Nov 2006 • 2073 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    too*

    weirdest typo ever.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Dykes,

    Vancouver, 1986 - I had no money and no ticket home. I needed a job desperately. Unemployment was high, particularly for 19 year-olds, but the pre-Christmas period provided some opportunities. After landscaping for a while, I got a mall job - for a clothing store called, Randy River. It was minimum wage but also paid commission. At company training I learned I was now part of the massive Kinney Corporation of retail chain stores. My 38-year old store manager said if I worked really hard I could be like him. After ten years manging our store he'd been promised the job of managing the chain's biggest store in a brand new mall in Guildford. In anticipation of promotion he'd bought himself and his wife matching sports cars.

    Christmas Day came and with the manager on leave my co-workers and I were flat out - mainly processing returned gifts. Our manager had the day off. As I was refunding an angry mother for the drycleanable-only trousers we'd sold her school-aged son, I heard a crash at the front of the store. Our manager had entered and apparently fallen into two mobile racks of sweaters, now in pieces on the floor. Some customers had scattered, others watched, jaws hanging. I went to help him up - he reeked of Jim Beam and was swearing at a coathanger stuck in his sleeve. His speech was hard to follow but it seemed he'd not got the promised promotion after all. I steered him in a weaving pattern toward the stock room - he was heavy. I tried to call his wife on the phone, but couldn't keep him still long enough. He was intent on getting out and demolishing the rest of the store. After some wrestling I pushed him out the back door into the parking lot and slammed it shut. It was a 3/4 mile walk back around to the mall entrance and then to our store, so I figured he'd stay put while I called for help. After making the call I opened the door again. He was gone. About 20 minutes later there was another commotion out front - he was back! But this time we were ready for him. Eventually the assistant manager drove him home.

    It was an unusual atmosphere at my next performance review. After a good start my sales had slid and my manager said he'd be putting me on probation. He felt I didn't really have a future in the corporation. I didn't care, I had my airfare and I was out of there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 75 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Here's something I prepared earlier about my Europe trip which I think was technically more holiday than OE.

    The one thing I left out that I always want to talk about is the eurail passes. While it's possible to get from place to place free on them, if you try to book a journey from one country to another the only option that shows up for the people selling the tickets are direct and demand suppliments (fast rains/overnighters), and never mind what you little pamphlet says is possible.

    It's not the easiest issue to debate across a language barrier.

    Eventually, the guy in Milan went through what seemed like the timetables of three countries to work out we needed to change trains and where to do it. Yay him.

    Earlier I'd spoken to some poor kid who was going to have to go home early because of having to pay for trains.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1095 posts Report Reply

  • Anne M,

    Melbourne. The joy of half-as-expensive Mars bar was more than overcome by the shock of the twice-as-expensive rent, and the realisation that what had looked like a very cosy scholarship was actually subsistance-level. This was compounded by the fact that, despite having received half a bushel of carefully filled in forms, the uni couldn't manage to pay me for six weeks. I was buying 50 cents worth of mince and making my own bread buns. We spent three months in an Australian summer without a refrigerator. You didn't want to drink white coffee at our place ....

    Since Nov 2006 • 101 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Wow Anne, that is really depressing, I think you've destroyed my positive impression of melbourne in one foul blow (which was quite high, given their on campus donut stores)

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 879 posts Report Reply

  • Anne M,

    No, no, Melbourne is a great place, especially if you live in the inner suburbs (like Che, and unlike us). You can eat FABULOUS food, really cheap thanks to successive waves of immigration. And once my husband shelved his uni plans for a year and found a job assembling phone books for Rupert Murdoch and we could afford that fridge we were happy.

    We'd probably have forgotten to come back if the (recently privitised) company we were both working for (post uni) hadn't gone down the gurgler.

    Just looking at the Arts Review of the Melbourne paper http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/arts/reviews/ makes me want to weep.

    Since Nov 2006 • 101 posts Report Reply

  • Felix Marwick,

    I could probably write a book (or at least a collection of short stories) on OE escapades. But I'll share the one that I told my interview panel (almost a decade ago) when I'd decide that journalism seemed like a fun thing to do. The question they'd asked me was to give an example of thinking on my feet and dealing with a difficult situation.

    This is the answer they got:

    Back in 1990 and 1991 when I was in my late teens I was living and working in Japan looking after a showjumping team. Initially I was all official and had a working holiday visa. All was sweet with the wonder that is Japanese bureaucracy. However after my first six months getting an extension proved to be a difficult task and I had to resort to some unorthodox tactics to stay in my country and in my job. The solution was simple - every three months I'd quickly flit out of the country and come back in getting a tourist visa.

    Not strictly legit' but it achieved my aims.

    So things progressed along this path for some time but unfortunately for me things changed. You see I wasn't the only Kiwi in a certain area of Hokkaido working in the horse industry and eventually the immigration department wised up and decided to check matters out.

    Learning this I made efforts to make my status a little more legal and endeavoured to get my paperwork in order. Unfortunately the system decided not to play ball, in fact it decided to lodge said ball squarely in my fundamental orifice. I ended up in the situation where, not only did I not have a working visa but I also had no tourist visa either.

    Matters got worse when immigration rang my place of work and a receptionist (long on looks but short on guile) blithely told them how long I'd been working and exactly how much I had been paid. At this point I decided a strategic retreat to New Zealand was necessary and this is where things began to get a bit tricky.

    There I was at Narita Airport plane tickets in hand going through immigration when I struck up a conversation with an Australian. He like me had visa issues and was heading home to rectify matters. He was just ahead of me in the queue, presented his passport at the immigration desk, and a kerfuffle ensued. Two of the largest Policemen I'd ever seen promptly turned up and hauled him off for questioning.

    I'm now slightly apprehensive.

    I roll up to the immigration officer and hand over my passport. He looks at it, then at me, then calls for the police. Off I'm hauled to a small room and the interrogation, and the bizarre nature of Japanese bureaucracy, begins to unveil. Because I have no visa I'm told I can't be in the country. However without a visa I also can't leave it.
    "Simple" says I, "give me a visa and I'll go".
    "Not possible", says the not so friendly official,"a visa can only be issued by the Japanese Embassy in NZ"
    "OK let me on the plane and I'll apply for one when I get home" says me.
    "You can't leave Japan without a visa"

    Bollocks.

    Anyway while all this was going on files had been checked and my somewhat undercover work history was sprung. In no uncertain terms I was told I could face 6 months in jail and/or a hefty fine. Fairly heavy duty stuff for an 18 year old to handle. Suffice it to say I was shitting bricks.

    The official sternly tells me I'm in big trouble (btw all this conversation was going on in Japanese), tells me to stay where I am and heads out the door. I. of course, do the complete opposite. As I still had my passport and plane tickets I was on my feet in a flash, out through the other door, past immigration and heading for the boarding gate at a great rate of knots.

    Luckily for me the flight was boarding and I scuttled on and wedged myself into a window seat taking care to ensure there was at least one octogenarian between me and the aisle.

    Five minutes later there's a commotion at the front of the plane. Very foolishly I look up to see what's going on and there's the immigration official I'd escaped from not 15 minutes before. His eyes meet mine and down the aisle he strides shouting angry imprecations and calling down all sorts of nasty curses upon my head.

    Bugger!

    A number of options were flashing through my head as he's screaming at me (in Japanese) to get of the plane immediately. I did what any other baka gaijin would do in such circumstances and stared blankly at him pretending I couldn't understand him(despite our prior fluent conversation). The poor man is now a bright shade of red, and heading for purple, as he speaks through clenched teeth in strained english. Again he orders me off the plane.

    Time for plan B and in my best 3rd Form German I said;
    "Einen bien auschlander. Nicht spechen sie englisch. Sprechen sie Deutsch?"

    Now I won't say his face was reminiscent of Hiroshima revisited at this point, but it was pretty close. Veins throbbing his rage was approaching incandescent status.

    And this is when my saviours intervened. God Bless Air NZ hostesses who will come to the aid of a Kiwi boy in distress. Pleading schedules, fuel loads, baggage priorities, and other such aviation priorities they efficiently whisked the protesting official off the plane and onto the airbridge. The poor bugger didn't know what hit him. Before he knew it the door was closed and yours truly had flown the coop and was home free and clear.

    Needless to say when I applied for a visa when I got home it was turned down. I've never been back to Japan since - I'm still slightly worried about what might happen if I did.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    melbourne is great, and even the suburbs can have great places. you just have to be willing to think of the local pizza parlour as rustic gourmets...

    even when i lived way the heck out in clayton (now there's a hell-hole), there was a place called monash pizza that i swear did the best capricossa i've ever eaten.

    on the other hand... there was also cremona pizza. cream-on-a-pizza. rubbish.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Anne M,

    way the heck out in clayton (now there's a hell-hole)

    Guess where we spent five years?

    Since Nov 2006 • 101 posts Report Reply

  • Anne M,

    Felix!! That was brilliant, especially, the final touch of German. You cunning, cunning man.

    Since Nov 2006 • 101 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    Gosh, a good subject Mr Brown. Like most kiwis, there are a lot of different OE stories to tell ...

    Going to work in Leicester Square one morning to find all the windows in the building blown in from an IRA bomb. Off to a Covent Garden pub for the day.

    The 64 hour bus ride to Lake Toba .... and the faint wafts of church singing on Good Friday from one of the few christian enclaves in Indonesia, reaching us heathen and addled souls hanging on the island.

    The fist-fight with the Israeli on the Thai jungle trek who thought that France was well in its right to sink the Rainbow Warrior.

    Dahab
    Zipolete
    Chichicastenango
    Edinburgh
    Calcutta
    Shanghei
    Yada yada etc

    To paraphrase the guy from Kea I heard speak the other day, the great OE isn't a 'brain drain', its an essential, empowering, positive experience for kiwis, and no politicking should be allowed to claim otherwise.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Needless to say when I applied for a visa when I got home it was turned down. I've never been back to Japan since - I'm still slightly worried about what might happen if I did.

    Ah, but at least you have your memories. Brilliant story.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18707 posts Report Reply

  • Felix Marwick,

    Cheers for the feedback.

    And while I remember here's some handy travel advice.

    Hitchhiking across the King Hussein Bridge from Jordan to Israel is not a good idea. And definitely don't be wearing a Palestinian kheffiyah when you do it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    "Hitchhiking across the King Hussein Bridge from Jordan to Israel is not a good idea. And definitely don't be wearing a Palestinian kheffiyah when you do it."

    Heh - similarly, when going the other way, make sure you tell the Jordanian officials that you have just been in the 'Occupied Territories', unless you like sitting in a small hot room for 8 hours.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Given that 25% of us "kiwis" forgot to go home in the other direction, and given that, elf like, we are all supposed to be fleeing for the Australian tax havens, I have an idea for another topic. Why the hell are you still here!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    As for OE stories, finding shit smeared all over the rest rooms in a state park in Nebraska moved us through that state in a hurry. Getting offered a job coaching soccer kids, on the strength of of a rotting sports top and a cute accent, in Laramie, Wyoming the next day turned our low around around.

    Being able to buy a "fanny pouch".

    Also NZers forget, perhaps, just how exotic the Pacific is to visitors from the rest of the world.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    finding shit smeared all over the rest rooms in a state park in Nebraska moved us through that state in a hurry

    had the same experience in natchez, mississippi. i asked the service station attendant for the key to the loos, only to get the response, "you sure?

    me: "yes i'm sure! gotta wee!"

    i should have peed round back of the building.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Duncan McKenzie,

    Thanks Richard L for evoking memories of the bus ride to Lake Toba (more than 30 years ago). The bus tout in Palembang showed us a picture of the flash Mercedes bus that we were to ride on. We hopped on ... only to be driven to the big bus station where the old Chev with plastic roll-up windows that was going to take us the length of Sumatra was waiting.

    The bus drove day and most of the night for 4 days. Along dirt roads through rain forest. Across wide muddy rivers on rafts that were just a bit bigger than the bus.

    The bus was stopped in the middle of one night by Indonesian police on motor scooters. The fugitive from justice that they were after was a passenger. He jumped through the plastic window of the bus and into the night. Out come the guns. They missed fortunately, otherwise we probably would have been accompanied by a bullet-riddled corpse for the rest of the trip.

    Lake Toba itself, and the island in the middle of the lake. A refuge for burnt-out travelers, at a cost of $2 a day including unlimited banana susu. I was the only person in the losmen where I stayed who had a watch. Never mind that it was in need of a service and kept stopping - each morning on waking I would set it for seven and thus became the time standard. A more important job than it might appear, given that my host ran a ferry service to and from the mainland.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Sumatran buses in the 70s - oh hell.
    A winding stretch of road between Parapat and Sibolga, with the bus's sound system playing a soppy Indo-pop version of The Archies' Sugar Sugar. Gave my precious window seat to an Australian who bore a striking resemblance to JC. A bad case of motion sickness, with the clear & present danger of hurling. As he lolled suffering on the window ledge like something from The Passion of the Christ a truck appeared heading in the opposite direction, its huge Batak driver barely a meter from the window. With a big grin he leant over to the sufferer and asked "How's Mary?"

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3371 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    So not much has changed then Joe?

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    I thought he was gonna barf into the other bus there for a minute.

    Rich, didn't Mike D have a sobering experience on a packed bus in the middle of india that needs recounting?

    Not to mention Marty, he must be good for a few yarns about South American jails surely?

    Since Nov 2006 • 2073 posts Report Reply

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