Value of young people heading to London for an extended working holiday lies in the range of experiences that enrich their lives.

Some of the shine has worn off the Big OE. The practice of New Zealanders in their 20s throwing caution to the wind and heading off to London on extended working holidays is no longer such a cultural phenomenon.

That is a shame. It may have become more difficult to find a great job in London, but for most, that makes the experience no less beneficial.

It is so worthwhile, in fact, that the tale of struggle related in the Herald this week by Alex Hazelhurst should be no deterrent.

Describing herself as talented, hard-working and blonde, Ms Hazelhurst detailed how it had taken her five months to get the sort of job she wanted in her field of expertise, broadcasting.


Her aim, she said, was to warn young New Zealanders to "be prepared for tears, countless rejections, toast for dinner and, of course, the odd question about where New Zealand is on the map".

Ms Hazelhurst, however, is not typical of those who head for London on their OE. As she noted: "I wasn't someone who came to London to work behind a bar, so I could scrape together some cash for the Kombi van tour of Europe. I came as a working professional and I got a very large reality check."

She is, in fact, part of a growing OE sub-group. This comprises young people who set off to London to advance their careers as much as to see the world. They are deadly serious and highly reluctant to consider work that is not career-enhancing.

Some expect they will find their dream job in a relatively short time. Many are bound to be disappointed. The market for professionals in London, always competitive, has become even more so for a number of reasons.

One is the presence of their counterparts from European Union member states who are taking advantage of being able to live and work in Britain. Another is the serious impact of the global recession there. The financial services sector, in particular, collapsed.

The British economy has recovered to an extent, but it remains relatively fragile and is easily rocked by turbulence.

Those factors probably all played a part in Ms Hazelhurst's woes. But they have had less of an impact on those seeking the traditional OE. This pays no heed to advancing careers. Its focus, and its value, lies in personal experiences that greatly enrich and mould young people's lives. Usually, this means taking jobs that bear little or no relationship to what they did back home.

Pouring pints in pubs and nannying are staples for young New Zealanders in London. Others go out on even more of a limb. Some may have the good fortune to end up in jobs that form the basis for businesses they will establish when, after a couple of years, they return to this country.


What passes for the Big OE these days is, as often as not, an extended holiday of, say, six weeks in Europe. The New Zealand economy may have performed well, but many young people are reluctant to toss in good jobs and take a chance on London.

Yet as much as their fleeting visit might give them a feel for the place, it does not provide any great depth or breadth of personal experience.

Not for no reason did the Big OE become such a phenomenon. It would be a great pity if it became just a memory.