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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyNovember 9, 2023

Help Me Hera: Where should I go for my OE?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

I want to go off into the great beyond. The only question is where.

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Dear Hera, 

Like every other 25-year-old, I’m beginning to feel the itch towards the infamous OE. I’ve been in a somewhat-adult job for about two years now and want to feel young and hot and adventurous again, rather than someone who is increasingly gathering neck problems from days of emails and crippling weekend small talk. I have a great flat, a great job in media (asides from the aforementioned emails), and a great network of friends and family, yet this past winter I felt so restless I had to refrain myself from googling “kendall jenner copper hair should I dye” at 2am repeatedly, like a dog hungering for a bone just out of reach. 

I want to go off into the great beyond – the only question is where. Despite my dreams of living in Italy and Spain, it doesn’t really seem like a doable option for an English-speaking office worker. So the choice seems, realistically, between Australia and the UK (sorry Canada, I just didn’t really … get Schitt’s Creek). 

Australia seems great for the day-to-day lifestyle. Lower cost of living (the mangos alone make the move worth it), higher wages, great public transportation (trams!) and wonderful coffee culture. Yet perhaps too similar to New Zealand, and still pretty far from other countries travel-wise. I worry I’d still be stuck in the same yearning rut, though probably wearing a fancy linen suit or something. 

England’s day-to-day lifestyle scares me shitless, to be frank. I’ve heard of friends there for months still unable to find a flat, the wages are low and the weather is dire. Yet the dream it presents is a divine one: popping over to Paris for the weekend, spending a week in Italy on a whim. Can the potential highs justify the potential deep, deep lows? Or is a life of mangoes and finally building a savings account a better one? Should I dye my hair copper? Help me, Hera. 

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

The other day my friend came over to visit, and we had one of those long forensic conversations, where you meticulously catalogue every regret and wrong decision you ever made, castigating yourself for your many failures, and saying if you had the chance to do it all again, you would do it braver, better, wiser, etc 

These conversations have a certain kind of melancholic joy to them. The truth is, it’s fun to have regrets. Morbidly dwelling on the past is an enjoyable way of protecting yourself from the indignities of the present – a kind of self-indulgent emotional procrastination. But one thing both this friend and I both agreed on, is that given a second chance, we would both get the hell out of here. 

I do love this dumb, expensive, geographically-isolated country, but I genuinely don’t understand how anyone young and creative can afford to live in a nation of negligent, ageing landlords, dwindling housing stock, rising food prices and bargain basement wages. It was bad when I was in my early twenties, and it’s even worse now. I’m sure there are other countries out there which aren’t much better. But most of the people I know who left the country early have better prospects, higher salaries and can afford to live somewhere which A) doesn’t cost half their weekly paycheck and B) doesn’t have a flourishing colony of black mould on their bathroom walls. And we haven’t even had the first term of the new government yet. Unless you’re the CEO of a dairy manufacturing plant, it’s unlikely your standard of living will improve soon. 

You’re on the verge of a huge decision, but I also think there are some choices in life you shouldn’t take too seriously! Sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling, and see how it turns out. You can calculate the odds, make meticulous spreadsheets, browse endless expat subreddits, but in the end, you won’t really know what to expect, until you step off the plane with your suitcase. 

There will be downsides to almost every country you move to, and many of the downsides you won’t even know until you get there. I’m not saying this to depress you. I’m saying that, in a world of imperfect choices, you might as well go for the most exciting, daring and potentially thrilling option. There will be plenty of time to lower your expectations later. 

You say your dream is to go to Italy or Spain, but it doesn’t seem possible. But I wonder if that’s true? I don’t know anything about the brutal realities of emigrating, but if you would prefer that to England, maybe it’s worth doing a little more research? Both Italy and Spain offer digital nomad visas, which could be an option, depending on the kind of work you do.

I know everyone hates digital nomads, but having aspirations to move to a different country and make a life there vs terrorising the coffee shops of Lisbon with your incessant Zoom meetings are two hopefully different things. Or you could always work as a seasonal strawberry picker or haunted house extra while you got to grips with the language. 

Personally I like Australia: the terrifying birds, the weird tree smells, the women in truckstop cafes who call you darling, the simmering undercurrent of violence. But it seems like that’s both the option you’re least excited about, and the easiest choice, which makes it a great fallback. If your dreams of Italy don’t work out, you can always move to Melbourne afterwards, and ride the trams and eat mangoes to your heart’s content. Or you could move to the UK, and live literally anywhere that wasn’t London. 

No matter what you do and where you end up, there will probably be some regret for the lives you didn’t choose. You have a lot of bad decisions to make before you’ve earned the right to luxuriously bemoan them. So you might as well have the best regrets possible, while air travel is still possible, or before fate intervenes and you accidentally fall in love with an Icelandic national, and have to move to a small coastal fishing village to solve murders. 

There are plenty of good things to regret, but I never regretted dying my hair an ugly colour, and I never regretted seeing the world. As long as you have enough savings for an emergency plane fare home, and some kind of health insurance, you should be OK. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, and you end up working in a haunted motel in Doncaster, you’ll be able to look back at it all in fond exasperation one day.

So buy a plane ticket, dye your hair a lurid, Kendall Jenner copper, and get the hell out of here, while there’s still time. 

(If any busybody with a good/dreadful emigration experience wants to write in with tips, warnings or ancient prophecies, I can pass them on.) 

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