Working holidays expand young people's horizons

The ups and downs of working holidays could force a young adult to grow, yet participating in the scheme should not be a decision made in haste.

 

In the past year, 25-year-old started in 2001 with the latest hired working holiday participants

Hongkonger Mr Joseph Lee learned to scuba dive, ski and surf, thanks to his year-long working holiday in Australia.

One of 51,000 young people from Hong Kong last year who participated in the working holiday scheme, Mr Lee said he stepped out of his comfort zone and discovered a talent for sports.

A working holiday is a scheme that allows adults aged between 18 and 30 to work and live in a foreign country as a way to supplement holiday funds and aquire a better understanding of the host country.

Hong Kong currently has bilateral agreements with Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Austria.

The Working Holiday Scheme agreement with Austria going into effect in April this year, according to the Hong Kong Labour Department.

Before Mr Lee went to Australia, he envisaged seeing koalas, kangaroos and platypus and also releive his recent heartbreak. But it wasn't always rainbows and butterflies. He said he was struck most by culture shock.

"I was counting my change when a woman cracked a joke about it. At first, I was embarrassed. Then I thought perhaps people are just more outgoing and humorous even with strangers," Mr Lee said.

Many participants take jobs in the hospitality, agriculture or labour industries, such as bartending or picking fruit on farms.

Mr Thomas Ford, a winery owner in Goulburn, Australia said he has not only to meet people from all over the world but also because it is not easy to hire locals to help in seasonal work.

"People nowadays prefer working indoors even for temporary jobs. Third, they have more flexible schedules. Probably because young adults here are either working or going to university so they won't have time for my work," he said.

Not every working holiday participant works hard, said Mr Ford. "I did have the experience of working holiday employees not taking their job seriously; they slacked off, arrived unreasonably late and left early. A few even looked down on what I am doing for a living. Fortunately, they are a small minority out of many," Mr. Ford said.

Mr Ford said he found working holiday schemes very helpful for people wanting to travel around the world with limited means. With working holidays, now they can fulfill their goals, explore different places and culture and support themselves simultaneously.

"Studies find that participants demonstrate higher intercultural awareness, improved language skills, better social and interpersonal skills due to exposure to a different language environment, socialisation with other participants from other countries as well as local people," Dr Catherine Lam, associate professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Hotel and Tourism said.

Despite the benefits, applicants are advised to consider carefully before undertaking the year-long journey to a new country.

Dr Lam, , expects an increase of applicants and partnering countries for the bilateral Working Holiday Scheme in the next two years as the the number of participants has increased by 10 percent over the last four years.

"I would recommend participants to learn the local language or improve their fluency in it before venturing to their host country, this is particularly crucial for countries where English is not widely spoken," said Dr Lam. "Participants can experience a high level of stress and frustration in addition to difficulties in getting a job if they do not possess sufficient language skills to meet the demands of living and working in those countries."

"There are also incidents of working holiday participants forced to pay a large amount of security deposit for lodging at the employers' premises and not have the funds returned. Travelers should check online regarding the background, reputation and information of employers if possible," added Dr Lam.

Mr Lee, whose stay in Australia will be over soon, has one last word of advice for those considering going on a working holiday, "You need to think it through because it is a rather serious commitment to put your study or work on hiatus and to move and work in another country you may have little experience in," he said.

"I miss shopping and eating out. Things are pricier here. I don't think anywhere does food better than Hong Kong. Though I will need some time to get used to the hustle and bustle of the city again when I am back." Mr Lee said.

By Jackson Ho

Edited by Karen Lee

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